OJS in the Online Classroom: Engaging Students with Course Journals

June 15th, 2020 by  | Comments Off on OJS in the Online Classroom: Engaging Students with Course Journals

As post-secondary instructors adapt to providing online instruction for the foreseeable future, many are looking for new ways to engage with students in an online environment. Course journal projects, using Open Journal Systems (OJS), can offer one such opportunity.

Course journal projects are an example of open pedagogy: open educational practices that involve students as producers, rather than just consumers, of knowledge. They can be run in almost any for-credit course, in any subject at the upper-undergraduate or graduate level, and can take a variety of formats and approaches. Students who participate in the production of an online, open access journal develop skills in peer reviewing and copyediting while learning about scholarly publishing concepts. For example, students might:

  • Create work outside of OJS and use the platform to publish their completed work at the end of the course.
  • Use the workflow in OJS to learn about submitting work to a journal, peer reviewing another student’s work, copyediting, formatting for publication, and publishing a final issue for the term (students as authors). 
  • Design the journal website, policies, call-for-papers, and more, while learning about best practices in scholarly publishing, including copyright, author rights, Creative Commons licensing, open access, and peer review practices. They can participate in launching a brand new journal (students as founding editors), or they can recruit content and participate in the editorial workflow for an established journal (students as editors).

Examples of Course Journals

The following examples from Simon Fraser University (SFU) demonstrate some of the different approaches that instructors have taken when creating course journals with their class. Some involve the students as authors contributing content and participating in peer review, while others focus more heavily on the planning and development of journal policies and design. In each of these instances, SFU Library’s Digital Publishing team helped with the journal set-up in OJS; visited the class to talk about things like open access publishing, submitting in OJS, Creative Commons licenses, and finding openly licensed images; and, in the case of Pope-ular Analysis, helped with applying for an ISSN.

Pope-ular Analysis (English, Fall 2019, Dr. Nicky Didicher)

  • Pope-ular Analysis is an example of the “students as authors” course journal approach.


PUB 371: The Structure of the Book Publishing Industry in Canada (Publishing, Fall 2017, Dr. Hannah McGregor)

  • PUB 371 took a similar approach to Pope-ular Analysis, but in addition to written assignments, students published multimedia content, such as:


Intersectional Apocalypse (Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Fall 2018, Dr. Ela Przybylo)

  • Intersectional Apocalypse is an example of the “students as founding editors” approach, where the class worked together to develop policies and make decisions around the journal and recruited content from the community.


Why Course Journals?

Course journals introduce students to the publishing process and involve them in open educational practices while allowing them to earn academic credit for a course in their discipline. Rather than complete work that is seen only by their instructor, students have the opportunity to publish their work openly and engage with a broader audience. Depending on the approach the instructor chooses to take, students may:

  • Develop and/or strengthen skills such as writing, critical thinking, research, editing, and giving and responding to feedback. 
  • Learn about the scholarly publishing system and the value of open access, open education, and open source software. 
  • Showcase the work they produce in their class(es), which may include written assignments, visual art, podcasts, videos, music, and more.
  • Critically explore and evaluate the standards of practice around scholarly communications as a whole, such as the anonymous review process and the often-invisible labour involved in academic knowledge dissemination. 

Naiya Tsang, a student in Dr. Ela Przybylo’s Fall 2018 Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) class at Simon Fraser University (SFU), participated in the production of the course journal Intersectional Apocalypse. Tsang found the course both rewarding and challenging, and would “highly recommend” the course to other students if it were offered again. Dr. Przybylo’s class worked collectively to plan every aspect of the journal, from the “journal manifesto” to the review policy, and the design and layout of the final issue.

“It was one of the most fulfilling academic experiences I’ve had, due to the wonderful conversations we had over the meaning behind our final choices, and the knowledge that when we made a decision it was by true consensus. As a class, we learned how to publish, collaborate, and think through our work from the ‘HTML and CSS’ bottom to the ‘oligopoly of academic publishers’ top (Lariviere et al., 2015), and built a solid platform on which to learn, improve, and work together again on an exciting project in the future.”

Getting Started

If you’re a library publisher working with post-secondary course instructors, consider recommending course journals to faculty at your institution. You may be able to provide hosting support for course journals and visit classes to introduce publishing concepts and the use of OJS. 

To support instructors, the PKP Documentation Interest Group (DIG) created the Instructor Guide for Course Journals. Written by contributors at our Barcelona sprint in November 2019, the guide discusses a variety of assignment options in addition to outlining journal setup, workflow, and technical support.

Want to learn more about course journals? Check out these additional resources:

We want to hear from you! Have you completed a course journal? Showcase your project in the PKP Community Forum’s Community Showcase. Let us know your approach to using OJS in the classroom and post a link to the published issue.

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