Twenty-first century research and scholarship is changing. At one time, researchers could only submit written manuscripts to academic journals. The journals would send copies of the text to experts in the field who would determine if the manuscripts were fit for publication (peer review).

Nowadays, both the content of those manuscripts and the process for evaluating them is changing.

Imagine those traditionally white pages with black typeface suddenly including blue and purple hyperlinks. Instead of a static image in the corner labeled “Figure 1” there is a YouTube video of research in action. Instead of a static bar graph attached as an appendix there is a dynamic, interactive digital chart embedded into the page.

Not only has the content become more complex, ushering the article through peer review – a hallmark of academic research – has become more complex as well.

Scholars, journal editors and reviewers require new tools to keep up with the changing scope of academic online publishing.

Cheryl Ball, associate professor of digital publishing studies in the Department of English in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, is rethinking the process for publishing multimedia-rich scholarship. Along with Andrew Morrison, professor of interdisciplinary design and director of the Centre for Design Research at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in Norway, Ball is co-principal investigator for a project that that will build a digital tool that will allow experts in a variety of disciplines to review, critique and edit these 21st-century manuscripts.

To support these innovations the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded West Virginia University a $1 million grant, the University’s first Mellon grant.

The three-year Mellon Foundation grant will support the development of Cairn, an online, free and open-source system that will help editors of scholarly multimedia journals, books and data sets engage in building and reading multimedia-rich, peer-reviewed content.

“One of the biggest challenges with the traditional workflow was the separation of form and content – in other words, separating the written content from its design,” Ball explained. “That forced division removes meaning from the content and also imposes technical defects in the underlying code of multimedia-rich pieces.”

Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot about Cheryl Ball's research.

She also points out that it may not even be possible to remove written content from the design, such as videos embedded with linguistic content.

Ball says that in most cases written content is copied out of the design and pasted into word processing software for critique and editing. The edited content is then inserted back into the design, carrying invisible code from the word processing software that can damage the layout and production of the piece.

It will be the first editorial content management system of its kind to be built around the concept of editing form and content together. It will allow for design, submission, peer-review, editing and publication processes as a single scholarly entity.

“This Mellon Foundation grant is important because it underwrites research supporting one of the pillars of the global research enterprise – rigorous peer review,” Provost Joyce McConnell said. “Technology is both facilitating and driving enormous growth and change in academia. Dr. Ball’s research will help ensure that new approaches to scholarship will be held to consistent standards of excellence.”

The Mellon Foundation is a private foundation that makes grants on a selective basis with the core purpose of advancing the humanities and the arts. The Foundation’s Scholarly Communications program is currently supporting a number of initiatives that will develop new infrastructure for the production of digital publications in the humanities.

Bengler, a design and development studio in Oslo will develop the publishing system.



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

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