Saturday, September 24, 2016

EDDE 805 - Dissertation Critique

Well, the semester is rockin' and rollin'.  Thanks to @merryspaniel, and the fact that AU posts their syllabi on the web, I knew that I had an assignment early on where I had to critique a couple of dissertations that were already published.  This was also a perfect opportunity to read a dissertation the colleague George M. had send me a while back as an exemplar of a good dissertation in corpus linguistics.

Since I had a head start, and I was lucky enough to be able to get one of the two slots in the first presentation week (this week) one assignment is done! Woohoo! Now onward and upward toward the literature review of my dissertation proposal.

I've included the presentation component (which doesn't seem to want to embed well...) and the brief write-up.

The write-up was a little constraining in terms of number of words. It's hard to do a critique in 1 page single space of a dissertation (wonder if this is preparation for doing book reviews).  My main take-away from this is that I want to do a dissertation like dissertation #1, but I will be doing one that is similar to #2 (just better ;-) ) so that I can finish my EdD in a timely fashion. The first dissertation seems like a time-sink for now (save it for doctorate #2 perhaps? hahaha).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pondering assigning groupwork...

The summer semester is over!  Well, it's been over for several weeks now and the fall semester is in full swing, but I am not teaching this semester (focusing more on projects that have been on the back-burner for a while). Taking a break from teaching actually makes me think more about teaching in an odd way (I guess out of sight, but not out of mind).

One of the courses that I teach is an intro course to instructional design and learning technology (INSDSG 601, or just 601).  Since this is a course that introduces students not only to the discipline, but also to the program of study at my university I though that it would be a good idea to give students some foundations in group work since this is something that they will encounter both in the "real" (aka working) world, but also in subsequent courses in the program and they need to be able to work effectively with one another.

The way the course assignments work is that there is a big project that last the entire semester which is individual, and there are several (4) smaller projects that are team-based.  These are a jigsaw activity and it allows students to become experts in one smaller area and teach others about it.

The first time around (summer 2015) I had students switching teams throughout the semester.  The idea was to give students more choice as to their group projects and the groups would be self-forming that way. The feedback that I got was that this was tiring to the students. I think that forming/performing/adjourning 4 groups during the span of 13 weeks was tiring, and it also didn't give students the space to actually get to know people beyond the scope of the project (which would have been useful as peer review for their projects!)

This past summer, I changed things up a bit and I formed the groups myself (an idea I picked up from Rebecca H.). Luckily I seemed to have a balanced group of K-12, Higher Education, and Corporate students in the class which made group creating a little easier. Taken one of each, wherever possible, and create a group. This way groups needed to negotiate which topics they wanted to be undertake as a group which potentially limited choice of topics for individual students, but on the plus side they got to know their team-mates, and there were semester-long pods which could in theory support peer review throughout the semester.  I didn't require it for grading, so I wanted to see if groups just shared individual semester projects amongst each other for review.

This worked out OK.  I would say that 50% of the class loved their teams...and 50% either passively disliked (you know, the mild groan) or actively disliked their team-mates. Whereas in the first attempt (2015) people seemed tired of the process, this second try at teamwork made people either love or hate their team-mates.  Those who loved their team-mates seemed to coordinate future classes together, and those who hated their collaborations...well, I didn't hear much more about it from their weekly reflections.  Those who seemed to dislike groupwork also had things happen in their groups; some things which were just not avoidable, like "like happens!" type of things, like unexpected family or work things.

One of the things that came up in both positive and negative experiences relates to empathy. In some cases of teams that didn't work out well, I got the sense that people were thinking along the following lines "I get that xyz happened to  student_name but that's does not concern me much, I am here to learn abc and I've got my own problems to deal with, so too bad for them, but I need to be done with some project here".  I think that if students could empathize more with one another they wouldn't have such negative reactions to groupwork.  On the other spectrum, even in well functioning groups, I got the sense that there were some people who had more time than others (just 'cause), so they tended to overwhelm the rest of the group with their eager excitedness.  That's cool (I like eager people!  I relate to them :-) ), but  at the same time it can create this feeling among some group members that they aren't performing at the level they should. The group level performance is much higher than what the project requires and this can create feelings of not failing your team-mates.  I think this is an empathy issue too.

While, on the whole, I think if I were able to control for those (uncontrollable) life issues, I think creating groupwork-pods for the semester worked out better.  But I am still looking to tweak the group experience in the course.  How do we increase communication, understanding, and empathy?  Do I require groups to meet weekly and submit meeting minutes (to make sure that they met)? Do I undertake a role-play at the beginning of the semester in a live session to increase empathy? And, how can groups be leveraged to support their fellow team-mates who might be falling behind for reasons that exist both inside or outside of class?


Thoughts?

Friday, September 9, 2016

EDDE 806 - Post VI - A new semester

And so, this week, another school season kicks off!  This week  we had both the kick-off for EDDE 805 (dissertation seminar I) and EDDE 806 (dissertation seminar II). I decided that last to start attending EDDE 806 regularly (or as regularly as I can) so that my final class-based semester (next spring) can be focused more on getting my dissertation proposal done.

In this first session of EDDE 806 we mostly had a bit of a check-in (which is sort of what we did in 805 as well). There seemed to be some interesting strands that came came out of 806 last night.  First, Peggy Lynn (Cohort 6) is working on a project to translate the term OER (Open Eaducational Resources) into a variety of languages for a variety of reasons, but one of them is to make it easier to label, and search for, OERs that are in languages other than English.  If you want to help out please check out this page.  I did actually try to coin a term in Greek a number of years ago.  A few colleagues and I worked on a MOOC paper that we published in EuroDL and the nice thing about EuroDL is that they accept abstracts in languages other than English as well.  So, I worked on the Greek abstract and tried to come up with an acronym and translation for MOOC. The translation I came up with was Ανοιχτά Μαζικά Διαδικτυακά Μαθήματα  and the acronym I was going for was (ΜαΔιΜα) which, to a Greek would remind them of the homophone "μάδημα" which translates to 'plucking' (I did say I was going for the absurd, right?)  In any case, my acronym didn't stick (How did Cormier do it?!) and the term used now in Greece is Ανοιχτά Μαθήματα which translates to Open Courses.  Maybe my claim to fame will be the OER translation LOL.

Another interesting strand is the strand of scope for the dissertation.  Craig (also from Cohort 6) mentioned that he has a topic that he was passionate about, but it seemed a little too idealistic to implement - at least within the confines of a dissertation.  Pragmatism is something that has come up many times, and I think someone last semester in 806 encouraged us to be ruthlessly pragmatic.  Advice which I am taking to heart.

Finally,  there was the case of Viviane (Cohort 6) who is working on an OER-related project for K-12.  She discovered recently that someone at the open university of Portugal is also dissertating on a very similar topic.  I guess we've got a case of Tesla and Marconi :-).  Viviane mentioned that she is avoiding to look at this person's work for fear of being influenced.  For what it's worth I am not in that camp.  If someone were working on the same (or very similar) project as me (and I knew about it) I would definitely have a look at their work. I would have my own plan (ahead of time) even if it's a broad sketch of a plan, and I would deconstruct the other person's plan with a designer's eye.  If there were things I liked I would take (and give credit) and if there were critiques, I would mention that in my dissertation. Working in a vacuum doesn't seem productive to me, but we all have our own tactics to 'get through this' dissertation experience :-).  I think both approaches have merit, but my approach is definitely filtered through my preference of working with others.

This story, from Viviane, also got me thinking.  I know that historically dissertations are single-author.  However, what if they weren't?   For example, let's say I am working on an idea and someone else from Cohort 7 (my cohort) or someone from Cohort 6, or heck someone from the Open University of Greece, were interested in working on the same thing?  Would there be a possibility of working collaboratively on a team dissertation?  We could work together to setup the literature review, discuss the problem (from multiple facets if we are in different countries!) and we could all collect data at our respective locations.  Each member would collect and crunch their own data, and then we could compare our findings.  Hence, instead of me working alone, with one group of people  at my university (UMB) to collect data, we could collect cross-sections of data from the US, Canada, Greece (etc., depending on how many people on the dissertation) and we could jointly publish.

The tricky part I think would be the defense. Would you do this defense separately?  Or would you do it together?  If I were on an examination committee I would do it separately in order to make sure that it's not a frankenpaper (you do part 1, I do part 2, then we stick together, but we are unaware of each other's parts) and that the individual candidate can stand on their own. However, the research part and the monograph would be done collaboratively.  Does this make sense?  What do you think of this option?

Friday, September 2, 2016

On CVs...

Recently I came across a post by Josh Kim on whether LinkedIn will replace the traditional academic CV. My short answer to that is "no".  This isn't because I think LinkedIn is bad (it's not), or that the CV is awesome (it's not).  I've got a bone to pick with the traditional, paper-based, academic CV.

The common wisdom, as Kim alludes to, is that a resume is short and targeted, while a CV is longer and is meant to include everything (and the kitchen sink) in your career.  Resumes, for me, seem constraining. How can you adequately describe yourself in 2 pages, especially for seasoned professionals who are older than I am and have a wealth of knowledge and skills?  At the same time a resume is a creative puzzle to solve.  It's a tool for communicating what you will bring to the team you want to be hired into when you apply for a job. A resume encourages your to look into a company and a department, and tailor it to fit where you want to be. It fits a narrative.

By comparison, the academic CV is lazy.  It's just a list of everything, and you hope that it's well formatted.  The onus is on the reader to go through the (reams of paper that comprise the) CV and make sense of it.  Despite the CV being the lazy approach, I also think that the CV is also nothing more than a library index for your career. It's really just the headlines for what you've done, but it really lacks substance.  For example, let's say I am a member of 5 professional associations.  Great. There is a sub-heading on there for that.  But what do I do in those? Or, let's say that I have a section for conference presentations.  Great.  What was the presentation all about?  Is the presentation available on SlideShare (or on your website, if you want to keep it on your own domain)? Or is the recording of the presentation somewhere so I can listen to it?  Ditto for academic papers published. Now, of course, I could go out and find those and read them (I am privileged enough to have access to library databases), but that is detective work on my part, as reader of a CV, to do. Got grants?  Great!  What did you do in them? Who cares how much money you got? (well, I suppose a chancellor, provost, or dean might care...) - the important part is what was the impact and what did you learn?  It doesn't matter if you got a million-dollar-big-whoop-grant if you didn't use it effectively and nothing came of it.


Don't get me wrong.  I like to keep a private CV for myself. It is a nice reminder of the work I've done, the papers I've published, the awesome collaborators I've worked with over the years, but that's just a mental index for me. It could be meaningless to other people.  It seems to me that CVs are more about shock and awe, a "my CV is lengthier than your CV, hence I am better".  I find this a bit of an irony because one of the critiques I've heard from academics about LinkedIn is that the approach that LinkedIn takes is very quantifiable (in that you list, and list, and list) and it dehumanizes the person, but I see CVs being used in the same way.

I have a solution to this - but it's not pretty --> some form of linked data.  LinkedIn works well for non-academic jobs.  Sure, they've added ways of putting in your publications, but you end up having a scroll-a-thon of infinite screens whenever academics start adding in their publications.  So, keep linkedin for your non-academic jobs.  Use Publons to keep a record of your peer reviews.  Use Google Scholar to keep track of your published work, and have that work linked so that people can easily find it (publish open access and/or self-archive).  Use other services to keep track other relevant accomplishments.  The problem that I see is the third-party-ness of these services.  LinkedIn might be killed off by Microsoft. Publons might not turn out to be profitable and it's gone.  Academia.edu might decide to merge with ResearchGate  - whatever it is, the point is that you don't have control of these services, and that's a problem.

I wish there were some sort of WordPress-style software that you could host on your own servers, keep your data, but at the same time be part of a global network that connects your work to others, so you could see who else was in my department at the time I served there, or what my co-authors went on to do after our collaborations ended, or what papers cite the work that my co-authors and I produced.  A single system, disconnected, just keeps the CV in another form. From paper to some sort of digital.  What we need is an evolution of the CV.

Thoughts?

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?



NOTES:
† 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 :-)