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Guest Post: “ALT 2019 – A novice abstract reviewer’s tale…” by Alan Williams

Why offer to review abstracts anyway?

When I saw a call for reviewers for ALT 2019 I asked myself “Is this something that I am capable of?”. Yes, I’ve worked in higher education for well over a decade – I’m a late starter having worked in the NHS for two decades – have subjected myself to review through my studies and reviewed countless undergraduate and postgraduate students’ work. Yes, I have reviewed for a nursing academic journal (and was surprised and pleased to be awarded “Reviewer of the Month”), but this is different! I would be reviewing work by my peers and grandees, albeit anonymously. Anyway, as an academic it is important to push your intellectual boundaries and having presented at ALT a few years ago decided to offer my services, thinking others would have been selected and a polite thank you for expressing an interest being the end of the matter. A little to my surprise “Yes please” said ALT and so I along with many others commenced the abstract reviewer role.

So what’s involved?

The short answer is you are provided a list of abstracts and asked to decide whether they are suitable for ALT 2019, though there is much more to the process and I think this is where the “magic” happens. Clearly given the type of conference and organisation in the twenty-first century and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the abstract review process is technologically driven from the email you are send to the submission of your final comment. This process is important and should be as seamless as possible and it was. Very clear guidance was provided by the organising committee and this is essential so reviewers can focus on the abstracts submitted. They were categorised in the conference themes (student data and learning analytics, creativity across the curriculum, critical frames of reference, learning tech for wider impact and wildcard, as I’m sure you all know) with clear questions about each abstract for the reviewer to answer and a rating applied. And just in case you worry that your decision will make or break a career – or at least attendance at a conference – another reviewer has been independently assigned the abstracts you considered. Knowing how close – or not, your decisions were with the other reviewers would be nice to know, though this is not essential given the demands on everyone’s time.

Five top tips for a novice conference abstract reviewer.

  1. Look for conferences that align with your professional interests so you have some, though not necessarily detailed, knowledge around the abstract.
  2. Be organised and work to the deadlines. Just think how you feel when a student arranges a tutorial and doesn’t turn up or says they will send you work to review, but don’t.
  3. Have faith in your experience and judgement; you will be undertaking this type of task on a daily or weekly basis anyway.
  4. Remember the abstracts are confidential, to be objective in your decision and use the abstract review guidelines. If an abstract is not suitable be constructive in how it could be improved; think what feedback you would like to receive after submitting on abstract.
  5. Enjoy the process and put yourself forward. You don’t know what doors it may open and what you may learn.

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