Bits and Behavior
Published in

Bits and Behavior

A succession of printed journal issues, fading grey to the left, with a light bulb, question mark, thought bubble, database, and exclamation point leaping out on the right.
Dreaming of a journaly future.

I’m the new Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Computing Education

Computer science is weird. Since it’s early days as an emerging academic discipline, it’s committed deeply to conferences as archival venues for its discoveries. The mythology behind this is murky. Some say that was about speed—there was apparently so much to publish, so quickly, they didn’t have time to wait 6–9 months for a paper to appear. Others suggest that it was more about just being different. I wasn’t around in the 60’s to know the reality of how this happened, but I’ve had a long 20 years to participate in the conference-based world that it’s built, and to hang out with scholars across the rest of academia, and I can confidently say: it’s weird.

Computer science is starting to realize that it’s weird too. Perhaps the most prominent critic is Moshe Vardi, who has long passionately argued that CS needs to move to journals, and free conferences to be what they always should have been: a way to build community, discuss emerging ideas, and create new collaborations, without the distraction of peer review and prestige. Many conferences have moved to the ACM hybrid PACM model, which enables conferences to review and publish like a journal, but link it to a conference. And conferences in HCI such as CSCW have adopted revise and resubmit and quarterly submission deadline models, incorporating many aspects of journals into their conference review processes. The community, it seems, is slowly trying to extract itself from it’s quirky choices in the 1960's.

I’ve long agreed with Moshe and others about the need to do this. I remember attending my first ACM CHI conference program committee meeting back in 2009, and thinking “This is amazing, coming together with all of these other program committee members to discuss and debate the significance of our community’s scholarship” and at the very same time, thinking “This can’t possibly scale, this can’t possibly be better than the classic journal peer review model, and all of this carbon output can’t possibly be good for global warming. Why do we do it this way?” I remember one coffee break in particular, ranting to a colleague about why we don’t just have a bunch of great journals, and then talk about the published work at conferences? He replied with the usual skepticism emerged: but journals are so slow, journals are “old”, journals are for archiving, as if all of these qualities were actually harmful to scholarship. What was wrong with slow, well-worn ideas of peer review, and archiving?

Over time, my perspective on the merits of journals became clearer. Revise and resubmit makes work better. Being able to invite anyone to review, not just those on a program committee, makes reviewing better and more inclusive. Having year round submission makes work more timely. Having more flexible timelines for reviewing can make reviews more thoughtful and considered. Authors submitting to journal submit when the work is ready, not when there’s an annual deadline. Journals can be just as fast as conferences when run well. Acceptances are tied to merit, not subtly suppressed by presentation slot constraints. The list of benefits of journals is endless.

After program chairing ACM ICER 2021 last year, I decided to live my values, and be done with conference-based peer review. I nominated myself to be the new Editor-in-Chief of ACM Transactions on Computing Education, what I view as one of two premier journals on computing education, alongside Taylor & Francis Computer Science Education. I knew it’s current editor, Chris Hundhausen well, and highly respect how he lifted a journal struggling to get started into such a high level of respect and growth, and wanted to invest in strengthening it further. (I also liked the idea of having a solid excuse to say no to every peer review request, because editing a journal is plenty of peer review service for one person).

My pitch to the ACM Publications Board selection committee was as follows:

  • I’m experienced, having served as an Associate Editor on multiple journals and a program chair and program committee member for more than 35 conferences.
  • I’m a process nerd, focused on explicit documentation, training, organization, and continuous improvement.
  • I’m committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, focused on ensuring that all respectful voices participate in shaping scholarship, and that scholarship creates a more just world.
  • I have a different perspective from past editors, as a White/Asian woman of trans experience, and a highly interdisciplinary background spanning HCI, Software Engineering, and Computing Education.

To my excitement, I was selected and approved! My term starts December 1st, 2021, and I’ll be joining a community of over 60 other ACM journals (only 15 of which have women editors, ahem). I’m excited to bring lots of new ideas to the journal, such as:

  • Further broadening the scope of the journal to make it even more intellectually inclusive.
  • Diversifying and growing the editorial board, achieving more diversity in language, culture, race, gender, and ability.
  • Building a robust infrastructure of documentation, ensuring that there is no hidden curriculum for authors, reviewers, or editors, and explicit policy for common questions.
  • Managing reviewer scarcity through process efficiency, policy clarity, author guidelines, reviewer trainings, and workload reductions.
  • Creating community amongst our editors, reviewers, and authors, and making us more accessible to the community.
  • More directly engaging the broader scholarly community on journal policy, to ensure that the journal reflects its needs, especially as they evolve.
  • Exploring innovative new forms of peer review that empowers authors, reviewers, and editors to learn and grow together, focusing peer review on learning and capacity building as much as on critical evaluation.

Throughout, I hope to prioritize several principles in my work:

  • Transparency. In a volunteer community like ours, we are nothing if we do not trust each other. I aspire to have everything we do in the journal to be visible and open, with the exception of confidential parts of peer review. This won’t necessarily mean that everyone likes my decisions, but they will at least know that I’ve made them and why.
  • Inclusion. Everyone must feel welcome in our community, especially those at the margins, whether that means authors bringing radical, destabilizing new ideas, reviewers struggling to make a deadline, or editors overwhelmed with their assignments. Sometimes this might mean we move a bit slower to prevent burnout. Sometimes it might mean silencing voices that bring toxic ideas to submissions or reviewing. It will always mean respecting the diversity, humanity, and inherent worth and dignity of everyone that participants first, and then getting to the business of publishing great wrok.
  • Excellence. I mean this in a scholarly sense—sound research, impactful discoveries, great writing—but also in 1) a procedural sense, offering new models that inspire other journals across academia to follow our lead, 2) a moral sense, offering a concrete visions of what it means for peer reviewed scholarship to be respectful and just. The status quo is not good enough; we will achieve excellence through change.

I hope I can do it. I’m excited to try! And I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity, thanks partly to the ACM Publications Board for approving me, thanks partly to the selection committee for selecting me, but thanks particularly to Chris Hundhausen, for his outstanding six years of service as ACM TOCE Editor-in-Chief. I’m building upon the incredibly robust foundation he built, and reaching higher for it.

In the spirit of the values above, if you have anything you’d like to discuss about the journal—changes to policy, changes to process, changes to infrastructure, how you can help, feedback on any of the above—please write me at ajko@uw.edu. I hope to share more soon about ways you can more directly advocate to me and the board about the journal’s next steps.

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Amy J. Ko

Amy J. Ko

6.6K Followers

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.