Saturday, November 11, 2017

Academic precarity and other-blaming

I think I am going to commission a saint painting (Byzantine style, of course) of Paul Prinsloo (I just need to find a clever Saint Epithet for him).  Here is another though process sparked by something he shared recently on his Facebook.  Paul shared this blog post without comment (I swear, sometimes I feel like this is an online class he's conducting and we're all participating in a massive discussion ;-) ) and it got me thinking...

I do recognize the adjunctification (and probably de-profesionalization) of the professoriate, and I see it as a trend that's not new.  If I really think back to my undergraduate days, almost 20 years ago now, I could probably see it back then as well. There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. Academia is (slowly or quickly, depending on your standpoint) becoming a capitalist monster operating on a greedy algorithm. My own university, a state university, seems to be in competition with other state universities in the same state.  Instead of looking at complimentary and cross-institutional programs to help one another out (heck, we all get money from the same source!) we compete with each other in (what seems to be) a Hunger Games-like environment for academia. So we must have a program X, a program Y, and a program Z because our sister schools (20-60 miles away) have similar programs.

Having this as a background, we also have internal fiefdoms shaping up. While the few (lucky?) ones on the tenure track hunker down to protect their ever diminishing ranks and privileges, they leave others on the outside to fend by themselves and to be picked off by the (metaphorical) wolves, by getting adjunct jobs with no job security, high operating costs (you go ahead and travel between several job sites so that you can string together work to pay the bills, see how much that costs both monetarily, physically, and emotionally), no benefits, no retirement, and low wages.  Let's not get started with the (tenured) faculty know-best mentality that exists, where two of the by-products are bastardizations of the notion of self-governance and academic freedom.

There are plenty of problems with academia to go around. That said, anyone pursuing any sort of degree - doctoral, masters, or even bachelors, needs to take a hard look at the path that they are setting for themselves. You need to pursue something that is smart and helps you on the road in getting you a job to pay for yourself (think of Maslow's lower levels if you will). I sort of fell for the glamour of specific jobs.  I loved technology and went for a computer science degree as an undergraduate. I liked it, but that sort of thing wasn't exactly what I was passionate about.  But, back then you could easily get a six-figure job, with a bonus, right out of college if you had a CS degree.  And then the market crashed and jobs were sent off-shore. Luckily I didn't have school debt.  This maybe was easy to predict, but I certainly didn't see it.  I've been more cautious since then.  Faculty jobs (perhaps with the benefit of my own hindsight) are easy to observe as being diminishing in number.

The line that really made me roll my eyes in the blog post was this:
Do you retrain to do HR or Admin or tax preparation and forfeit the research you have done, or do you follow the conventional wisdom that if you are tough enough to hang in there, and brilliant enough to shine through, you'll be the one who gets the job and gets to be the professor? 
The answer is "yes" - you retrain an get other jobs to sustain yourself. If her LinkedIn page is any indication, I'm slightly younger than her, and I've had to adapt a few times in my professional life to keep a roof over my head. It's what the regular person does if they want to survive.  You can do something that's fulfilling in life, but sometimes work that pays the bills and sustains us does not coincide with what fulfills us deep in our soul.

The fact of the matter is that academia (at least in the US, I am not sure globally) has problems. Systemic and systematic problems. Both systems and individuals need to be analyzed to fix the problem, but when people are just looking out for their own good...well eventually we all lose. I should point out that I am in a doctoral program as well. I do it because I like learning and it stretches my mind. But, I don't go into debt for it, and I know that a tenure-track job isn't on the horizon for me for all the obvious reasons. I can still research and publish. I actually do that now, and I've worked with some pretty fabulous people over the years.  I count myself lucky to have been at the right place, at the right time, in the right mindset to capitalize on those acquaintances, make good friends, and expand my learning in the process. The fact of the matter is that just because you've earned a doctorate, doesn't mean that you'll be getting a tenure-track job. That's not how the system works. The system is broken, and you can't play by its "rules" if you want to change the system.

Just my two cents.  Your thoughts?  (now back to my lit review)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

speedwalking the lit review


The lit-review (lit-review 2.0 as a dub it) has been going from a crawl to, a walk, to hopefully hitting speedwalking pace.  Lit-review 1.0 was last fall, which was a little too broad to be fit for purpose, and it really explored a lot of themes that might be worthwhile keeping in mind as things to discuss in the discussion portion of the dissertation  - you know, after I pass the proposal defense, and collect and analyze data - so it's not all that useful now.

Because I am working on collaboration as a topic, and more specifically collaboration borne out of participation in a specific set of MOOCs, I am looking some literature on MOOCs and some literature on collaboration.  After I finished reading a handful of books on collaboration, I've made my way to academic articles on MOOCs (before I go back to collaboration discussed in academic articles).  It's been a couple of years since I've sat down to make a concerted effort to read articles on MOOCs (given that most of my spare time was spent on class stuff).   As I am reading these newer articles on MOOCs (2014 and beyond), the obligatory 'historical' introductions (you know, where MOOCs came from), seem to be all over the place.  Some describe them in ways that  closely tie them to the OCW movement.  Others skip everything and start with Thrun and Koehler.  Others point to Siemens and other Canadian colleagues with MOOCs like CCK.  Yet others find imaginative ways to have some sort of combination of these†.

Despite these (minor?) issues in their introduction or background sections, these articles made it through the gauntlet of the peer review and go published, so they are now part of the research record.  It's not that I am hugely bothered by things that I view as historical inaccuracies in these articles. After all, the advice given to me by my mentors is to basically go to the original citation and look up the fact and underlying reasons there, instead of citing someone who cited the info.  It's a good point, and it's good to basically double check your "facts", but it really adds to the workload if you can't trust what you're reading in an article.  Does the level of detail in a literature review reflect the level of care taken to craft the methods section, data analysis, and conclusions?  Maybe it doesn't; maybe the introduction is just a short afterthought after all else is done, I don't know.

As I go through this pile of academic articles I am struck by the two warring sides in my mind.  One side wants me (the completionist daemon) to read every single word and analyze every single sentence of an article.  OK, maybe it's not painstaking analysis, but really do give each article a good portion of my mindshare in order to make sure that I am correctly getting out of the article what the authors intended me to get out of the article.  On the other side of things, I am looking at the large (digital) pile of papers to read and a more pragmatic daemon is pointing me toward more efficient‡. The efficiency that my pragmatic daemon advocates for is skimming introductory and background sessions, and really just focusing on data analysis and conclusions, so basically make an assumption that the journal editors and peer reviewers have done a good enough job so that I can reasonably assured that what I am reading is worthwhile♠.  The problem with the pragmatic daemon's approach is that in the haste to be more efficient (just the findings, ma'am) I might be making the same errors as those folks that make me roll my eyes with their (minor?) issues in their introductory and background sections (errors I don't want to make).  I am sure that there is a good middle ground, which I am intent on finding before I am done with this proposal...

How is your dissertation process going?  If you are done with your doctorate, what were your daemons?



DIGITAL MARGINALIA
† maybe it's my own bias as a MOOC follower since 2010(ish) but the only correct version of MOOC history seems to be CCK08 as the start. Yes the open movement probably influenced it a lot, but I wouldn't go as far as to call it a descendant of OCW.
‡ imagine air quotes around this word.
♠ not counting predatory journals here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

It's the end of the MOOC as we know it, and I feel...

...ambivalent?  I am not sure if ambivalence is the word I am going for because I am getting hints of nostalgia too.  Perhaps though I should take a step back, and start from the beginning.

This past weekend two things happened:

The first thing is that I've completed reading full books as part of my literature review for my dissertation, and I have moved onto academic articles, articles I've been collecting on MOOCs and collaboration in general. While MOOCs aren't really the main focus of my dissertation study, they do form the basis, or rather the campgrounds on which the collaborative activities occurred on, and it's those collaborative activities I want to examine. This review of MOOC articles (while still relatively in the early stages) made me reflect back on  my own MOOC experiences since 2011.

The second thing is that I received a message from FutureLearn which was a little jarring and made me ponder.  Here is a screenshot:



My usual process, when it comes to MOOCs these days, is to go through  the course listings of the usual suspects (coursera, edx, futurelearn) and sign-up for courses that seem interesting.  Then, as time permits I go through these courses.  I usually carve out an hour every other Friday to do some MOOCing these days since most of my "free" time is spent on dissertation-related pursuits.  It would not be an understatement to say that I have quite a few courses that are not completed yet (even though I registered for them about six months ago).  What can I say? I find a ton of things interesting.

If you're new to MOOCs you might say "well, it was a free course, and now it's going back into paid land - you should have done it while it was available". Perhaps you're right, perhaps not.  For a MOOC old-timer, like me (ha!), this type of message is really disheartening, and it really speaks quite well to the co-opting  and transmogrification of the MOOC term (and concept) and making something that is not really recognizable when compared to the original MOOCs of 2008-2012; or perhaps it's a bit even like an erasure - erasing it form the past, but luckily at least articles exist to prove that it existed, and cMOOC is still recognized as a concept.

I am convinced that platforms like coursera and futurelearn can no longer be considered MOOC platforms, and should be referred to  as either a learning management system (which they are), or online learning platform. Over the past few years things that seemed like a given for an open learning platform are starting to not be there.  First the 5Rs started being not applicable.  You couldn't always revise or remix materials that you found on these platforms...but you could download copies of the materials so that you could retain your own copy, and this meant that you could potentially reuse and redistribute.  Redistribution was the next freedom that went,  and after that was reuse.  You could still download materials though (at least on coursera and edx).  Then a coursera redesign made video download not an option... (still an option in edx, not sure if it was an option in futurelearn), and now courses are becoming time-gated... argh.

The certificate of completion was an interesting concept - a nice gift from the people who offered the course if you jumped through their hoops to do the course as they intended, but it was really only valuable when it was free of cost. This freebie has also been lost (not a great loss since it doesn't really mean much - at least not yet).

All of this closing off of designs and materials (closing in a variety of ways) makes me long for the days gone by, day not long ago, and MOOCs only about 10 years in the past.  Although, I suppose in EdTech terms 10 years might as well be centuries.

I do wonder when might be a good time to reclaim the name and offer up connectivist courses again - or perhaps it's time to kill the term (wonder what Dave thinks of this ;-) ), and create something that doesn't have such  commercial interests infused into it right now.

Thoughts?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Instructional Designers, and Research

Yet another post that started as a comment on something that Paul Prinsloo posted on facebook (I guess I should be blaming facebook and Paul for getting me to think of things other than my dissertation :p hahaha).

Anyway,  Paul posted an IHE story about a research study which indicates that instructional designers (IDers) think that they would benefit from conducting research in their field (teaching and learning), but they don't necessarily have the tools to do this.  This got me thinking, and it made me ponder a bit about the demographics of IDers in this research. These IDers were  in higher education.  I do wonder if IDers in corporate settings don't value research as much.

When I was a student and studying for my MEd in instructional design (about 10 years ago), I was interested in the research aspects and the Whys of the theories I was learning. I guess this is why further education in the field of teaching and learning was appealing to me, and why I am ultimately pursuing a doctorate. I digress though - my attitude (inquisitiveness?) stood is in contrast with fellow classmates who were ambivalent or even annoyed that we spent so much time on 'theory'.  They felt that they should be graduating with more 'practical skills' in the wizbang tools of the day.  We had experience using some of these tools - like Captivate, Articulate, Presenter, various LMSs, and so on, but obviously not the 10,000 hours required to master it†. Even though I loved some classmates (and for those with who are reading this, it's not a criticism of you! :-) ), I couldn't help but roll my eyes at them when such sentiments came up during out-of-class meetups where we were imbibing our favorite (hot or cold) beverages.  Even back then I tried to make them see the light.  Tools are fine, but you don't go to graduate school to learn tools - you go to learn methods that can be applied broadly, and to be apprenticed into a critical practice.  As someone who came from IT before adding to my knowledge with ID,  I knew that tools come and go, and to have a degree focus mostly on tools is a waste of money (and not doing good to students....hmmmm...educational fast food!). I know that my classmates weren't alone in their thinking, having responded to a similar story posted on LinkedIn this past summer.

My program had NO research courses (what I learned from research was on my own, and through mentorship of professors in my other masters programs). Things are changing in my former program, but there are programs out there, such as Athabasca University's MEd, which do work better for those who want a research option.

Anyway, I occasionally teach Introduction to Instructional Design for graduate students and I see both theory-averse students (like some former classmates), and people who are keen to know more and go deeper. I think as a profession we (those of us who teach, or run programs in ID) need to do a better job at helping our students become professionals that continually expand their own (and their peer's) knowledge through conscious attempts at learning, and research skills are part of that.  There should be opportunities to learn tools, for the more immediate need of getting a job in the field, but the long term goal should be setting up lifelong learners and researchers in the field.  Even if you are a researcher with a little-r you should be able to have the tools and skills to do this to improve your practice.

As an aside, I think that professional preparation programs are just one side of the equation.  The other side of the equation. The other side is employment and employers, and the expectations that those organization have of instructional design.  This is equally important in helping IDers help the organization. My conception of working with faculty members as an IDer was that we'd have a partnership and we'd jointly work out what was best based on what we had (technology, expertise, faculty time) so that we could come up with course designs that would be good for their students. The reality is that an IDer's job, when I did this on a daily basis, was much more tool focused (argh!).  Faculty would come to us with specific ideas of what they wanted to do and they were looking for tool recommendations and implementation help - but we never really had those fundamental discussions about whether the approach was worth pursuing anyway. We were the technology implementers and troubleshooters - and on occasion we'd be able to "reach" someone and we'd develop those relationships that allowed us to engage in those deeper discussions. When the organization sees the IDer role as yet another IT role, it's hard to make a bigger impact.

On the corporate side, a few of my past students who work(ed) in corporate environments have told me that theory is fine, but in academia "we just don't know what it's like in corporate" and they would have liked less theory, more hands-on for dealing with corporate circumstances. It's clear to me that even in corporate settings the organizational beliefs about what your job as an IDer is impacts what you are allowed to do (and hence how much YOU impact your company). Over drinks, one of my friends recently quipped (works in corporate ID, but formerly on higher education) that the difference between a credentialed (MEd) IDer and one that is not credentialed (someone who just fell into the role), is that the credentialed ID sees what's happening (shoverware) and is saddened by it. The non-credentialed person thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread‡. Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it was definitely food for thought.

At the end of the day I'd like to see IDers more engaged in education research. I see it really as part of a professional that wants to grow and be better at what they do, but educational programs that prepared IDers need to help enable this, and organizations that employ them need to see then as an asset similar to librarians where they expect research to be part of the course to be an IDer.

Your thoughts?


MARGINALIA:
† This is obviously a reference to Gladwell's work, and the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  It's one of those myths (or perhaps something that needs a more nuanced understanding). It's not a magic bullet, but I used it here for effect.
‡ Grossly paraphrasing, of course

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ponderings on predatory journals


I originally posted this as a response in a post that Paul Prinsloo wrote on facebook (in response to this Chronicle Article on Beall's list and why it died), but it seemed lengthy enough to cross-post as a blog post :-)
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So many issues to dissect and analyze is such a (relatively) brief article. It is important to see and analyze predatory journals (and academic publishing) in general systematically with other trends in academia. This includes the fetishization of publish or perish, and the increased research requirements to even get a job in academia (see recent article on daily noos as an example)

One thing that bugged me was this line --"Good journals are not going to come to you and beg you for your articles. That should be your first clue." There are legitimate journals out there that are new, and hence don't have any current readership because they are new, so they can't necessarily rely on the word of mouth to get submissions for review. I am helping a colleague get submissions for for upcoming issues (shameless plug: http://scholarworks.umb.edu/ciee/ ), and we certainly solicit submissions from within our social network (and the extended social network). We don't spam people (perhaps that the difference), but the social network is used for such purposes.

I also don't like the idea of categorization of 'high quality' and 'low quality' . Anecdotally I'd say that what passes as high quality tends to (at least) correlate with how long they've been in the market, the readership they've amassed over the years, and the exclusivity they have developed because of this (many submissions, few spots for publication). Exclusivity doesn't necessarily mean high quality, and a high quality journal doesn't necessarily mean that a specific article is high quality (but we tend to view it under that halo effect).

At the end of the day, to me it seems that academics are equally susceptible to corporate interests as other professionals. True freedom to say what you need to say sometimes requires a pseudonym - sort of like the Annoyed Librarian...