Renegotiating the coin of the realm

bag of coins
There are colleges and universities that don’t assign grades.

It makes sense to me, especially in a “lab” course like Introduction to Engineering Design. I tell the students upon completion of the first day of class that they are now engineers, and all that remains is to complete their education so they can get jobs. It hardly seems fair to ask students to practice their craft when they are being graded down for not being perfect the first time out of the box.

Ideally, there is feedback and correction, until the student achieves competence in each objective. Then, they are practicing engineers, with just some additional knowledge and skills needed for full engagement in the profession.

I have tried not grading articles of classwork and assignments that are designed to be improved upon. The result is that I am graded down in Rate My Professor for assigning matter that is irrelevant (of no value in the currency of a grade). If I grade students for attempting or completing an assignment but not for quality, student reviewers decry the grading system for awarding a good grade for minimal effort. What they don’t understand is that submitting work IS a successful strategy for earning a good grade. Class, repeat after me: “Doing classwork is good. Submitting assignments is good.”

The class wants its grades, and I want mine. It’s only fair.

Sure, there is potential for abuse by a few who would set out to earn a substantial grade with minimal work. But they are only hurting themselves. Two-percenters will not stand out as star communicators. They may not even feel like engineers. (Our purpose is to develop engineering identity!) It’s not likely that an uninspired semester of cutting corners and barely getting by will result in a stellar letter of recommendation. If someone sat in the back of the room and left early every week and failed to engage with the class, I may not even remember them!

An approach that I am trying now is to provide feedback for select assignments, with full credit for a reasonable, if flawed, submission, and grade deductions only for what appears to be a sub-par attempt. Then a final version of the assignment is graded as part of the student’s electronic portfolio, which is a substantial portion of the final grade. So far, I find that a high percentage of the class fails to submit the portfolio, although this basically condemns them to a failing grade. To remedy this, I am putting much effort into reminding the class again and again about the portfolio, and using class time near the end of the course to work on assembling the portfolio document.

Until I can figure out how to assess students fairly without assigning grades, this will have to do.

Predatory publisher or low budget journal?

I am reviewing the International Journal of Smart Grid and Clean Energy (IJSGCE, which is published by Engineering and Technology Publishing (ETP).

I selected this journal because the topic is in my discipline, and its publisher, ETP, is listed on Beall’s List of “potential, possible, or probably predatory scholarly open-access publishers.”  I would like to review the journal myself and decide how useful or credible I find its scholarly content.

ETP’s website features seven journals, four of which are displayed with an ISSN. Each journal has a website, with the three non-ISSN journals having sites in various stages of development, from “under construction” to fully complete (with the journal’s ISSN displayed).  ETP’s website has general information about open access, with links to the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a Wikipedia article on open access, and several open access publishers, including Oxford Journals and Biomed Central.  Three out of eight items listed had bad URLs.  The DOAJ did not have a reciprocal listing for ETP or the International Journal of Smart Grid and Clean Energy.

The “Editors” page did not list current or past editors of the journals but only a notice that there are volunteer editor positions for various journals “for the year of 2012 to 2014.”  Appointments will be made as 2-year trials, and the editor is expected to work 4 hours per week.  Although there is no compensation, ETP may fund attendance at select conferences, where the volunteer editor is expected to promote the journals.  Curiously, the “Subscription” link had 17 journals listed, including the open access journals, with prices quoted for printed editions of the journal.  Volunteer editors are expected to utilize their own professional network to find reviewers for articles.  Applicants must have doctoral degrees and significant experience in publishing and reviewing.

The contact information page indicates that the Managing Editor is located in China at an institution called UESTC, which, according to Wikipedia, is the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, located in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.  UESTC is a public university founded in 1956 and modeled after MIT.  A search of UESTC’s official website in English returned no results when the Managing Editor’s name was searched.  Perhaps he is a graduate of the school rather than a current affiliate.  This editor does have a very sparse profile on ResearchGate.

IJSGCE lists an Editor-in-Chief (the “first” for this journal) whose affiliation is stated as Woollongong University in Australia.  This person is a faculty member at UOW, and his scholars profile says that he has published 75 times in ten years.  The editor’s online CV does not show the IJSGCE Editor position.  The University’s website emphasizes the research activity of each faculty member, with the number of publications and number of grants listed prominently in the search returns.

The web page says that the journal is indexed by Inspec, DOAJ (the Directory of Open Access Journals), and “Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory, Google Scholar, Crossref, etc.”  The author information FAQ states that the journal currently does not have an impact factor, but its objective is to eventually be indexed by ISI Web of Science so that it will eventually have an impact factor.  Authors are charged $200 to $300 per article to offset expenses, with discounts given to students and reviewers.  There is a template, which authors are advised to adhere to strictly.  Full papers must be submitted three months before intended publication date, with review taking two months. The use of a template should streamline the review, editing, and production process.   The application form for prospective reviewers asks the applicant to nominate some potential reviewers.

IJSGCE has a webpage on publication ethics, which lists duties of authors, reviewers, and publishers.  It outlines a procedure for treatment of retractions.  Retracted papers, or papers found to be fraudulent or to contain plagiarized content, will not be removed but will be marked.  The purpose of retractions, the webpage explains, is to “correct the literature and ensure its integrity” rather than be punitive toward authors.  I could not find any retracted papers on the site.  Perhaps the retraction would only appear in the paper itself.

I read some papers in the most recent issues of the journal.  The papers were typically about 6 pages long, and I found the treatments to be shallow, almost trivial, rather than deep and detailed expositions of novel research, and many had substandard English (although the journal’s guidelines for authors states that papers will be rejected for poor English or grammar).  In many cases, the paper’s conclusions told me nothing that was not already obvious.  The citations were largely from IEEE sources, where topics are often addressed in depth.  If these articles existed for the purpose of summarizing recent research on a topic and making the summary available to scholars that may not have access to IEEE, that would make sense.  These papers claim to propose novel methodologies.  I don’t see the novelty.  One paper’s references were mostly works of the authors.  The “Copyright” section of the paper was a notice that the authors needed to sign the copyright agreement and obtain permissions for their figures from the copyright holders before the paper can be published.  Other papers did not contain this language, which makes me think that this paper did not have its copyright agreements in place.  So why is it “published” electronically?  The papers that I reviewed represented a mix of quality.  Some papers reported interesting case studies.  I believe that this publication may have some limited value, but the bar is set very low.  The papers published in this “journal” do not have the depth that one expects of journal papers.

When evaluating a journal, visit its website and look for broken links, incomplete, inconsistent, and outdated information, editorial and management staff that are not listed or do not have a verified affiliation, and an overall lack of transparency.  It is not surprising that a publication with several of these red flags appears on Beall’s list.  When you look up an open source journal article on the DOAJ, you will see information about the Journal (home page, ISSNs, publisher, editorial information), the article (country and language of publication, available formats, subject categories), authors (name, address, and affiliation), in addition to the abstract and link to the full text article.

I do not have enough information to determine whether the journal is “predatory,” meaning that is exists primarily as a service to authors who will pay to have their article published with minimal editorial impediments.  After our discussion in class that in China, “publishing is everything,” and authors receive substantial bonus monies from their institutions for publications, it seems logical that demand by authors will drive many journals to exist largely to satisfy the need of faculty to publish.


International Journal of Smart Grid and Clean Energy

Engineering and Technology Publishing (the publisher of IJSGCE)

Beall’s List

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

Nobody’s talking about it

The day “after,” I was advising students all day, and the mood on campus was subdued.  One of my own students came for advising, and after we finished our session, he commented, “Nobody’s talking about it.”  I told him that everyone is shocked, and nobody knows what to say.  We decided that it might be a good idea for the collective college community to pray; a little solidarity would feel soothing.

A few days later, some ballot boxes began to appear at strategic sites with survey slips asking students to indicate their preferences for “talking about it.”  A couple of talk sessions were scheduled.  I didn’t attend them, nor did we spend time “talking about it” in my class, but I thought that it might be well to find an outlet.  The final Athenaeum Lecture of the semester was scheduled during my Wednesday night class.  This prestigious lecture series brings beauty, art, literature, and food for thought to our campus, and I sometimes take my class if the lecture occurs during our class time.  I pushed through our course material in under an hour so we would be on time for the lecture.

This lecture featured Holocaust survivor Henry Greenbaum.  I have visited Auschwitz ten years ago, but I have never know anyone who had been imprisoned there.  Mr. Greenbaum’s two-hour talk was riveting and uplifting.  The most memorable part of the story was what happened after the war, after Henry was restored to health and reunited with his surviving family.  His sister advised him to postpone marriage and go to school, but he was eager to find a bride and settle down in a household of his own.  His friend helped him find a wife; the friend just picked out a girl his age, the first girl that caught his eye, and the rest was history. He never did go to school! The school of survival, and a wife by his side, a small business loan and a prayer were the ingredients for a successful life.

Perhaps hearing Mr. Greenbaum’s story was the medicine that we all needed.

Your mission, if you choose to accept . . .

“Olin College prepares students to become exemplary engineering  innovators who recognize needs, design solutions, and engage in creative  enterprises for the good of the world.”

I love this mission statement because it is an elegant statement of my personal mission.

When I was in grade school, my personal mission statement would have been something like, “change the world.” Over time, my mission has been revealed, refined, and clarified. I discovered engineering midway through the 12th grade, and once it was explained to me, I instantly knew that I belonged in the “problem solving” profession, and I have never looked back.

Every engineering student takes an introductory course where they are introduced to engineering practice by learning and doing. What they learn and do can be summarized as three steps: identifying the problem or opportunity, designing solutions, and implementing the solutions. In the course, it becomes clear that the overarching purpose and mission of engineers is to improve the situation of humanity. Throughout their education and training, engineers learn to harness their creativity, apply their technical prowess, and understand the role and consequences of engineering in society.

Olin College has written a concise statement that can be the mission statement of every engineering school, every engineering course, and every engineer for a lifetime.

There is a second part to Olin College’s mission statement, which I believe was added recently:

Olin is dedicated to continual discovery and development of effective learning approaches and environments, and to co-developing educational transformation with collaborators around the globe.

My own personal mission has expanded from changing the world as an engineer to changing the world by developing the next generation of engineers.  Like Olin, I want to engineer education itself, working with collaborators to be as transformative in the education of engineers as the engineers will be in bettering society directly.

For anyone who wants to use their creative vision to transform engineering education, Olin College is an institution to watch.

Here is another mission statement, from a land-grant HBCU:

Prairie View A&M University is a state-assisted, public, comprehensive land grant institution of higher education. The university was designated in a 1984 amendment to the Texas Constitution as an “institution of the first class.” It is dedicated to achieving excellence and relevance in teaching, research, and service. It seeks to invest in programs and services that address issues and challenges affecting the diverse ethnic and socioeconomic population of Texas and the larger society including the global arena. The university seeks to provide a high quality educational experience for students who, upon completion of bachelors, masters, or doctorate degrees, possess self-sufficiency and professional competence. The experience is imbued by the institution’s values including, but not limited to, access and quality, accountability, diversity, leadership, relevance, and social responsibility.

This mission statement, which was revised two years ago after a two-year-long conversation, is set in the context of the history of the institution.  While the statement is intended to embrace all of the university’s programs and activities, the term “professional competence” will especially resonate with engineers.  The last sentence touches on some of the university’s values—access, leadership, relevance, social responsibility—and breathes life into the stated objectives, giving the mission statement a “change the world” quality.

Two mission statements: one concise, and another richly textured, both speaking to the social responsibility of the engineering profession that these institutions perpetuate.


Hello world!

15129328611_92a807bc3e_mThis blog is dedicated to B students in the undergraduate engineering disciplines, and to all other engineering students, too.

In engineering, not only is “failure” an option; it is a prerequisite for success.

Photo from Montgomery College, “GT Campus 8/27/2014” album