Dissertation Writing Status Report


With focus forward…

In much, I took June, July, and August off to spend time with my kids and to travel. I visited Sweden, Portland, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana. Even with all the travel, I managed to do some work toward my dissertation.

In Portland, I went to ARG Fest where I met with many wonderful people engaged in alternate-reality games and transmedia storytelling. I picked up several new contacts and one of them led to another interview for my dissertation. This means I now have 7 interviews completed. (Here is the blog I wrote for ARIEL SIG about the ARG-Fest Conference)

Patrick Moller, Jenny, and Robert Pratten at ARG-Fest.

Patrick Moller, Jenny, and Robert Pratten at ARG-Fest.

When school picked up I started looking for a job to keep me above water and really lucked out. I am now working in the Department of Public Affairs and Community Services at UNT with instructional design and course support for Dr. Roberts. I am really excited about helping with her four courses on negotiation and mediation and am learning a lot in the process. It’s great to step outside the Department of Learning Technologies and see how instructional design and E-Design is applied in other areas. The department has amazing people. We get together for lunch every day talking and through this group of new contacts I also got ideas on people to contact for additional dissertation interviews.

During the second half of August and September I also worked intensely thinking about and writing on my dissertation. Every word counts! I was accepted into the Toulouse School Graduate Student Grant Writing Program in August and attended a two-day workshop learning about grant writing and fellowship application writing. It resulted in me re-working a lot of my dissertation into a 10 page fellowship application narrative. I had amazing support from my committee in this venture: Dr. Scott Warren, Dr. Lin Lin, and Dr. David Kaplan. Further Dr. Duban in the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarship and Dr. Oppong from the Research Office. They all were so helpful with advice and support. All this resulted in that I today submitted my first application for educational funding. I am really excited about the way my dissertation writing has become stronger in this process. I had such a wonderful opportunity to think through every word and further get the best of feedback. I know I grew stronger out of this experience and it will only help me, my future academic colleagues, and students. I am so glad I ventured out on this additional training.

It is time now to shift focus to the AECT conference coming up next month and then complete the remaining dissertation interviews.


What is a Virtual Conference Presentation?

EdMedia 2013 Slides

Click the slide above to open the slide-deck on SlideShare

I recently presented our paper Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions: New Ways of Learning – Transmedia at EdMedia in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada for Leila Mills, Scott Warren, and me. It wasn’t like any conference presentation I had done before because the presentation was virtual. That is, no travel, no hotel cost, no being lost in an unknown city, but managed from my computer, and all green!

Thirty-one papers had been accepted for the EdMedia virtual presentations. These were either posters, corporate showcases, or similar to ours; virtual briefs. The submission process was the same as for submitting to the actual conference in Victoria, except for choosing the virtual presentation option, the final paper was submitted on the same deadline as other accepted papers, and the registration fee was due when all attendees’ fees were due. The first real difference was that virtual presenters were required to upload their PowerPoint presentation.

The presentation space was set up on a platform called http://academicexperts.org/ where each registered attendee receive their own dashboard, i.e., a space where to customize the profile information, upload their publications, a message center, a friends area, and privacy settings. There was also the discussion area that was specifically related to the conference presentation. The dashboard further included a menu bar, which linked to Add to Planner, Discuss, Share, Download paper, View Slides, and Download Slides. All facilitating communication and participation at the conference.

EdMedia Presenter Dashboard
My conference dashboard

Clicking the Download Paper option, the submitted conference paper was downloaded by other presenters and likewise the PowerPoint could be either viewed on the website or downloaded for viewing on the individual’s computer. The upload option for PowerPoint had included either submission of a pptx file or a pdf file. I chose the pdf option to bring down the file size as I had large photos on our PowerPoint. This resulted in the snafu that the presentation did not show online, however, it could still be downloaded. EdMedia had sent out an email mentioning that virtual presenters would be contacted about an optional voice-over recording of their presentation. This never happened, so I was glad that I had added more text on my slides than I would normally do.

The second difference was that virtual presenters were required to post an initial discussion question or discussions starter in their presentation discussion area. This was to spur online discourse around the presentation. The discussion was to be maintained by the presenter throughout the conference. Most active discussions and most recent discussions were shared on the virtual conference dashboard.


Conference dashboard with most active and newest discussions

The conference lasted four days, June 24-27. There was not a lot of discussion going on. One comment was posted as a reply to my introductory discussion prompt, which I replied to, however, beyond that there was no discussion. It appears this was the case with other presentations as well. When I reviewed the most active discussions thread after the conference had ended, the one with most post had ten posts in total with comments from only 3 different participants.

We are still learning to present over computers, and we will get better at it in the future.  With practice more people will start communicating with each other during these venues and virtual presentations do provide a convenient way to get your work out there, and shared with other researchers. The AACE EdMedia and SITE conferences provide virtual presenters with the same publication option, i.e., to index and publish the presentation in EditLib following the conference: http://editlib.org/.

Overall, I am pleased with the virtual presentation and can definitely consider it again as it provided a convenient option to share my most recent work even when my travel funds were limited and for the benefit that I could review what other researchers are working on.

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Presentation slides: http://www.slideshare.net/jwakefield/edmedia2013

Some Salient Thoughts Related to Online Learning

The idea with online courses originally stems from extending learning to those that otherwise would not have access to it because of distance, connecting instructor and students, but also, and perhaps more so today, for convenience of students, such as scheduling (Shale, 2010, p.90-91).  One question I have been pondering is, do students learn to think as well in the online environment as they do in the face-to-face classroom? Continue reading

The Purely Positive Reviewer Cycle

I am really excited to have been able to be a peer reviewer several times in my first year in the PhD program. Last fall I was able to review ISTE 2011 proposals and I just finished reviewing ISTE 2012 proposal as well. Earlier this fall I reviewed AERA 2012 proposals and I am keeping my fingers crossed that I also get to review SITE 2012 proposals later this month. I have also been a peer reviewer of three books and provided feedback on a total of ten chapters.

Why do I find this so interesting? Well, by reviewing what others propose to submit to conferences and what they write and submit for publication helps me better understand what people within the field work on and I can see where the field is going – I learn what others are interested in. I also learn what standards they hold and what research they are conducting. Knowing this helps me plan my own research and to stay current in the field. I learn the “big” names and whose work to immerse myself more into for further learning.

I love writing. Engaging deeply in reading what others write and from writing several book chapters, journal articles, and conference proposals I have learned a lot. I can identify good writing and continuously strive to write well myself. My writing has definitely improved immensely from reading scholarly work, from practicing writing, and from getting feedback from my professors and peers on my writing. Because of this, I also thoroughly enjoy providing constructive feedback to others to help improve their writing and in an extension the general audience experience. It’s a purely positive cycle!

Competency-based Curriculum

Competency-based Curriculum – a neat idea but likely hard bought buy-in

This past week I looked at competency-based curriculum from a system’s perspective. I had to remind myself that as an instructional designer I am pragmatist while reviewing some of the literature. As a pragmatist I can say that “it might work if…” or “it might work but…” and I can design as I am asked to design with the theoretical framework given but when I feel that it doesn’t quite work then I can bring in some other idea and try make it work. I don’t have to look through just one lens – which is all good. Instructional design is, after all, not a predictable process, because over time we have come to realize that people are not predictable (like behaviorists wanted to have it), but learning is more of a situated process adapted to fit the moment and the learner in focus.

Competency-based curriculum allows students to learn skills but also to apply their learning in real-life like ways – within context (RSA, n.d.). The curriculum has been used to quite some extent within medical school such as when preparing students become ready for their physician residency, and within nursing, but also in psychiatry, and economics. Albanese, Mejicano, Anderson, and Gruppen (2010) note that it “requires careful planning, preparation, and a long-term commitment from everyone involved in the educational process.” This sounds time-consuming and it is. Buy-in is expected from everyone and I think most of us know how hard that can be. Even just one faculty teaching with lower expectations or with leaner grading can jeopardize the entire program the curriculum is implemented in.

In competency-based curriculum the idea is that learners shall make connections and apply learning as per constructivist means, having the curriculum building blocks guide the process as they build on existing knowledge. Faculty functions as facilitators in the process but within medical school, Albanese et al. (2010) note that it is hard for faculty to find the time to supervise and assess learners in the real as they are heavily burdened themselves being practitioners. The application part is a must because without it, how can physicians become competent physicians? In Albanese et al.’s study the competency-based curriculum helps learners prepare for their residency rather than preparing them as physicians. i.e. it provides them the basics of what they need to know – levels them to a competency level set as an entry goal to residency. Learners have to demonstrate that they achieved competency at all levels along the way.

This all sounds good, so what is the hatch? Albanese et al. (2010) note that there is a large challenge in slicing the curriculum so that it becomes manageable. Once this is done the students competence, with each chunks or levels, needs somehow to be assessed. Who decides how it is to be assessed? How is it going to be assessed? Is it a pass/fail concept? Can it be measured on a scale? What should the scale look like? Who determines that the learner has reached competence? What is competence anyway? How do learners pace through the curriculum? Are there time limits to how long they can try for competence? What happens if they fail? Since we already determined that humans are not predictable, can more than one instructor determine if someone passes or fails? What if life happens and a learner has personal problems, illness, etc. and is unable to self-pace? Will someone take note and consult? What implications does it have on facilitators, the program, the school, the greater environment of the community if someone fails or gets a pass grade without having passed the competencies?

With so many questions noted why would anyone want to implement competency-based curriculum? Albanese et al. (2010) take a humoristic approach as they say “If student growth does not make you ecstatic, there is not much else to get excited about because a competency-based curriculum is really more of a quality control mechanism that functions by giving students greater control over their education. Quality control and relinquishing control are not things most faculty get ecstatic about.”

How does this fantastic environment look like as a system? Well, let’s take Albanese et al.’s (2010) physicians as an example. There is the learner in the center given control through the designed curriculum. Learners should pass through the curriculum but also be able to – at least ideally – test out if they bring with them vast amount of applicable practical and theoretical knowledge. There are the instructors assigned as facilitators, mentors, guides, assessors. Everyone has to teach to the curriculum so assessment is fair and the competency is equally measured. To achieve this everyone who teaches and assesses the learners need continuous training to stay on the same level and use the same principles. This training, and indeed the entire program, needs a strong support from administration and funds made available from the school. As students reach proficiency the school and community needs to make available residency positions for the learners. In a national perspective we are in dire need of these physicians and practitioners that have chosen to become part of a profession that according to Albanese et al. is facing a serious shortfall.

As I started off, there really is no ideal way of designing curriculum. So much has to be considered: the learner, the teacher, the cognitive levels, the situation, the goals by the individual learner as well as the program, the institution, the community, and the nation. All pieces are interconnected and should be seen as such. It should not be about the individual going through the motions in a program striving for some letters to place in front of their name – it should be about learning, change, understanding, building a better world for those coming after us. Not everyone sees it as such. There are too many students that get passing grades that do not deserve them and I see it is not just the fault of the instructors – it is part of a system failure where goals and outcomes for programs and institutions require instructors to pass even the weak because sometimes the students we get are not the ones with a passion to learn but those that are weak. Here is where I see the competency-based curriculum as dangerous: When there is no whole-hearted system buy-in – When students become numbers of graduates in reports submitted upward to the bigger system rather than really competent graduates leaving a program contributing to our and our children’s shared future.

Feel free to disagree – the comment box is there for this very purpose.

Albanese, M. A., Mejicano, G., Anderson, W. M., & Gruppen, L. (2010). Building a competency-based curriculum: The agony and the ecstasy.
RSA. (n.d.). Opening Minds. Retrieved from http://www.rsaopeningminds.org.uk/about-rsa-openingminds/

Back from AERA 2011

Last week I went to New Orleans for the AERA 2011 conference. I had submitted a paper called “What’s Up with Gender and Math Technology – A Gender Gap Persists at the Higher Education Level” together with my major professor Scott J. Warren, Ph.D. and it got accepted as a poster to my delight. Delight, especially because I submitted it in the summer of 2010 when I was taking my very first course in the ECMP Doc program. I realize in hindsight that this was a very brave move for a novice such as me, but my decision was supported by my professor so I just went with it. In a sense, I submitted it because I was angry and wanted to stop being angry, but that is whole other story to be told the day I graduate from the ECMP program. Continue reading

Insight at SITE

Back from the SITE conference in Nashville, where I was presenting with two peers, I have come to insight on how much I have learned in my first year in the UNT Learning Technologies ECMP Doctoral Program. Thinking back to last year, when I was in the Master’s program, I recall what it was like attending and presented at TxDLA in Continue reading