The PhD Chronicles: So Starts The Third Semester

So here I am, the start of my 3rd semester as a PhD program.  I've got 4 courses under me and feel like I am pretty sure I know what I'm doing and feeling pretty confident I will complete this thing (albeit, eventually).  I had my bouts of doubt last semester as I grappled with feeling inundate with a great mixture of emotions (for a reminder, check out posts 8, 9, and 10 in this series!).  


Word cloud for this blog post.
While in some ways I feel psyched for this semester, I am still getting my bearings because January has been a crazy month.  I've been working through a cold for nearly four weeks now and it finally seems like it's on its way out, but it's left me not nearly as active (both physically and mentally) as I would have liked.  Additionally, the policy for educational leave was changed at work and that left me scrambling to deal with less time to do course work and just life in general.  I feel I can tackle the semester, but I'm also leery of the changes between this semester and last.

But as I look at the challenge ahead, there are some advantages present that I believe will carry me through.  The first is that this is the first semester where we have a professor whom we have had before.  There is comfort in knowing the style, approach and dynamics with a given professor as it helps planning and strategizing throughout the semester.  Additionally, the two courses, Policy in Higher Education and Organizational Structure in Higher Education have some clear overlaps, so I think there will be strong opportunities for synergy, whereas in the previous courses, they started in very different places, though often overlapped by the end of the course.  


A bittersweetness pervaded the return today.  This semester, we are three short of what we started with in the fall.  The cohort which started at 12, went up to 13 in the fall and is now 10 at the start of this semester.  Added to that, one of us couldn't be there today.  The absence was felt.  The loss of two members hit all of us in different ways, but for me, it was interesting how much smaller we felt as a cohort now with the nine of us there.  Beyond that, the loss of the two members who were such great people in terms of their contributions to the cohort was sad.  I know they made the right choices for them, but I certainly feel their absence.  In their absence, there seems for some a sigh of relief and a reaffirmation from the rest of us to be committed to this until the end.


Want to catch up on my previous reflections about being in a PhD program?  Check them out:

  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. Dissertation Journal #1



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The PhD Chronicles: Dissertation Journal #2

So in the last blog post, I merely stated my ideas but in this post, I want to drill down a bit further with them and see where that lands me.  My advisor has given me a handful of questions that I think will be useful for me to articulate what it is I'm trying to get at.  As I start to pinpoint different ideas to consider, I feel like this will help me refine my ideas and translate them into something more coherent.

Accessing the Digital University

What does this subject/topic mean to me?

I think about the span of my higher education experience (19 out of the last 20 years, I have been in higher education as a student, faculty, or staff--sometimes all 3 at once) and I think about the increasing digitalization of higher education.  I came into higher education just as computers were becoming ubiquitous, colleges were using websites, and libraries were using databases but they were still overwhelmingly analog spaces.  Over the years, I watched as classrooms gained whiteboards and projectors, as email became a space of dialogue between instructors and students, where learning management systems became a home, not just to online courses (initially, largely textual) but also to face-to-face courses.  I've seen the student management systems become robust (though still flakey) enough to be able to do many different things that it significantly reduces the trips and time one had to waste in lines in years past.  None of this even touches upon how social media, tablets, and smartphones have changed colleges and universities.  

All of this is to say that there has been many changes to how students, faculty, and staff engage with an institution and many of those entail a digital interface of one means or another.  A college is not longer just a physical space (if it ever was) but a digital one and that is fascinating to me on all three levels (student, instructor, staff) and how that changes (or doesn't) experiences and meanings of college.  


What's the problem to study?

While digital has many different opportunities to positively change and influence the access to, experience in, and success at college for all players, the move to digital is not without its challenges and problems on many different fronts.  The digitalization of processes, information, and communication means that accessing services and resources requires digital access.  Those with the best access are likely to make out better than those with limited access.  More importantly, it also requires different skillsets--technical skills on top of the other skills needed to manuever through a complex environment.  


A drawing of a computer with the screen reading, "Access Denied; #SorryNotSorry"

Higher education already demands various cultural and social capital (to speak nothing of financial capital) to access and succeed.  To this, we are adding techno-capital (or rather, adding the requirement for more techno-captial as it can be argued there has been a techno-capital requirement prior to the last twenty years).  Techno-capital is the ability to both access and manipulate technology.  This becomes a problem because just like social and cultural capital are not spread out equal, techno-capital isn't either.  Those with social and cultural cpaital are already likely to have or to easily acquire digital capital. 

It also seems clear that at the K-12 level, techno-capital isn't distributed equally with some schools having a plethora of technology including a one-to-one programs while others have little-to-none technology in the students' daily lives.  A digital presence is likely to help build a student's techno-capital, making them more capable in knowing how to use technology and possibly even more knowledgeable about how to access it (e.g. they may encounter more tech-hacks when technology is present such as being aware of a rental program for tablets if they forget their tablet at home could translate into knowing such services exist on an as-need basis).  Thus, often, students lacking equitable social and cultural capital (of the the kind that is valued in higher education), are potentially furthered disadvantaged as colleges become increasingly digital and it decreases a student's chance at success.


What's the thing that needs solving?

Ultimately, as colleges continue to digitalize their processes, they increase the need for techno-capital by all members.  While those already part of a college environment (e.g. faculty), may be able to push back (e.g. refuse to use the learning management system beyond the bare minimum) or at least get training on the job for catching up with the new digital processes, the students desiring to become part of or just recently joined with the instution are left to fend for themselves.  So how do we undo the harm and limitations put upon students lacking techno-capital through the digitalization of higher education.  


What am I addressing?

Great question.  When I look at what I've written thus far, it would seem that I'm thinking mainly about access to higher education and techno-capital's role within it as the institution becomes increasingly digital, does it replicate so many of the issues of access that we have seen in the past in higher education.  That is, are we just reshuffling the board rather than improving access to higher education?
  

What does this contribute to?

Embedded in so many college missions is that idea of access or a similar social justice mission that looks to create a more equitable space.  Higher education masturbatorily speaks of itself as a meritocracy but stacks the deck regularly and the digitalization of higher education, whether knowingly or not, contributes to a further disenfranchisement of access and support for students whose circumstances, rather their abilities preclude them from being made members of a college community.     
    
I've found this quite useful so you can expect more them laid out like this.  So in the next post, I'll tackle the idea of techno-capital and its role within learning in the same fashion.  


Want to catch up on my previous reflections about being in a PhD program?  Check them out:
  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. The PhD Chronicles #26: Dissertation Journal #1



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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: Reframing Academic Leadership

Reframing Academic Leadership Reframing Academic Leadership by Lee G. Bolman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bolman's work does a good job of highlighting the many different challenges to leading in higher education with accessible prose and good examples or anecdotes to illustrate his points. He succeeds that problematizing the role of leadership in higher education and the many different ways there are to fail. What is provided is not a fool-proof guide, but a general map that shows readers where they are likely to fail and how best to recover. Additionally, a strong value that Bolman addresses that many other texts leave out is how to lead upward. Many texts focus solely on leadership from the top of the hierarchy but he spends a reasonable amount of time, guiding people moving upward.

View all my reviews



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Reality & Continuity, Or Why 9/11 Reveals Some Insights About Live-Action Superheroes

The following is an except of a blog post, I wrote for Jeremy Flagg's blog in celebration of his upcoming superhero novel, Nighthawks.


Word cloud of this post in the form of a person reading a book.
Superheroes aren’t real. (Gasp, I think one may have just died because I said that). They aren’t, but the rise of realism in comic storytelling that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, means that readers demand realistic elements to the storytelling. Even though our capes are walking deus-ex-machinas, we prefer the veneer that all things are genuine struggles for them. But surprisingly, superheroes do have limits. They are not perfect. Because for all that the superheores can do in their fictional realms, they cannot leap from the page and be a part of this world. However, they can appear increasingly life-like through good and sustained storytelling.


A good measure to think about superheroes is to consider how they operate in response to the world around us? How do they deal with real tragedies such as 9/11 and other tragic events wherein they are specifically designed to protect us from? Herein, I will explore how both DC and Marvel have grappled with that idea and the implications it has had for their cinematic and television universes.


I turn to Peter Coogan and his seminal book on the superhero as a genre (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/222322.Superhero) to highlight the power of the genre over others and how it may operate or deal with the real world.


“Real events from the past are worked in…Likely it will become more prominent as creators are freed from the burden of timeless continuity and are able to present stories that deal with the passage of time in more flexible ways….The superhero has a unique signifying function. It can be used to express ideas that other genres cannot portray as well. Superheroes embody a vision of the use of power unique to America.


Superheroes enforce their own visions of right and wrong on others, and they possess overwhelming power, especially in relation to ordinary crooks. They can project power without danger to themselves, and they can effortlessly solve problems that ordinary authorities cannot handle. This vision of power fits quite well with the position America finds itself in after the Cold War. America is the only superpower in the world, something like Superman in the days before other superheroes and supervillains.”

For the rest, visit Jeremy's blog and check out some of his other great content!



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CFP: 1st Call: Teaching Popular Culture

So as some of you know, I am the Chair for the Teaching Popular Culture area for the Northeast Popular Culture Association (NEPCA).  As someone who teaches a course, specifically on popular culture, I am always interested in seeing and hearing what others are doing.  

I also tend to look at the Teaching Popular Culture area as a bit different than the other areas which are research focused.  I see this area more along the lines of providing some professional development, feedback, and reflection around how we employ popular culture in the classroom.  I feel like this is an often under-attended element of popular culture studies: how we meaningfully engage with it with our students.  

Therefore, I'm quite interested in hearing from people and encourage anyone who may teach a popular culture focused course or use popular culture in interesting and useful ways to put in a proposal.  Here are a few of the formats that I'm interested in seeing and/or participating in.  If you have questions or thoughts around these, please don't hesitate to contact me:  lance.eaton@gmail.com.  

Round-Table of Popular Culture and Teaching

Those who teach a popular-culture-focused course (specifically about popular culture or thematically structured around popular culture) can discuss some of the challenges, benefits, and experiences in teaching such a course.  I imagine this format entailing a list of questions that the participants can go through followed up with questions by attendees.  I would also think we could capture the comments and produce some kind of interesting resource for the NEPCA website.  


Panel on Teaching

If you and other faculty teach a similar topic, area of popular culture, or have different strategies and approaches that you want to illustrate, a proposed full panel about teaching on popular culture is of great interest.  

Panel on Teaching Popular Culture Online

I'll throw my hat into the ring with this one.  I'm really interested in working with and presenting with other faculty who have or regularly teach popular culture (or focus in some ways on popular culture) in an online environment.  I think there is a lot to discuss and explore with regards to this topic and would encourage anyone else in this vein to reach out to me.  

Individual Presentations on Strategies, Approaches, Resources

Honestly, if you've got something related to teaching and popular culture, please submit a proposal.  Every year that I've done this, we get some really fantastic presentations on a range of great topics relating to teaching and popular culture.  If you're stuck on the fence or need someone to brainstorm and flesh out your proposal a bit more, feel free to reach out to me and we'll see what we can come up with.  


First Call NEPCA 2017


Blog post in a word cloud in the form of an appleThe Northeast Popular/American Culture Association (NEPCA) announces its first call for paper proposals for its annual conference. The 2017 conference will be held on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst the weekend of October 27-28, 2017.    

NEPCA is soliciting proposals dealing with all aspects of popular culture and American culture, broadly construed. NEPCA welcomes both individual papers and complete panels. We also encourage works in progress, and informal presentations. The only restrictions on presentations are that:

The proposal should be rooted in research. We do not automatically exclude original poetry, composed works of fiction, or musical/dance/storytelling performance, but such works must be connected to greater theoretical and research frameworks.
NEPCA generally avoids proposals whose intent is overtly commercial.
Proposals should appeal to a broad audience.


NEPCA conferences welcome graduate students, junior faculty, independent researchers, and senior faculty as equals. NEPCA prides itself on offering intimate and nurturing sessions in which new ideas and works-in-progress can be aired, as well as completed projects. NEPCA is dedicated to expanding intellectual horizons, open engagement, and constructive criticism. 

Papers are generally 15-20 minutes in length. NEPCA discourages (but does not forbid) verbatim reading of papers and strongly encourages creative delivery of papers. 

This fall it will also feature shorter presentations in pecha kucha style in which presenters show a total of 20 slides–one every 20 seconds (total presentation time: less than 7 minutes). The idea behind pecha kucha is for scholars to present material quickly so that discussion and new ideas can ensue. It is an ideal form for research in progress! 

The deadline for applications is June 1, 2017. The Program Chair for 2017 is Professor Marty Norden of the UMass Communications Department but, for tracking and logistical purposes, proposals must be submitted to an online Google Form that can be found on NEPCA's Website: https://nepca.blog/2017-conference/ This pages also includes a link to area chairs who can assist in any questions you have about your proposal. 



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The PhD Chronicles: Dissertation Journal #1

Word cloud of this post in the form of Rodin's Thinker.
Welcome to my new series within the PhD Chronicle series.  Herein, I will writing reflections and thoughts about where I am currently with thinking about my dissertation. I'm 30 courses in and if I haven't already, I should really start thinking about what I'm doing for my dissertation.  To be honest, I have been thinking about it, but this semester, my goal is to actively journal about it in the insuring months to see if I can find a strong focus and direction that I want to commit to.  In the next year, we will be writing our qualifying paper proposal (QPP) and qualifying paper (QP), which we will need to submit to move forward int he program.  Ideally, your QPP, QP, and dissertation proposal (DP) all align and I hope by working through these entries I can maintain that direct line of thinking.  

So let's start with some of my initial thoughts and consideration about what I want to focus on with my dissertation are.  


What is the current direction for my research interests/potential dissertation? I find myself coming back to a two areas of interest for my research.  These topics all relate in some way or another so if you see some thread that connects them all--by all means, share away!



Digital Access


As a college becomes more digital than brick, how does the institute respond to the question of access for students?  A century of writing and lore has focused entirely on how students prepare for physical institutions but how do they prepare and universities prepare them for digital institutions?  Institutions have digitized a variety of systems and processes from requests for information to applications to submission of and receiving of financial aid to student information systems to course materials and assignment submissions to digital portfolios and much more.  How does the move to digital create challenges or problems for student populations that may already encounter limitations or challenges in accessing higher education.  While students may increasingly have access to the digital world, how does techno-capital (not just access but ability) contribute to students' success in college?

Key terms:  techno-capital, academic capitalism, access, digital university, 



Digital Public Good


How do universities use the level of scale afforded by the digital world in order to more systematically engage in, quantify, and illustrate their essential role as contributors to the common good?  Higher education often fails to quantify their individual and collective contributions to society and particularly for public higher education, this reinforces the idea that higher education is a personal good, not a public good.  To that end, I am interested in looking at ways in which higher educations are using the digital environment to better capture and quantify the impact of their work.  Several topics come to mind with this particular topic including the exploration of open educational resources, open data and research, and also digital service learning.  With each, it becomes easy to see track and extrapolate the impact that higher education has on society at large and thus to be able to argue the value and importance of supporting higher education.   

Key terms:  public good, open educational resources, OER, open research, open data, digital commons, digital service learning, academic capitalism, techno-capital 


So that's where I'm at right now.  In the next post, I'm going to try an exercise to break them down further and see if that leads me in any interesting directions.

With these entries, I strongly encourage and hope that readers will chime in with thoughts, ideas, sources, or interesting questions to consider.  I am grateful for any and all help you're willing to give!
  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester



Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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Review: Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a cliche to say that everyone should read a book. But I do feel like I'm coming to the game late in reading this book as an educator. I've always heard of hooks and her work with teaching and intersectionality but did not take the time to read her work. I'm quite glad that has changed and Teaching to Transgress is a great book that makes me think so much about my presence, my position, and my interaction in the classroom. Essentially, hooks gets the reader thinking about the nuance of student/faculty relations especially as it is constructed through social constructs such as race and gender. Some of the essays in this collection on face value seem removed from thinking about teaching, but in hindsight, it all fits together as hooks brings together her work as a writer, scholar, and educator along with her experiences as a student, an African-American, and a woman.


View all my reviews



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My Educational Autobiography

In my recent course on teaching and learning in my program, we were asked to write an educational autobiography.  I have done such activities previously and always found them insightful to who I am at the moment and as a means of seeing what differences influence me each time I re-write it.  I also realized, it might not be a bad idea to share my educational autobiography for those of you who are interested in learning a bit more about my learning experiences.  


Word cloud of this educational autobiography in the form of a lightbulb.



Learning As Living


I couldn’t excel in the emotionally and socially-alienating structure of high school even though I was intelligent; it was a toxic environment that led to depression, self-harm (bulimia and cutting), and suicide attempts.  Upon entering higher education in 1997, I sighed with great relief.  In college, I found a home to which I would spend all but one of the last nineteen years as a student, an educator, and a staff member; sometimes, all three at once.

My father encouraged my intellectual curiosity, insisting on being a life-long learner and that the longer one lived, the less one knew.  As the stay-at-home-parent in my middle class, suburban, white family, he reiterated these messages often.  I like to think there was something innate about me that drove me to be a learner but my upbringing, coupled with the privileges afforded it, strong encouragement from mentors all along the way, and being the younger brother of an athlete (leaving me have to find my own area where I excelled), tells me that my circumstances strongly guided my desire to be involved in academia and to pursue what might be considered excessive education (a bachelor and associate’s degree, three master’s degrees, and a doctorate).

However, four other realms strongly intertwine with my educational development:  libraries, the internet, books, and writing. They all overlap and weave into one another; it’s hard to fully untie them.  Living within walking distance meant I regularly visited the library throughout middle and high school, just to explore and learn new things.  Not only would the library introduce me to some of my favorite authors and books over the years, but they would introduce me to audiobooks, a form of reading and learning that has fundamentally changed my life.  Around this same time, I gained access to the Internet and like the library, this allowed me ample opportunity to explore the pockets of knowledge and even teach myself new things (such as website design).  As a respite from high school alienation, I also took to writing fiction and creating my own worlds.  Eventually, I would complete a several-hundred-page novel by the end of my junior year of high school (after re-writing it several times in freshman and sophomore years).  These accomplishments and pursuits stimulated my intellectual curiosity and confidence so that upon entering college, I was already primed in some fundamental ways for succeeding (self-determination, research exploration, dedication to long-term goals, willingness to learn for learning’s sake).   

            I went to the local state college, though I had been accepted elsewhere.  I intended to be a high school history teacher (something that changed upon entering college and realizing, returning to high school seemed a bad choice) and saw no point in accumulating unnecessary debt; I also formed the belief that learning differences between institutions was minimum.  I advocated my way into the Honors Program being on the edge of qualified and here is where things came together with a strong socially, emotionally, and intellectually supportive environment among the faculty and students that made my experience quite powerful.  Between mentors in the Honors Program and in my department, I soon realized by my sophomore year that more degrees would follow, a master’s degree for sure, but now the specter of a doctoral degree was formulating. 

Over the twelve years of learning in higher education, I’ve realized some important aspects about my learning. I learn best when I have the flexibility to take the learning in the direction that I feel is important but that flexibility is tempered by guidance and high expectations.  For instance, my final project in my American studies master’s degree allowed me to pursue a fascinating subject (transpeople representation in media contrasted with the history of transpeople), but my advisors kept pushing me to make my writing stronger through additional application of theory and revising.  By contrast, my final project for my instructional design degree felt less useful in that I was able to explore what I wanted (hybrid flexible pedagogy), but received superficial feedback on my work (grammatical edits).  The failure to provide strong critical feedback has always lessened my educational experiences.  I believe I am a reasonably intelligent person and I’m not interested in affirmation of my intelligence (though it can be appreciated), but rather I want feedback on how to make it better or insight into what I have missed. 

As a student, I become quite frustrated and devalued when artificial barriers are put in the way of my learning (something strongly influenced by my roles as an instructor and instructional designer).  When I struggle with my education, I want it to be on the concepts and ideas of the learning, not with peripherals.  Therefore, if the instructor is using tools, they need to make sure the tool and their use of it are as seamless as possible.  Too often, I have grown frustrated with an instructor throwing 20-30 readings into a single folder in Blackboard with no consistent naming convention.  The result is a few hours, downloading, renaming, and organizing the readings in a manner that allows for me to actually know what it is I have to read.  Such hurdles distract unnecessarily from my learning rather than enhance it. 

I thrive as a learner when I begin making connections within the discipline or area of study and how it operates and its overlay.  More importantly, I feel like I’m succeeding when I begin to create new connections, hypotheses, and knowledge within that area.  In my undergraduate program, as I began to consider what to explore for my Honor’s thesis, I found myself being able to interconnect my learning in several different courses (Russian history, Gender in Latin American History, Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, and Contemporary European History) to understand a historical anomaly about the Russian witch-hunt and be able to explain it, through research.  Being able to speak to something that no one had covered or explored showed me that I had been successful in my pursuit of a history degree.

This reflection would be remised if I did not also consider the informal learning that has played an essential role in my educational autobiography.  As mentioned the library, books, and the internet continue to be my sidekicks to learning, always present and used to further explore what I’m interested in and also to explore other subjects and cross-pollinate different subjects to look for ideas or different frames.  Then, of course, there is the ways in which being an instructor and instructional designer has helped me to understand my own learning and also helped me to learn that same material to which I was teaching.  That is, teaching has showed me there are entirely other ways of learning material and that it becomes one more learning tool. 


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In so many ways, this autobiography is insufficient to a degree that I feel like each sentence could be its own introductory sentence to a chapter in the book on my education. Everyone may experience trouble with this but my challenge is that I have above average education even for a doctoral student and have thought deeply about all of it over the years.  That’s not to say this exercise isn’t useful or that I still don’t learn from it, but that I still feel constricted by doing the autobiography justice. For decades now, I have seen myself as a voracious and enthusiastic learner.  I’ve come to understand learning as a fundamental aspect of life and that its pursuit is another way of maintaining one of the most powerful traits that I think humans possess, the ability to change and grow.

If you have enjoyed this post and want to learn more about my adventures in my Phd program, check out this series of blog posts.



Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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