General, pedagogy, Lecturers

The Covid-19 crisis: views of a Creative Writing lecturer

Dr Judith Heneghan, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester tells us how the Covid lockdown is affecting her work.

About the University of Winchester

The University of Winchester traces its origins to a teacher training institution founded in the mid-nineteenth century. This became known as King Alfred’s College, and in the late twentieth century it began to offer degrees in the humanities and performing arts, as well as education. It was awarded university status in 2005 and now consists of four main faculties: Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Business, Law and Sport and Education, Health and Social Care. There are approximately 8000 students, the majority from the UK (roughly 6% are from overseas). The Creative Writing programmes are located within the Department of English, Creative Writing and American Studies and offer a range of single and combined honours degrees at the levels of BA, MA and PhD.

 Please tell us a little bit about the disciplines you teach in and the courses you teach. How many students are in each course/lecture, the make-up of the student body. How did you typically teach before the Covid-19 crisis?

I teach Creative Writing at undergraduate and Masters levels, and also supervise a couple of PhD students. Creative Writing as a discipline is long-established at Winchester. Cohorts are a mix of home and international students, pursuing full-time or part-time study. Classes usually take the form of classroom-based seminars for groups of between 14 and 28 students. The writing workshop is a key component of our approach and features peer critiquing and small-group discussion.

Please describe the restrictions that have been applied at your city and your institution as a result of the coronavirus.  When were they first put in place?  Are your offices closed? If so, are you and your colleagues working from home?  How do you do this in practice?

From 23 March onwards, when the nationwide ‘lockdown’ began, the University closed to all but essential personnel. I had already begun to work from home and therefore continued to do so. I arranged to pick up a monitor from my office so that I could have two screens set up on my dining room table, which has now become my ‘home office’. Email traffic has not been much changed by lockdown, but I have been using my mobile phone to a much greater extent, mainly to communicate with colleagues.

Have you been teaching remotely, and if so, for how long? Is it a new experience for you and the students? Which software do you use and is it working well? What about exams? 

The timing of semesters at Winchester and the nature of Creative Writing as a subject means that I have not yet had to do very much remote teaching. I had only two weeks of teaching left before classes concluded and I was able to deliver these sessions via Powerpoint presentations, notes and by setting up discussion threads on the University’s intranet. Tutorials were conducted via email, Zoom, MS Teams or phone calls, depending on the student’s own preference.  All of these have worked well as temporary measures. Creative Writing students don’t sit exams, and they have been submitting assignments online for the past two years. My time at the moment is mainly taken up with marking, which I can do at home.  However, when the new academic year starts in September much greater adjustment will be needed. The extent of this will depend on the levels of social distancing restrictions in place by then.  We may have to accommodate blended or online delivery for a longer period of time.

Which challenges have affected you most?  How have you dealt with them?  What are you most proud of having achieved during the emergency?  What would you say are the greatest challenges that your students are facing? How do they communicate with you?  We’d be very grateful if you could add some short anecdotes here!

Possibly the greatest challenge is the level of uncertainty we all have to cope with, especially when I look forward to September. Concluding the current academic year has been relatively straightforward for me personally, and students and staff have been remarkably flexible under the circumstances. Face time and video conferencing have created some welcome camaraderie as pets and family members make unscheduled appearances! However, the past few weeks have unquestionably been stressful for many of the students. One can only imagine their anxiety about current and future jobs, assignments, and access to resources and technology, and we’ll be doing all we can to support them through these uncertain times. Communication between lecturers and students is less of an issue than peer-to-peer learning and contact, which is very important because of the way our courses are structured, but also for socialising and networking; and this will continue to be a significant challenge until social distancing measures are eased.

Have you had access to the library? Are there ways in which the library can provide more help at the present time?  Have they already helped – for example, by providing access to more online content, offering scanning services, etc.? 

My understanding is that the university is indeed providing access to more online content etc.

Please give any further information you would like to add.  What do you think will happen when people gradually go back to university?  Will some things have changed permanently?  Can some good have come out of the crisis and its impact on the ways in which people work – e.g., by using distance learning more innovatively, being more creative with the development of teaching and learning materials?  What are the mid- to long-term impacts on teaching likely to be?

I think it is inevitable that online learning will increase. Necessity will drive innovation across all subjects and perhaps this in turn will extend to innovation in the way we offer traditional face-to-face learning and teaching, as the ‘blended’ classroom becomes more familiar to us all.

Tell us a little about yourself

I came to academia quite late, after an early career in publishing, having brought up four children. In 2000 I studied for an MA in Writing for Children at the University of Winchester, and when my first children’s books were published in 2005 I was invited back to teach. I was Director of the Winchester Writers’ Festival for six years, and now divide my time between lecturing and writing. My novel for adults, Snegurochka, was published by Salt in 2019.

[Written by Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]

Academic Publishing, Digital Publishing, Open Access, Trends in Publishing

From Open Access to Open Research: a summary of developments

As the OA movement picked up momentum, there were some watershed moments in the UK: the publication of the Finch Report (2012), which – to the surprise of many – chose the Gold “author pays” model (in which the author or his or her institution pays an APC, or Article Processing Charge) over the Green free-to-view-after-an-embargo-period model; the ruling by the major funding bodies, including RCUK and Wellcome, that outputs of the research they fund (journal articles and underpinning data) must be published OA and the content made available for re-use; and the requirement of REF 21 that authors’ final peer-reviewed and accepted article manuscript submissions must be placed in an Open Access repository.  The last of these supports the Green OA model, but without the embargo element. 

Developments in Europe were soon to surpass the UK in ambition. The principal research funder in the Netherlands, the VSNU, began to mandate a transition to full OA via “transformative agreements” with major publishers in 2016. In 2017, the Swedish government issued its Government Appropriation Directive to the National Library of Sweden (leading member of the BIBSAM consortium that co-ordinates library spending across the country) that “all scientific publications resulting from research financed with public funds shall be published immediately open access”, with a deadline of 2026 for “transitions” with all publishers to be fully realised; also in 2017, Projekt DEAL, a German consortium of libraries and research institutes, set a target of revising licence agreements with major publishers to “bring about significant changes in content access and pricing” of e-journals.  Denmark, meanwhile, remains committed to Green Open Access, as do some countries around the world, including the United States until recently (though without consistent policy or a mandate).

Despite all this activity, some major research funders across Europe and the UK believed that progress towards attaining full and complete Open Access to their funded outputs was moving too slowly. Concerns over “double-dipping” and the lack of take-up of initiatives such as membership schemes and the “block grants” from UK HEIs, compounded a view that publishers were profiteering from taxpayer-funded research that ought to be open for all. There is much general recognition that publishers do add value, but the margins and perceived behaviours of some have become polarising elements in negotiations with their stakeholders. The hard reality of adverse macroeconomic factors for higher education has fused with the ideal of democratisation of knowledge (propounded by groups like Unpaywall) to challenge the industry to change – although without concomitant change to the academic incentives that drive ever-increasing research publishing in the first place.

In 2018, the EU Commission created cOAlition S and launched Plan S, which set out ten main principles intended to achieve full and immediate Open Access by 2021: “…all scholarly publications on the results from research funded by public or private grants provided by national, regional and international research councils and funding bodies, must be published in Open Access Journals, on Open Access Platforms, or made immediately available through Open Access Repositories without embargo.” Key tenets of Plan S are that research must be available via free online access immediately upon publication; be free for sharing and re-use under (ideally) the CC-BY copyright licence; and that publication in hybrid journals is not acceptable unless covered by a transformative agreement.

UK Research & Innovation, allied with cOAlition S, is consulting on its own very similar recommendations at present, with a 2022 compliance target. Separately, the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) of the President of the United States appears to be preparing a similar position. Some academic publishers felt that Plan S merely formalised the goal to which they were already working, although bringing forward the deadline; others, including the largest, have resisted the mandate, which has led to disputes and ongoing battles that these publishers probably can’t win.

A benefit of the pressure being applied by funders is that the most enterprising publishers are considering real openness throughout the research cycle – often of more actual value to researchers than the formal published output – and trying to add value in supporting academic dialogue, early findings, failed experiments, supporting datasets and more.

Open Access for books has also been experimented with, at first either by small publishers – often new university presses set up for this specific purpose – or via open funding platforms such as Knowledge Unlatched; later by the larger academic publishers themselves. In the UK, the 2027 REF requirements have mandated Green open deposit of accepted book manuscripts; UKRI considers them “in scope” from 2024; and the National Endowment for the Humanities is approaching both authors and their publishers with offers of grant funding to turn monographs OA retrospectively. Nevertheless, a viable OA business model for books does not yet exist.

The conundrum that academic publishers have had to address is how to fulfil the requirements of the mandates, treat their librarian customers fairly, and develop a sustainable business model to ensure their own survival.  The “transitional model” developed – which has many variants –  is commonly called “Read and Publish”. It involves signing an agreement with an individual library or consortium that monies formerly supplied to the publisher for subscriptions and/or APCs should be combined in a single payment that allows readers access to the publisher’s content and pays for new articles to be published at the same time.  Ideally, no new money will be introduced into the system, though if a per-article APC model predominates, both cost and complexity will inevitably increase. Some publishers allow unlimited new articles to be published within this payment scheme; others put a cap on the number the payment will cover.

The model is simple in principle but needs much work by both publishers and libraries to make it work, and will only be successful if a) it really effects transformation and b) if the author experience is at least as smooth as it was in the old world of subscription funding.  There are plenty of issues besides this to address: transitional agreements are not intended to last forever – basing payment on historic spending will not work in the long term; funding streams across institutions are not centralised; big research libraries may not be able to publish all accepted articles if there is a cap on the “publish” element of the deal – and if this happens, who will decide which articles to publish?; metadata capture and workflows are still painfully inadequate; crucially, many academics are still unaware, or shaky on the detail, of what it means to publish Open Access and need a great deal of support from librarians and publishers in the form of workshops, online tutorials, etc.; and some confuse OA publishing by reputable mainstream publishers with the “cowboy” publications that proliferated after APCs were accepted as a form of payment, and are therefore hostile to the concept.

Above all, the model must be adopted globally in order to succeed. There may be enough money in the system overall, but its distribution will differ radically under R&P, which has implications for the whole ecosystem. China and the USA lead the world in the quantity of their research output.  Neither has a national OA mandate yet – though some American institutions have now signed Read and Publish deals.  The consumer nations, which publish less than they read, should end up paying less – but how will publishers support research outputs from the developing world? In the long term, publishers can’t run with two major business models – i.e., subscriptions + APCs and Read and Publish.  They need the whole world to get behind the Read and Publish model.  Will this happen?

[Written by Linda Bennett]
This article was first published by Bookbrunch on 13th May 2020.

Deutsch, Services, Bookselling

“Buy local” during Covid-19 – How German booksellers encourage local shopping online; and what is happening in the UK

Since the 18th of March 2020, all non-essential shops in Germany have been closed owing to the current Covid-19 crisis. Like everywhere else in the world, this affects small shops in particular and even though many offer click & collect or delivery services for their products, the danger of the vast majority of customers simply buying from one of the online giants is incredibly high. Small shops (with less than 800 m3 of shop floor) and all bookshops are now due to reopen from today, but they will have to operate under strict hygiene rules and the expected footfall will remain low.

To inform the consumers about their options and ways to support local shops, the German bookshop chains Thalia Mayersche and Osiander teamed up and started the initiative www.shopdaheim.de (which translates into “shop at home”) about 10 days after the closures. Initially, it was a database of about 1,000 bookshops – you are able to search by postcode or place name and see all the local shops that offer some kind of delivery or collection service locally. Within 2 weeks, nearly all of the 3,000 bookshops in the country joined and now – after 4 weeks – 10,000 shops in 41 industries are listed. The site experiences more than 100,000 views a day (at peak times up to half a million) and has become such a success that recently the Austrian equivalent www.shopdaheim.at was launched.

The site still has its main focus on bookshops, but includes shops that sell confectionary, cosmetics, baby products, flowers, perfumes, fashion, sports and more. Several chains (Intersport, DHL, Douglas perfumes, the drug store chain DM and Blume2000, a flower shop chain) are contributing to the marketing and PR of the site whilst the original founders have invested a 6-digit Euro sum into the site. Currently, the listing of a shop is free of charge, but it might be possible that the display of a shop logo or inclusion into marketing campaigns will become chargeable in future – the owners are planning to keep the platform running; after all, local shops having a shared platform to encourage consumers to shop locally is a good idea at the best of times.

shopdaheim Logo

The UK is less fortunate than Germany. Not only are all the bookshops closed, but some of the distributors have closed down their operations and furloughed their staff.  Gardners, one of the UK’s leading book wholesalers and distributors, closed before the end of March and Amazon is no longer stocking new titles, as it says it must focus on storing and distributing more essential products. It’s still possible to buy some print titles direct from online booksellers such as Waterstones and some publishers are also selling print direct – Bloomsbury, for example, has a well-established online ordering service for both print and electronic books which so far it has continued to maintain.  Many online sellers are also making extra promotional efforts to sell e-books; it will be interesting to see if this results in another spike in e-book purchase, which has long plateaued at around 10% of all sales in the trade sector. 

Libraries are also closed but also promoting their digital services. The British Library has contacted all its members to explain how to access its huge resource of online collections. Some public libraries are still making their online collections available, but others have closed down their services altogether. 

Academic libraries in the UK are also all closed, but their staff are still working from home and making Herculean efforts to provide as extensive a service as possible to all their patrons – students, lecturers and researchers.  Most have built up extensive online collections over the past twenty years which have now become an even more valuable resource than they were prior to the lockdown, but users still need support when accessing these and help in finding exactly the materials they want. 

When the lockdown is relaxed, it is difficult to predict which businesses will become casualties. In recent years, the UK has enjoyed a resurgence of both small independent bookshops and independent literary publishers.  Many of these businesses are run on a shoestring, propelled by enthusiasm and love for books rather than any more concrete financial backing. Our culture would be the poorer if we were to lose them, so it will be worth making an extra effort to support them when they are able to trade again. In the meantime, we could do worse than set up our own version of “Shopdaheim” in the UK.

[Written by Annika Bennett and Linda Bennett, Gold Leaf]