Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Educational Based Research - Part 1

Well, in a week I will be in Edmonton starting off my EdD in distance education at Athabasca University.  I know that most North American doctoral students probably don't think of their dissertation topic this early (I haven't even completed my first course), but I want to be pro-active and work on the thing while taking courses.  So, Rebecca's post on Educational Design Research (EDR) was quite timely.  This isn't my first go around at a dissertation topic, my current topic has evolved over the past couple of years as I was thinking about what I want to do (and which university is best to pursue this).

My initial idea was to blend my background in Instructional Design and MOOCs to teach a language, specifically designing a MOOC to teach Greek as a foreign language to novices. This actually came out of making a MOOC out of my MEd capstone.  This was circa 2011-2012 after my experiences with MobiMOOC, LAK11, CCK11 and before the xMOOCs invaded the scene.  After some thought about this I decided that Greek would be way to much work for a dissertation. There isn't a lot of material out there and available as free OER, or under creative commons, for me to use in designing this course.  If I were to not only design and implement the MOOC, but also a lot of the kickstart materials for it, I might be stuck in dissertation purgatory. So that was scrapped.

Then, I read about the Polytechnic University of Milan switching the language of instruction to English, and I thought that  this would be a good opportunity to refocus the project on native speakers of Italian, in Higher Education, improving their English through a MOOC format.  This had the benefits of having an audience that would need the course (so I wouldn't worry about students joining, in theory), it would be focused in terms of  the target learner (thus cutting down on the variables for any post-dissertation analyses I wanted to conduct and write about), and it gave me an opportunity to brush up on my Italian.  This was when I was thinking about applying to the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens. As we know, I ended up not applying there because there were strikes which prevented me from getting my materials in (and also getting my degrees from the US translated, which required me to go to Greece).  This idea is on the back burner, but I would love to explore it in the future.  I downloaded a lot of CALL and SLA articles during this time frame as an initial literature review which I would love to read and put to use.

Finally, after getting accepted at Athabasca, I thought about who's currently there, what their expertise is, and then further refining what might be a dissertation topic.  It should be stated that my goal with my dissertation is not to do something earth-shattering and wow people with any potential brilliance I might have. The point of the dissertation, for me anyway, is to receive apprenticeship into research, to hone my skills, and to then be certified (by getting my dissertation approved) that I know what I am doing without the training wheels on.  In pursuit of this goal I decided to take the course that I currently teach, INSDSG 684: The Design and Instruction of Online Learning, and make that into a MOOC. This isn't going to be new or novice.  If you look at OLDSMOOC, Learning to Teach Online (UNSW/Coursera) and Teaching Online: Reflections and Practice (Kirkwood CC/ just to name a few (I am sure there are others), you'll see that others are tackling the topic now. But, as I said, I am not interested in novelty, and any research that comes out of those courses will most likely be on the data analysis side (at least for xMOOCs).

So, to address the questions that Rebecca posted on her blog post about this latest incarnation of my topic:

What is your research question? Is it is a ‘design question’?
The thing I wish to tackle with this dissertation is the "conversion" process (even though conversion is not really the right term for this) of a campus course to a MOOC.  This MOOC would need to address the needs of a traditionally online student population paying for the opportunity to learn and be evaluated for 3 graduate credits; as well as a population of professionals out there who need skills, but they are pursuing it more as professional development and don't need (or want to pay) for graduate credits. While I would love to analyze data collected from this experiment in other ways, the dissertation will focus strictly on the ADDIE aspects of the course.

Do enough academics at your institution appreciate ‘design’ as research?
It's hard to say at this point. I have read faculty profiles a couple of time already, but it's hard to really know people until you've talked to them, one way or another.  My instinct tells me that there are enough people at Athabasca University who are interested in design, and considering that this is a "professional"† doctorate, I would think that design research would be interesting to someone.

How will you defend your study to researchers who don’t see ‘design’ as research?
I guess I will cross that bridge when I get to it, but my main take-away point is that all research is designed.  There is a certain know-how and skill required in order to even setup a research design, so design research is really (in a sense) further up-stream.  Furthermore, there is a real need to go back to the established literature of learning (and online learning specifically), design MOOC interventions based on this literature, evaluate and iterate. Otherwise, further downstream it your wonderful data analytics just digital clutter with nothing previous informing it.

How will you differentiate research from practice?
This is also another false dichotomy, in my opinion. You can't separate research from practice in the field of education. I see this with students in courses I've taught (or MEd students I've chatted with outside of the course).  Many of them seem to come into the program wanting concrete answers, absolutes, processes and procedures to be awesome designers, but they don't like research articles that are really focused, or provide caveats and exceptions, and articles that state that "more research is required." They don't seem to get that in order to be good practitioners they need to engage with the research in some fashion and do it continuously. Even the research folks in education can't operate in a vacuum. They need see what's happening in the field so that they can ponder, problematize, hypothesize and test. It's all cyclical, to try to break this into to distinct and separate items is a big issue.

† for what it's worth I dislike the term "professional" doctorate. It sounds like an insult to both those who have worked hard to attain it, and to those who have PhDs, because it makes PhDs sound like they are not professionals. I wonder who came up with this.
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