Like Graham Attwell I was given pause by the contents of an email in my inbox today. The online journal Innovate has a new sponsor, Microsoft. As part of this they will be doing the following sorts of activities.
The email made the following announcement, emphases mine.
The sponsorship program affords technology providers the opportunity to partner with Innovate to help
spread the word about creative new uses of technology that will enhance educational effectiveness. In
concert with this effort, we are offering sponsors a voice on our Web site via a new section, "From Our
Sponsors." As described in the "About this Journal" link, we will publish articles in this section that focus
on (1) how educators use our sponsors’ products to enhance teaching, learning, and administration, (2)
the services our sponsors have provided or intend to provide to enhance educational effectiveness, and
(3) how our sponsors view the future of education and the role information technology tools will play in
addressing educational problems and issues. These articles will meet Innovate’s high editorial standards
they will be rigorously reviewed and edited to enhance their value to the global community.As part of the sponsorship arrangement with Microsoft, we invite you to submit manuscripts describing
uses of Microsoft technology (e.g., Office, SharePoint, WL@EDU) that enhance, extend, or in some cases
replace traditional pedagogical or research methods.
I am always uncomfortable about scholarly or applied research articles or reports that use brand names or focus on specific, proprietary products. In academic technology we frequently cant help but write about specific technologies but the siren call of the vendor is one that I think we must resist. I think it's hard enough to really question technology and ask tough questions about its impact and how its used in our research without there being a sponsor like relationship there, operating even in a subtle and unobtrusive way.
But maybe I am guilty of double standards here. I believe that Apple has something of a history of doing some similar sorts of things and they have given me way less pause (and I am not a Mac user). And one could argue that so long as they have rigorous peer review standards and procedures things should be ok. Plus we need to find ways to fund these sorts of journals.
I guess part of my concern stems from the fact that I am just not that interested in reading articles about how to use Word, or SharePoint. I fear that apart from any pandering or distortion of the integrity of the process if you're trying specifically to write about a specific product from a particular vendor the questions that you're going to ask are going to be dull. I guess we will have to wait and see how it turns out.