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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Integrating the Peer Review Process with Interactive, Multi-Media iBooks

Nickie Phillips

In her article "Response to 'Dinosaurs of Academia,'" Patricia Collins responds to PJ Rey’s argument that journals are the dinosaurs of academia. Basically, Rey recognizes that print journals are an outdated mode of knowledge transmission and are relied on too heavily in an antiquated, hard-copy “publish or perish” environment. Rey ultimately argues for scholars to embrace technological advances and engage in new media. Patricia Collins countered that the value of a journal does not lie in whether it is in “print,” but rather acknowledges that peer-reviewed work by experts is essential in maintaining academic integrity and sorting out the wheat from the chaff in a media-saturated society.

I find this discussion interesting in the context of new models of content distribution, specifically digital e-books, to students and laypersons. Thus far, digital e-books (including e-textbooks and digital versions of print journals) are basically facsimiles of hard copies that are read through an e-reader that likely has annotation capabilities. There has yet to be a successful merging of new digital technology with “old, traditional” forms of academic knowledge transmission--until now.

Last week, Apple released iBooks 2, a new version of iBooks for the iPad that allows display of textbooks and other books containing multi-media content. And, perhaps more significantly, introduced iBooks Author, an application for the Mac that allows creators to assemble a “Multi-Touch” book that takes full advantage of multi-media content including 3D photos, videos, notecards, presentations, quizzes and other interactive images. The books may be distributed for free, sold through iBooks, or exported to a more static format such as a pdf and distributed freely.

The program is designed specifically for the creation of textbooks and other media-heavy content. So far, iBooks Author has attracted major textbook publishers and there’s certainly a host of uses other than textbooks, such as product manuals and other types of tutorials, where this will be a valuable tool, but I see the potential for educational possibilities here as limitless. These interactive “e-books/textbooks” are the wave of the future in education, whether they are ultimately created by tools such as iBooks Author developed by Apple or a competitor.

But, my interest is in exploring ways of using the tool to distribute educational content such as peer-reviewed books and journals that lend themselves to multi-media content. I’m thinking specifically of journals devoted to the “visual,” featuring topics such as “crime and popular culture” or “crime and the media,” but there are limitless possibilities. For example, we may consider the possibilities for publishing research articles on areas as diverse as crime mapping, CPTED, or the ethnography of subcultures. I’m not suggesting visually-focused media would be appropriate for every criminal justice topic or even replace traditional journals, but they could certainly supplement them. And the research would potentially reach a much larger audience.

Which brings me back to Patricia Collins’ acknowledgement that the peer-reviewed process serves as a means of quality control. Ultimately, I am proposing that scholars fully embrace the inevitable--multi-media digital formats. However, it seems one path worthy of pursuit would be one that fully integrates the peer review process. Of course scholars are always free to self-publish, but why shouldn’t academic knowledge be disseminated in a format that is as advanced as the technology allows?

We now have an opportunity to rethink the boundaries of scholarly publications and take advantage of ways to best engage not just students, but the public, in issues of crime and justice.

*Disclaimer: I am aware of the various complications of this proposal, including proprietary concerns, issues of publishing on iBooks and relying on the Apple approval process, the idea that “everyone” would need to have an iPad to consume the content, and the realization that no other software company has yet come close to providing a means of content creation that is this easy, inexpensive, and widely available etc. However, I’ll leave those discussions for another day.