Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Academic literacy in another language

These past couple of weeks, along with some projects I am working on with colleagues, I am also trying to make some headway for my fall class, EDDE 805, which is the first of two doctoral seminars. From what I can see from the abbreviated syllabus (love that it's just posted on the web!) one of the assignments is an analysis of dissertations of people who are already doctors in our field.  The assignment is as follows:

Short presentations in two-weekly synchronous sessions facilitated by the instructor (schedule to be determined in week 1).

In each synchronous session between weeks 3 - 11, two students will present a review and respond to questions on these reviews of two outstanding dissertations relevant to their field of research, for 20 minutes each.

Reviews should include consideration of specific points of quality or lack thereof, the good/bad aspects, and what information, research processes, ideas, theoretical approaches or organizational structures could or couldn’t be used by presenters in their own projects. As a result of this review, each presenter should produce a list of distilled/deduced criteria for what constitutes a good quality thesis/dissertation. These criteria, together with a two page summary of their reviews should be posted to the Moodle site at least one (1) week before their scheduled presentation date to give other students time to read, reflect and prepare responses and/or questions.

In each of these sessions, other students will present a 5-10 minute oral review of an article they have read relevant to their project/area of research and present “work in progress” in their own research preparation, planning, implementation, analysis, writing etc. It is envisaged that the literature review and proposal assignments, as they are developed, will also form part of this presentation and discussion.

I spend some time a month or so ago going through the ProQuest dissertation abstracts, as well as the list of repositories that Debra H. sent us to prepare us for the course (thank you! :-) ) to find dissertations.  I found a dissertation of interest in English, and I was thinking of flexing my mind by reading a dissertation in another language.  My experience with reading dissertations† done by others is that there are dissertations that are just freakin' awesome, and others where you might wonder how that person earned a doctorate (given typos, logical argument flaws, and lots of weasel words - as George Siemens tells us to avoid).

In any case, I asked a colleague of mine, in Greece, who has been on viva voce (aka dissertation defense) examination committees if he happened to have a good dissertation, written in Greek, that he could recommend as an example of something that is well written, and kindly enough he shared something he considered as an excellent dissertation with me.  I was interested in something from Greece for three reasons:  (1) I wanted to compare a good dissertation from another country with what we generally accept to be good dissertations in North America. (2) I wanted to practice my academic Greek. (3) Even though my dissertation topic wont' be linguistics focused, I missed that topic these past few years working on MOOCs and Distance Education that I wanted to read a little about it.

(that was a long set-up, eh?)
So, I am sitting...and reading...and reading...and reading.  A dissertation written in English is something I would have finished by now, but this particular one, 2 weeks into the process, and I am only 1/3 of the way done (not including appendices and references in my page count).  While I am fluent in Greek, and it is one of my native languages, this register is not something I am as familiar with given that I completed most of my academic preparation (K-grad school) in an environment where English was the language of instruction. Some of the things that make my reading go slower are:

  1. Words used in the specific discipline: I am familiar with the English terms for something, but not the Greek ones, so when I come across the Greek term, I often stop, like a tourist, to see the sights (the English term is often given in parentheses when first used), so I take that moment to stop and smell the linguistic and disciplinary roses. 
  2. The sentence structure of an academic paper or dissertation is not usually the same as someone's blog post, or a news story.  It's not in English either (we're just used to those different registers and discourses) but it's a bit of a culture-shock for me.  It's a bit like 20 or so years ago when I returned to the US and I needed to re-learn English (in the sense that I needed to learn 'school English')

 As I am reading this dissertation, I am wondering what is considered an appropriate length for a literature review without feeling like you are just repeating what some other person wrote in their own literature review for a related dissertation.  The literature review in this one seems to be about 80 pages at 1.5 spacing (if you exclude references to the literature in what appears to be the discussion section further into the dissertation).  As much as I am enjoying reading through this, it seems like a little overkill to me. I wonder what others think (those of you who read dissertations and maybe have completed one of your own).

Another thing I am wondering is this (and this is for all of you bi- and multi-linguals out there): Chances are that your published work is probably in English.  I am wondering how much practice you have, academically speaking, in your discipline, with languages other than English.  How hard is it for you to cultivate this?  And do you see value in it?

I personally see value in cultivating my Greek (and hopefully later on my French) academic discourses, but I don't know how widely read my work is going to if I choose to write in a language other than English. So, while I see value in it, I am wondering if there is greater bang for the buck when it comes to just writing articles and book chapters in English (another type of Hegemony I guess).  Thoughts?

† In EDDE 802 we had pick some dissertations, read them, share them with our cohort and provide a brief review for them, so this isn't the first time I've looked for, and read, dissertations ;-) For 802 I tried to pick ones where I had more positive things to say rather than just lambast what I perceived to be poor ones :-)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Long time vBuddy, first time sBuddy

It took a while for me to get this post started.  Conferences are great, but between being physically tired, and having to catch up on other work (that wasn't done while at the conference), it means that some things that require more bandwidth get kicked a little further down the road :-)

In any case, I thought I would write a little bit about my first time being an onsite Buddy (sBuddy - "oBuddy" seemed weird as a term) for virtually connecting. I've been a virtual buddy (vBuddy) quite a few times over the past year (or has it been 2? I don't remember), and I thought it would be cool to be an sBuddy at Campus Technology and AAEEBL this year.  I did not expect it to be a lot more work than usual, however I learned that being an sBuddy is actually much more work (or at least I ended up making it much more work, even if it isn't).

For quite a few years (7 years by my count) I've been attending Campus Technology and AAEEBL on a press pass.  First, as a guest of my university's student newspaper and then as part of the CIEE journal. Sadly, this year, was the last year I am going to campus tech and AAEEBL because CT is moving to Chicago next year (and I think conference centers are booked a few years in advance, so it probably won't be coming back to Boston any time soon), and AAEEBL is no longer co-located with CT.  Too bad.  I found that combination to be a dynamic duo!  Oh well - I digress.

So, press pass confirmed, I started looking at who is presenting, who is keynoting, and who would be interesting to have conversations with (both on-air for vConnecting, and just for my own personal interests).  The truth is that there are too many interesting folks to talk to (considering that it's 2 conferences), and not enough time.  So, for the prep-work, instead of trying to create virtually connecting sessions for each and every interesting person, I wanted to do two things:

  1. gauge the interest of the virtually connecting community, to see if my own interests coincide with theirs.  No need to book a vConnecting session if I am the only person interested. I can always have lunch/dinner/drinks with these folks and not record the sessions (much easier)
  2. For the people who seemed interesting to a broader audience, I could try to cluster people with similar or complimentary presentations and interests together into one session.
Once all was said and done I had 3 sessions confirmed: 2 keynote speakers, and 2 local edtech gurus.  So, my early lesson learned is that even though you might try to get in contact with presenters ahead of time to see if they want to vConnect with you, even in academia there are people who fathom themselves rockstars and don't know why you'd want to converse with them since you can read their published work (they are too busy for conversations) - hahaha. OK, lesson learned.  Not everyone is friendly and approachable :-)

The days of the events were a little tough in terms of space. Trying to find a space that had power, ample wifi signal, and was available for a vConnecting session was a little challenging.  I did end up finding space (thanks to the giant banners outside of each conference room telling me what events were scheduled there and at what day/time), but it required some legwork, and I often felt like a squatter. It got the job done, but I felt bad for not having concrete information for our guests well ahead of time.  The lesson learned here was that it would be good to work a little closer with the conference organizers to get a space for these things.

I think that working more closely with them would have helped avoid some misunderstandings. While I attended the conference on a press pass (not by virtue of vConnecting, but by virtue of a campus gig I have), it seems that there were some crossed signals.  On the one hand the twitter mavens of CampusTech were willing to assist me in getting in touch with some speakers for a vConnecting session (which I ended up not being able to make happen anyway), but on the other hand I got an email from my main PR contact who thought I was recording sessions (which I wasn't doing), and that's something that (apparently) I was not allowed to do on a standard press pass.  This was a little confusing for me.  I should get in contact with my main PR contact to do a post-mortem, but at this point, with the semester looming, it's not high on my list of priorities. The lesson learned: the person on twitter you're interacting with at the conference is not necessarily the person you worked with to get your press pass...

In any case, despite the few snags and misunderstandings (and lots of walking - according to my pedometer in my smartwatch) this was an enjoyable experience.  I'd do it again...but until then, I'll be vBuddying :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Praxis of Virtually Connecting workshop at #DigPed UMW

From the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at University of Mary Washington this week :-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

vConnecting with Rebecca Petersen at AAEEBL

A little self-archiving here for a couple of vConnecting sessions that we did last week at Campus Technology and AAEEBL in Boston.  This particular one is with Rebecca Petersen.  Enjoy :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

vConnecting with Amy Collier & Stephen Downes at Campus Technology

A little self-archiving here for a couple of vConnecting sessions that we did last week at Campus Technology and AAEEBL in Boston.  This particular one is with Amy Collier, Stephen Downes, And Abby Machson-Carter.  Enjoy :)

Monday, August 8, 2016

vConnecting with Bryan Alexander at Campus Technology

A little self-archiving here for a couple of vConnecting sessions that we did last week at Campus Technology and AAEEBL in Boston.  This particular one is with George Station and Bryan Alexander.  Enjoy :)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Instructional whatnow?

A number of threads converged last week for me, and all of the threads exist in a continuum.  The first thread was one that began in the class that I am teaching this summer, INSDSG 601: Foundations of Instructional Design & Learning Technology. One of the things that we circle back to as a class (every couple of weeks) are the notions of instructor and designer.  Where does one end and the other begin in this process?  It's a good question, and like many questions, the answer is "it depends".  The metaphor that I use is the one that calls back to two sides of the same coin.  In order for instruction to ultimately be successful you need both sides to work together.  An excellent design will fail in the hands of a bad instructor, and a bad design will severely hold back a good instructor (assuming that there is an instructor and it's not self-paced learning). There is the other side too: as instructional design students we were told that we would be working with SMEs (subject matter experts) to develop training, but how one works with SMEs is not clarified.  A good friend of mine, working in corporate ID, told me recently that communication with a SME is through an intermediary acting as a firewall and it's hard to get the information necessary to work on good instructional designs (now there is some organizational disfunction!).  The key take-away here is that you can't really separate out these roles. Both need to be informed from one another, and communication is key to successful training interventions.

In another thread, I was chatting with Rebecca (at some point or another this summer) about assessments and grading in the classes that we teach.  Another layer to this design and instruction challenge was added. You can have a really nice design, with lots of learner feedback and continuous assessment, but the situation might be untenable.  Take for example the case of an adjunct instructor (like me or Rebecca).  At our institution we are paid for 10 hours of effort per week for a specific course (each course counts as 25% FTE, and assuming a 40 hour workweek, each course is about 10 hours of work). These 10 hours include design maintenance work, synchronous sessions (if you have any), discussion forums, and assessment & feedback.  The design of your course might be awesome, but it might require more time on the part of the instructor than the organization has budgeted for.

So the question is how does good design sync up with organizational norms and constraints?  Organizational norms are something we've talked about in the class as well. Instructional design does not exist in a vacuum.   For the course that I teach in the summer I made it a little more "efficient" by using a ✓/✘/Ø grading for all assignments (submitted and passing; submitted and not passing-can revise; nothing submitted) which has addressed the issue of haggling for points to a large degree. This still leaves 43 items per student to be graded (and some level of feedback) to be given to the student.

I know that I am still spending more than 10 hours per week on the course, so the question - from a design perspective - is this: What is the most efficacious way of giving learners feedback on their projects and other aspects of the course while still staying within organizational constraints, and while adhering to sound (and researched) practices of pedagogy? In other words, what design options give you the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to teaching presence and learner outcomes?  Given that I've been more than happy to spend the extra time each week on the class, this is not a "problem" I need to solve for myself right now, but it is a design challenge for other colleagues!

The final thread in this came from twitter, when (out of the blue?) there was a twitter burst discussion on instructional design when Maha wrote:

@KateMfD how do u design a priori for someone you have not met??? Duh
@KateMfD to this day, I don't understand how Instructional Design begins w "needs analysis" before we ever meet the students!

JR added to the discussion by tweeting:
@Bali_Maha @koutropoulos @KateMfD but in a similar way, how do we know what courses we are going to teach prior to meeting Ss on day 1?
@Bali_Maha @koutropoulos @KateMfD not always a great starting point, but often attempting to benefit the organization, learner comes 2nd

I've been thinking about this and I've been trying to come up with a metaphor that makes sense. The metaphor that came to mind comes from the world of clothing and it's the dichotomy of Tailored versus Mass Produced clothing.  The textbook that we use in my program is the Systematic Design of Instruction, by Dick, Carey, and Carey, using the Dick & Carey model.  The textbook seems to indicate that as designers we have a ton of time to conduct a needs analysis (is the training needed), and a learner analysis (who are the learners), and a context analysis (where learning will take place), and to design a breakdown of what exactly needs to be learned.  And, sure, if we were instructional designers for the rich and famous, on retainer, we'd know a lot of this stuff ahead of time, and if those rich folks wanted to learn to paint, or water ski, or whatever, we'd have the luxury of knowing our learners, environment, constraints, and needs, and we'd be able to do something about it (we'd also be paid the big bucks!). This is what I call the tailored model - we have the luxury of taking all the measurements we need, and the client is willing to wait for the product.

The environment we work in, however, is the mass produced environment. In our day to day work as instructional designers we do our due diligence and try to do some needs analysis, but we also work from educated guesses of who our learners might be.  This is something that we've discussed (either on air or off air) at campus technology and AAEEBL this week with different colleagues.  How does one decide what programs to offer?  What courses fit into those programs?  What are the requirements for the program, and how each course's requirements fit into that puzzle?  Who are the learners who come into those courses?  The answer to that last question is an educated guess.  You might design a program, or a course, or a set of courses with a specific learner group in mind, however that persona is in-fact an educated guess.

Hence, using assumptions to start the process for that which is mass produced and we change it (or adapt it) on the fly as we get to learn who the learners are in our classroom. There are constraints in place to make sure that  the variation is "manageable" - and for a college program (at the graduate level anyway) that constraint is admissions.  By managing the admissions process faculty and departments know who is coming into their classes, and they can be prepared for that adaptation.  Further adaptation happens in class.  It's not complete adaptation since there are constraints, but adaptation exists (or, I argue, should exit). This way we're taking something that is mass produced, and tailoring it to the needs of the individual (to some extent anyway).  This is where design and instruction meet again - two sides of the same coin.