“There was no specific journal in the area…so we decided to start one”: Interview with Beverley Oliver, Editor of “Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability”

flowers forest

This time in the “Meet the Editors” interview series, we talk to Emeritus Professor Beverley Oliver, Editor of the Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability (JTLGE).

Beverley shares her story of founding the journal, its focus and her thoughts on the characteristics of quality journal articles. In addition, Beverley provides tips for early-career scholars wanting to publish.

JTLGE is a double-blind refereed open access online journal, which publishes journal papers from higher education / industry perspectives, including research papers, exemplary evidence-based practice and scholarly investigations of the theoretical literature in the field.

How did you become Editor of the JTLGE and what were your motivations?

I was working at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, where I had been for 10 years, with a fabulous team—Bea Tucker, Sue Jones, Sonia Ferns. It was the early 2000s and we were asked to lead an institution-wide curriculum reform project aimed at transforming the curriculum so that every degree was more fit for purpose. We believed that a fit for purpose curriculum meant that key student outcomes were achieved and key among those was employment. Working across the university, we transformed policy through the usual academic debate channels and governance, and created a curriculum system focused on learning outcomes, graduate attributes, contextualised, embedded and assessed. We worked through every degree, aiming to ensure benefits for students, particularly employment. So, we had a learning outcomes and employability theme, if you like.

Building a journal from scratch, and in a new area, as we did, well, that’s tough.

The project went for three years and was like a steamroller going through the university. We were middle managers, not executives, and worked as professional staff in teaching and learning support. We found working in partnership with the faculties worked best to gain support from the academic staff. They became invested in curriculum transformation and were far more willing to collaborate. They were passionate about the curriculum, professional standards and student outcomes and we were able to work together through every single bachelor degree, large and small, doing in-depth analyses on the inputs, outputs, indicators, performance, everything. That helped us to really focus on learning for earning. Middle way through the project, it struck me that we had a lot of knowledge and experience worth sharing. So, we started publishing in journals and talking at conferences. But more talking at conferences because, that way, we could get the outputs out quickly, show people what we were doing, the outcomes and so on.

There was no specific journal in the area of employability and employment outcomes, so we decided to start one. Initially we thought, “that’s huge!” and “who are we? We’re just practitioners doing evidence-based work”. It was a mad idea, but we decided to do it anyway. We came up with the niche of teaching and learning for graduate employability. At that time, graduate employability was not big in Australia. It was big in the UK and we were very taken with work by people like Manz Yorke, whom we knew and were in touch with, Sally Brown, and others in the UK big in this space. I’d started reading more literature in that area and, in an early conference paper, wrote, “what if graduate employability was a standard of success? What if universities were judged on this outcome?” In those days, they really weren’t.

Teaching and learning research is not encouraged, nor highly regarded, but it’s our core business as universities.

I remember looking at graduate employment data and seeing how only two thirds of graduates from the Bachelor of Commerce got a job. I remember thinking, “hang on a minute, something’s not working here!” Anyway, that’s how we came to start this journal. Very grassroots. So, unlike some of the people you’ve interviewed, we are not a grand team of global experts, although the JTLGE has grown and developed over its 11 years.

Can you tell me a bit more about the journal?

It’s not highly ranked. Not yet anyway. We just had a passion. And people must start somewhere. When we started this journal, we decided we would make it a continuous publication to try to take the time lag out of publication. As I said, one of the reasons we weren’t publishing in journals was because it took two years to get published. We’d all moved on by then and we needed the literature quicker than that. So, I guess we were trying to be disruptive innovators.

We also wanted the JTLGE to be a publication within the reach of people without a publications list as long as your arm’s length, and to be a way for people to get good feedback on their academic writing. So, we took a constructive feedback approach and encouraged people to set themselves an assignment to gain constructive feedback on how to make it better.

I’ve managed to keep the journal going across being employed at two universities and it’s now housed at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Beatrice stayed at Curtin, and Beatrice and I have been the Editor and Deputy Editor since the start. We’ve kept it going through thick and thin. Some years it was thin and almost thrived on neglect. It’s taken a lot of hard work by a lot of people, not necessarily always me, but we’ve felt driven to keep it going because it’s not an A-star journal. I’ve sat and listened to people talk about how academics can only publish in A-star journals. But you’ve got to start somewhere. You can’t just crack into A-star journals from a standing start, having never published. That’s a game I wanted to change. Anyone who’s got a burning question and can come up with a really good answer should have the chance to be in the peer reviewed literature.

It’s a bit tough because everyone’s distracted with Covid-19 but, having more time, it’s very rewarding work.

The Journal is about the core business of universities, which is learning and teaching for employability and employment outcomes. Most people, most of the time, seek career advantage. Higher education is very focused on research, but not so much on research about itself. Teaching and learning research is not encouraged, nor highly regarded, but it’s our core business as universities. Employment outcomes are important for driving the economy. We need to pay more attention to making higher education more effective and more efficient in outcomes that are important to most people most of the time.

What do you like most about your role as journal editor?

Working with a great team and being exposed to new ideas in this very important topic.

What is the most difficult aspect of being Editor?

Finding time. Holding down a job that takes a great deal of time, particularly as a Deputy Vice Chancellor for seven years. Finding the time to invest in the journal, keep across the literature and produce literature myself to stay current—it’s a juggling act.

How much time per week would you say you spend doing your editorial duties?

When I was working full-time, as Deputy Vice Chancellor, it was sporadic at best and I didn’t have a set regime. Now that I’ve got more time—I still work, but I work for myself—I’ve got time to spend on the literature. So, I’ve been doing lots of catching up, and enjoying it too. Reading and writing, and investing more time with the team. One of the things we’ve been able to do is to mount a special edition, which is underway, on micro credentials and other forms of qualification, including their connection to employability. It’s a bit tough because everyone’s distracted with Covid-19 but, having more time, it’s very rewarding work.

We consider helping authors to write better as part of the core business of the JTLGE.

Even when you stop working, you can remain a scholar. It took me a little while to work out what to do—how to stay connected to the community of scholarship, education and research, which I enjoy and have so much passion for. But, the good news is, no one has to pay or employ you, and you don’t have to land another job in order to stay connected and contribute. No one can stop you, except through peer review, so you can continue to get feedback to improve and your voice can still be heard. This realisation was a great comfort.

What are your regular duties as Editor?

Mainly I keep an eye on how things are ticking along. Sometimes I make decisions when there are conflicting reviews. Chart the strategic direction of the journal. Di Gardener is the journal’s Manager and she is excellent. She’s got a PhD and lots of experience. Di handles all the administrative processes and has done so for years, including putting submissions out to review, managing reviews, etc. Beatrice and I are only needed to make decisions.

Beatrice and I won’t do this forever, so we’ve organised ourselves, and recently reviewed the scope and outlook of the journal’s four key areas, which include, in the context of graduate employability: policy and success measures; the future of work in the digital economy; student success; and educators and the academy. We’re going to move the journal to having Associate Editors and begin succession planning. We’ll build the editorial board and, from there, probably find a new Editor and Deputy Editor, and then we’ll pass the baton to the next generation. We’ll remain connected but let other people take it on and, of course, want to see it continue.

Are you happy with the quality of reviews and the contributions of your reviewers?

We try to give feedback to improve writing proficiency and like writing that is clear, direct and non-colloquial.

Yes. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t use them, and we keep a close eye on things. It’s about being a facilitator to enable the academic community to speak and collaborate in consideration of acceptable ethics. It’s important to encourage people to expect really high standards but to be nice about it, not mean or exclusive. Anyone can have their say if it passes muster. We consider helping authors to write better as part of the core business of the JTLGE. After all, we are educational institutions so we should be good educators.

What do you look for in a journal article?

First, it’s got to be written to academic standard. There must be a clear proposition and a thesis. It doesn’t all have to be highly empirical because the JTLGE is a place for any new ideas. However, to be accepted, an article must be well grounded in the literature. Research must be very well designed and have all the hallmarks of robust enquiry. If a survey is used, how was it designed? How was it tested? How is it validated? How many people were asked certain questions? How do we know it’s representative? All things you would expect in a research article. And well written—a poorly written and referenced article cannot be published. We try to give feedback to improve writing proficiency and like writing that is clear, direct and non-colloquial. Writing that cuts to the chase. So, mount your evidence, move on and don’t try to be fancy.

Have you noticed increasing interest in the JTLGE over time?

Well, yes. But, becoming an editor of an esteemed and established journal would be an altogether different proposition and experience. Starting from the grassroots and building a journal from scratch, and in a new area, as we did, well, that’s tough. But, over time, the JTLGE has become known and we now receive many more publications than we did at the start. Initially, we had to find the right people to write articles for the JTLGE because, let’s face it, who’s going to write for a new journal that’s completely untested? So, we started small and, as I said, some years were very lean, but the journal seems to be flourishing at present.

What would you like the future of the JTLGE to be?

Robust. Sustained. Adding value and making a valuable contribution.

We are a community of early-career researchers, many of whom are doing their PhDs. How did your academic career begin?

Publishing should be an experience that is uplifting and lifts other people up as well.

I did my PhD in my early 40s because I’d been teaching in schools for years before switching to higher education. My first university job was at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle, Australia. It was there I did my PhD. I had a very high workload, teaching all day and studying all night, but I was very motivated to complete my PhD. It was like having Mount Everest in front of me and I just had to climb it. I wanted that intellectual challenge and wanted to find the answer to a burning question that I could then apply. PhD study doesn’t do wonders for your social life, and maintaining your social life is important, but the intellectual life is, for me anyway, a mental health benefit.

What advice would you give early career researchers seeking to publish?

Engage with the community of researchers. Make sure you read what’s coming through the literature. Be clear about your research questions and how you’re going to build on the literature through your study. Then, test your ideas with fellow researchers, new and experienced. Maybe join forces with them. Find someone who can mentor you and give you constructive feedback to help you get into the research and publishing game. Then give it your best shot. Have confidence in yourself but be ready to learn and take advice from people who give you feedback. And, remember that publishing should be an experience that is uplifting and lifts other people up as well.

Elizabeth Cook is a Senior Analyst, Strategy and Planning at Edith Cowan University and a Doctoral student in Higher Education Research Evaluation and Enhancement in the Department of Educational Research at Lancaster University. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Image by sandid from Pixabay

Leave a Reply