Friday, February 5, 2016

EDDE 806 post II - Of research questions and generalizability

Yesterday evening I attended my second formal EDDE 806 session (formal in the sense that I am doing blog posts for it, as opposed to just attending and being a fly on the wall).  In any case, the session was pretty interesting, and Viviane Vladimirsky, a fellow EdD student, on her work on her dissertation.

Just prior to Viviane's presentation, as we were going around introducing ourselves there were two interesting pieces of information shared (and reinforced).  First, when we're working on our dissertation when in doubt ask our committee members what they want to see addressed.  Asking people outside of your committee will just muddy the waters, because in the end, in order to graduate, you only need to satisfy your committee and no one else.  I think this is sage advice because if you ask 10 scholars to give you feedback they will all come back with different points of view (based on their own backgrounds, epistemologies, and biases).

The other piece of information (wisdom) shared was on the importance of research questions (very specific ones).  I gotta say - I am still not sold!  I get the importance of specific research questions in certain contexts, but this week I've been reading (again) about post-modernism in 804 and I guess I am rebelling a little against the notion that we have to absolutely have concrete research questions in order to research.  As I joked in the discussion forum, can't I just be the "data whisperer"?  Can I come in with the broad question (such as "what does the data tell us?"), and a grounded theory approach, and continue on with my research?  To be continued...

Anyway, Viviane's presentation.  Viviane is doing research in Sao Paulo Brazil.  Her project is based on Design Based Research principles and she is working on creating K-12 teacher professional development to improve teacher training using OER, and encourage the uptake of OER in the professional activities of K-12 teachers.  Do do this, she is looking at it from two theoretical frameworks, the Unified theory of acceptance and use of technology, and the Integrative Learning Design Framework (this looks like an instructional design model to me). She also chose DBR because DBR is pragmatic, grounded, adaptive, iterative, collaborative, and the designs can be modified based on emerging insights.  In a sense DBR reminds me a lot of agile instructional design.

When the limitations of this study were discussed the issue of generalizability came up.  Again, because of my post-modern frame of mind at the moment, I don't think generalizability is an issue.  Sure, you can't necessarily compare to a physicist who runs experiments and can come up with something that is generalizable (for the most part), but is that really an issue?  We, as humans, are complex beings and a lot of different factors go into who we are, and how we act.  Findings from one research may not be generalizable, but those findings, taken with the findings of other studies (in meta- studies) can bring us closer to understanding certain things that many be generalizable.  I know that we have to cover ourselves and state the obvious, that findings are not generalizable, but that seems like a given to me (and not something we should be apologetic about - not that Viviane was apologetic, but I've seen others be).

So that was it for the seminar of February 4, 2016.  Did you attend? What did you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Adjunct’s dilemma – how much do you tell your students?

Among the many streams of things happening these days is keeping tabs on some interesting things happening in my various internet circles.  I've resolved to just dip into my RSS stream and look at things periodically over a couple of days and not be as 'vigilant' as I have been in the past.  Too many things to focus on, not enough time for news.  That said, I came across an interesting post by Rebecca how  How much should you tell your students about the constraints/environment you are operating under when you are teaching? What do you think? Rebecca is teaching a course that I had taught before at UMass, and is teaching the introductory course in instructional design I taught last semester.

This is a really good question.  I've only taught credit-courses at UMass Boston (unless you count my internship last semester in Athabasca's  MEd program) and my own experience I've seen (and heard of) institutions that design everything for the instructor, and there is no leeway, and I've seen institutions that give a lot of leeway to their instructors.  Both extremes are problematic for me because they don't take into account the realities of hiring people to teach your courses.  You are, presumably, hiring experts to teach your courses because they are experts. So, the one extreme of giving them no leeway is problematic because it negates that expertise.  On the other hand, a lot of leeway, which at the extreme is actualized as "Here is the description and the learning objectives, you've got 13 weeks, do whatever you want...ah and class starts tomorrow! See ya!", is also problematic because it doesn't give that expert enough time (or guidance) to design an implement a good course.

That said, I think that it is important, for students in all levels, to know under what constraints the instructors are operating.  How much detail you provide really depends on what you are teaching, and who the learners are.  If, for example, you are teaching a group of History 101 students (college freshmen), I'd expect that you are not going to provide them with a lot of detail about the constraints. The reason for this is that a History 101 course has a diverse group of students, both majors and non-majors, people who are really interested in the topic, and people who need to get it checked-off a list of required courses.  Obviously the more interested the learner in the topic, the more detail they might want on constraints and the general environment.

In my own context, graduate courses in instructional design, people are there because they want to learn about instructional design, so there is a baseline motivation.  Furthermore, I would argue, that for a class taken by instructional designer the environment and the constraints are crucial to know.  We, as seasoned instructional designers and pedagogues, are expected to teach and mentor future instructional designers.  If our students know what that we operate under constraints as well (and not the rosey vision of academia that they've formed in their mind), I think they gain greater appreciation for the process of ID, and (hopefully) it gets them thinking about working through an ID process in a more agile way with the tools, skills, and constraints that they have at hand.

I think regardless of the audience (students in the class), it's important to explain to the students what's been decided on by the department's curriculum committee as a must and what is discretionary on your part as an instructor.  The reason for this is really to raise awareness of what we, as instructors, have and do not have control over.  If students complain about me because I always given them feedback late, and my feedback stinks, then that's on me.  If students complain about me, but the complaint is really about the materials assigned for class (and those materials are assigned, and the instructor does not have the ability to change them) then it's important to let the students know that.

From my own perspective - the case of 619 (aka 684):
The course that Rebecca taught last fall was something I had inherited previously from another instructor.  I considered the first semester of me teaching that course as a stop-gap measure for the department. The instructor that had taught it (and other courses) for a long time (11 years at that time, by my estimates).  I inherited a blackboard course with all the materials, I went through it, but I didn't agree with all elements of the design, and I wanted the course to be updated, but I considered myself a one-semester person (in other words I didn't expect a callback).  I kept the course as it was for that semester to get to see it in action.

In a subsequent semester I was called back to teach the course again - but again in a last-moment fashion, so I didn't have time to hit the library databases to find better readings (or heck - redesign from scratch).  I also didn't feel empowered to change the course in total because  I got the vibe from the department that they were pining for this person to return, and that the course was the pinnacle of good design.  Well, semester after semester I got to teach the same course, so I decided to go with a plug-and-play approach to design.  Change readings and different modules as I went along, instead of a wholesale re-design (my preference).  During this time I had conversations with learners in my class about instructional design, and the realities of both working on something from scratch, and having to work off something created by others, within specific organizational contexts.  My own experience teaching, and tweaking, the course I was teaching seemed like a good real life example for them; and I hope it made them more appreciative of the constraints and environments in which ID takes place!

In retrospect, I think that back then I could have gotten away with doing it my way, but being an adjunct means that you are not in a position of power, so you need to tread lightly. If the department doesn't give you the vibe that they are welcome to change (and how much change!), then it's hard for a newbie to really get invested in such a time consuming process.  New course developments carry a development stipend at my institution (subject to approval), but course re-designs do not usually, and if they do it's much smaller than the original course development stipend. This, too, keeping in mind, that a course isn't an island and that it needs to connect meaningfully with other courses in a curriculum. So being an adjunct means that you generally have only a piece of the overall curriculum puzzle, and if you're only hired to teach a specific course, it's important for that department to tell you explicitly what the connecting pieces are that need to be covered, and what the discretionary pieces are where you can discuss more emergent themes.

Well, that's it for me.  At the end of the day, the answer is "it depends on the audience".

Your thoughts?

Friday, January 29, 2016

A way to visualize MOOC students...

Even though this semester is relatively calm, compared to last semester, I still find myself not writing as much as I think I would like.  I've set aside, temporarily, the book I was meant to have finished reviewing last October, on MOOCs, until the semester ends and I can focus on them a little more.

One reason for the refocus of energies is EDDE 804. We are focusing on leadership in education, and I am finding myself spending a lot more time pondering the topic.  I was going to be "ruthlessly pragmatic" and just focus on the assessments, but the cohort members provide for some really interesting discussion and points to ponder.  Another thought that crossed my mind was this: am I over MOOCs?  There was a time when I used to check out coursera, edx, futurelearn, and the other not-so-usual suspects for new courses, however these days going to those sites seems more like a chore than anything else.  I've downloaded a whole bunch of videos from previous courses that I signed up for, and they are on my iPad, but I haven't made a (serious) dent in them yet.  I am looking forward to Rhizo16, which is coming later this year in May.  Perhaps I am looking forward to it, more so than any xMOOC offering, because it will be when the semester ends and I have some brainpower to spare.

I've also been thinking that the xMOOC has really evolved into something that I, at the moment, find completely boring: a self-paced course.  The visual queues and user experience that you get from the new and improved coursera reminds me a lot of how self-paced courses are laid out.  Sure, there is a 'discussions' area, however that - the social presence aspect - seems a little adjunct to the straight up content.  I really liked when I used to be able to just download the content (so much for 'open') and view it on a device of my own choosing, whenever I chose, however the new setup has broken the coursera downloaders that have existed thus far. This, to me, shows how much UX matters.

That said, I've also been pondering the question of who comes into MOOCs.  I know, I know! Lots of analytics and published research from the xMOOC providers and their partners seem to indicate that people who join MOOCs are, generally speaking, educated individuals with at least a BA, but I've been thinking of potential visualizations for this data. Ever since I took part in DALMOOC and played a bit with Tableau, I've been thinking that one of the first hurdles to analyzing MOOCs is to see (1) who is coming and (2) who is engaged.  Especially if we want to consider the potential of MOOCs for employment purposes.    On the way to work today I was scribbling down a way to visualize MOOC participants based on work experience, whether or not they were actively looking for new work, and their educational background.  The visualization that I came up was as follows:

The y-axis on the positive side goes from unemployed (but looking) to 12+ years of work. This comes mostly from HR job descriptions and how desired work experience is generally put on job descriptions.  On the y-axis, "negative", you have unemployed but not looking, all the way to people who are retired.

I generally go to MOOCs because I am curious about the topic and want to learn more.  More often than not it has nothing to do with my dayjob.  It's just me being a lifelong learner.  However, if we are to look at MOOCs for employment purposes we really need  to look skills.  Both skills people bring to the table, which helps somewhat with the instructional design process, and skills that people are looking to attain.  While this is a pretty crude picture of who is a learner in MOOCs, I think that it is an important dimension to examine from our past  7-8 years of MOOCs.  I wonder if people have been keeping data.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

First attempt at recording lectures...

I feel like this took forever to do, but it's finally done!

Last November we had a guest lecturer, Dr. Bessie Dendrinos, from the National and Kapodistrian Univerity of Athens, come speak to us on the subject of "Global Economy and the Urgent Need for Languages: American and European responses to foreign language learning exigency".  I recorded the video on a FlipCam (remember those?) and edited really quickly on Camtasia to add in some clearer slides.  The FlipCam isn't that bad.  I think a lavalier microphone and a tripod would do wonders for any future things I record.  The transcription (big thank you to Kathleen, Liz, and Laura) and the captioning on YouTube took a while since we're all new at this.  Let's see how the next one goes in terms of production

Friday, January 22, 2016

On prepping for a dissertation

I must be the only weirdo who inquires about "taking" a seminar before the 'logical' or programmed sequence of the seminar.  That said, for my doctoral program the final seminar (EDDE 806) is actually open to all EdD students (and alumni) so I have been on-and-off in this seminar since I started two years ago.  When I was in 801 it was easier to attend, so I probably attended 3-4 sessions.  The next two semesters, with 802 and 803 were more challenging, so I dropped from weekly sessions.  Now, with 804 on tap (formally) for this semester, it seems easier (and more conducive) to participate in 806 again.  My goal (even though it hasn't formally been approved yet) is to get as many of these reflections done and "out of the way" as possible so that I can focus on more organic community efforts later on.  So, without further ado, the reflection for last  evening's session.

 The main presentation last evening was by Dr. Marguerite Koole of the University of Seskatchewan (who also teaches at AU). The main theme of this presentation was really about getting us to think about (and strategize on) how to survive the dissertation process.  To some extent content-based coursework is easy in that there is an external stimulus. There are specific deadlines, parameters, and content expectations; whereas in dissertation mode we set our own pace, we figure out the content (perhaps with the help of our advisors is we get lost and off the path), and we go from a more structured to a more self-directed environment. This change of gear can be daunting to students.

I think the presentation went well and there was a fair amount of chat in the text-based chat. One the one hand I am not a fan of slides + voice-over, however on the other hand I am not a huge fan of the "talking head" in adobe connect (or other webinar platforms). I guess I don't fully like how synchronous meetings are done in this format as it seems less personal.  However for presentations where you just see slides I am starting to rethinking my (slight) aversion to talking heads.  Marti, in 804, is modeling the use of the web-camera in our live sessions and she is encouraging us to also use our webcam and jump-in. I think I might take her up on it and start thinking about this as a means of presenting when my own time comes for the proposal and dissertation defenses.

In terms of content there were a few things that stood out to me. These aren't necessarily "OMG" moments, but they serve as data points from other people that reinforce a hunch or hypothesis I've had for a while.  The two things are:

  1. Being ruthlessly pragmatic
  2. The value of practice
I've written this elsewhere in my blog when thinking about the dissertation, however I think it's worth writing it again for people in 806 reading this. I don't see the dissertation as some sort of magnum opus.  I am still "young" and hopefully I will earn my EdD before I hit 40. If my magnum opus is done before I am 40 then what do I do with the rest of my career?  Hence, the pragmatic view:  The dissertation is a way for me to show that I know how to conduct and present research that I've done on my own. Research that is sound and done in an ethical way.  Thus, I am being ruthlessly pragmatic.  There is no need to pick a topic that will need many years to collect data (or analyze the data). I need something that demonstrates my capability without keeping me in school for longer than I have to. I can always work with other classmates and cohort-mates down the road on collaborative research projects once the EdD is done.

The other thing that really stood out to me is practice-practice-practive.  I remember, during the first couple of semesters in my first Masters (and MBA) where I was a nervous wreck during my presentations (they were face to face).  My hands were shaking, my voice was crackling, I was fidgeting, and forgetting key points of my presentation (I also ran over time!).  Then, I decided to practice.  I found an empty room with a data projector and I starter practicing days before my presentation was due. I worked on my timings, my body language, and more specifically eye contact (I imagined the audience in the empty room).  After I started doing this I became phenomenally better at presenting.  I think the same principle holds true for both class presentations and for the dissertation defense. 

So, that was with regard to the presentation.  At the end we started talking (briefly) about improving the 806 experience.  Susan (the 806 facilitator) did asks us to brainstorm about how we could go about creating a community without mandating that we respond to x-many posts by fellow peers.  I agree that mandating a certain number of posts (at this level) is a bit counter productive as people would just do it in order to check off a checkbox in their 806 list, and community will not have been created or fostered by this.

Again, I should point out that I am the oddball attempting 806 a full year before I am scheduled to take the course, so maybe I am not prototypical.  However, I do think it's worth having 806 as a  under-current of other courses (maybe require attendance in 1 session each year?).  I don't know how 805 works, but perhaps having an 805 and 806 hybrid, or have 806 as a co-requirement for 805?  I know that my own cohort is really active in facebook (a private group) and we often wonder about other cohorts, so I am wondering if there is a way (not on the landing) to be able to engage with people from other cohorts as well in order to foster community. More thoughts on this to come in the future :)