Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The student's year-end-review

Socrates Badge, by @merryspaniel
It's a bit hard to believe, but two years ago - around this time of year - I was scurrying to get my application into Athabasca University to have my application considered for Cohort 7.  The deadline for Athabasca's program is at the same time as the deadline for my department (January 15th), so I was trying to make sure that my recommendations were all in order.  I had applied to another program prior to Athabasca (surprisingly enough I never heard back from them...) so I had tapped into my referee base already and I didn't want to burn them out (again).

Well, things worked out, my application went in, and I made the short list (#woot!).  Now, with a year-and-a-half under my belt, I am about to begin EDDE 804 (Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education).  The Moodle course isn't available yet (darn!) so I can't yet tell much of the actual mechanics and slant that the course will take.  I am wondering how much overlap there will be with my MBA and through what lenses the MBA background and knowledge can (and will) be filtered, interpreted, and applied through. It should be an interesting course.  I started reading one of the texts, Higher education and the new society, but between holidays, a winter cold, and pending home improvement projects, I think I'll wait until I get back to work and use my commute time as my book-reading time.  The other text, Leadership for 21st century learning: Global perspectives from educational innovators, seems more like cases and specific examples, so since I don't retain much in terms of long term memory for these things, I might just wait until the semester starts and tackle those on a week-by-week basis.  As a learner I've re-discovered (many, many, times) that the fall semester is probably my favorite semester.  I have four (or five) months between semesters and I am able to sit down and read - at my own pace - and explore readings in depth before I have to discuss them in the course.  While I can work under the time pressure, it's definitely not the way I prefer to consume and process information.

In any case, seeing as it is two years since I started applying to Athabasca - and I had to write about my dissertation plans in my statement - I thought I would revisit where I am on that front.  While I don't have to make up my mind until comprehensive exam time about my dissertation, I think it helps to keep an eye on the ball.

Before I applied to AU, I was thinking of doing something something that dealt with language learning through MOOCs.  An initial idea was this one here, where I made some proposals on how to look at language learning through MOOCs, and in specific I was thinking cMOOCs. This was a potential plan if I were to apply to the University of Athens (Greece) at one of their language and linguistics departments.  Due to strikes that didn't work out, but I kept the idea alive.  When I applied to AU, another idea I was thinking about was learner motivation in MOOCs, both xMOOC and cMOOC.  I was interested in seeing what spurred learners to sign up for MOOCs to begin with, and what made them 'complete' MOOCs - and of course did they meet their goals by 'completing' the MOOC.  The notion of completion was something that I also wanted to explore.  While that was an interesting topic, I sort of lost steam on it as my own interests grew, and as others started exploring this territory.

I also wanted to be more pragmatic with my dissertation.  Dissertations don't really get cited in research much, and I feel as though they are one last run through the park with the training wheels on to make sure that an institution is unleashing a capable and ethical researcher into the world; thus a dissertation isn't necessarily some sort of magnum opus that will get you loads of citations (not that I care a ton about citations, but it is a metric that academia seems to use).

So, as I am writing this post and staring at my blackboard, here are some other ideas that came up during 2015 for a dissertation (most of which are rejects at this point for dissertation purposes):

  • Study of lurking in MOOCs
  • Effects of a learner's social network graph in 'completion' of a MOOC
  • Meta-analysis of MOOC research literature: Finding and major trends
  • Barriers to learning in open online courses
  • Motivations in open online courses (not "massive"  so a refinement of the original idea)
  • MOOC Pedagogy evolution (more of a historical analysis thing)
  • Corpus Analysis of  cMOOC or xMOOC Forum activity
  • Digital Badges study --> design + learning outcomes
  • Comparison of improvement of learner motivation in traditional online courses when using digital badges in lieu of graded (0-100%) assignments. While this is an interesting action-research project, the data collection is dependent on me teaching, and at the moment I have to wait one year between teaching cycles.

So, a ton of ideas.  Now that I jotted them down from here, I erased them from my blackboard ;-)

The idea that seems to be sticking though, and I am seriously considering, is somewhat of an autoethnography.  When I was thinking about what I've worked on the past few years, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to AU, those reasons were online learning, lifelong learning, and MOOC related.  So, the current though on the dissertation is this:  Attempt to do a dissertation-by-publication style of dissertation. Luckily there is someone from Cohort 5 who is piloting this, so I don't have to be guinea pig :-).  I was thinking of three articles:
  1. Autoethnography of an unlikely lifelong learner (I really disliked school, so it's kind of odd to be interested in education at this point).  This might be the first article before I look at my blog data and 'taint' my own reflections and analysis on learning. Need to do more research on Autoethnography as a research method. This would be article #1
  2. Look at my own posts tagged with "MOOC" and specific MOOCs I've participated in - as well as various MOOC providers (coursera, edx, etc), and take a grounded theory approach to analyzing my MOOC related posts (which at this point are close to 300). This would be article #2.
  3. Finally, go through my MOOC related blog posts, again, and conduct a critical discourse analysis on them. This would be article #3.
  4. Perhaps for article #4 (if things work out) I could do a meta-analysis piece where I could look at findings from the three articles and triangulate learning by and through MOOCs.
  5. Then, wrap a nice intro and conclusion on this and bam! done! (hopefully)
Initially I was thinking that a single-subject research approach wouldn't get much traction, but in talking to one of my cohort-mates who works in the field of applied behavioral analysis (where single-subject research is the norm?), and in reading more about autoethnography, I am thinking this might just work.  At the very least I don't have to (1) get IRB/REB approval to research myself, and (2) I don't need to wait one year between data collection cycles.  Now all I have to do is to convince the committee that this is worthwhile ;-)

So there you have it folks.  Two years since I started on this crazy journey in doctoral studies. it's hard to believe that in a year's time from now I will be working on my comprehensive exam... time flies!
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