Monday, May 29, 2017

The doctoral Winchester plan

If you've ever seen the movie Shaun of the Dead, a humorous take on the surviving the zombie apocalypse, you are familiar with the Winchester plan.  The Winchester is a local (to the protagonist) pub, and it key to surviving the zombie apocalypse - according to the protagonist, is taking a short skip-and-a-hop to the local pub (after doing a couple of short tasks) and waiting for help to arrive while imbibing their drink of choice. Surviving the zombie apocalypse is a breeze!  Well, it's not that simple to survive the zombie apocalypse - as the protagonist finds out!

The past semester has been a little difficult (mostly due to over-committing on my part) and that has affected my own desired progress through my doctoral program.  The classes and the seminars are done (yay!). The next step is the dissertation proposal (which is in draft form).  In the past few days I've been thinking about my progress in all its wonderful variety which includes slow progress, lack of progress thereof, stopping to smell the roses the academic roses, academically procrastinating, and taking trips down academic rabbit holes that call to the academic sailors to their doom like attractive sirens. This has made me realize that, like Shaun - the protagonist of the movie (hey, it's a good movie, go see it if you haven't!), I too had my own Winchester plan to making it through my doctoral studies.

My plan did not include a pub, or waiting with a drink until someone came and conferred upon me the title of doctor.  It did, however, include some misconceptions about the process.  I think that conceptually I knew what the dissertation was about (basically a long, five part, [research] essay).  I thought I had enough practice in all of the individual parts - the methods section, the literature review, the writing up of the findings, the APA format.  Before I got into a doctoral program I had authored, and co-authored, and co-researched, papers which got published in peer reviewed academic journals.  I thought that the dissertation would be more of the same.

This turned out to be a bit of a challenge because academic journals have a 6000-9000 word limit, so a lot get cut out and left on the cutting room floor.  Or, you just choose what to put in from the start, knowing that you have a limited space to work with, so that you don't have to cut a lot. A dissertation on the other hand is (or seems to be) much more exhaustive. A demonstration of what you know rather than a simple demonstration of an argument that you are setting forth. Much like Shaun, I found out that my previous skill set - while it would help somewhat in the zombie dissertation apocalypse, I would find it hard, I would be more challenged than I thought I would be.  Much like Shaun I am to make it to the end though, and I will end up in a pub after the dissertation is successfully defended to celebrate. Now I just need to find my way back to the path and avoid the zombies that drain my time and energy - and focus on the dissertation!


Monday, May 15, 2017

Networked Learning you say?


Last year, around this time of year, I went on a fun little academic detour. A colleague from overseas (Suzan) invited me to work with her on a conference paper for last year's Networked Learning conference.  While we worked on it we came up with the concept of Hybrid Presence which Suzan presented for us (since I could not attend in person) and we worked on an expanded version of the paper which should be coming out in a book soon.

Networked Learning was a new concept to me so I thought I would spend some time reading more on the topic. I got as many books on the topic as I could get my hands on last year and I started reading. Now that journey is coming to end having started reading the last book I got my hands on on the subject. I was briefly considering going through and downloading and going through all conference proceedings from the past 10 years, but having each article was a single download and perhaps a better use of my time is to go back to my own dissertation topic and read up on it rather than academically procrastinate by learning more on Networked Learning ;-)

So, what is networked learning? Networked Learning is defined by Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson,and McConnell (2004)* as:
learning in which information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learners and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources
One (or more, actually) of the chapters that I read says that this definition has been remarkably resilient to the passage of time.  The thing that I've noticed with this definition is that it's remarkably broad, which might explain its resiliency.  From my observations (from readings) ideas and concepts that have fallen under (or play nicely with) the main concept of Networked Learning are specific types of problem-based learning, mobile learning, online learning, web-enhanced face-to-face learning, learning in augmented reality, informal learning, authentic learning, and many more.  I've also noticed that most people writing about the topic tend to be from Europe. The concept has not been adopted widely in elsewhere in the world.  It strikes me that here (where everyone seems to strive to coin a name for something) such a broad definition wouldn't necessarily have sticking power. I do like it though because it's a good foundation to build further work on.

In my short(ish) detour into Networked Learning I've come across some ideas for my own dissertation as well...which I noted somewhere...I do admit that I need to be a little better at note taking for longer works if I am to make my way through this dissertation process.  My note taking has been tuned for shorter articles (the standard 6000 to 8000 word research articles) and for a 200 page dissertation research (where some topics need to be ELI5) my current note taking practices may not be cutting it.

What do you know of networked learning?  Have you used the concept?  Have you written about it?  Are there any articles from the conference proceedings from the past 10 years that are a must read?


NOTES:
* in the book Advances in research on networked learning (Boston, MA: Kluwer)


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Are conferences places where we repeat ourselves?


It's been a long time since I last blogged and it wasn't part of a class (or at least it really feels like a long time!) Last week I received informational booklets (more than a triptych, less than an actual program book, and advertising in nature) for a couple of summer conferences that I keep track of, and some of which I have attended in the past.

Leafing though these booklets I noticed something that hasn't been as evident to me in the past:  It's the same people that are in the presentation spotlights this year as have been in the past two, five, or more years!  Now, the truth is that I had noticed in previous years, but this year some conferences have moved to a new location (which isn't local), and it was a bit odd to have certain locals highlighted as presenters when the new venue is a 16 hour drive (or 3 hour flight). Thinking back at other conferences too - both ones that appeal to academia, and the private industry of learning design - I've noticed that year after year the list of "A-list" presenters and session leaders tends to be the same.

This made me wonder about my own recent distaste (or perhaps burnout is a better word) with EdTech (and related) conferences.  When I started attending these types of conferences (with any regularity, and always only local) about 8 or so years ago they were amazing... well, at least amazing to me.  New ideas, new products (yes, I love gizmos), ability to talk to people who were implementing and getting data from things I had considered doing myself.  Generally I really liked the freshness and the new ideas vibe.  Then I noticed that while presentations were incrementally new, the people never really changed a whole lot.  Don't get me wrong, there are people that I'd like to see again and see what they are working on now, but the "point release"-ness of presentations and topics has made me not care as much about what people present at conferences any more.  I tend to get more intellectual stimulation off virtually connecting sessions than attending conferences in person.  Yes, virtually connecting does piggyback off conferences frequently, but I find it much more potent.  Perhaps because I know I can sign up for one session, attend, discuss, think, and get back to other parts of life rather than feel like the ROI of time-spent/learning isn't working out in my favor.

As I was pondering this, Joshua Kim and Kristen Eshleman posted on EdSurge with their Five reasons [they] will avoid EdTech conferences. It's interesting that they (too!) also bring up things like vConnecting. Out of the things that Kristen and Joshua mention the two immediate things that jump off at me and are echoed in my sentiments about EdTech conferences are the ROI and getting over the hype.  Even if I still like talking to vendors (take note that I don't like your emails most times!), there have been fewer and fewer new products in the marker.  Even presenters are (in some aspects) hawking their wares. In their case it might not be a product, but it might be mindshare for themselves and/or their institutions. This leads me to ROI, both for the intangibles (my time and energy), and the tangibles (money to get there, and for conference registrations). I don't think the product is worth the investment any longer.

That said, I think Kristen and Joshua make a point that doesn't immediately pop-up from my own 'me-centric' view - where are the faculty and students?  Perhaps faculty can have their attendance paid for by institutions, but students are effectively priced out.  Those are the people who I'd most like to interact with after we all get to speak to vendors, or listen to presentations from peers at other institutions, because then we can have meaningful discussions about what we can do at our institution, and what sort of interesting pedagogical things we can do with other institutions.  Most of the people that attend these conferences are techies (like me), and while I can see applicability for the classes that I teach, I am also part of a larger department with colleagues who don't get to see what I see.

In the end, I am wondering: what's next?  If we aren't doing conferences (because we are bored, uninterested, and/or priced out), how do we work on our professional development in meanginful ways this summer?

Thoughts?