Club-Admiralty

v6.2.3 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Community of Inquiry: TeachING not teachER presence

Hey there blogger audience! Well, I assume someone is still there despite not having blogged in a great while. It's hard to believe that July is almost over, and there is only one more month of summer left (😢). Things have been fairly busy, between teaching INSDSG 684, doing a much (much) deeper dive into the CoI, and rewriting my intro chapter for the dissertation proposal†, there has been little time to blog.  Or rather, I guess I could have blogged, but due to my disconnect from my regular communities of practice, nothing really seemed worthwhile writing about.  Until now!

So, back when I was initially contemplating my dissertation topic I thought I'd do a mixed methods research study, possibly with the CoI instrument as that quantitative component.  I nixed that idea early on because I honestly thought that I would get someone who's a stickler for the notion that Quantitative must equal generalizability, and I know that from my sample (even if everyone participates), generalizability isn't attainable. Good description is, but not generalizability.  So I switched to to qualitative-only.  After a good discussion with one of my co-supervisors (where my fears were put to rest 😊) the issue of the CoI came up again (not by me).  This was the third time CoI was brought up (first by me, then by one co-supervisor in 2017, then another in in 2018). I figured that it would be worthwhile to pursue mixed methods again‡.

The next big decision was which elements of CoI to measure for our rhizocollabs.  Social (✓), Cognitive (✓), Teaching (?) How about some of the proposed extensions (?). Social and Cognitive seemed like a no brainer.  TeachING presence, defined as "the design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educational worthwhile learning outcomes"♠ seems important as a coordinating function, and it emphasizes the doing not the doer so measuring some aspect of coordination in these collaboratives (be they "swarms" or not) seems important.  Garrison and others also point out (many, many, times) that it's teachING presence, not teachER presence, and students can exhibit such teachING presence as well in a CoI.  But, when one looks at the CoI survey instrument all questions regarding the teachING presence focus on the instructor. Hmmmmm😖. When you do transcript analysis I can see being able to identify instances of teaching presence amongst non-instructor members of a CoI, but the instrument seems to focus a ton on the instructor.  I've decided to try to measure teaching presence in our collaborations, but I'll be tweaking the CoI instrument questions in this category to be more group oriented rather than teacher and instructional design related.

Between the notes from the articles I read, and the notes from books on CoI, I've got around 40 pages of notes.  Over the next week or so I'll go over them and write a draft of the CoI section for my literature review.  Once I get the all-clear from my co-supervisors for my intro chapter it's full steam ahead to tweak the literature review, which is gargantuan.

Onwards and upwards!




Marginalia:
† I managed to trim five whole pages from the intro chapter while adding, what I hope is, much more detail about what I'd like to do.
‡ Hence the intro re-write, and the much deeper dive into CoI. I am actually glad this happened because through reading more of Garrison's work there is a connection between collaboration & CoI.
See here for more on TP.

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Groups, cooperatives, collaboratives, swarms...and the ongoing dissertation proposal...

It's been quite a while since I last shared a few thoughts.  I guess time flies even if you aren't having fun 😆. In the past few weeks I've been contemplating the direction of my dissertation proposal.  I am not changing topics (now THAT would be silly, and an unnecessary amount of work), but I am considering the framing of my argument.  The topic (just to refresh your mind) is "Why do we collaborate?" and it's an exploration of the emergent groups that formed in Rhizo14 and rhizo15 to conduct some sort of academic work in order to figure out why we did this (after all, everyone hates group work, right??? 😜) This academic work wasn't part of the original Rhizo-course plan†, so why the heck did we band together to do this type of work?

The question, I should point out (again) wasn't originally mine - I just took an interest in it.  Rebecca H. had originally asked this question of our MobiMOOC team back in 2011/2012 - but we all went (sort of) our separate ways and we just hadn't explored it in depth at the time; and this seemed like a good question for dissertation research (and I found it interesting, so it checked off that internal motivation box), and there were enough people in Rhizos collaborating in groups that made for a viable case study.

Now, one of my stumbling blocks has been terminology. I started off calling what we did (in our various groups) a 'collaboration'.  But, collaboration has certain specific connotations.  Was it really collaboration?  Or did I just see what we did (and what others did, for groups I wasn't part of) as collaboration?  Is a "swarm" different from collaboration? Or is it a specific type of collaboration? It should also be noted that not all work was 'swarmed'.  Part way through this gargantuan proposal I started replacing collaboration with group work, which seems more value neutral than collaboration, this way as part of the research I can see how different people perceived the joint-effort we/they accomplished as somewhere on the 'working together' spectrum.    Is there a word that is value neutral (or mostly value neutral) that rolls off the tongue that means "3 or more people working together on a common goal"?

But I still have a little trouble with the term "group work".  For me it harkens back to school days where teachers put us in groups to do something together that wasn't always of interest to the learner, and people were placed in a situation where they had to work together but it was just awkward (my experiences in the rhizo work didn't feel awkward).   Is the term "team work" more appropriate? Is it more value neutral?  A team may be more self forming...maybe...but it also reminds me of the artificial aspects of corporate 'teams' where work gets done (I think), but there really isn't much camaraderie.  In my experience there was camaraderie in the collaborations I was in...at least from my own observations.

That said, this bring me to the next stumbling block. How did I see this thing/action/project/collective that had/have?   Do I address my own views about the collaborations Ive been part of in the introductory chapter to my proposal/dissertation?  Or do I save it for my data collection section (self-interviews and journaling) as some research methods books suggest? Or, is there a good mid-point where I can address potential biases by discussing it a bit (but how much is enough?) and then saving the rest for the data collection portion?

When the researcher is part of the researched it makes things a little muddy.  Things that are 'clear' in my head aren't necessarily things that are transmitted as 'clear' to the eventual audience of my doctoral work. I think part of the problem is that my direct experience really colors my perceptions (as I expected it would), but also that the question "why did we do this?" is intentionally broad. Would it be helpful to narrow it down to a specific aspect of our work together? And, if yes, what specific aspect would be of most interest to this community I am researching (and am a member of)?  Loads of questions...


OK, that's all the reflecting for now.  What do others think?





Marginalia:
† Although, with the mindset of "the community is the curriculum", one could argue that such group work was part of the curriculum.  Cormier! you evil genius! 😈
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Burn those Business Schools (or...maybe don't!)

The other day Paul Prinsloo posted this Guardian article on Facebook, and it seems like a popular article because Shyam Sharma (among others in my online educational social network and PLN posted it). As usual my PLN got me thinking (and, as is evidenced by this blog post, creatively procrastinating and not really working on my dissertation proposal...D'oh! 😜).  This blog post started life as a comment back to Paul, but it got too long, so here it is - migrated to the blog!  I should say that two of my master's degrees are from a business school (B-School hereafter) and my views are framed from an emic and etic perspective (hey, why is my dissertation proposal leaking into my blog? get out! 😏)

From my own personal experience I think that B-Schools are in part complicit with what's going on, they are after part of the business landscape, but I think that they are only one part of the picture.  I am making my way through Ken Bruffee's book on Collaborative Learning, which frames a lot in terms of language, and by language I think a lot of what's encompassed isn't just how you write in specific disciplines but also (and I am not sure Bruffee articulated this) what assumptions, values, and ways of being are articulated by those disciplinary 'languages'.  Bruffee tells us that students enroll in specific programs so that they can gain access to those languages, and by extension gain access into the networks of people that utilize those discourses.

But what's the goal of the learner?  Well, it really depends on each student, but in my own (anecdotal) experience many people gravitated toward the MBA because they were driven by the promise big financial gains. Don't get me wrong. I like a good paycheck (I have bills too!), but if money is the only motivator (or the largest of the motivators if more than one exists), then there is something wrong, and short-sighted. While I do think that B-Schools have a moral obligation to improve society, they also need to teach their students about what's going out there in society. They wouldn't survive long as schools if they ignored that because students would just not come to them.

From my own class experiences, here is an example:  I was in an Introduction to Finance class for my MBA. This was just before the last crash that was brought on by bad housing loans. There were some students that were having the proverbial wet dream about these mortgage derivatives. While the professor did speak against these financial products from his own (extensive) experience in the field we didn't really discuss it a lot in the finance class, and we focused on our texts and what was on the syllabus  for that week.  This was a perfect opportunity to look at current day trends, critically analyze them, and speak for/against them.  Nope, it didn't happen.  I liked the class, respected the prof that voiced his expert opinion.  I think an off-the-cuff remark was something like derivatives are basically like going to Vegas and playing the roulette or something like that.  I see this as a lost opportunity, and lo-and-behold, a few semesters later came the crash. The crash was instigated by blind financiers (blind willfully or negligently) who were focused on just profits.

I agree with the criticism, in the article, of the curriculum (and what that curriculum signals), but the then I'd argue that you can't just 'fix' the curriculum of a B-School and call it a job well done.  Things operate in certain ways outside of the walls of academia. We need to be preparing students to change not just themselves but also those systemic inequalities in the way we conduct business, and how our laws operate in our country; anything and everything from cost of healthcare, cost of going to school, cost of housing, how those things operate, and who's pulling the strings.

We also need to look outside the B-school for solutions to change the legal aspects of how businesses run; this later part is broad because it includes things like taxation, healthcare, education, environmental health and safety, and  so on.  When you have people joining B-Schools because their goal is to make money (and they do that because that's what society signals as a core value, and everyone wants to be part of that 1%) then you aren't going to get a lot of takers to go to B-School that doesn't equip you to do that, at least one that overtly doesn't sell that brand of success.  I am not sure what's happening in the rest of the world, but the US seems very much into the myth of individual exceptionalism, hence this all about "me" and eff everyone else weltsanschauung, is what's implicitly marketed, both by schools and by politicians who want 'practical' degrees, does not really provide fertile ground for a healthy society.

I don't have a solution for this issue, but burning down the B-Schools is definitely not part of a solution that I would advocate for.  Maybe instead of having undergraduate B-Schools we should require people to study philosophy, sociology, art, and history (among other liberal arts) before they can gain access to B-School for graduate studies instead of having people go to B-School right from the undergraduate business degrees.   Maybe those graduate students would need to be connect their undergraduate studies to their business pursuits. Perhaps B-Schools could nurture connections with local, regional, and national organizations to help support the greater welfare of everyone, and not just focus on individual gain.  As another personal example, to finish off this post, while I did find international finance interesting, and the concept of arbitrage fascinating, it's a good idea to question who benefits from these systems, who has access to international markets and the capital necessary to make profits in arbitrage? And do these people who make money out of nothing help support the broader well being of a society? How about we introduce that critical aspect into the curriculum.
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Random draw from the comment-box!

I tried to come up with a witty title for this post, but I guess maybe it's didn't work out ;-).  Anyway...yesterday as I was working on my proposal I thought "hey...I haven't seen George Siemens blog recently..." which also made  me wonder when the last time I blogged was. Not as long as George (that's for sure ;-) ) but long enough.  So I thought I'd pull together some random streams that have been whirling around as disconnected strands.

First, one exciting thing that transpired between the last blog post and how is that not one, but two, members of Cohort 6 have completed their EdDs!  Both Lisa (@merryspaniel) and Viviane (@vvladi) successfully defended their work and are one step away from commencement and official conferral of the degree :-).  Lisa's Dissertation is already available at the institutional repository (click here) if you'd like to read it.  For Lisa and Viviane it's a major victory completing their doctoral work, but it's also a small victory for us in the sidelines plugging away on our own work.  It's another positive example that there is light at the end of the tunnel! :-) 

Another exciting thing that happened since the last blog is that one of our RhizoCollaborations earned an award...sort of.  The 2018 GO-GN (Global OER Graduate Network) gave one of our papers an Honorable Mention.
An Honorable Mention is given to Aras Bozkurt for ‘Community Tracking in a cMOOC and Nomadic Learner Behavior Identification on a Connectivist Rhizomatic Learning Network‘, co-authored with Sarah Honeychurch, Autumn Caines, Maha Bali, Apostolos Koutropoulos and Dave Cormier, and published in the Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education (TOJDE).
This was a total surprise because I didn't even know that we were in the running, so the fact that we were even nominated for this was something amazing. When Aras and other co-authors posted and retweeted on twitter I got a rush.  It reminded me of the rush I felt back in 2011 when our MobiMOOC Research Team earned a 'best paper' award at mLearning 2011, which was also unexpected.  I also feel that the recognition is actually amplified by the fact that this was a collaborative effort. While I would have been proud to have my work awarded even if I worked alone on the deliverable, I think the fact that there are other team members to share the glory with makes the nomination even more magnificent.  These individuals have, over the years, and through our collaborations, played a role in my own learning, and I hope that I've contributed to their own growth it in some way.

Finally, there's my own dissertation proposal in the works.  Still plugging away at it! I am behind where I thought I would be, but I am making progress.  I now have a co-supervisor as well.  My initial (main co-) supervisor will be retiring in 16 months, so just in case I am still plugging away at my dissertation by 2019 we're making some succession plans. Although I really, really, want to be done by July 2019 at the latest. As much as I enjoy being in school, I don't enjoy paying program fees ;-).

From the most recent round of comments, my Introductory chapter and Methods chapter needed some tweaking and/or adding to.   I spend during this last week or so working on the first chapter which has now been tweaked. This weekend I needed a breather before I moved on, so I started looking at the Research Ethics Board requirements.  I created an account at AU's REB site, and I started plugging away at the (multiple) tabs that required my project's information.  After a couple of days most tabs are complete.  The REB application isn't ready for submission though.  I'll hold off until my committee thinks that the proposal is defendable, and then I'll make sure that what I've plugged into the REB application matches any subsequent edits to the proposal.   There is still the issue of recruiting my 3rd committee member.

Alright... back to work I got!

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Peer Reviewing snowballs!


There must be some cosmic signals that have gone off line the bat-signal indicating that I am 'free' because I am waiting for feedback from my dissertation committee.  How do I know this?  Well, the requests for me to peer review articles has increased!   Not wanting to disappoint, if the article is within my field of "expertise" (whatever that means... the more I learn, the more Socrates whispers at me "the more you know, you know that you know nothing" ;-) )

One thing I don't like doing is outwardly rejecting an article.  I don't just approve articles, but if an article has some merit (even if authors have to do a ton of work to rehab it), I reject but keep the door open for reconsideration.  I have outwardly rejected articles in the past, but I'd estimate that it's only 25% rejection (another 50% needs major revision, and 25% minor revisions).  Despite trying to be a caring reviewer, and honestly striving to give good feedback, there are articles I read that being out my inner Joe Bastianich (known partly for his look of disappointment and disdain on the television show "MasterChef").

Now, I try to not have these "ugh" feelings make it into my feedback, but I do wonder at times. Do others, who do peer review, just get an article and think "Jeez...why did the editor send me this piece of flaming ****?". Luckily I don't get this visceral reaction often, but I do wonder if my reactions are hyperbole, or if others get the same feeling from time to time.

Thoughts?



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Rationale? I don't need no stinkin' Rationale!†

 Alfonso Bedoya in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Dissertation proposal, draft number...I don't know - lost count - has been submitted.  Things look good, well at least in my humble view, so I hope I am ready to defend this proposal within the coming month and become a "candidate" soon‡. With the draft submitted I can now focus on the other pile of academic work that needs attending to, and is more collaborative than my dissertation.

In any case, a recent incident (incident sound too austere...happening? occurrence?) I was reminded, for the umpteenth time that what we, as educational researchers, are expected to have a purpose in our research. What is the rationale for the study? people ask. Why undertake this study?  Who benefits? What is the problem you are trying to solve?

As you can tell from the title of this blog post I hold the position that I don't need no stinkin' rationale.

I could make something up like "by examining population X, subgroup Y, we can infer that the results might be applicable to generation Z" (or something like that).  If pressed, I could be convincing in writing some rationale like that, but it wouldn't necessarily be the truth, hence, in my view, it should not be included in the published literature just to check off a requirement.  I firmly believe that if a researcher finds some occurrence interesting and wants to investigate this curiosity they should be able to do so (within the limits of ethical practice of course), without being weighed down by needing to produce a rationale for the study when they try to get it published.

This is by no means new to me.  I've been hearing various versions of this from established researchers for the past decade. My first exposure was when I was an MA student and we had a guest speaker in class who boldly proclaimed that if your research doesn't specifically address social injustices and under-represented populations your research is basically garbage♠. I basically wrote her off because she clearly didn't seem interested in a discussion about this topic (very odd for someone in that position of authority if you ask me).

In any case, while my other experiences with academics have definitely been less polemic compared to that initial experience, I am still surprised that academics basically act within a prescribed box.  I am not taking about the necessity for validity, reliability, and/or trustworthiness. Those are important in research. What I am talking about is purpose. At the end of the day, if I am satisfying my own personal curiosity as to why an event is happening, is that any less valuable than doing it for the benefit of others from the start?  It is certainly appears to be more altruistic, I'll grant you that, but does value diminish simply because you didn't work on something that was meaningful to others as well, at least at the time of research?

Thoughts?


Marginalia
† In writing this post I learned where "I don't need no stinking..." comes from! (see here). Who would have thought an academic rant would teach me some pop culture?
‡ You know, recently I've felt that doctoral students should have some cool video-game-esque ranks, maybe with some badges to go with them, but I guess that's a thought for another post 😜
♠ Well, OK. No, she didn't say this exactly in those words, but based on what she was touting about her research, and her research agenda, and how it was related to other people's work that was more theoretical in nature, or didn't deal with her populations, it was easy to connect the dots.

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What am I training for again?

From PhD Comics

It's been a while since I've had the bandwidth to think about something other than my dissertation proposal.  When I started this process four years ago (starting with matriculation in March 2014) I thought I'd be the first or second person in my cohort to be done (ha!), but like most marathoners I guess I am part of the pack looking at the fast folks ahead of me 😏.  Being part of the pack does have its benefits, such as getting an idea of how long the process takes (having friends in other cohorts also helps with this).  I thought, initially, when someone submitted their draft (be it proposal or final dissertation) that you would get feedback and signs of life from your various committees soonish, but seeing Lisa's journey (currently at 5 weeks and counting) gave me a reality check. Waiting isn't bad per se (we wait for a ton of things in life), but I think it is the expectation of things to come that makes this type waiting much more anxious for us doctoral student. Questions pop in your mind such as: Will they like what we submitted?  How much editing do they need me to do? Will they ask me to go back to the drawing board? How long will that take?  And if I have to defend this thing next week...well, do I have time to prepare? Do I remember everything I read in my review to the literature? eeek!

That said, I think I should rewind a bit.  What have I been up to?  Well, lots, and lots, and lots of reading and then funneling that into some sort of literature review. The past 4 (or 5?) weekends have been about process (and grit?); they have been about sitting down for hours and crafting what I learned into a coherent literature review. They have been about concentration (and probably some weight gain due to all the sitting...maybe some bad posture as well).  And, at last, this past weekend I finished the 139 page monster, put it all into one word file and emailed by advisor (hopefully she won't hate me because of the length 😜 ).  Without counting references, front-matter, and tables of contents, here is what the word count breaks down to:
  • Chapter 1: Introduction  ≅ 3,800 words
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review  ≅ 16,600 words
  • Chapter 3: Methods ≅ 6,700 words
Assuming that the average academic article is around 8,000 words (with references), I've written 4.5 academic articles, and this isn't even the full dissertation!

Now that the draft is submitted I have some free time (maybe 3-4 weeks if other cohort-mates reports are any indication of average length of waiting) to work on a research project that's been on the back burner and that's collaborative. In this project, in order to make it  to the appropriate word length the operative word is cut. This is a little challenging because when it comes to cutting there aren't really that many options.  Do you cut your methods?  Then reviewers will call you out on incompleteness of methods (and you might actually get penalized for it!).  Do you cut your findings?  Well, for a qualitative research paper without some qualitative data (which takes up space) you could be told that there isn't enough data (or they could say that you are making things up).  Do you cut the literature review?  Well, this seems like the most likely place to make cuts, but how is your reading audience assured that you did your due diligence? Hmmmm... dilemma...dilemma...dilemma.

This pondering lead me down another path: a recent (recentish?) tweet by Maha Bali, a critique of doctoral programs.  The gist of it was that PhD programs don't really prepare you for a lot of things that are expected in academia. The traditional pillars of faculty in academia are research publishing (usually of the academic article variety), service, and teaching; however the critique was that doctoral programs don't really prepare you for these things. I think this is is a much larger discussion which first needs analysis of what faculty actually do and what they are asked to do. Maybe this is an opportunity to examine what faculty do and their relation to other roles at the institution, but for now I want to focus on one part of it: the research and publishing.

I consider myself lucky to have had opportunities to research and publish prior to pursuing my EdD, and to do this both alone and in collaboration with others (as an aside, I find collaboration more satisfying as it satisfied both work and social aspects of life). Working on the doctoral degree affords me the opportunity for some directed study to fill in potential areas that I was missing, and to see things from different frames of view; for instance I have a finer understanding of learning in other fields such as military and health-care (just to pick on a couple) because of my cohort-mates.

However the dissertation process, and the reason for this process, seems quite arcane to me. I understand, from a cognitive perspective, that the dissertation is meant to showcase your skills as a researcher; and those with more romantic dispositions among us might also say that it contributes to the overall level of knowledge in our field. But if you are one of those romantics let me ask you this: when was the last time you cited a dissertation in your research?  And, just in case you are a smarty-pants and you have cited one dissertation, how often do you check out dissertation abstracts for your literature reviews? I digress though... Back on point...

It seems to me that as an academic (well, if I chose to go the tenure track once I earn my EdD) I need to contribute to the field by writing research articles, field notes, book chapters, reports, and maybe even a whole book; and I also need to provide peer reviews to fellow authors.  With the exception of book writing (which every academic does not do), the vast majority of writing is between 3,000 and 9,000 words.  A dissertation  is considerably longer. This makes me wonder (again) whether the purpose of the dissertation is one of endurance (i.e. if you can do this, you can do anything!) or of holding us up to romantic, inappropriate, or irrational standards, as in "once you graduate you are expected to write books". As an aside, this may have been the case when there were fewer scholars around, but these days there aren't enough positions open in the traditional tenure-track faculty profession, so the Alt-Ac isn't even addressed or acknowledged...but again, I digress.

The instructional designer in me has pondered the purpose of the dissertation (even before I applied to doctoral programs). If we've already replaced the once prevalent Masters Thesis with other means of assessment (or at least made the MA Thesis as one of a few options), why can't we do the same with the Doctoral Dissertation, which - if we're honest - just another form of assessment.  I should say that my own point of reference here are what are called 'taught' PhDs where there is required coursework before you are allowed to be a doctoral candidate, and not the kind you might find in Europe where you are apprenticed into the discipline by applying as an apprentice (basically) and just work on your dissertation upon completed of a masters program.

So my three questions out there for you:

  1. Do the traditional pillars of academia still hold up or should be re-conceptualized? What might they be? and how do they work collaboratively with other parts of the academy?
  2. Based on these current pillars where does doctoral education fall short (name your field as fields will most likely vary)
  3. Keeping the dissertation in mind: what would you replace it with? What are the underlying assumptions for your model?


Discussion welcomed (if you blog, feel free to post link)









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2017 year in review - school edition

From wikipedia: 1779 illustration of a Catholic
Armenian monk of the
Order of St Gregory the Illuminator,  
Happy New Year! Yeah... it's the fourth of January, but I figure I can get away with it since we're still in the first week of 2018, and this is my first post for the year 😉

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog as of late. Not a lot of MOOCing, not a lot of virtual connecting, not a lot of collaborative or cooperative learning as was the case in previous years.  There has been a lot of reading, mostly in monastic form - you know, lock yourself in a room and read until your inner teenager starts screaming at you "are we done yeeeeeet????" - I guess I am really in the thick of dissertation prep "stuff" (reading and sorting mostly) which I hope I'll get through in 2018 (for the most part anyway)

I thought I would take a break from the monastic lifestyle to put together a few things that really struck me in 2017, at least as far as my own learning, and learning journey, go.

I guess the first thing of interest is that  2017 was my last year of courses. In spring 2017 (winter 2017 in Canadian terms) I completed EDDE 806 which was the last structured and graded seminar for my EdD.  Coming into the seminar I really wanted to get done with classes, so even though I had until Fall 2017 to complete the requirements for the seminar, I made sure I was there each session and doing what was required to be done. 2017 didn't start off energetically though...

I think the major realization I came to in 2017 was that I had over-exerted myself in 2016, and as a consequence I really felt burned out; not starting to feel burned out, but actually burned out. I felt a little guilty because I still wanted to participate in extracurricular academic stuff such as virtually connecting, MOOCs, and working more on research papers with friends and colleagues as these activities encompassed both an academic purpose but also a social purpose. However, in the quest to get moving with the dissertation proposal I needed to sacrifice most of the more fun things in academic life and work on the more utilitarian parts to just get done. The hope is that people will still be there once I am done 😜

Even though I had bits and pieces of my proposal already forming in 2016, I put all of those mostly in the back burner for the spring semester because I wanted to finish off the requirements for the final graded seminar of my studies (EDDE 806). I think what I learned here is that I am mostly a sequential person when it comes to doing stuff. Many people think I can multitask like a madman, but I guess it's all relative from where you are standing.  I think I can do two or three ongoing projects at a time (of varying cognitive intensity), but class + proposal weren't working out for me.

So, once EDDE 806 was done, I took a mental breather, and a month later I begun working on my proposal again.  The introductory chapter (chapter 1) and the methods chapter (chapter 3) seemed to be on a better path, so I focused on that.  I think the core  of what my proposal is was pretty well done in August when I completed writing chapters 1 and 3. The who, what, where, and how were pretty much answered.  The big question still looming was  the "why".  It was hinted at during the introduction, but it needed more exposition, via a literature review chapter. So, September to December I read...I read a lot...and then I read some more (all the while taking notes)...until my inner knowledge glutton decided it was enough. That was after around 500 PDFs which breaks down to about 20 books/conference proceeding compilations and the around 480s articles (overkill?).

This past month I've been going back through the readings and I realized a few things: First is that I had downloaded some articles twice or thrice (since I had been collecting articles on MOOCs since 2014 in anticipation of this moment), but there weren't that many duplicates (less than 10% of the total, definitely).  In reading the same article a few times, over a period of a few months, different things jumped out at time; some things were the same, but my increased knowledge from readings was definitely coloring how I interacted with the texts.

The second part that jumped out at me is that no matter how detailed my lit-review search is, there is still stuff that will be missing from journal database searches. By looking at the references of the articles I read I saw that there were things that could be of interest (maybe), but they were in specific disciplinary journals that didn't deal with education (travel, medicine, geology, etc.), or that were in proceedings of conferences from various professional associations that my library doesn't have the most current access to, or even things that were in a different language.  I could decipher things in French, Spanish mostly without a problem, and some Portuguese, but reading academic discourses in languages that you are not used to reading academic discourses is definitely slower and more taxing. This is not a revelation - I know this from a theoretical perspective as a linguist, but this is one of the few times I felt it personally. Even so, there is probably good stuff out there in languages that are not accessible to me, and things that are not even on my radar, so 100% completion on a specific topic is a fool's errand.

The third thing, that really surprised me, was how much misinformation there was about the history of MOOCs.  In the grand scheme of things it was a small amount of articles, and it was limited to the introductory sections of articles where they were introducing the topic, but having such erroneous info printed in academic journals was a bit jarring. An example: complete lack of discussion around cMOOCs, and xMOOCs being described as evolving from OER. Now, while a nuanced discussion on the topic could reveal that certain xMOOC providers do have dotted lines in their histories to OER, I don't think this is a broad generalization that can be made, and in an introductory section to a journal article it seems quite misleading, especially to someone who might know nothing of MOOCs.  This got me thinking about literature reviews in general, and how little work goes into them sometimes; the write something, cite something, to get it done approach, rather than really thinking about it.  I know that I may have gone overboard here with mine, but I think that the minimalist approach also can be troublesome because it can (and sometimes does) devolve into a find the reference that supports you POV.

This leads me to AK's Theorem of the Funnel of Usage for the literature review (you read it here, so you better cite me! 😝). Basically what my theorem says is that for a literature review you may read hundreds or thousands of pages of stuff, you may comment or find useful things that amount to several hundred pages, bu ultimately only a small amount of what you comments on and find useful will make it your your literature review.  I am looking at a lit-review of 40 pages (double spaced) maximum. Assuming 15 pages per article on average (or around 300 per conference proceeding and book), I'd estimate 13,000 single-spaced pages read.  I have around 200 pages of excerpts and notes, which will go down to 20 pages. All that reading doesn't go to waste, it informs my views and stances (and also impacted some questions I'd like to ask in my interviews, in the methods section), but there is definitely a funneling effect here.

Speaking of overkill, perhaps I didn't have to read as much as I did (we'll never know). I think the fear is that my exam committee will decide to ask me about an article that I actually have NOT read that they think is important and then I'll be standing there like an idiot (and possibly fail 😖).  There is a Greek expression that has stuck with me πιασμένος αδιάβαστος which basically translates to "caught unread" (unprepared). It goes back to the days where children read at home, and they went to school to be quizzed on what they had read. You get caught unprepared, it's a bit of a mark of shame. I sort of felt like this when I was preparing for the comprehensive exams for my MA in applied linguistics and I passed that with flying colors, so I guess I shouldn't be as worried about these things...but I guess students reap what teachers have sowed...even if it was more than 25 years ago...

Another thing that really piqued my interest was thinking about how many web 2.0 technologies have died between now and 2008.  In reading articles about the original CCK, and MOOCs or other collaborations that have happened since I see quite a few technologies that closed down (either recently or some while back).  This makes me ponder a bit about what can be done about digitally preserving some of the artifacts created, or ways in which things worked, or something else.  While describing activities with PageFlakes (for example) is interesting, what happens 20 years down the road when no one knows how PageFlakes worked?

Finally, I realized that this entire process took about five times (or more) the length of time I expected it to take (there are quite a few "LOL :-)" next to self-imposed deadlines I've missed), and in academic articles I've read I noticed that others have also forgotten to include something in the reference list that they referenced in the body of the text, so it makes me not feel as bad when I've done my due diligence but still something goes missing or is erroneously ommited.

I kind of feel like the quote from Francois Truffaut is applicable: "You start a film and you want to make the greatest one ever made. Halfway through, you just want to finish the damned thing." - just substitute film with dissertation :)

Anyway, back to the monastic lifestyle to get some more things done.  How was 2017 for you, academically speaking?
~~~~~~~~

PS Hey! Committee members! I don't know who you are yet, but if you googled me and came across this post, go easy on me 😜



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One more thing!

... No seriously! I swear! This will be the last thing I read and then I will start to write my literature review ;-)

I am back up for some air.  When I originally made my plans last May to have the fall semester be the semester that I focused on the literature review part of my dissertation proposal I sort of envisioned a lot of reading.  Reading on the train. Reading on the weekends.  Reading while walking (through text to speech), reading while driving (also through TTS).  My goal was to put pen to paper (figuratively speaking) on November 30th.  Well, that date has come and gone and I still haven't put pen to paper yet.  And, I am still reading. 

A couple of times I've actually come close to being done reading - having my "to read" folder on dropbox empty and all things read, skimmed, or otherwise evaluated for usefulness for my proposal.   When I've come down to 10 items somehow the folder magically populates again.  Well...it's not magic - I add things to the folder.  Three weeks ago I remembered that I should have looked at the Horizon Reports to see if there were any prognosticated trends that related to my proposal. A couple of weeks ago I remembered that I didn't look at the Educause Review for related items. And, this past weekend I got notice that the OLJ (OLC's peer reviewed journal) just released a new issue and a couple of articles seemed relevant.  D'oh!

The encouraging news is that I am basically done. There are two or three relevant(ish?) articles on the OLJ, and I have the MOOC Invasion to read (or at least skim).  After that I am truly, 100%, no regrets, calling the literature review reading done and I will start to collect my notes to write the chapter up.

I suspect that I am not the only doctoral student who has suffered from the "one more article! one more book!" syndrome.  When doing research (alone or with colleagues) for an article or chapter-length piece there is a tacit understanding that you just can't fit everything in, and that stuff gets left on the cutting floor.  No one will do an oral exam for an article you submit to a journal for review - so if you haven't read something...well, no one's the wiser.  For a dissertation I feel like what you don't put in (and what you don't read), could come back to bite you in the oral defense, hence better be prepared.  But...can you take preparedness to an necessary extreme? 

Any thoughts from current doctoral students and recent grads?
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Letters of recommendation - what's up with that?

It's been a while since I've blogged, or at least it really feels like it.  I've had my nose stuck in (virtual) books trying to get through my literature review - but more on that on some other blog post. I came across an article on InsideHigherEd this past week asking whether or not letters of recommendation are really necessary. My most immediate context is admissions, given that that's part of my work at the university, but the people who gave their two cents also mentioned something I had not considered: academic jobs. I won't rehash the opinions of the people who wrote for the article, but I will add my own two cents, mostly from a graduate admissions perspective. I don't have a fully formed opinion on letters of recommendation for employment purposes, but I'll add my two cents as a prospective hire (in a few years when I might be done with my EdD :p)

For admissions to graduate course of study, be it a masters program, a PhD program, or even a certificate program, I really personally don't see much value in letters of recommendation any longer.   My point of view is framed from the perspective of a student, an instructor, and a program administrator.   When I was applying for my first master's degree I bought into the rationale given to me for letters of recommendation: former professors can provide the admissions committee qualitative information about you as a learner that a transcript cannot provide.  This is all fine and dandy, and for me to worked out: I was working on-campus as an undergraduate student, and I had some professors who I had for more than one course and who were able to write letters of recommendation.  This was a privilege that I had that other students may not have had.  For my second masters I was applying to the same college, and I was applying to a new program of the college, so they looking for student, so getting recommendations wasn't that big of a deal.  Once I finished my second masters, I really didn't want to deal with more solicitations for letters of recommendation - I started to feel odd, and I kept going back to the regular well of people for recommendations.

So, I applied to two programs concurrently so that I could write one statement, and the letters of recommendation could pull double duty.  After I finished my last two masters degrees I took some time off regular, "regimented" school and programs and focused on MOOCs.  Going back to earn an EdD posed some issues as far as recommendations go.  I had previously applied to a PhD program at my university (at the college in which I earned two masters! - never heard a final decision on my application by the way), and by the time I wanted to apply to Athabasca I felt that the well had run dry for recommendations.  Former professors still gave me recommendations, but I kind of feel I was taking advantage of their kindness by asking for a recommendation for yet another degree program I wanted to pursue (don't judge, at least I complete my degree program haha 😜).  Not that I am thinking a ton past my completion of the EdD, but should I want to pursue a regimented course of study in the future (degree or certificate program) the recommendations will be an issue; not because I can't get them, but because I feel bad about asking for them - after all I am asking for someone to volunteer their time to give me a recommendation when my academic record should suffice. This is how I feel about the GRE and other entrance tests, by the way.  If you've completed undergraduate studies then the GRE is pointless - you can do academic work.  If you are unsure of the academic work capabilities of applicants, accept them provisionally.  Just my two cents.

Another lens I view this through the administrative.  Asking for letters of recommendation, and subsequently receiving them (or not) requires time.  It requires time from the student (especially in tracking down referees if they don't submit stuff in time), it requires processing time from admissions departments, and it requires reading time on the part of committees who review applications. When such a system takes that much time and effort into it, you have to ask what the benefit, or net positive gain, is.  Going back to the story I was told - the qualitative component of the transcript, basically - does make sense in theory, but in practice... not so much. 

While I don't make decisions on applications that come to my department for review, I sneak and peek at materials that come in because I need to process them.  What I've noticed is that by and large (1) recommendation are uneven, and (2) they tend to be the same, more or less, just with different names.  The unevenness is partially cultural in nature.  If you get a recommendation from someone employed at a western institution you tend to get (more or less) what you seek.  However, non-western colleagues don't use the recommendation system so for them a recommendation is just an affirmation that the student was indeed in their class, in the specific semester, and from what they remember they performed well.  The "basically the same" aspect of recommendations runs into the same problem as non-western recommendations; that is that recommendations basically boil down to: student was in class, they performed well, so accept them.  It just turns out that western colleagues are more verbose in their recommendations so they happen to add in some anecdotes of your awesomeness as a candidate, but even those anecdotes tend to run along the same wavelength most of the time:  asked interesting questions in class, was the first to post in forums, engaged fellow classmates, submitted assignments early, etc.  From an administrative perspective there is (so far as I know) no background check on these folks providing recommendations so we are taking what they are writing in good faith.

Finally, as an instructor, I am lucky, in a sense, that I haven't had to write a ton of recommendations.  I've done so a couple of times but after a few original recommendations I've basically gone back to the awesome student, accept them, here are a couple of anecdotes formula because that's life, we're not living on Lake Wobegon. I'd gladly give a recommendation to former students who did well in my classes, but it's hard to not feel like I am writing a generic letter sometimes. So why spend time writing something that feels like a template letter if I am not providing much value to the system?

In short, recommendations for admission add no value while taking away time and resources from other areas.

In terms of letters of recommendation for academic employment, on a purely theoretical basis I'd say that they are pointless too.  Both for reasons articulated in the IHE commentary piece, but also for one of the reasons that's similar to graduate program admissions: the genericness aspect.  I think having some references is fine, but I think a quick conversation (or heck, a survey-style questionnaire) would be more preferable to a letter. The reason I think it's not that useful in hiring decisions is the same reason no one gives recommendations anymore (for us regular plebes getting work), and that is that people sue if they get wind that they got a bad recommendation. Generally speaking no one will agree to give you a letter of recommendation (or reference) if they can't give you positive reviews, and HR departments just confirm dates of employment these days.  Nothing more, nothing less; otherwise they risk a lawsuit. So, if you're not getting much information about the candidate, and if the information is skewed toward the positive (because that's how the system works), then is the information you're getting valuable?  I'd say no.

So, what are your thoughts?
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