WMU News

New online journal connects evaluation researchers worldwide

March 25, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A new online journal published at Western Michigan University is making waves in the discipline of evaluation by connecting scholars around the globe and giving them free access to the latest thinking of leaders in the discipline.

The new Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation made its debut in October 2004, and with publication of its second issue in February, has had over 6,000 hits from more than 100 nations--a feat its creators call "unheard of" for a brand new academic publication. The peer-reviewed journal, edited and published by members of the doctoral program in WMU's Evaluation Center, is also striking a blow, its editors say, for academic communication and unfettered access to new information. It's bypassing the profit-driven world of academic publishing and making information available free to those who need it most.

The international response to their offering is gratifying but not surprising because the need is very real, says Dr. Michael Scriven, a longtime leader in the discipline who joined the Evaluation Center faculty last fall and serves as co-editor with his former WMU colleague Dr. E. Jane Davidson, who is now working in New Zealand.

"I've been pleased with the response, but I expected it," Scriven says. "A precedent was set by Gene Glass, who serves on our editorial board. His groundbreaking free access journal, Educational Policy Archives, has more readers downloading articles then there are readers for all the main paper-based educational research journals put together."

Scriven says the new journal's mission is focused on putting evaluation knowledge in the hands of students and teachers around the globe, including many who are in other disciplines but want to learn about evaluation as a tool to enhance their work. The journal is also about combating the skyrocketing prices of journal subscriptions. It's a development that has sparked open warfare between scholars and commercial publishers. University libraries worldwide are canceling subscriptions to academic journals, the prices of which range from a few hundred dollars to as much as $25,000 annually. And many scholars say the academic world needs to wrestle control back from commercial publishers and keep the emphasis on sharing information rather than turning a profit.

"Many of us strongly believe we must take seriously the task of communicating current developments and skills to evaluators and would-be evaluation users amongst those people in the world who can't afford to subscribe to the traditional journals or attend the traditional workshops and courses of study," Scriven says. "The sad thing about expensive books and journals is that they don't get to students."

Conceived as a publication that would be published "as and when" needed-- perhaps twice each year-- the Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation is moving swiftly toward the publication of its third issue, which will appear late this spring. The 177-page February issue includes what Scriven calls "a tough article" on evaluating the big support programs that the West funds in the developing world. That article has already triggered responses and submissions by heavyweight scholars in the evaluation discipline, and Scriven says the quickened publishing pace is an attempt to nurture that dialogue and build the journal's reputation for focusing on emerging international evaluation issues.

That international focus is the new journal's special niche. With professional evaluation organizations in more than 40 nations, Scriven feels the time is ripe for a publication that focuses on the global state of evaluation.

"This isn't just a research journal," he says. "It's a journal aimed at communicating about evaluation to a very diverse readership. We've already received our first submissions from colleagues in Africa--two nice papers, in fact, and that's relatively rare. They are coming to us and we want to keep encouraging that."

Keeping an online journal running and the information flowing turns out to be a relatively inexpensive, but labor-intensive operation. Editors and reviewers donate their time, and graduate students in WMU's interdisciplinary doctoral program in evaluation do much of the editorial work. It's a model used by many professional schools for law reviews. The students get valuable experience and build their resumes with the work. The reputation of the journal, in turn, is starting to attract students to the program. Only minimal technical assistance is needed to post the journal online.

When each journal is published, a notice goes out to 3,000 members of an international listserv devoted to evaluation topics. An additional 1,000 people have registered, asking to be notified of each publication. Readers can read the journal online or download the journal to their desktops and print as much or as little of the journal as they care to. The first issue had more than 6,000 hits and more than 2,500 people downloaded the pages, a healthy indicator of its appeal, says Scriven.

Is this the wave of the future for academic journals? Scriven says he's already been approached for advice from editors who want to publish a new philosophy journal online.

"I'd guess that in 10 years, about 50 percent of journals will be published online," he says. "The price of the alternatives makes it insane to publish any other way."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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