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v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

El30 - Community (Week 7)

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Continuing on with my quest to experience the remainder of el30 before work begins again, today I'll write a bit about my thoughts about the topic of Week 7 which was community.

From the course page for the week:
"The traditional concept of community was built on sameness, on collections of people from the same family, speaking the same language, living in the same place, believing the same things. The fundamental challenge to community is to make decisions on matters affecting everybody while leaving to individuals, companies and institutions those matters not effectively managed by consensus."

The interesting thing for me with this topic is that I sort of had an "AHAAAA!" moment (didn't quite scream it though...the all-caps was more for effect 😜).  My aha moment revolved around my dissertation proposal and the concept of collaboration in MOOCs and what came to mind is that there needs to be a certain amount or type of community to exist in order for working together to happen...well...maybe... I guess I can't go too far with this line of thought until I look at the literature because I might be told I am biased 😉. In any case, it is something that I need to dive a little deeper into in the coming weeks.

So, in the community video chat of the week (link; the Peter Forsyth video isn't loading) there were a number of a questions that came up about community.  I don't  think that many were answered since it seemed like an open brainstorming session (which is fine), but I thought that my take on this week would be continue the open brainstorming session and maybe attempt to answer these questions from my own learning perspectives.

What is a minimal viable community?
I suppose the first question I have is: what type of a community is this? I think a community can be successful, at least initially, with only a handful of members.  If pressed for a number I'd call it 4-5 members.  The example I can think of here closely-knit cohort members, or a small group of students who progress through a program of study in similar pace even though they might not be in a cohort.  In my case one such example is the cohort I am in for my doctoral work. Out of a cohort of about 13 members (I've lost count since we've added and subtracted to our cool group over the years) we have 7-8 who are quite engaged in our cohort community, and the rest participate from time to time as life ebbs and flows.

What are markers of community?  
You know, I have a hard time defining such markers.  In the discussion the hashtags was brought up as an example. Another example was a shared space such as google docs, a facebook group, or even something like an IRC channel.  While these certainly can be markers of community, I think that community is more than a space (even the hashtag is a space marker IMO).  A space is certainly required as an incubator for the community, and if we go by Actor-Network Theory, the space can influence how the human actors act within that space, but for me the hallmark of a community is activity of some sort.  The space can be a base to jump off from when the community is active, and it can be an archaeological space for the time the community disbands or dies. An example of such archaeology is diving into the Usenet archives to see what communities did back when they used Usenet. Hence the marker of community for me is (1) more ephemeral and (2) more qualitative in nature, things such as relationships, feelings, learning, and entertainment


What is a community?  Who is a member?
I suspect that this is quite difficult to answer.  Some communities (like #el30) are open and anyone can conceivably be a member.  Other communities, like those of professional associations are closed by requiring members to pay dues.  Even when someone pays dues and is able to access a community, does that make them a member though?  Or are there other pre-requisites to membership?  For example does there need to be some sort or hard declaration of membership from the person being inducted into the community?  In #el30's case, registering for the Daily? or posting a blog?  or retweeting something?  If a tangible aspect exists, what does this mean for lurkers?   I guess the question is this:  is community membership something that is provided from outside of a person (membership conferred) or something that is from within (membership declared or claimed)? A good example came from the discussion and that is the example of person reading a book that others are reading concurrently, but one person who is reading is not contributing to the discussion of the book (IRL lurker) - is he a member of that community?

How do you meet each other to form a community?
This is something that might come from my own dissertation work. I suspect that there are many ways in which community can be formed.  I think part of it is serendipity (e.g., my own chance encounters with people from MOOCs over the last 8 years), and part of it might be through our own social networks (person A introduces person B to person C to some sort of community). This is definitely something that requires a deeper probe though.

What are the core elements of a community? What brings people together?  
In the discussion the example of the EU was brought up, more specifically the EU being a solution to avoid the horrors experienced by various European nations in WWII; however this is more ideological and not everyone is on-board with ideology first; so the initial steps were at first tangible elements and they were practical - namely an economic union.  Downes posited that in some communities there is some sort of attractor.  In the original MOOC (CCK) that attractor was George Siemens (according to Downes), and for some (the 'core' group?) it was the fact that the course was a 3-credit course at the University of Manitoba.  I would say that the attractor is probably a lot of different things to different people. Depending on what you want to get out of the community, your attractor will vary.

Finally, there were two things that caught my attention. There was a discussion around the distributed web after the obligatory discussion of platforms (such as facebook) and the control we cede over to them. The question came up as to whether community formation is made more difficult if there aren't any centralized areas like facebook?   What is the role of a platform in community creation?  I would go back to my previous answer and say that this can be analyzed a bit through ANT, but also the platform is that starter space, or incubator (if you will).  People can, and do, move onto other spaces once initial connections between human elements are formed.  An example of this is CCK where people met on Moodle but they formed together in other spaces during and after the MOOC.

As far as distributed networks go, IMO distributed works well for the techies like some of us with an initial starter pack of connections.  It's harder for people, like my family in Greece, to be on a distributed platform.  They may lack the know-how to set something up for themselves, and even if some of them do have this know-how, discoverability is an issue. Hence iMessage, Fb messenger, and facebook being 'important' in those communities if you want to be connected.

Last but not neast: Downes called EL30 "not a course, but a massive social event" - I wonder what the attributes of a course are.

So, that's it for me this week.  What do you think?




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Bat-signal for an External Committee Member!

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Well, my proposal (basically half my dissertation) is off to the internal members of my committee. Many thanks go to the help of my doctoral supervisors who've asked a lot of questions of my previous drafts and helped me refine my writing :-)

Now the next step (assuming the committee likes my submitted draft) is to both find an external reviewer for this, and also defend it so that I can move onto the next phase: data collection and analysis.

Where do you come in? I need recommendations for an external member to my committee :-) If we've worked together in the past 5 years you would not be eligible to be on the committee, but if you know people who might be good, let me know :-)



Requirements for external committee member

Retrieved from: http://fgs.athabascau.ca/handbook/doctoral/candidacy.php
Also committee member criteria: http://fgs.athabascau.ca/handbook/doctoral/supervisors_and_committee_members.php

  • At least one of the new members must be at arm’s length from the student and the proposal development <-- external="" li="">
  • be active in the general area of the student's research
  • have a tenured (or tenure track) faculty appointment
    • If no tenure track person is identified, there is an 'other' category that the Faculty of Graduate Studies could approve. See the link for details. 
  • hold a degree equivalent to or higher than that for which the student is a candidate (
  • demonstrate continuing scholarly or creative activity of an original nature as defined in item 3.7.3.b. of the AUFA Collective Agreement.
  • The proposed examination committee members must meet the eligibility criteria, and must not be in a position of conflict of interest (direct link to AU policy: http://ous.athabascau.ca/policy/humanresources/150_002.pdf 

My proposal details

(to better inform any recommendations you might have :) )

Title: Factors influencing the initiation and sustained engagement in collaboratives working outside MOOC parameters: an exploratory mixed methods case study

Abstract: This dissertation research will explore the factors for which individuals in an open educational environment choose to create, or join, collaboratives that produce certain mutually agreed-upon deliverables, and the factors that sustain individuals’s through this collaborative endeavor. As such, some of these factors may deal with characteristics and experiences that define such collaboratives, and what members of these collaboratives perceive as a gain from their involvement from such collaborative endeavors. The approach to research this topic will be an explanatory parallel mixed methods case study design that will initially explore quantitative results from the Community of Inquiry instrument as well as qualitative results gathered from an open-ended survey.  Survey participants will be invited to participate in subsequent interviews in order to explore the question in more depth. A better understanding of why such collaboratives form, and what sustains them, might provide clues as to how such collaborative formations may encouraged, or nurtured, in online learning.



Thank you in advance for your help in identifying potential externals :-)



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Community of Inquiry: TeachING not teachER presence

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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...

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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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Random draw from the comment-box!

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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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What am I training for again?

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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

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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!

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... 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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Academic precarity and other-blaming

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I think I am going to commission a saint painting (Byzantine style, of course) of Paul Prinsloo (I just need to find a clever Saint Epithet for him).  Here is another though process sparked by something he shared recently on his Facebook.  Paul shared this blog post without comment (I swear, sometimes I feel like this is an online class he's conducting and we're all participating in a massive discussion ;-) ) and it got me thinking...

I do recognize the adjunctification (and probably de-profesionalization) of the professoriate, and I see it as a trend that's not new.  If I really think back to my undergraduate days, almost 20 years ago now, I could probably see it back then as well. There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. Academia is (slowly or quickly, depending on your standpoint) becoming a capitalist monster operating on a greedy algorithm. My own university, a state university, seems to be in competition with other state universities in the same state.  Instead of looking at complimentary and cross-institutional programs to help one another out (heck, we all get money from the same source!) we compete with each other in (what seems to be) a Hunger Games-like environment for academia. So we must have a program X, a program Y, and a program Z because our sister schools (20-60 miles away) have similar programs.

Having this as a background, we also have internal fiefdoms shaping up. While the few (lucky?) ones on the tenure track hunker down to protect their ever diminishing ranks and privileges, they leave others on the outside to fend by themselves and to be picked off by the (metaphorical) wolves, by getting adjunct jobs with no job security, high operating costs (you go ahead and travel between several job sites so that you can string together work to pay the bills, see how much that costs both monetarily, physically, and emotionally), no benefits, no retirement, and low wages.  Let's not get started with the (tenured) faculty know-best mentality that exists, where two of the by-products are bastardizations of the notion of self-governance and academic freedom.

There are plenty of problems with academia to go around. That said, anyone pursuing any sort of degree - doctoral, masters, or even bachelors, needs to take a hard look at the path that they are setting for themselves. You need to pursue something that is smart and helps you on the road in getting you a job to pay for yourself (think of Maslow's lower levels if you will). I sort of fell for the glamour of specific jobs.  I loved technology and went for a computer science degree as an undergraduate. I liked it, but that sort of thing wasn't exactly what I was passionate about.  But, back then you could easily get a six-figure job, with a bonus, right out of college if you had a CS degree.  And then the market crashed and jobs were sent off-shore. Luckily I didn't have school debt.  This maybe was easy to predict, but I certainly didn't see it.  I've been more cautious since then.  Faculty jobs (perhaps with the benefit of my own hindsight) are easy to observe as being diminishing in number.

The line that really made me roll my eyes in the blog post was this:
Do you retrain to do HR or Admin or tax preparation and forfeit the research you have done, or do you follow the conventional wisdom that if you are tough enough to hang in there, and brilliant enough to shine through, you'll be the one who gets the job and gets to be the professor? 
The answer is "yes" - you retrain an get other jobs to sustain yourself. If her LinkedIn page is any indication, I'm slightly younger than her, and I've had to adapt a few times in my professional life to keep a roof over my head. It's what the regular person does if they want to survive.  You can do something that's fulfilling in life, but sometimes work that pays the bills and sustains us does not coincide with what fulfills us deep in our soul.

The fact of the matter is that academia (at least in the US, I am not sure globally) has problems. Systemic and systematic problems. Both systems and individuals need to be analyzed to fix the problem, but when people are just looking out for their own good...well eventually we all lose. I should point out that I am in a doctoral program as well. I do it because I like learning and it stretches my mind. But, I don't go into debt for it, and I know that a tenure-track job isn't on the horizon for me for all the obvious reasons. I can still research and publish. I actually do that now, and I've worked with some pretty fabulous people over the years.  I count myself lucky to have been at the right place, at the right time, in the right mindset to capitalize on those acquaintances, make good friends, and expand my learning in the process. The fact of the matter is that just because you've earned a doctorate, doesn't mean that you'll be getting a tenure-track job. That's not how the system works. The system is broken, and you can't play by its "rules" if you want to change the system.

Just my two cents.  Your thoughts?  (now back to my lit review)
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speedwalking the lit review

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The lit-review (lit-review 2.0 as a dub it) has been going from a crawl to, a walk, to hopefully hitting speedwalking pace.  Lit-review 1.0 was last fall, which was a little too broad to be fit for purpose, and it really explored a lot of themes that might be worthwhile keeping in mind as things to discuss in the discussion portion of the dissertation  - you know, after I pass the proposal defense, and collect and analyze data - so it's not all that useful now.

Because I am working on collaboration as a topic, and more specifically collaboration borne out of participation in a specific set of MOOCs, I am looking some literature on MOOCs and some literature on collaboration.  After I finished reading a handful of books on collaboration, I've made my way to academic articles on MOOCs (before I go back to collaboration discussed in academic articles).  It's been a couple of years since I've sat down to make a concerted effort to read articles on MOOCs (given that most of my spare time was spent on class stuff).   As I am reading these newer articles on MOOCs (2014 and beyond), the obligatory 'historical' introductions (you know, where MOOCs came from), seem to be all over the place.  Some describe them in ways that  closely tie them to the OCW movement.  Others skip everything and start with Thrun and Koehler.  Others point to Siemens and other Canadian colleagues with MOOCs like CCK.  Yet others find imaginative ways to have some sort of combination of these†.

Despite these (minor?) issues in their introduction or background sections, these articles made it through the gauntlet of the peer review and go published, so they are now part of the research record.  It's not that I am hugely bothered by things that I view as historical inaccuracies in these articles. After all, the advice given to me by my mentors is to basically go to the original citation and look up the fact and underlying reasons there, instead of citing someone who cited the info.  It's a good point, and it's good to basically double check your "facts", but it really adds to the workload if you can't trust what you're reading in an article.  Does the level of detail in a literature review reflect the level of care taken to craft the methods section, data analysis, and conclusions?  Maybe it doesn't; maybe the introduction is just a short afterthought after all else is done, I don't know.

As I go through this pile of academic articles I am struck by the two warring sides in my mind.  One side wants me (the completionist daemon) to read every single word and analyze every single sentence of an article.  OK, maybe it's not painstaking analysis, but really do give each article a good portion of my mindshare in order to make sure that I am correctly getting out of the article what the authors intended me to get out of the article.  On the other side of things, I am looking at the large (digital) pile of papers to read and a more pragmatic daemon is pointing me toward more efficient‡. The efficiency that my pragmatic daemon advocates for is skimming introductory and background sessions, and really just focusing on data analysis and conclusions, so basically make an assumption that the journal editors and peer reviewers have done a good enough job so that I can reasonably assured that what I am reading is worthwhile♠.  The problem with the pragmatic daemon's approach is that in the haste to be more efficient (just the findings, ma'am) I might be making the same errors as those folks that make me roll my eyes with their (minor?) issues in their introductory and background sections (errors I don't want to make).  I am sure that there is a good middle ground, which I am intent on finding before I am done with this proposal...

How is your dissertation process going?  If you are done with your doctorate, what were your daemons?



DIGITAL MARGINALIA
† maybe it's my own bias as a MOOC follower since 2010(ish) but the only correct version of MOOC history seems to be CCK08 as the start. Yes the open movement probably influenced it a lot, but I wouldn't go as far as to call it a descendant of OCW.
‡ imagine air quotes around this word.
♠ not counting predatory journals here.
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