Monday, May 30, 2016

Being a student in the summer

Since the end of April I (and some fellow EDDE students) are working on a qualitative research methods course. While I've got familiarity with some of the methods of qualitative research under my belt, I thought that it might be fun to work through a review of some methods with fellow doctoral students. The price was right (nearly free!), and I had some time.

The textbook has been read cover to cover, and it's only week 6 our of 13.  I am currently working on the more 'mechanical' part of the course, namely working on coding texts with NVivo and running queries to get familiar with the software, however I am keeping an eye toward assignment 2.  With Assignment 2 I've decided to work on an alternative option (i.e. not one of the 4 pre-set topics) - with permission of the instructor of course!  I've decided to try to work on as much of the methods section for my dissertation proposal over this summer.  I know that it's a little backwards in that you work on your literature review and questions first (the first two chapters) before you work on your methods section (the third chapter), but I've already formulated my questions, and I have a bit of background on the topic, so why not work on the methods section now while I can receive some feedback?

One of the things that's had me a bit concerned coming into the dissertation process is that I won't have enough "stuff"  (pages of research) if I go with one method.  I've been thinking about doing a multimethod approach for this dissertation, but upon reading more of the text, and doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations, doing a multimethod dissertation and I am thinking that it's overkill to do this.  The rough estimate is 3 chapters for each of the methods data & results, one chapter each. So a total of about 10 chapters in you include introduction, literature review, a concluding chapter, and a methods chapter for each of the methods (or about 200 or so pages possibly without references).

On the one hand having worked on published research articles prior to the dissertation is nice. I know how to cut something big down.  The problem with doing a dissertation now is that it seems that I should be including more information for my evaluators to use in evaluating my work, and sometimes it seems to me that I'm including everything and the kitchen sink. In other words, including way too much unnecessary detail (parsimony will be haunting me!).

I wonder if others out there have had this issue.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Curriculum Management as a Supply Chain issue?

I don't often write about my dayjob - as manager of an academic program. There are probably a lot of interesting and nuanced things to study academically in higher education administration and non-profit management, things that I also find interesting (from time to time) - but I tend to spend most of my time looking at EdTech, pedagogy, language learning, and the like (more so than higher ed administration.

Recently I saw a blog post from a friend who is also pursuing a PhD that made me put on my management academician thinking cap, and it got me in a reflecting mood as far as my dayjob goes. It also brought back fond memories of me being an MBA student in a supply-chain management. The successful running of an academic program is a complex dance between various external (to the academic department) actors, such as the admissions office, the registrar's office, the bursar's office, and the room scheduling office (if your program is on-campus). This is also in addition to internal actors such as curriculum committees, admissions committees, faculty, and advisors, and the students (I think of students being "in" the department).  If we look at it from Actor Network Theory, there are also those devices that facilitate (or put up roadblocks) for our efforts. One big actor in this network for me is Google Docs given that I use it to plan for a lot of things.

I've been in my position over four years now and it's been quite an interesting, and educational, experience. Some of our faculty are tenured, and some are adjunct lecturers - although they've been with us so long that we really think of them as one of us.  One thing that really has stood out to me, comparing the then with the now, is really how important those connections are, and the domino effect of the supply chain.  When I was a student studying supply chain management it was fascinating to see how changes in the factory output, the connections between factories, the warehouses, stores, and pricing made a huge systemic difference in what was happening in the end‡.

When I started working there had been a gap in that position for the program, which meant that there wasn't really a day-to-day maintenance that was happening (nor was there systematic improvement). One of the things that had lagged behind (seriously behind) was communications with current students and communications with prospective students.  That for me was a huge domino that had already fallen and we were seeing it's effects - lower than average applications. Why would one apply to a program if there isn't good communication?  Effective, and timely, communication is important not only with your perspective students, but also your current ones in order to ensure that prospective students find the right program for them (even if it isn't yours), and current students are on a steady path to graduation. An internal policy of 2 business days (at most) to respond to inquiries and emails seems to have solved that issue.  Email also became the preferred method of contact. This doesn't please everyone (especially those who like talking on the phone), but with limited resources it's the most efficient.  Phone conversations are available for more in-depth and tricky subjects, not "routine" questions.

Another area where I see supply chain as much more prevalent is course registration.  Course registration is probably the major cause of departmental firefighting (we're all familiar with putting out fires, right?). It's was also a bottleneck for hiring and assigning courses to adjuncts.  In a nutshell, prior to my arrival† students were able to sign themselves up for classes.  This left made course sign up the student's responsibility. There is something empowering about signing up for courses, but even with a late registration fee (if students registered after a certain date) many students would simply wait to register. This meant that we didn't know if some courses would run (you need to have a minimum amount of students in each course to make it viable). Not knowing if something would run also means that you couldn't commit to assigning specific courses to our adjunct faculty, which meant that they didn't have access to Blackboard and the resources they needed to plan for effectively for their courses. It also meant that for the students who did sign up early, there  might be a mad dash near the beginning of the semester to change courses if their courses were axed.  Lots of fires to put out right there!

The solution, which seems to work, is to prevent students from enrollment activity and have us (in the office) enroll them for courses, and to make sure through advising that all advising is accounted for and a month before the current semester ends students have spoken to their advisor and we know what courses they'd like to be signed up for. This gatekeeping activity has been pretty successful thus far.  About 85% of students see their advisor and are queued up for fall courses 45 days before the semester ends, and around 10 days before the late fee kicks in, 94% are signed up.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!  Having an (almost) 95% completion rate also means that our faculty have a better idea of what they are teaching in the fall so that they can prep over the summer (if they'd like) and the college and HR departments can start processing their fall contracts earlier than before since we have confirmed enrollments. These contracts also mean that instructors gain access to university resources that they need  - such as email access!

Supply chain management may seem to impersonal in a higher education context, but I think that it has applicability.  I wonder what others in higher education admin think about this?

‡ I also hated the grading schema for that class, as I've probably written in this blog before, but the class was pretty interesting all things considered.
† I didn't singlehandedly do this - it was a team effort, but I did initiate a lot of this

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Missed Conversation with Laura Gibbs

A recent hangout I was on talking about online pedagogy with some really cool people :-)

Note to self: Ouroboros as a pedagogical symbol...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hidden Scholarship: reported achievements of academics

It seems like forever ago since I've read this article by Maha Bali on ProfHacker on Hidden Scholarship†. It's actually been on my radar for a while, but between work and class the mind space for this was not available.

In any case, if you haven't read this brief post on ProfHacker it's worthwhile reading. Maha writes about things that go under-reported, or not reported at all when it comes to scholarship by academics.  I think that a lot of things go under-reported, and I think part of it is that they aren't valued as much by our peers out there. One of the things that Maha mentions is peer review.  I am actually pretty happy that an academic social media platform (Publons) is working on this and their social network is based on creating some sort of record of peer review. You can see my profile here as an example. That said, it's really up to the peer reviewer to submit/forward their receipts from peer review systems and then the Publons system will work out whatever they need to work out to verify that you did indeed do the peer review for that article and list it on your profile.  That still leaves a lot of hidden scholarship (if you've been peer reviewing for a while anyway). Luckily (in a sense) I haven't peer reviewed much so I didn't have to think TOO hard about everything I was asked to peer review‡ so it was fairly easy to remember most things I did.

I agree with Maha as well that collaboration isn't always valued by peers at the same level (at least in my own contexts).  It seems to me that co-authored works tend to get fewer "points" in faculty reviews as compared to single authored works.  On a similar note, I find - again in my own contexts - that conference presentations are given fewer points than published papers. It seems to me that some works that might be more ephemeral in nature (like some conference presentations) should not be given short shrift because of their medium.  I think that those are just as valuable as a paper published in a peer reviewed journal.

Blog posts were something mentioned in the comments to the article as well.  Blog posts in general don't have the cache that other, more established forms, of scholarly work have - especially if you only post on your own blog! I've been asked several times in the past to contribute blog posts for different organizations and sites♠.  One thing that comes to mind - for me - is why drive traffic to your blog with my blog post, when I can just as easily post it on my blog.  I don't receive any peer review for it, so might as well keep it on my own playing ground.  In the past I had submitted blog posts to - now defunct - sites and those blog posts are lost for the most part (luckily some I had the foresight to keep the text for).  Some of those sites may argue that it could drive readers to this blog, but I don't have any aspiration of aggressively growing my readership.  I blog as a way of sharing what I know, to process new knowledge, and to engage with people¤. I think organic rather than forced readership is much more valuable. That said, I wouldn't mind having a byline on ProfHacker one of these days ;-)

One of my own contributions to this list of hidden scholarship is student advising. I don't think that academics get much credit for this.  Most academics stay up to date with their field. They read the contributions of their field, and they in turn incorporate that into any research they do, and they help guide students toward it that may not be at the right spot yet to be able to navigate there on their own, but for whom the research is important nevertheless.  I think that student mentorship (real mentorship, not just the quick 10 minute advising session each semester) is something that academics need to be recognized for as scholarship. Relating to this academic mentoring is helping/mentoring students to grow as professionals and researchers in the field.

What are items that would go on your list of hidden scholarship?

† just a quick date comparison indicates that it's been over two months at this point in time! Wow! Took a long time to respond to this :-)
‡ I am open for peer review gigs if you need a peer reviewer - just saying ;-)
♠ I prefer to not name them, fwiw.
¤ engage through twitter, facebook, google+, and on comments - generally speaking

Monday, May 16, 2016

Social and Engaging Practices in Developing Research Skills

A brief presentation that my colleagues and I did last Friday at our university's Teaching & Learning conference (I still remember when we called it the "EdTech Conference" :-)  This time around I listed by credentials as EdD (ABD).  I felt a bit awkward putting my standard (BA, MBA, MS, MEd, MA) - it also wouldn't fit - so since I am close to being ABD I just wrote that.  I think that the two embedded YouTube videos didn't make the google docs-->powerpoint-->slideshare conversion.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Teaching Presence in MOOCs: Perspectives and Learning Design Strategies

Presentation presentation by Suzan Koseoglu at the 2016 Networked Learning Conference (Lancaster, UK)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Comedy meets science: John Oliver this week, on last week.

I was catching up on my news comedy yesterday and I was delighted to see this as the subject of last week's "last week tonight"

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Getting paid in exposure...not!

One of the items I've wanted to comment on for a while was a blog post posted by friend and colleague Rebecca Hogue.  Rebecca writes that she teaches courses (similar, or the same courses as I do at UMB anyway) and these courses would be well served by a decent eBook that is published (and updated) for the course.  I wholeheartedly agree!  For the past half a decade I've been thinking about trying to put together an edited volume for the introductory course in instructional design†, or just write the book myself.

I've been thinking that this should be open access, given my philosophical leanings toward open access for education, however - just like Rebecca - I am not paid to teach full time. I teach because I like it, and I like to mentor others. Writing a book (or putting something edited together) takes up a lot of time and effort, and of course that needs to be maintained.  Expecting that someone will do it for free is not realistic.  It's a good thing that I was too busy to write about this topic before, because some of my artist friends recently also posted on their facebook feeds on a related matter: artists being asked to do creative work for free and the only benefit to them is "exposure".  Exposure you will get anyway once your work is out there, so the client is basically getting a free ride.  Just as artists should not work for free (ahem...for "exposure"), so too academics should not be working for free.

Now, this doesn't mean that you - as an academic - should give up on open publishing! I do think that employees need some level of permanence in their positions, and their evaluations need to reflect his open ethos as well.  For example, when an adjunct is considered "full time" when he or she teachers 4 courses per semester, mathematically that breaks down to each course counting as 25% time‡.  If you are being compensated only for teaching, then there is no expectation of creating resources that would be valuable to others.  For the tenure track folks, open publishing should be valued the same as closed publishing♠.  What's valued in annual faculty reviews (from my own experience) are publications in "high impact" journals. Those journals are usually closed access. There is a lot of academic labor that goes into publishing, reviewing for, and editing for journals that don't pay the authors (or their institutions for that matter) for their academic output, but rather expect to be paid in order to access the work done by those faculty members. This is nuts to me. The moral here is that in order to have this type of open academic output done by faculty members there need to be appropriate mechanisms within the institutional organization to make it happen.

This aspect of payment - and who's producing OER, brings me to Rebecca's concluding questions:

Does the OER movement create/promote some of the disparities that it is trying to break down? Does it mean that only scholars who are paid by institutions have the freedom and ability to participate in creation? What about those living in developed countries? How do they participate in the creation of open scholarship? Is it just another form of colonization by the well off academy?
I think that in order to actually create OER you need to have certain prerequisites taken care of.  As a person you need to be able to support yourself before you're able to give away all of the fruits of your labor.  You can give away some things for free (and get exposure that way) but those need to be strategic and calculated. For example, publishing in open access journals costs you nothing (to publish), it's free for others to access, and you are losing no money because you wouldn't be paid for a journal article even if it were in a closed access journal.  Journal articles also take less time (comparatively) to write than books.  Books on the other hand can be sold, and some money can be made from them.

The question of colonization is interesting to ponder, and I don't have an answer.  To some extent it reminds me  of the old riddle: if a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?   Let me explain my framing here:

  1. If I write a book, and sell it. If there exists someone who can't afford to buy the book then they don't read it.  What is the net impact?
  2. If I write a book, and sell it. If there exists someone who can't afford to buy the book but they read it anyway through the library or through some book "piracy" site.  What is the net impact
  3. If I write a book, and make it open access. If there exists someone who can't afford to get to a venue where that book is available (i.e. online)  What is the net impact?
  4. If I write a book, and make it open access. If there exists someone who can read it.  What is the net impact?

When an author writes a book they write from their own perspective, whatever that perspective might be. I think it's up to the reader to determine what the impact is for them. Do they take and assimilate the author's perspective? Or do they take it as initial data and formulate their own results and outcomes from it?  Not knowing how things work on the other end (the reading/consuming end of things) makes it a little hard to decide whether OER can be considered a colonizing force.

As far as how people in developing countries participate in open scholarship - I am not sure. I think that we are in a privileged position  to consider issues of open scholarship.  If I worked for minimum wage (or less!) and needed to work 60-80 (or more!) hours per week to make ends meet I (personally) wouldn't be thinking of open scholarship. I think this is where things like Universal Basic Income start playing a role in what we do as societies. If certain basic needs are met we are free to explore other areas (good ol' Maslow). Until then, we grind along to live another day.

Your thoughts?

† something I've reconsidered in light of recent experiences trying to get pieces for edited volumes!
‡ 25% time for those keeping score at home means 10 hours per week - which seems crazy to me since I end up spending more time with my learners than that...
♠ personally argue that open publishing should count for more since that is much more accessible to others than closed publishing

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Getting beyond rigor

The other day I got access to my summer course on Blackboard.  With just under 25 days left to go until the start of courses, it's time to look at my old syllabus (from last summer), see what sorts of innovations my colleague (Rebecca) has in her version of the course, and decide how to update my own course.  I had some ideas last summer, but since then the course has actually received an update by means of course title and course objectives, so I need to make sure that I am covering my bases.

Concurrently, in another thread, while I was commuting this past week I was listening to some of my saved items in Pocket, and I was reading (listening to) this article on Hybrid Pedagogy by Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel titled Beyond Rigor. This article brought me back to thinking more about academic rigor and what the heck it really means.  I think it's one of those subjects that will get a different answer depending on who you ask.  The authors write that:

institutions of higher education only recognize rigor when it mimics mastery of content, when it creates a hierarchy of expertise, when it maps clearly to pre-determined outcomes

I suspect that's partially one definition of what rigor is thought to be, however I've come across courses that I've personally found that they were lacking rigor but they met those specific requirements mentioned above.  Sometimes I've found that rigor has to do with the level of expected work that a learner does.  If we think of learning as exercise and school as a gym, the analogy of a rigorous workout is something that raises your heart rate, burns calories, and gives your muscles a work out. At the end of a rigorous workout you feel tired. Luckily for exercise folks that stuff is easily measured.  I know that I did something rigorous when I feel exhausted after the gym. However, when it comes to learning we don't have instrumentation that is as easy to use and assess.  So, what the heck is rigor in a college course? How can we define it? Is it a malleable concept or is it hard set?

Interestingly enough the authors approach rigor not from what the attributes of the content are (i.e. who much of it, and by whom), but rather from an environment aspect. Rigor emerges from the environment rather than being a predefined constant.  In order for rigor to emerge when the environment is engaging to the learner, when it provides a means to support critical inquiry, when it encourages curiosity when it is dynamic and embracing of unexpected outcomes, and finally when the environment is derivative.  This last one was defined as a "learning environment is attentive and alive, responsive not replicative."

The one constraint I have with this course (well, other than the course description ;-) ), is the textbook. The department uses the Systematic Design of Instruction by Dick, Carey, and Carey as their foundational book and model. Last summer I developed the course from scratch using DCC as the core organizing principle.  Now, while still important, after the update to the course title and description DCC must share the stage with other elements, so I am re-considering (again) what rigor looks like in this environment.  I am pondering, how I can rework an introductory course to be derivative and to give students a more control in shaping the curriculum (thinking rhizomatically here) beyond having to choose from some finite options...

At the moment, rigor for me is still one of those "I know it when I see it" things.  It would be interesting to discuss this a little further with others who are interested on the topic to see where we land on it.

On another note, and rigor aside, the two things I am keeping and/or expanding are mastery grading (you either pass or you need revision) - I am not going back to numerical grades for anything.  I would prefer that students focus on feedback rather than the numerical grade.  The other part I am keeping is digital badges.  They worked fine last summer, I just need to figure out how to make them better.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

NRC01PL...anti-climactic ending?

It's been a few weeks since I wrote anything about the NRC01PL cMOOC that was running last month, and that I caught up a bit on and wrote a few posts about.  The final week of the course was labelled applications and extension, but I didn't see any content for the course posted.  Not that one necessarily needs content (I think the Rhizo MOOCs showed that), however you do need something.

This got me to thinking, and more specifically about Terry Anderson and his interaction equivalency theorem, which...

In a nutshell the theory posits that if any one of student-student, student-teacher or student-content interaction is of a high quality, the other two can be reduced or even eliminated without impairing the learning experience–thus creating means of developing and delivering education that is cost affordable for all of us.

Peer-to-Peer interaction was a bit problematic for NRC01PL from the start. It seemed that gRSShopper didn't really work, and I only got a few blog posts about NRC01PL from people that I already follow (such as Jenny Mackness's blog for example), so the student-student interaction was a bit of an issue.  While I know Stephen (sort of) it's not like we'd create an impromptu hangout to discuss these things, and of course the final week fizzled in terms of content.  So...where does this leave us with learning, and (more importantly?) the community?

Part of me is wondering if the secret sauce in MOOCs is the community developed in the course.  The content is a fine starting point, but as we know content gets old and out of date.  Community on the other hand - while members of the community may cycle in and out, the community exists and provides for a place for continuous learning to happen.  I do wonder if MOOCs are just the soft shell to introduce us to others, and to a community, to sustain our learning beyond the confines of the specific MOOC.