I am pleased to greet you for the first time as the incoming editor of The American Biology Teacher. As you might imagine, the prospect of becoming editor is both daunting and exciting, so I would like to take a few moments to reflect on these contrasting emotions and share with you some of my thoughts and plans regarding the future of ABT.
I have been a member of NABT for more than 25 years and have found my membership to be professionally and personally rewarding. In addition to the countless friendships renewed each year at our conferences, I have long looked forward to receiving and reading The American Biology Teacher. The quality of our journal never fails to inspire me and stimulate my thinking about the practice of biology teaching and the needs and interests of the students we serve. Continuing my service to NABT as our next editor is a huge honor.
As I reviewed the various accounts detailing the history of NABT to write the narrative on the occasion of our 75th anniversary, it became clear that ABT is perhaps the major thread that links our past, present, and future. The accounts of the history of our organization are filled with mentions of the role of the journal and the editors who have maintained its quality and helped to craft its vision. The list of editors is like a who’s who in biology education, from founding editor Alex Herskowitz to John Breukelman, Richard Armacost, Paul Klinge, Jack Carter, Joan Creager, Alan McCormack, Randy Moore (the longest-serving editor at 19 years!), Ann Haley Mackenzie, and most recently William Leonard. I would like to reflect personally for a moment and thank Bill for the wonderful job that he has done with ABT during his tenure, thus handing it off in such good shape, and for his support to me personally and professionally.
I deeply appreciate the confidence of the NABT Board, Executive Director Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, and members of the ABT Advisory Committee in naming me the next editor. It is daunting, when I consider ABT’s long run of success. How to extend the legacy of three quarters of a century of The American Biology Teacher, how to honor and build on the exemplary work of the colleagues who have edited ABT in the past, and how to leave my own mark on this illustrious brand?
As I have contemplated the future of ABT, my concern has gradually turned to excitement in realizing that with any such change, the key is to build on what works while considering what the future might hold. So, let me offer some thoughts about our journal and reflect on how our members might play a role.
In my various discussions with our executive director and board, I offered a number of thoughts about the future of the American Biology Teacher and will share some of these with you here. As with all thoughts, some may never come to fruition and others might be adopted immediately. However, just as the science of biology features evolution as a central defining characteristic, the life of a journal must also be evolutionary and perhaps even revolutionary, but the suggestions offered here are designed to start a conversation rather than provide a firm roadmap for change imposed alone by the editor. With that in mind, please consider the following:
Historically, ABT has relied on articles written by volunteers, as is the case in similar journals, and we look forward to this continuing. However, this puts ABT in a somewhat passive position with regard to what we publish. We plan to begin soliciting some articles directly from potential authors. For instance, we will solicit articles directly from authorities (both biologists and biology educators) for the several theme issues we publish each year. Rest assured, any such solicitations will be evaluated by our normal peer review to maintain our high standards.
Articles submitted by our members will remain the bulk of ABT. However, I am keenly aware that many classroom teachers – even those with wonderful ideas – are reluctant to submit articles, for reasons of time and confidence. We have a responsibility to address this issue. We will proactively ask those who give presentations at our conferences to write articles for publication. Perhaps we could enlist members of our board of directors and other senior members of NABT to participate in this pre-review encouragement process coupled with the development of an author assistance program that would help first-time authors see their work through to publication.
Timeliness and relevance are two of the greatest strengths of ABT. Our relatively short publication cycle has worked well in presenting issues of current interest directly to our readers almost immediately. For instance, ABT responds quickly to attacks on evolution education, but we cannot continue to focus so intently on one threat and issue, no matter how important. When opportunities (such as those associated with the Next Generation Science Standards) present themselves, we should be prepared to invite comment and publish such responses immediately, even if that means we might bump a scheduled article into a future issue. The American Biology Teacher must be relevant and timely.
I would like to see several strategic partnerships formed between various stakeholders in the biology education community worldwide. For instance, the journal BioScience and the Journal of Biological Education frequently publish articles that could just as likely have appeared in ABT. As editor, I will explore the notion of cross publication, cross utilization of mailing lists to solicit articles for publication, and even shared publication review boards so that submitted articles end up in the best venue for the article and its audience.
Having been published in ABT many times, I have personally experienced the article review process. Generally the process has worked well. I propose that we extend this solid track record by doing several things. We should have an enhanced board of reviewers who have been solicited by their potential for service, reappointed because of their timely and useful reviews, and acknowledged in each issue of our journal. Establishing a board of reviewers is one of the hallmarks of a mature journal. For those in higher education who might act as reviewers, the reward system makes it clear that being named for a term as reviewer is a far more compelling offer than to serve as an occasional reviewer. More involvement with article processing will encourage authorship from all such individuals.
It may be worthwhile to consider how we can “translate” new discoveries in biology into articles that our members can readily access and apply in the classroom, thus making biology as current as possible. This might take the form of an “instant update” team of writers who are tasked with taking cutting-edge ideas in the life sciences and writing summaries for the readers of ABT. If this is of interest, please let me know.
A potential weakness of ABT has been the lack of inclusion of much original biology education research. We can change this in at least two ways. First, we should institute a column that interprets the research in science education that is published elsewhere and makes it relevant for biology and life science educators. A “what research says” article could also be a worthy addition to our journal. Second, we might establish a column for the publication of original research in biology and life science teaching and solicit contributions for this feature directly.
No matter what role any editor plays in the direction of our journal, it is the members who ultimately must express their opinions and play an active role, because ABT serves them. Therefore, let me tell you that I look forward to hearing from readers about any of the suggestions I have offered here and encourage you to offer suggestions of your own. TheAmerican Biology Teacher is your journal, and I will be pleased to maintain its high standards and equally pleased to have the chance to work with the NABT Board and our members to make it even better.