Tuesday, August 27, 2013

PhD journey: Hidden Literature

Image by DawnOfHope2012
Over the past few weeks I've been knee deep in an initial literature review. This past summer, while vacationing, I met up with a colleague who teaches for my department as an adjunct, but he's got him own full post in Greece as well.  While having coffee and talking about life in general we spoke about my PhD prospects, and my current feeling on the subject is that I am interested in getting my hands dirty and working on a dissertation already.  I have already spent 2004 - 2010, full time (including summers) as a graduate student, having earned 4 masters degrees. Throughout those six years, I have taken 47 courses (138 credits). Thus, at this point, the prospect of spending late nights in class (another 14 of them minimum), plus qualifying papers before I get to have my dissertation proposal approved doesn't specifically appeal to me. If there were a PhD where I could just start working on my cool dissertation project, and fill in any gaps in my own knowledge as I go, I'd certainly do that.  The good news, as I found out, is that European PhD programs are like that, so there might be hope yet!

After this conversation I was reinvigorated and started on a bibliographic search to gather articles that and books that may be useful in my cool topic.  The topic?  Investigating the efficacy of  MOOCs (cMOOC) in language learning.  Pretty cool topic (I think so anyway) and it draws from both my Instructional Design and Applied Linguistics backgrounds (although I suspect the IT background will come in handy in setting everything up).  It also, to some extent, continues the work that the MobiMOOC Research Team started back in 2011 with the examination of MOOCs, and what MOOC participation can tell us about learners.

My first stop, as usual, was Google Scholar.  I know that they don't index everything, but it gave me a good place to start.  After getting some articles from there I decided to go through each and every journal that might have articles of interest.  Journals included language acquisition journals, computer assisted language learning journals, educational technology, and educational psychology journals. When all was said and done, I looked at research in 41 journals (each issue) from 2007 to 2013 for this initial pass through, and there was one thing that really stood out:  Unless I had gone through each and every journal, I wouldn't have caught quite a few articles of potential interest!  There just isn't one unified search that can hit all journals that we subscribe to. Then again, I'd also like to know what's out there for things that we don't subscribe to so I can request it via interlibrary loan.  The way that journals do business these days is very very antiquated in that the lack of adequate union searches and journals being behind pay-walls makes the research invisible to fellow researchers and thus useless, gathering digital dust.

The other thing I hope journals realize is that Embargos are pointless. All libraries seem to have interlibrary loan, and at least for my library I don't have to pay for ILL articles; so why have embargoes that are one or two years in length?  I can just request the article via ILL and get it in a few days, no problem to me! Except maybe that my library pays through the nose probably.  In educational technology, or more specifically CALL, a two year virtual embargo means that the research is probably stale once it gets to the reader who can't go through your pay-wall to the physical journal. In those two years the technology moves on and our understanding of what learners can learn and how they learn from certain utilization of technology evolves. It's just sad to see so much hard work in research hidden behind paywalls and embargoed issues of virtual journals.
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