EP 00 Transcript: Open Peer Review Podcast

[Music plays then fades down] 

Anna Ashitey [0:19]
Hi and welcome to episode zero of the OPR podcast. My name is Anna Ashitey and joining us is researcher Lori Beckstead, who’s an associate professor at Ryerson University. We’re also joined by Lori’s research assistant, Valentina Passos Gastaldo. I’m going to get right into it and I want to ask what is the OPR podcast?

Lori Beckstead [0:41] 
The OPR podcast is something I put together as a kind of a demonstration for how a podcast could be used by researchers, academics and scholars as part of the process towards putting out a more traditional research output, i.e. an article in a journal, for example. So right now there’s one demonstration episode. The idea is that a researcher is invited on to the podcast to talk about a particular project that is, you know, mostly done and is in the stages of being written up and is almost ready for publication. That researcher invites a peer reviewer, so an expert in the same field as the research that’s being discussed to come on the podcast, and then there’s also a host, who kind of is just in charge of making sure that the conversation flows and all of the right questions are being hit. But the idea is that the peer reviewer and the researcher get to kind of chew up the research a little bit, ask questions, go down paths that maybe hadn’t been considered before, look for any issues with the research, maybe find new meaning for what the research means. And the idea is that the researcher has that chance to have that conversation and then use what they’ve taken on through that conversation to try to refine their research and make it ready for publication.

Anna Ashitey [2:04]
So can you speak to some of your goals when you were developing the project?

Lori Beckstead [2:09]
Yes. So I think this project stems out of a desire to want to make it more normal, to normalize the idea that there are different ways of disseminating knowledge. So, you know, researchers at universities and other places, their job is to find out new things, to create knowledge and then ideally, what we do is we share it with people so that that knowledge can actually be put to use. It’s my feeling that when you stick to only publishing in academic journals, which are fantastic, you know, they’re rigorously reviewed, to ensure that everything in there is factual and accurate and that we’re creating the best knowledge that we can, but there’s a barrier there. So there’s a barrier not only to get your work published, but there’s also a barrier for people to access that. I mean, it’s not everyday that the lay person wants to go and read academic journals to find out new things. So I think podcasting is a great medium to open up research to a much wider audience, to talk about research in a really conversational way. And I want to demonstrate that podcasting can be thought of as a legitimate way of disseminating that knowledge. So I want to kind of add to the pantheon of, you know, things that are considered legitimate in terms of research outputs. And I’ll just tell you a quick story, I remember early in my career I was filling out a new format of my CV — it was a format that was required by a funding agency or something like that — but their format specifically asked for the very first thing on your CV had to be a number. So right after your name there was “filling a number here” and the number that they were asking for was [a] number of published papers. And I just thought, “that’s crazy! You just want a number? You don’t even want to know what they were or perhaps what other ways of creating knowledge?” And I find that way of thinking very, not necessarily dangerous, but it’s very exclusive. People create knowledge in a lot of different ways, people’s fortes are not always writing in academic speak, which can be very opaque to people who want to try to understand what’s happening there. So, yeah, so the goal is really to just kind of acclimatize academia to this idea that there are different ways that we can put the knowledge out there. But let me invite Valentina into the conversation. Valentina, you’ve been working really, really hard on this project and so [I’m] just curious what else you might want to add here

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [4:53]
Yeah, I think you covered basically everything but for me specifically, like we have so many goals with a project, right? But one of the main goals for me, as a student and as a future academic, is to increase the accessibility of scientific knowledge production and to make it more visible to the community, to the listener – whoever the listener might be – the way research can be conducted, and it’s not this perfect thing that people might think, and it has its flaws, and it has all the process behind. It’s kind of, you know, we’re just opening up, as you even said, to a transparent mindset, almost. Like we want people to see what it’s like and I feel like podcasting allows us to do that very well.

Anna Ashitey [5:42] 
Just to further get into why the podcasting medium, Valentina, you mentioned accessibility. Are there specific ways that podcasting allows us to disseminate research in a more accessible way?

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [5:54]
As Lori said before, podcasting allows for interpersonal connections and there’s something about the voice, about the tone, about the pauses when we talk to each other. So it’s a very intimate medium, right? And I believe, I’m a huge believer, that when we experience intimate moments with people, those moments allow us to change our opinions, allow us to reflect on our thoughts and reflect on many things in our lives. So I do think the dialectic nature of conversation within podcasting is what allows for this more truthful, if I can say that, conversation. What about you Lori, what do you think about that?

Lori Beckstead [6:35] 
Yeah, I agree. As an academic, one of the great opportunities we have is when we go to conferences to talk to other colleagues who are researching and studying in the same area, and then you know, there’s conversations happening like crazy. But of course, conferences take up a lot of resources, you have to maybe fly halfway around the world, and you’ve got jet lag, and it’s very expensive. But there’s a reason why we do conferences, because that face to face connection, the conversation that happens opens up so many new ways of thinking, and new inspirations, and new insights – it’s so important. So I feel like being able to do a podcast with a researcher and a peer reviewer is a very, very similar experience to just kind of open things up. And Valentina, you kind of were gesturing towards this idea of “we’re looking behind the curtain a little bit, also at the process”. So what I like about – because podcasting is intimate and conversational and it’s hard not to be your authentic self when you’re just engaged in a conversation with someone – is, it allows a little more for the vulnerabilities, the sort of doubt that you might have had in your mind about the path you were taking with your research, or what you really do think it means when you’re looking at the data, that sort of thing. You kind of open yourself up to that scrutiny on the level of, you know, “it may not be perfect, I’m not even sure myself about it”, but I think that’s really important for people to see and hear because we do live in an age when, you know, especially since COVID-19 – where people want the absolute truth, the fact. If you say one day that “here’s what we know is to be true” and the next day it’s different, then people suddenly kind of throw their hands up in despair and say, “Well, nobody knows what they’re talking about and I’m not going to listen to anybody”. But the truth is, that is how knowledge is created, it’s not infallible. And so I think it’s nice to have this podcast as a way to kind of open that up and even talk about the failures and so on. Because a finished article in a journal is perfected, it’s finished, it has been reviewed, it has been completed, you know? There should not be any flaws or any imperfections in something that makes it as far as published in a peer reviewed journal. That’s the point, right? And yes, that should be how it is but I like the idea that the podcast can kind of open things up before we get to that idea of perfection.

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [8:59]
Yeah, and I would like to mention something regarding that. For me as a student, I used to think of research as this very impossible thing to get into because [of] all the finished papers and you see those beautiful, well-written articles out there and you think, “Oh my god, I would never be able to do something like that”. So as a student, as a media student, I was very scared of it. And then when I became your research assistant, Lori, you told me at the beginning of summer, “You know, you have an idea for the project and you’ll see, it will be completely different than what we started with”, and that’s exactly what happened. So it really made me be more confident in the work that we’re doing here and believe that it is possible for people to do it if they don’t have the idea that it’s like, “one thing”, because research can be many things and there’s so many different ways of doing research. So I believe doing podcasts really opened this mindset for me that, you know, there’s a place for everyone within academia and it’s just a matter of finding this right place.

Lori Beckstead [10:05]
Yeah, and that idea of the place for everyone, I mean, I think being able to speak about your research is different than writing about it and might open up. You know, not everyone is a fantastic writer, not everyone kind of understands how to use that very dense language that is kind of almost demanded of you, in terms of being published in an academic journal. And so, yeah, it opens it up to more people that perhaps if they thought that they could disseminate their research via podcasts, for example, among many other different forms, then they might think, “Oh, maybe I do have what it takes to be a researcher”, whereas they might have been thinking, “Well, I can’t write, you know, I don’t understand that language, research clearly isn’t for me” – so I think there’s a bit of a democratization that could happen here. On the other hand, there are the people that say, “Well, if it’s so democratic, then where’s the rigor?” You know, we do need academic research to be rigorously reviewed and to ensure that it’s good, but I think there are still ways to do that using other formats such as podcasting.

Anna Ashitey [11:11]
Yeah. We’re definitely humanizing academia, humanizing research, so it’s more accessible to more people. Just out of curiosity, how is podcasting used in academia? How did you come across that in your research?

Lori Beckstead [11:25]
Yeah, so we did an extensive look around to find out how academics and scholars are using it. I think podcasting has been used for quite a long time in terms of, certainly at least data collection. Recording sound has always been a fantastic ethnographic research tool. When you want to hear people’s own stories and, you know, told in their own voice, podcasting is just a really great natural fit for that. Valentina, do you want to talk about a couple of studies that we looked at that I think kind of are great examples of this?

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [12:00]
Yeah! So there are two main projects that I have in mind. So the first one is called “Podcasts as Method: Critical reflections on using podcasts to produce geographic knowledge” by Eden Kinkaid and colleagues. Basically the project aimed to examine geographic dimensions of [a] unionization movement and the way they did that was [to] develop by a podcast project. They collected data using recordings of graduate students, so they talked to graduate students, and they recorded these things, and they made it available after a while. So two things that I took from this project [are], as they exemplified in the article, the potential for podcasting to communicate data through voices and the second one is how the emphasis on dialogue changes how they collected the data, analyzed, and presented the research. So these are the main things that I took from that project. And the other one by Lindsay Day and colleagues. So they developed a qualitative and decolonizing research project that used podcasting as a collaborative research method. They were interested in the subject of water in Canada and through recording discussions and interviews with indigenous communities, as well as Western scientists, they were able to collect and analyze data through these recordings and eventually, this became a podcast called Water Dialogues. So not only is it a podcast, it is a way for collecting data.

Lori Beckstead [13:25]
Yeah and what I really like about Lindsay Day and her colleagues’ work is this idea of decolonizing research. I think that’s an important concept because we talked about making it accessible, but decolonizing in particular, to make research more accessible to indigenous peoples is also a very, very important concept. So that’s the idea of using podcasts as sort of a data collection or/and as a knowledge dissemination tool. But there are other researchers who are using – I mean, I guess there are plenty of podcasts out there in terms of disseminating scientific knowledge and we can actually provide a list in our show notes of all of the ones that we’ve come across, and I’m sure there are many more – but the idea that, you know, podcasting just makes it very accessible. So in order to sit down and have a conversation, you can take a very complex idea that a researcher might have come up with and make it palatable, and interesting, and sometimes even entertaining for a general audience. So there are plenty of podcasts out there and I think, you know, sometimes people want to listen to podcasts because they feel like they’re going to not only be entertained, but they’re going to actually come out the other end feeling a little bit better about themselves somehow, that they’ve learned something, or they’ve gained some new knowledge, or there might be something that they can sit down to dinner with their family and say, “Hey, you know, I found out this thing today. It was really interesting”. So yeah, so we’ll add a list of those ones that are using podcasting to disseminate the knowledge, but in between there are scholars that are looking at how can podcasting specifically be used in the peer review sort of area. 

So a couple that I’d like to bring up, Ted Riecken put out a podcast in 2014, it was one episode [and] it was called “Mapping the fit between research and multimedia: a podcast exploration of the place of multimedia within or as scholarship.” He is an educational researcher and he did this podcast just musing about how podcasts could be used as scholarship, it was really interesting. He lives in British Columbia, Canada, which is just … nature is incredible out there on the west coast, and he actually was walking through a forest while he recorded this, which I thought was really neat. So he was really kind of exploiting the idea of soundscape as well as podcasting and then there was a second episode done by peer reviewers, so they actually discussed the original episode to say, to give their feedback. So they brought up things like, “Is there a way to blind peer review a podcast?” which is an issue, you know, not necessarily but perhaps, “what would it take for academia to accept podcasts as legitimate research outputs?”, “Should there be some kind of checklist that a podcast should have to fit into?” – which as an aside, I hope maybe not because I don’t want to kind of destroy podcasts in the name of making them fit into what academia needs to hear. But so yeah, that’s an interesting one and we’ll put a link to that in our show notes. 

And then Hannah McGregor and Siobhan McMenemy are working on … They’ve just launched something called the Amplify Podcast Network – this is a network of scholars that are using podcasts to disseminate their information. But Hannah McGregor started off by creating a podcast called Secret Feminist Agenda and she interviews people from all walks of life just about how feminism manifests everyday in their in their work or their personal lives. Some of them are scholars, some are artists, some are teachers, etc, etc. And it wasn’t until after she finished recording the first season that she decided to explore whether that podcast could be considered a sort of legitimate research output. So she invited a bunch of peer reviewers to fill in questionnaires about how they felt about that, you know, “Is there enough scholarship here?”, “How can we rate it?”, “How could we review it?”. So she’s done three seasons of that podcast with peer review on each one – so that’s a fascinating project. And what’s interesting to me about that one is, she did not change the parameters of what she believed a podcast should be in any way in order to try to make it fit, quote unquote, into the idea of what could be peer reviewable. So I love the idea that it’s just like, “I’m gonna make a podcast under podcasting’s own terms and then we’re going to kind of try to see if this is legitimately a research output.” And I think the answer is yes, it is legitimately research output. 

But I decided my work needed to fill a niche somewhere in between there. So what I decided I wanted to do was to create a podcast that specifically asked about all of the same ideas that would normally go into a finished paper. So there are questions about … For example, the first question would be, “Tell me about your research.” and ideally, the researcher then gives you a summary of what they’re working on, which would be equivalent to sort of an abstract in a finished paper. There are questions about the methodology, you know, “How did you conduct this study?” or “How did you conduct this research?” and so that’s the opportunity for the researcher to talk about their methodology and for the peer reviewer to maybe ask questions about that methodology and “Did you consider this?”, “And what about that?” and so on and so forth. So the idea is that I’m trying to work in that space where we’re using podcasting, we’re not really manipulating the medium very much, it’s still a conversation but the questions are specifically geared towards hitting all of those things that a peer reviewer of a written paper might need to consider. So the idea is using podcast as a bridge between … as kind of a bridging mechanism to get to the publication stage, I guess you could say.

Anna Ashitey [19:35]
Got it. So with these different formats that we hear in academic podcasting, how do you view, Lori, podcasting fitting into the pre publication stage? What will it sound like or what will it look like?

Lori Beckstead [19:50]
Yeah. So Valentina, would you like to take a stab at this when we’re talking about, you know, the roles and how we … because we worked over this summer to sort of conceptualize what should this sound like? How should this come together? How should it be produced in order to fill that role?

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [20:08]
Yeah, of course. So we had to look so much into literature review as well as listen to many podcasts that talked about research dissemination and we kind of figured out our own way to do it. And the best way we thought was to have a host, a researcher, and a peer reviewer having a conversation. So basically, the host would be someone who would moderate a conversation – in our case it was Taylor McLean, she’s the program lead for Center for Communicating Knowledge at Ryerson University –  the researcher was Lori, who decided to be kind of the ‘guinea pig of this whole project and, you know, talk about her research, and the peer reviewer was Dario Llinares. So basically, we looked for specific people to fit in the roles that we were looking for. And there’s also the producer, someone who will put this thing together, who ensures all parts have knowledge of what’s going on, what’s happening; making sure that editing goes well; and making sure it is there out in the public as soon as it’s ready. So basically, one of the considerations we have for the future is, “Who will fit this role?” Like, will the host be the same for every episode? or will things change? So right now is just like, we did this pilot and we don’t really know what the future of this looks like. But we’re, I believe, very open to see what’s going to happen with these roles that we proposed here.

Lori Beckstead [21:40]
Yeah, and I think one of the goals of doing this research is to maybe almost create a playbook for universities to use because I think this is a very valuable way of using podcasting. But, you know, even though you may listen to podcasts and think, “That just sounded like a really great genuine conversation”, they’re meant to sound almost off the cuff – many of them, you know? That someone just flipped on the microphones and started talking, but the reality is a heck of a lot more work than that. So I’d like to be able to kind of let universities know, “Here’s a working model that could work for you” if you can try to replicate it. And one of the reasons we invited Taylor McLean from the Center for Communicating Knowledge at Ryerson University to be the host is because I see units like that, like the Center for Communicating Knowledge or you know, many universities have different knowledge mobilization units or even university presses, for example. I see units like that as being kind of the obvious place where a service like this might exist for researchers because it would be a lot to ask a researcher to try to develop a podcast on their own. And I happen to be a researcher who researches podcasting, and I’m also a podcaster, and I teach in the media production school, so it was no problem for me, although it was still a lot of work. But it’s not something that a researcher could normally just kind of snap their fingers and “Voila, here’s a podcast that allows my knowledge to be shared with the world”. So I could see it being taken on by units like those at universities.

Anna Ashitey [23:30]
If researchers are working with specific units in universities, can any area of study utilize the pre-publication podcasting stage? Or is it trickier when we’re getting into different areas of study or can it be applied anywhere?

Lori Beckstead [23:47]
That’s a really great question because the first episode, the demonstration episode, as Valentina mentioned, I was the researcher talking about a different research area that I’m working on but it’s still to do with podcasting – this is where things get very, very confusing and there will be a test at the end to see if you’ve got it right [laughs]. But the research was about podcasting and we were using a podcast to talk about it, so I guess the question is, what if you are researching some other completely different area? I think that the way we’ve designed this, and certainly we have to test it maybe [with] episode number two we’ll try to invite someone from a completely different area on, but the idea with the questions being questions that get to the heart of what goes into almost every paper that gets published in a journal, you know, the research question, the literature review or supporting theoretical frameworks, the methodology, the analysis, the sort of limitations, and future research — that kind of in a nutshell is the structure of an academic paper. So, by following that same structure in the podcast, or at least asking questions that get to that, I think that we can have any researcher in any field. As long as they’re able to articulate themselves verbally about what they’re doing, it should work. But that is also another insight that we gained in doing this, that talking about your research is completely different than writing about your research. It seems to rely on some different part of the brain and I found it really useful to have a conversation about the research because even just trying to summarize it verbally for someone, to just introduce to people who hadn’t heard about the research before, just made me stretch my brain in ways that maybe I hadn’t before – it made me really distill the concept and the kernel of my research down very carefully and clearly. And just speaking about it, [it] just gave insights that I think I did not get when writing about it. And I’m not saying one is better than the other, they’re just different and so I think it’s a really valuable process to have conversations about what you’re researching.

Anna Ashitey [26:07]
Yeah, you’re able to chew it up in a different way. Are you willing to take us through the process? So what it looked like from the beginning to the end of when you edited the podcast and everything in between? If you could take us through what that looked like.

Lori Beckstead [26:22]
Yeah, so part of the process for sure we had to just review the literature, the existing literature in the field, to see what other people are doing and how they are doing it. And then we hit upon this concept of “Let’s look at podcasting from the point of view of, can it help us to bridge towards publication” and then from there it was all hands on deck – let’s find a host, let’s find a researcher, let’s find the appropriate peer reviewer, setting up schedules, getting the recording done. Although once we hit record, it went so quickly. Valentina made an incredible pre-production document for us so it laid out all of the questions that we wanted the host to ask, we indicated what the purpose of each question was for example, “This question is meant to get at the methodology used in the study” and then we also made a summary of what I, as the researcher, would actually talk about in that when I was asked that question. So that document was distributed to the host and to the peer reviewer so that they had some idea of what the heck they were getting into – and I think that was really, really, really helpful. We were all on the same page, we had a good starting point and then the conversation went from there. Yeah, and Valentina, you had some great insights about how that conversation went. Why don’t you tell us about that?

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [27:58]
Yeah. So we had everything planned and, you know, had all the questions there and then when I was listening to the podcast while it was recording I was just like, “Wait, that’s not the following question”. I was just like, “It’s not going according to the structure, what’s happening?”. And for the beginning, I was very worried about it. I was just like, “Whoa, this is not what I imagined”. But at the end, I could see how we turned out to be the best possible way because the peer reviewer was addressing the things that he, Dario in this case, thought [it] needed to be addressed. So not necessarily you have to follow all the questions, but in any way, all the questions were tackled at a point in the podcast, in the episode. At the end, it doesn’t follow an order but everything is there so I was just very relieved and very happy at the end of the podcast – but at the beginning I was kind of scared.

Lori Beckstead [28:56]
And that’s the nature of conversations, as they do you get rolling, and you go down rabbit holes, and you go on tangents, and you know, that’s the role of the host, Taylor did a good job of ensuring we did come back to the questions eventually. And I think ultimately, we did touch on everything that needed to be touched on, even if we didn’t do it according to our original plan. But yeah, I think it worked out really well.

Anna Ashitey [29:19]
So what insights did you get from producing this pilot episode? Did you find that you had to use multimedia when you were creating your website? What did that look like?

Lori Beckstead [29:29]
Yeah, that’s one interesting thing. You think of yourself as creating a podcast, “I am making this audio based medium, I’m gonna do one of those”. And so you think about doing that and you do it, but then the podcast has to live somewhere on the internet. So we built a website around it, we added transcripts, we added show notes, and the internet is of course, a very text and image based medium so now suddenly we’re working in a different medium than what we thought we were working in, where those show notes, and the transcriptions, and all of the things that needed to exist on that website, around the podcast, became a whole other step, a whole other way of thinking about the research and the project. And it was quite of a detailed, in depth endeavor to get the show notes done. So they need to be different than, quote unquote, normal show notes for a regular podcast where they might just add links to something that came up in the conversation – we were doing that as well, but we also needed it to be very robust so that anything we did mention or if we referred to someone else’s work in the podcast, we needed to have those citations there, we need to have supporting information. In the episode, I start talking about the way I analyzed the data using radar charts, and that’s very difficult to describe orally so all of those figures need to be in the show notes so someone listening can actually go and look at those charts and interpret them for themselves to see if I’ve interpreted them correctly myself. And then of course, on the web we also want anyone to be able to participate in the peer review process. So whether they are a layperson or an expert in the field, if they’ve listened to the podcast and looked at the show notes and they want to make comments, or ask questions, or say, you know, “You’re full of crap on this point”, whatever it is they want to say, we welcome that. And so that was another thing we needed to build into the website, it was a mechanism for people to give ongoing peer review about the project.

Anna Ashitey [31:43]
So big question, but what is next for this project? 

Lori Beckstead [31:47]
So as was mentioned earlier, we would like to invite scholars from other fields to participate, to see how this feels for them. And I mentioned that we’d like to kind of create guidelines for scholars and for producers: how did we do it, what worked, what didn’t work, and what we are recommending to them as a way to try to reproduce this. You know, we need to think about things like: what resources and skills are needed? What the cost is? How much time does it take? I think there’s sometimes a bit of an attitude about podcasting that it’s just this really simple, easy, cheap thing to do. A university might kind of go, “Yeah, okay, just go ahead and make a podcast”, but there really is a fair number of resources, and skills, and time required to put it together. So I’ll create some kind of document, perhaps even a published paper [laughs], that makes these recommendations and talks about lessons learned from doing this. Valentina, do you have anything else to add to where you’d like to see this thing go next?

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [32:54]
Umm…That is a very good question. I think you covered most of it, but I do want to see other people doing it, like other people trying it out. And I’m a big fan of podcasts that talk about research and to see what’s going on in different fields of study, so yes, I definitely to see other people trying it out. I feel that’s my main take on that.

Lori Beckstead [33:18]
Yeah. And also there’s a consideration for professors who are on tenure track. So if they’re being evaluated for tenure, there’s often reticence to try anything sort of innovative, or unusual, or that might not, quote unquote, count. So there are no objective standards so far for evaluating a podcast as a research output. So the question is, does there need to be? Should there be those standards? What would they look like? And I know that in the field that I work in, which is of course media, there’s quite a warm embrace of the idea of using podcasting as a research output. But would other fields sort of not really understand the point of that? You know, fields unrelated to media or podcasting where they have trouble with this idea of “What do you mean you’re going to do a podcast? That’s something my daughter does in her bedroom”, like that’s not rigorous enough or whatever. So, I guess those are some of the questions we want to try to answer going forward as we explore this whole concept a little more.

Anna Ashitey [34:28]
Wonderful. Lori, Valentina, thank you for joining us. Want to know what happens next? Follow this study into episode one. And be sure to leave your comments and thoughts on http://www.oprpodcast.ca 

Lori Beckstead [34:39]
Thank you, Anna.

Valentina Passos Gastaldo [34:40]
Thank you.

[Music plays then fades down] 

Suggested Citation (MLA, 8th Edition)

Beckstead, Lori. “What’s this all about?” Open Peer Review Podcast, SoundCloud, 12 Aug. 2020, https://openpeerreviewpodcast.wordpress.com