This special issue of Distances et Savoirs (D&S) has been planned as a
contribution to the celebration of the journals seventh birthday. On behalf of the
American Journal of Distance Education, (AJDE) now in its 24th year, and also the
many American scholars that AJDE represents, I extend our warmest congratulations
to everyone who has contributed to D & S achieving what editor Martine Vidal has
described as lâge de raison. We extend congratulations especially to Martine, and
also to members of the editorial board, the journals staff and all those who have had
their articles published over the past seven years.
As editor of The American Journal of Distance Education I am especially pleased
to have observed the success of a new journal of high quality in our field, where there
has been such a proliferation of inferior electronic journals, (most of which,
incidentally, disseminate articles that have previously been evaluated and rejected by
mainstream journals like ours). Having existed for decades on the margins of the
educational establishment, distance education today faces a new and unfamiliar threat,
coming from the uncritical explosion in popularity in the idea of learning at a distance,
resulting from the Web generations exuberance with technology. This is manifested in
another explosion, that of innumerable hastily designed courses delivered in unsuitably
structured systems, taught by instructors who are usually inadequately trained who have
to struggle to compensate for the inadequacies inherent in their institutions systems.
More than ever before, the times call for research that will guide practice, research of
quality that can only come if it is grounded in sound theory. That, in turn, demands
academic journals that have editors and staff with the competence to discriminate
between what is well grounded and what is not. The problem that is all too familiar to
those of us who teach about distance education, is how to enable our students to know
how to discriminate what is valid and reliable information among the vast deluge of
information available online, most of which is of dubious value and validity.
The birth and growth of Distances et Savoirs places a significant weight on the
more positive side of this struggle between reliability and unreliability, and on the
side of better understanding of what is expected in good quality research. For it is
worth emphasising that as well as an explosion of poor research, there has also been
growth in research that is of better quality, research that has made positive additions
to the theory of distance learning, teaching and learning, management and policy.
Where there has been such improvements much of the credit can be attributed to the
leadership and the stimulus that has been provided by the principal scholarly
journals, providing as they do, a reservoir and flow of information that is both
trustworthy and carefully modulated in its claims in what is too often a field of
hyperbole and misinformation.