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?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

EDDE 806: Epilogue (of reboots and alternative universes)




I guess this is my "806 is dead, long live 806!" post ;-) 

One of the final requirements for EDDE 806 is to:
Create a final blog post linking to the 6 earlier posts and providing a final reflection, feedback and any recommendations on the course as a whole.

For those who are keeping score at home, other course requirements included the following:
  • Present a 30-45 minute presentation on their proposal or dissertation work and progress and respond to comments and questions.
  • Post reactions and reflections on at least 6 of the presentations (over one or more semesters) using a response template created by the instructor, to their blog in the Athabasca Landing (tagged with EDD 806)
  • Attend and participate in discussion in at least 6 sessions over one or two semesters of the course
I am not really sure what a final reflection really looks like for 806, especially considering that I will most likely attend quite a few sessions next fall when the remainder of my cohort will be presenting their in-progress proposals.  So, I thought that doing a reflection on the EdD program up to now would be worthwhile, and proposing a new way of pacing the program, and in the process something about 806 might come of it.

It seems hard to believe that about three years ago (give or take a month) I had just been accepted to the EdD program at Athabasca University (the stomping grounds of Anderson, Dron, Siemens, Cleveland-Innes, and another researchers I had been reading the work of in the years preceding my application to this university), and I had submitted my program fee payment to matriculate.  Three years, and nine AU courses later I am plugging away at my dissertation proposal.  If you are wondering what those 9 courses are:
  • 6 compulsory courses (EDDE 801, 802, 803, 804, 805, 806)
  • 2 optional courses (MDDE 701, 702)
  • 1 course in which I was a teaching assistant/intern (MDDE 620), for the "Greek cohort" no less :-) 
As with any good program, program creators take into account feedback received from a variety of sources and the program improves (for example the 2 optional courses started becoming available as my cohort was rolling in).   This proposed timeline from matriculation to graduation is what I would have done the same, and differently, if I were to go back in time:

Spring 2014 (same as the original timeline)
  1. Accepted! Woohoo!
  2. Enrolled
  3. Got books mailed to me (nice job, AU!)
  4. May 2014 - "welcome to the program" online adobe connect session with the cohort and select faculty.  Placed in pre-selected groups to work on Assignment 1 (due when we meet in August in Edmonton)
Summer 2014 (same as the original timeline)
  1. June-July: meet with Marc, Renate, and Steph (cohortmates) online -a few times to work on assignment 1
  2. June-July: read through textbook, and download PDFs from course site.
  3. August: meet in Edmonton, meet cohort-mates in person, polish assignment, present assignment.
Fall 2014 (somewhat similar to what I did in the original timeline)
  1. EDDE 801 (Advanced Topics and Issues in Distance Education)
    1. Weekly live sessions for class
    2. Weekly guests from the field of distance education (woot!)
  2. EDDE 806. 
    1. Peruse through the recent recorded sessions and listen to two. 
    2. No need for reflective posts --> Get feet wet, see what other cohorts are doing, ideate on own work. Maybe in final 801 session students share their ideas from having viewed 2 recordings.
Spring 2015
  1. EDDE 802 (Advanced Research Methods in Education)
    1. Bi-weekly live session for class
  2. EDDE 806 
    1. Attend 2 sessions during the weeks 802 didn't meet. 
    2. Reflect on 1 presentation (live or recorded)
Summer 2015
  1. MDDE 702 (qualitative refresher for those who need a refresher)
  2. Start brainstorming on your proposals.  Jot down big research questions, diagram some potential research methods for them,  and write brief abstracts about the problem to be solved. This is sort of like a TV show elevator pitch.  Be ready to pitch 3 ideas.
  3. Go back to 802 materials and see them in light of your pitches
Fall 2015
  1. EDDE 803 (Teaching and Learning in Distance Education)
    1. Bi-weekly class sessions
    2. Tackle topics on teaching and learning.  
    3. Does anything from course seem to connect to your 3 pitches?  File it!
    4. Intern in an MDE class
  2. EDDE 806 
    1. Attend 2 live sessions (during weeks when 803 does not meet)
    2. Reflect on two sessions (either live or recorded that semester)
    3. Present your top 3 pitches and receive feedback from audience in one of the live sessions
    4. Continue refining your 3 pitches based on feedback (this task crosses into spring 2016)
Spring 2016
  1. EDDE 804 (Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education)
    1. Bi-Weekly sessions
    2. Tackle topics on leadership.  
    3. Does anything from course seem to connect to your 3 pitches?  File it!
  2. EDDE 806
    1. Attend 2 live sessions (during weeks when 804 does not meet)
    2. Reflect on two sessions (either live or recorded that semester)
    3. Pitch 2 expanded ideas (expanded in terms of what type of literature you might look into, and updated ideas about methodology and problem)
Summer 2016
  1. MDDE 701 (Quantitative research refresher for those that need it)
  2. Pick one of your pitches and develop a literature review (due at the beginning of 805)
  3. Pick one of your pitches and develop a preliminary intro (due at the beginning of 805)
Fall 2016
  1. EDDE 805
    1. Bi-weekly class meetings
    2. Polish off a draft of your proposal that includes summer deliverables + methods
  2. EDDE 806
    1. Attend 2 live sessions
    2. Reflect on two sessions (either live or recorded that semester)
Spring 2017
  1. EDDE 806
    1. Attend 6 live sessions
    2. Reflect on 4 live sessions
    3. Present your proposal
Summer 2017
  1. Polish off proposal
  2. Connect with your cohort over the summer (support network)
Fall 2017
  1. Defend Proposal & start Research

So, what are the differences between what I did and what I wish I had done (and what was an option?) I had dipped my toes in 806 when I started in 801; I was curious, and since the course was open to anyone, why not? But, once 802 kicked in, it was difficult to keep up, so I was on-and-off in 806 throughout the program (more off than on, until 805).  Despite the on-and-off nature I ended up reflecting on some of the sessions before I officially signed up for the course (hence the number of posts at the end).   I think that 806 was originally conceived as a course to keep the band together in some formal manner while we're all off doing our own thing, but I think that the strength of 806 is really in being a connecting strand (on the program side) from start to end.  I think being part of 806 from the start can help future cohorts conceptualize what they want to do, see what others are doing, and know that for proper execution of the dissertation lots of planning needs to go into it (and we can all commiserate at our setbacks, and celebrate our victories). I think this is important to see early on.

In terms of Summer terms, summer is definitely a good time to kick back, relax, have a few beers in the garden while reading your favorite fiction...but in all honesty two weeks off would be have been fine, and then we should have been on the path again.  Coming from a US background, I am used to the term ending at the end of May. AU's early start and early end of the spring (Winter) semester meant that I had boatloads of free time.  This dissertation won't write itself and I think that the summers (Mid-April through August) are a good time to do it in a structured (cohort driven, program driven) way.  Summers can be a time when you work on your elevator pitch for some ideas - and you can present them in 806 (during your second year) to see what might stick - you can also get feedback and things to think about.  During the summer of year 2 you can spend those 4 months in doing a lit-review and an introduction (2 chapters!), and be ready to roll in 805 (start of year 3).  I think this plan gets you better positioned to defend at the beginning of year 4.

A potentially controversial issue might be the requirements for 806. At the moment it's an attend 6 and reflect on 6 setup.  My proposal is attending and/or viewing 14 sessions (as opposed to 6), reflecting on more sessions overall, but you'd have the freedom to reflect on some recorded ones - in case the live session wasn't something you could really say something about; and EDDE 806 is more integrated into the entire EdD process.  Of course, this means that 805 + 806 (Research Seminar I & II) would need to be tweaked, but I think that the end goal would be better.

So, what do other EdD folks think?  Does this work for you?


Post Title Reflection
& Live attendance
Reflection
from Recording
Own
Presentation
Post I - On prepping for a dissertation






























Totals:
10
4
1

Saturday, March 25, 2017

EDDE 806 - Post XIII - It's the end of the semester, and I feel fine


Alright folks!  That's a wrap for EDDE 806 for this semester!  The semester went out with a bang with three members of my cohort presenting their dissertation proposal work in progress (and for those on the east coast the session was a little long - after a long day - but well worth it!).

The three proposed research projects are  Kim's, titled "Student Satisfaction Levels among Canadian Armed Forces Members toward their distance learning experiences" which deals with Canadian armed forces training and distance education; Rosemarri's , titled "Transforming Learning in Higher Education: Implementing UDL in Higher Education"; and Scott's, titled  "College Leadership and Distance Learning"

There were some common themes between these three presentations, and presentations that have been done previously in the semester, be it underlying reasons for the research, methodologies employed, or potential timelines.  Having seen the timelines of friends from Cohort 6 (and to some extent from Cohort 5), I can say that I've certainly revised my own timeline to a much more realistic expectation (how does 2019 sound?).

Going back to some common threads,  Kim discussed a little bit about the training costs associated with the CAF (approximately $1.3B Canadian per year).  I am not sure what the size of the CAF is, but I was wondering how much is that amortized per member of the CAF; not that every member of the CAF will have an equal dollar amount of training spent on them, but it was a thought.  The thing that really stood out for me was the story about officer training and how a member of the CAF can spend 1 year in residence to complete their training, or do it over a period of 2 years via distance education in the field (because Distance Ed is considered by the brass less rigorous and hence you have to have more).  It's interesting to see such (unfounded) biases alive not just in academia (my playground) but also in other places.  This question isn't really related to Kim's research (which is survey research) but I'd love to see a compare and contrast of the on-campus officer training vs the online version. They should have equal outcomes, but I am wondering what the pros/cons are for each modality.

Another presentation (Scott's) dealt more with college leadership and the adaptation of colleges in Canada to distance education. The idea behind this research is to look at leadership variables that promote growth of distance education at the university president level.  The underlying  rationale here (at least one of points) was that the role of the university is changing, and the university must adapt or go extinct. Scott quoted O'Meara who said that Higher Education as it is found to be "irretrievably immersed in a merciless marketplace" (O'Meara).  If I remember correctly Scott is the only person who has presented thus far (from our Cohort) that is doing mixed-methods.

I think the idea of leadership variables promoting growth at the university is important.  Bad leaders do have a chilling effect both to individuals and to the organization as a whole.  That said, the thing that was running through my mind is the framing of the argument.  A lot of what we see today (at least on my side of the border) tends to be about framing higher education in the framework of a market economy: get degree X to do work X, come back often for CPD.  There is, however, in my mind a disjuncture here.  School costs a lot.  Both from a financial aspect and a time aspect (not to mention any emotional aspects). Education isn't a new pair of jeans you buy every other season. Adapting to a market economy (IMHO) isn't what institutions of higher education should be doing.  We should be innovative, but the evolve or die out framing doesn't work well for this particular sector of life and society.

As an aside, in the chat  Norine wrote a paper called "Adult learning theories: shows that hurt the feet" - LOL.  Now I am curious to read that paper.  I am not sure how this came up, but it must have been in someone's lit review :-)

That's all for this season of EDDE 806 :-) See you in the fall!