Club Admiralty

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

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Rhizo22: The rMOOC that might be?

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Wonder what's in this...

It's been a crazy seven days. 

As part of my narrative inquiry into collaborations that occurred in rhizo14 and rhizo15 (or collaborations that sprung up from the work that started there), I am writing a fictional account of a newbie rhizo-learner (sort of how I was a newbie back in rhizo14) who gets to meet rhizo-alumni from past courses and ask them about their collaborations.  This newbie is simultaneously my avatar, but also a persona that encapsulates some common features of the people I connected with to learn more about their experiences.

I find the flexibility that narrative inquiry affords a bit freeing.  I can more easily change names, places, and situations, but I still can get to the main ideas that emerged from my conversations with rhizo14 alumni and collaborators.

 Anyway, my fictional rhizo course that takes place in 2022 (June 2022, to be exact). I could have made up all the weekly provocation titles, and the course tagline, but it's always much more fun when you crowdsource these things, especially when rhizo-alumni chime in.  

So, here's some information about:

Rhizodemic Learning: Feeding the virus #rhizo22

  • Week 1: Fill in the Blank: Is __________ making us stupid?
  • Week 2: Cyborg Rhizomes: The machine takes over the rhizome
  • Week 3: Viral thoughts in ill-structured domains
  • Week 4: Interprofessional Rhizofictional Learning
  • Week 5: Rhizodemic Learning
  • Week 6: Rhizomes in a post-covid world


I think, like past rhizo courses, that rhizo22 will also have a few weeks of "inmates taking over the asylum", so here are weeks7 through 9.  As you see, I still have some blanks.  If you want to contribute, suggest a title for a weekly "module" or provocation, and I'll add it in :-)
  • Week 7: Fill in the blank: _________ will make you more creative.
  • Week 8: ?
  • Week 9: ?
  • Week x: ????

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OK, where's my script writer?

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It's been a busy October thus far in dissertation research land.  How do I know?  My memo doc for October is already at 40 pages (single-spaced) in length, and it's only October 6th! The September and August memo docs are sparse by comparison!

Just as a "previously on AK's Dissertation Adventure", I am examining collaboration in Rhizo14 (and to some extent Rhizo15) using Narrative Inquiry as my method.

Memo documents are my interim texts, which are essentially my ongoing analysis, reflection, thoughts, and quarantining my own views as a researcher; but they sound cooler when using the Narrative Inquiry lingo of interim texts.  I like the term because I feel like it denotes something on-going, reflective, iterative, and in the midst; whereas "data analysis" feels more sterile.

Anyway, my free time is spent looking at field texts (my "data"), making notes in the margin, jotting down names of actors, actions, plots, motivations, and thoughts.  For my project I went really went above and beyond the "1 or 2" research participants that  Creswell recommends for the Narrative Inquiry method. Even though I am swimming in information, one of the reasons I chose to expand to 4 people was to get some additional voices in the mix, which I thought were interesting to include, and hopefully insightful for the eventual readers. The initial problem I had with having 4 people was how to do a restory? The advice that  I received was to funnel all 4 stories into one hypothetical persona.  I guess this can work, but I also feel that it homogenized things a bit.  Restorying 1 person into 1 persona doesn't have this problem.  Then I thought of Rhizo14, and the metaphor of a dinner party, or a campfire telling stories (or singing songs).  I think I can restory the 4 narratives by using the dinner party (or campfire) as a place where participants virtually interact and share their stories with others. Of course, since there were a countable number of people in the original story, and since participants need to be anonymous, I'll need to figure out different names for people (I am considering gender-neutral names and personal pronouns), and some really specific things will need to be tweaked to mark the identity of people.  I think this would make my IRB/REB much more comfortable with this.

Now, I have 4 stories to tell.  I am also keeping track of myself (to keep researcher bias at bay), so I could put myself in this dinner party.  There will probably be cameos from people as well. I just need to figure out the creative writing component of this. The main question is how to write the story (once I get to it)?  I'll need to do a little more research on this.  In Narrative Inquiries that I've read, some people just restore in prose (and very much in APA fashion), others have made it into a poem, or a movie script, or song lyrics.  It seems like the chosen form represented the people's stories being restoried, and the comfort of the researcher.  So... my questions for anyone in the Rhizo community reading this:  what sort of form should my restory take?    Is it a physical location like a campfire?  A virtual place like zoom or a VR simulation like "ready player one"?  Does it live on facebook?  Or does it take place in a faraway land a long time ago (or a long time in the future)?  Who is part of that narrative for you?

Looking back at this, I really wish I could do a collaborative autoethnography for this. I'd love to bring people together to do a follow-up to our Rhizo14 autoethnography.  Talking to people about this, going back through openly available blogs and re-reading people's words is making me reminisce about all the fun we had in Rhizo14 and Rhizo15 collaborating. Of course, that's not a way to earn a doctorate...I suppose that will have to wait until I graduate.


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eLearning and Identity

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A week or so ago...well...maybe two weeks by now♣, the topic of eLearning 3.0 was identity, and the video guest of the week was Maha Bali.  I finally managed to view all of it, even though it was in 10 minute increments. My Pocket's save-for-later is getting rather lengthy now that I am saving articles on the daily to read at some other future time. This time of the semester is rather busy, so I guess that's my disclaimer for this post: I am only commenting on the video and points that were brought up.

In looking at the notes I took during the vConnecting session during week 4 (mid-way through the MOOC!) there are a few organizing factors that sort of came to me, so I've organized the post in this manner.

What's in a name?
At the beginning of the conversation Stephen had a bit of a hard time getting the native pronunciation of Maha's name. It's interesting to kick off a discussion about identity in such a mundane way, but I think that the concept of a name is quite powerful, on many levels.  Often times names are given to us and we have no control over them. My name for example was given to me by my parents and godparents. There is a particular nickname given to me in grade 4 that I really only use in the company a certain close-knit group of friends from that time in my life.  Other times we choose our names, case in point the username that you chose for your email address, that forum you joined, or your xbox gamertag. Those names we choose for ourselves usually have a story behind them. I would venture to say that stories are associated with names, and (my hypothesis is that) no two names share the same origin story. The multiple names that identify us - legal names, user names, nicknames - are to some fashion a pointer device for some aspect of our multifaceted identity.

Seeing as most languages are spoken, how one says someone else's name is also important. When I moved back to the states only my language teachers (French, ESL, and English) could correctly pronounce my given name without correction. No surprise there, I suspect that they (being language teachers) had a sense of how different languages have different rhythms and cadences.  Early on I adopted "AK" (there's a story there), as well as the English pronunciation of "Apostolos"† (minor eye roll, but whatever) as synonyms for Απόστολος. Many Greek Americans (second or third generation usually) also attempted to call me Paul, which didn't really carry much favor with me. Paul is another name entirely. I suspect that someone, at some point, probably at Ellis Island decided that an Apostolos would be a Paul in English, and newly arriving immigrants just adopted for a variety of reasons. Paul is an identity marker that I rejected right off the bat simply because Paul ain't my name, and Greek Americans should be able to say Απόστολος, no? 😛


What about the things we studied?
Stephen asked if there is an identification with the institutional affiliation, and how important that was as part of one's own identity. And, in relation to that the discussion flowed toward our identities as learners and how those are connected to the institutions that were part of our learning experiences‡. This gave me pause to ponder.  As far as my educational experiences (in higher education) go I have two institutions: UMass Boston, and Athabasca University.  While I've made many connections at both of these institutions; connections to people, places, knowledge, and experiences, I don't really think of myself as a "Beacon" (the UMB mascot).  I am wondering if part of this is cultural.  I do see a lot of people with academic paraphernalia (mugs, hats, cups, sweaters, flags) from their alma matters,  but this isn't something that appears to be of importance to me.  Now, granted I have (over the years) had mugs, hats, and sweaters from UMB...and a coffee mug from AU that I've used so much that it's falling apart, but I really don't know if those things were gone if I'd miss them, and hence seek out a replacement.  The institutions that have played a role in our education have certainly helped to shape us into who we are, but as far as identity goes, what do those various physical objects that we keep say about us in the end? Is it about the institution itself? Or about the individual who gifted the item to us?♠ 

Relating to the institution is what we studied. In one of the past vConnecting sessions I was part of, when we were socializing before starting the recording, Maha had made an observation that a number of us (me included) had started off as computer scientists for our undergraduate degrees, but have moved on from that field. My own learning journey has taken me into many twisting, turning, and branching areas of knowledge; and while I ultimately chose Education as the field for my doctoral work, the previous fields I've studied are still elements of curiosity for me, and I would say inform my day-to-day work.  Over the past number of years I've wanted to get back into coding, partly because I thought that this is what computer scientists do. I was thinking to myself: well, how can I call myself a computer scientist if I don't code.  Maybe I am a "lapsed" computer scientist? Nah, that sounds too negative, after all I still use a lot of the knowledge gained through that course of study to understand the world now, so how can I be lapsed? Then came the aha moment:  Maha said something interesting - she said that she was a "Computer scientist who left the code behind".  This was a good definition of where I am.  I still consider myself a computer scientist, but I have no interest in coding at the moment (at least not for money or for my 9-to-5). What we study/ied has helped frame how we see the world, and how we interact with it, whether we like it or not; and we get to see connections between one domain of knowledge and another♦.


What about what we do?
Another strand of being and identity came from what we do (I assume this is professional or from our pastimes).  The question is do the things we do define us?  And if we stopped doing them would they still define us?  I think that what we do defines us to some extend, but not others.  For example, from a professional perspective, I've had a variety of job titles over the past 20 years at my institution (hard to believe it's been that long). While I am no longer performing the duties of a media services worker, or a library worker, or even an IT worker on a day to day basis, many of my colleagues who've known me  over the last two decades (who are still here) do reach out to me for Tech-y, IT-y, Instructional Design-y things that concern my department, even though many of those things are not in my formal job description.  The institution, by means of the people involved, remembers me and my skillset, and it's just natural for them to reach out to the person that they know to get things done.  Do I miss certain aspects of old jobs?  Sure.  Do I miss the old jobs? not really.  Would I miss my current job if I moved elsewhere?  Probably not.  I enjoy what I do, but it doesn't define me.  The relationships between people (faculty, staff, and students of my department) are what define my time here, and who I am (in relation to them) more than being the person who manages the various processes that need to happen for a department to run successfully.


Identity is like a tree
I am not sure if the heading is something I thought of while watching the video chat between Stephen and Maha, or if it's something they said.  Either way, I see identity as a tree. It's a complex organism. It has roots that are nurtured by what surrounds it.  It is impacted by the environment it's in, and it grows leaves and branches. Periodically it gets pruned as conditions change.



Miscellaneous Observations
academic identity
There was an interesting point that Maha brought up.  She indicated isn't all that up to speed with reading literature in her field in arabic.  Her academic identity is English (or in English? it's been a while since I took these notes). This was interesting in that I identify the same way.  My academic competence was developed in English (college and graduate school) and the last time I was in an academic environment where Greek was the language of instruction was in 8th grade. While I can read just fine (and I would like to expand my repertoire to read academic literature in my field in Greek), I do no consider myself fully bilingual when it comes to academic materials.  I can read and comprehend just fine, but writing academic materials in Greek isn't as easy as it is in English.

Despite the bumpy road with academic Greek, I've wanted to write in Greek, partly because it would potentially open the access to non-English speakers. However, when considering the fine time one has, the cost of such a transaction (time and effort spent), and the fact that it doesn't necessarily advance your academic career, you do have to pause and wonder whether your resources are spent well.  If translating your work to another language is a hobby - great.  Another thing that I consider, even for someone like me (who is on the fence about such a career), you want to be 'future proof' your career in a sense, so English makes the most sense as the primary language to publish in.

Finally, a big question that has come up♥  is who gets to call themselves an academic? While I do teach from time to time, that's not my day-job (I am a manager by title, administrator by function).  When I teach I am a lecturer even though I don't lecture, and I am never a professor even though some of my students address me with that title.  I do research and publish from time to time, but that's neither required nor rewarded from neither my part-time teaching gig, nor my day-job. While I do perform tasks in the three categories that many consider key categories in the work of an academic in the US∋, I am not generally considered an academic (and feel rather weird calling myself that).  I think Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness call themselves an Itinerant Scholar which sounds more appealing to me. While I do work in higher education, the noun academic doesn't feel welcoming as a title/descriptor.  At least in the US there seems to be a sharp distinction between faculty and staff (everyone not faculty). Faculty being more prestigious and at a higher tier than us lowly staff. Academic many times feels like a synonym for faculty, hence the oppression of the system I work in somehow makes claiming that title feel wrong - like you're an impostor. At the end of the day who gets to call themselves an academic?  Is it an endonym? or an exonym? What should it be?


personal brand
As much as I want this term to die out already, watching this interview I was left wondering where identity fits in with the concept of personal brand. Not sure what the answer is - maybe an entire discussion of its own.


On one of these days I need to do that identity graph 'assignment' :-)



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Marginalia:
♣ OK, fine, it's been quite a while ago - been busy with other things ;-)
† emphasis to note where people mistakenly put the accent
‡ OK! OK! This is my extrapolation of the discussion in order to make this category. The discussion seemed much more interweaved with institutions and what we do in the discussion. Bear with me.
♠ In thinking about both the AU and UMB stuff I have, most have been gifts from mentors and colleagues. I have yet to buy something with my own money with the university logo on it.
♦ The lack of interconnection is something I actually see when I peer review journal submissions.  Many people tend to publish in their disciplinary journals, and only do their literature reviews in those domains of knowledge, even when they are writing about teaching and learning (e.g., a chemist, or management PhD writing about teaching online).  This leads to a lot of poor research writing because the lack of cross-disciplinary connections means that the people writing don't have a good understanding of the field they are writing about, and if they attempt to have an understanding it's often surface level. Just a random thought.
♥ as I re-read this blog post several weeks after I started it...
∋ Research, Teaching, and Service being those three categories. 
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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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Rationale? I don't need no stinkin' Rationale!†

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 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?

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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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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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Instructional Designers, and Research

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Yet another post that started as a comment on something that Paul Prinsloo posted on facebook (I guess I should be blaming facebook and Paul for getting me to think of things other than my dissertation :p hahaha).

Anyway,  Paul posted an IHE story about a research study which indicates that instructional designers (IDers) think that they would benefit from conducting research in their field (teaching and learning), but they don't necessarily have the tools to do this.  This got me thinking, and it made me ponder a bit about the demographics of IDers in this research. These IDers were  in higher education.  I do wonder if IDers in corporate settings don't value research as much.

When I was a student and studying for my MEd in instructional design (about 10 years ago), I was interested in the research aspects and the Whys of the theories I was learning. I guess this is why further education in the field of teaching and learning was appealing to me, and why I am ultimately pursuing a doctorate. I digress though - my attitude (inquisitiveness?) stood is in contrast with fellow classmates who were ambivalent or even annoyed that we spent so much time on 'theory'.  They felt that they should be graduating with more 'practical skills' in the wizbang tools of the day.  We had experience using some of these tools - like Captivate, Articulate, Presenter, various LMSs, and so on, but obviously not the 10,000 hours required to master it†. Even though I loved some classmates (and for those with who are reading this, it's not a criticism of you! :-) ), I couldn't help but roll my eyes at them when such sentiments came up during out-of-class meetups where we were imbibing our favorite (hot or cold) beverages.  Even back then I tried to make them see the light.  Tools are fine, but you don't go to graduate school to learn tools - you go to learn methods that can be applied broadly, and to be apprenticed into a critical practice.  As someone who came from IT before adding to my knowledge with ID,  I knew that tools come and go, and to have a degree focus mostly on tools is a waste of money (and not doing good to students....hmmmm...educational fast food!). I know that my classmates weren't alone in their thinking, having responded to a similar story posted on LinkedIn this past summer.

My program had NO research courses (what I learned from research was on my own, and through mentorship of professors in my other masters programs). Things are changing in my former program, but there are programs out there, such as Athabasca University's MEd, which do work better for those who want a research option.

Anyway, I occasionally teach Introduction to Instructional Design for graduate students and I see both theory-averse students (like some former classmates), and people who are keen to know more and go deeper. I think as a profession we (those of us who teach, or run programs in ID) need to do a better job at helping our students become professionals that continually expand their own (and their peer's) knowledge through conscious attempts at learning, and research skills are part of that.  There should be opportunities to learn tools, for the more immediate need of getting a job in the field, but the long term goal should be setting up lifelong learners and researchers in the field.  Even if you are a researcher with a little-r you should be able to have the tools and skills to do this to improve your practice.

As an aside, I think that professional preparation programs are just one side of the equation.  The other side of the equation. The other side is employment and employers, and the expectations that those organization have of instructional design.  This is equally important in helping IDers help the organization. My conception of working with faculty members as an IDer was that we'd have a partnership and we'd jointly work out what was best based on what we had (technology, expertise, faculty time) so that we could come up with course designs that would be good for their students. The reality is that an IDer's job, when I did this on a daily basis, was much more tool focused (argh!).  Faculty would come to us with specific ideas of what they wanted to do and they were looking for tool recommendations and implementation help - but we never really had those fundamental discussions about whether the approach was worth pursuing anyway. We were the technology implementers and troubleshooters - and on occasion we'd be able to "reach" someone and we'd develop those relationships that allowed us to engage in those deeper discussions. When the organization sees the IDer role as yet another IT role, it's hard to make a bigger impact.

On the corporate side, a few of my past students who work(ed) in corporate environments have told me that theory is fine, but in academia "we just don't know what it's like in corporate" and they would have liked less theory, more hands-on for dealing with corporate circumstances. It's clear to me that even in corporate settings the organizational beliefs about what your job as an IDer is impacts what you are allowed to do (and hence how much YOU impact your company). Over drinks, one of my friends recently quipped (works in corporate ID, but formerly on higher education) that the difference between a credentialed (MEd) IDer and one that is not credentialed (someone who just fell into the role), is that the credentialed ID sees what's happening (shoverware) and is saddened by it. The non-credentialed person thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread‡. Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it was definitely food for thought.

At the end of the day I'd like to see IDers more engaged in education research. I see it really as part of a professional that wants to grow and be better at what they do, but educational programs that prepared IDers need to help enable this, and organizations that employ them need to see then as an asset similar to librarians where they expect research to be part of the course to be an IDer.

Your thoughts?


MARGINALIA:
† This is obviously a reference to Gladwell's work, and the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  It's one of those myths (or perhaps something that needs a more nuanced understanding). It's not a magic bullet, but I used it here for effect.
‡ Grossly paraphrasing, of course
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