The quality, comprehensiveness, clarity, and currency of open textbooks are often called into question because of a lack of understanding about how OER are created. Foregrounding the peer review process is an important way to dispel these notions, while also ensuring the high quality of your text. As a publicly visible indicator, peer review also signals to potential adopters that this content is suitable for classroom use.
This summary covers aspects of managing pre-publication peer review, while noting that post-publication reviews from readers and adopters is invaluable for future versions and editions.
Review allows experts to share their knowledge. Beyond the credibility that they provide, peer reviewers’ critical feedback and suggestions tend to improve the resource for its intended audience.
Decide early on what you need from this process. Determine your goals and expectations before you bring on reviewers, so they can focus on giving you exactly what will be most useful.
Be aware of the differences in perception attached to different types of peer review. Although we think all kinds of review are equally valuable and prestigious, others can perceive anonymous review (similar to double-blind review) differently to non-anonymous review. Weigh these differences as you see fit for your project.
Model good behaviour. Set an example with how you communicate with reviewers, so that they communicate equally respectfully with authors. Provide pointers on how to give constructive feedback and critique without losing what’s working about the book, and without devaluing the work that’s gone into it so far.
There’s a surprising number of people from your team who can take part in the peer review phase:
- Review coordinator: prepare the review guide, write calls for reviewers, manage recruitment, track progress, and relay information among reviewers and the authoring and editing team
- Reviewers: subject-matter experts who provide critical input and suggestions to improve the resource. (We recommend at least two reviewers per book or per chapter, if you are conducting a chapter-based review)
- Authors: incorporate reviewers’ feedback, communicate with editors and reviewers (directly or through the review coordinator)
- Editors: coordinate with the authors and reviewers (or review coordinator) about revisions to the book, implement these revisions in some cases
- Project manager: communicate with the review coordinator (or act as one), share calls for reviewers and project updates
Peer review generally takes place once all the content has been written and edited, but it can also happen on a rolling basis if you are conducting a chapter-based review. In both cases, it’s important to do some prep work so that the process runs smoothly from start to finish:
- Prepare a review guide with a simplified version of your project summary, links to the book or content, general reviewer guidelines, project-specific questions you want addressed, deadlines, tools, reviewer etiquette, compensation (if any), and ways in which reviewers will be credited.
- Create a call for reviewers that includes project details, intended audience level, criteria for reviewers, and instructions for indicating interest. The call should also encourage members of underrepresented groups or those in diverse cultural, geographic, or social contexts to participate.
- Share the call widely, in the Rebus Community networks, in your team’s social media and professional networks, on listservs, and even through cold calls.
- Write up a peer review workflow, so everyone involved understands what the onboarding process is for reviewers.
- Decide on the review tools you’ll use, e.g., Google Docs, Hypothes.is, email memos, etc.
- Keep an updated tracking sheet showing reviewers’ progress and when check-ins have been conducted.
- Include a Review Statement in your book, both as a way to signal the quality of the book to potential adopters, and as a way to show appreciation for the reviewers’ service.
- Communicate with reviewers both during review and after—including when changes are being incorporated, during release, and as the book is adopted. (Reviewers can become eventual adopters.)
- Credit the work that reviewers have done in your team communications, and if possible, send reviewers a thank you card, personal email, or print copy of the book.
Reviewers are often involved because they believe in the value of the project, and we hope these suggestions will help you make it an enjoyable experience for them, while also receiving the feedback you need for your resource.
Read on to learn more about conducting peer review on your open textbook.