Showing posts with label PhD Chronicles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PhD Chronicles. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The PhD Chronicles: PhD'ese

Here I am at the half-way mark of the final semester of my first year, almost done with my fifth and sixth course.  Things are going well and I'm enjoying the different challenges the program affords.  This semester's courses offer a bit more practical exploration, though still embedded in theoretical contexts, and I'm finding that a different experience from last semester which focused more on conceptual underpinnings of higher education (though still with practical considerations)  However, this week, I noticed at two different times when it was clear that my learning was kicking in.  

These were curious self-aware moments where as I engaged in dialogue, I began to hear echoes of things discussed in class or recalled things that I had read.  My mind switched into the "what's the 360 degree higher education understanding of this subject?"  I have had these moments before when working on previous degrees but never taken the time to sit with them as I did this time.  


Word cloud of this blog post
These are powerful moments in my learning journey as they represent the absorption and application of the learning that is happening.  The semesters are so intense and often, it can feel like I am rushing to get through the readings, rushing to get through the papers, rushing to just make sure I am in the right class at the right time.  It's a bit of a chaotic whirlwind that is largely marked with grades and credits.  But these moments where I begin to speak the language of my program, PhD'ese, if you will, I realize it's more.  I can feel the paradigms changing and the filters becoming more complex.  And I absolutely love it!  It's these moments that cement me to the educational journey as much as the small progress points or the congratulations I get along the way.  

But these moments are tricky and challenging for me because they sometimes come with an awareness of changes and what assumptions others might make about those changes.  That's fuzzy, I know, but I'll get to explaining it.  

I'm in a PhD program in Higher Education.  Basically, I'm going to be a doctor of higher education, which can sound a bit meta but also for many, they see this as having one of two career paths:  Become a scholar who produces knowledge about higher education or become a practitioner in the form of a...GASP...an administrator.  For those not in higher education, "administrators" have a dubious reputation and are largely cast as one of the big ticket items as to "what's wrong with higher education!"    They are often represented as the enemy by faculty and staff.  To move into administration is to move into the "dark side."  (No lie, that term has been used in reference to moving into administration so often in the places that I've worked, that one needs only say that someone is going over to the "dark side" and everyone knows that means administration).  

I get the question regularly, "what are you going to do with that degree?" and the real question they are asking is, "are you going to become an administrator?"  I cringe at this question.  I do.  I strongly identify with faculty.  I have taught over 100 college classes, I have been teaching for 10 years and for me, the classroom experience between students and faculty is sacred.  But this question asks me to declare my trajectory.  The tension under the question often seems to suggest what they are REALLY asking is, "can I trust you or not?"  Some may suggest this is my imagination but unfortunately, it's hard not to see the vitriol geared toward administration (and I'm not claiming this is unjustified--administrators can often be aloof, insincere, disconnected, and problem-inducing) and assume that this will be directed towards me.  Maybe not at first, but by answering that question in the affirmative, I can anticipate a slow parting of the ways and that kills me.

It hits me so hard because I believe in so much, have such respect for, and much understanding of the faculty.  The idea of a wall slowly forming between me and them seems strange given how much I work with them day to day and in general believe so much in faculty-support.  The second reason is that it's these exact relationships that I need and want so that I can be a more effective and responsible administrator, if I choose to go that route (notice, I'm still not committing within this post).  By identifying my trajectory, it means losing some of the honesty and transparency that I currently enjoy and am able to do my work successfully.  It also kills me because many of these faculty are friends and I've grown to appreciate so much over the years, that on a personal level, I hate the idea of not being able to have those same relationships and interactions in the future.  

So what does this seemingly tangent have to do with my realization that I am occasionally slipping into PhD'ese?  Well, one situation had to do with two colleagues who are faculty members.  We were discussing an incident that Faculty Member A had encountered, one that included several different facets of the college.  There was one particular action that seemed to feel problematic for all of us involved.  We began to slip into sensemaking, defaulting to the old chestnut that is blaming these two administrators for being out of touch or disconnected from the real issues.  However, it's at this point that a few other thoughts that came into my mind that I began to share.  As I shared them though, I became aware that, were it not these two faculty members whom I've been friends with and interacted with outside the office for years now, that it would have sounded like I was defending the administrators' decisions.  

Defending wasn't necessarily my goal but merely to understand in what contexts they may have performed their actions and there were a few that came through.  The ideas that came through were the product of my training and learning in my program, and yet, the concern that I might come across as "defending" the administration was also generated by being in the program.  But as I shared my thoughts I could only hear the back of my mind, what might go through other people's minds when I share my learning,  "Oh, he's going to become an administrator...and he's already on his way, defending their actions."

And that's where I get a bit scared about PhD'ese, even though I enjoy these moments.  Learning at a fundamental level is change.  And the learning at the PhD level is significant change.  I want that change and I appreciate that change.  I'm a life-longer learner; it's par for the course.  But It's moments like these that I worry about those changes which may distance me from the people who I work hard to support and feel so much a part of.  

This post was meant to be a reflection on the changes I feel happening as I go through my program and I suppose it is still that, but I guess it wasn't the reflection I was thinking it would be.  I'm still glad to have written and shared it as I feel like it helped me to get something out that had been needling at me since starting the program.  So thanks for reading!


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
  14. Dissertation Journal #2
  15. So Starts The Third Semester
  16. My Educational Philosophy...for now
  17. Dissertation Journal #3

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

The PhD Chronicles: Dissertation Journal #3

So it's been longer than I wanted in terms of blogging about my dissertation thoughts but that's not because of an absence of thoughts but an absence of time to put them down on paper (or blog, I guess).  

In January, I was struck by a more specific idea about a potential dissertation topic after attending and presenting at a NERCOMP Event on OER.  It's been on my mind a lot and though there's a lot more I need to do with it, I figured I would take the time here to flesh it out so that I can discuss it further with some of my advisors and cohort members--as well as you, dear readers.
Word cloud in the form of a lightbulb.
Original image from here.


Development of Open Initiatives and Their Impact on Pedagogical Approaches

At this workshop, we were discussing how the open education resources (OER) movement has been expanding and shifting language from OER to openness initiatives.  This is in part because there is a good discussion about it being more than just about resources but really thinking about what knowledge and learning can mean in an open environment.  So with this comes the idea of "open pedagogy" and thinking about how teaching and learning can change when thinking differently about the tools of learning and the premise of openness (equitable and ease of access to, use of, and sharing of knowledge).  

Therefore, the area that I am circling is to look at the influence of how open initiatives at colleges shape and influence how the instructor approaches their class in terms of asset and deficit based approaches to teaching and learning with OER. (And yes, I'm about to break down that I'm talking about here!).

More specifically, I want to look at the relationship between asset-based and deficit-based views of faculty and the framing of open initiatives at Massachusetts community colleges to better understand what features may more increasingly influence and empower faculty to either move beyond deficit-based views of their students or understand if the framing of open initiatives inhibit asset-based views of their students.

So let's work our way through the questions:


What does this contribute to?

This project would contribute to several different areas. It would contribute to the open education movement, faculty development, and teaching and learning.  In terms of open education, it might help identify the challenges and considerations in developing open initiatives and how to frame such initiatives.  Currently, I see a lot of concerns about students "lacking" (that is, a deficit view) that drive the open movement.  This concerns me because it frames the student immediately as insufficient.  Exploring if this framing impacts the classroom could help to change the narrative and the practical uses of open content and practices in the classroom.  In terms of faculty development, this project might highlight the importance in the frame of students to faculty (and vice versa) that perpetuate deficit-views and therefore, negate the abilities and intelligences that students can bring to a learning environment.   


What's the problem to study?

The problem I want to look at is if the framing of open initiatives perpetuate some of the same problems that other types of learning materials and methods perpetuate which is the banking-method of education where students are empty containers to be filled (the working of Paulo Freire to be specific).  In such instances, open initiatives that frame the student as unable or helpless to access course materials because of costs, potentially perpetuate students as incapable not only of absorbing the text, but getting a hold of it.  I fear that this may unintentionally nudge faculty to become further incensed with students because now they "have no excuse" but still are consuming the course materials.  


What's the thing that needs solving?

The problem to solve is whether this actually is happening or to what degree that it is and how different framings of openness initiatives may impact the asset/deficit frames of the instructor towards the students.  Does it improve asset-based views or perpetuate deficit-based views (or to what degrees and ways does it do both)?


What does this subject/topic mean to me?

I am a strong advocate of the democratization of knowledge and learning and the empowerment of the students.  We're great at cheering on the students that meet our expectations of "good students" but fail to recognize or work with students who don't meet our views of what good students should be.  I believe that engaging with open initiatives has the potential to empower students and unlock different ways to learning and communicating about their learning, but that means rethinking methods and approaches to teaching and learning long held and perpetuated in our education systems.  I want to make sure that in moving forward with and supporting open initiatives, I am aiding in empowering student learning.  


Other Aspects

This semester, I am doing a pilot of this project with one community college for my Qualitative Analysis course.  If it goes well, I feel like this will be a good pilot to then move into a larger study for my dissertation.  Right now, I'm learning towards qualitative as I feel like that will give me the opportunity to dig deep into conversations and resources to consider how these different practices are framed and impact people.  

So that's what I got thus far...what do you think?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What's Out There to Transform College Teaching

Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What's Out There to Transform College Teaching Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What's Out There to Transform College Teaching by John D. Shank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, this book is a good introduction into the world of open educational resources and their implementation. it focuses on interactive open educational resources, which are free materials the require a bit more engagement from students. It's definitely a book geared towards instructors or instructional designers that have yet to really engage with OER as there are many sections that those familiar with OER will likely skim over. But where it's most useful is the guidelines, instructions, implementation and evaluation considerations it walks readers through to actually using iOER. It also has an abundance of resources that the readers will benefit from. It's definitely for the neophyte but even the seasoned OER person will find some good uses by looking through it.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses

Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses by Lawrence C. Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ross delves deep into the racial politics on campus at a time when many different campuses are coming up against a generation of students who are calling out institutional racism with the resources to capture them and generate national conversations. Ross captures some of the complicated histories that many institutions and college campuses must grapple with and negotiate as more diverse populations arrive on campuses and refuse to be ignored or devalued. One of his most interesting discussions is around campus fraternities and the ways in which they directly and indirectly instill silence and isolation for African American students. It's a timely book that can help campus leaders consider how to improve their campuses and become more welcoming to populations that have historically been outright denied or exiled on campus.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Educational Philosophy...for now

As with my Educational Autobiography, I decided to share my Educational Philosophy (at least as it pertains to higher education).  What follows is what I wrote as a response to the idea of what my educational philosophy at this point in time would look like (when distilled down to 4-5 pages).  

Word cloud of educational philosophy in the form of a lightbulb.

Beyond Access: Radically Unlocking Higher Education


My goal as an educator, firmly situated in higher education, is to eliminate artificial barriers and increase avenues of support, meaning-making, and respect towards students so that they can effectively understand, impact, and critique society. In the nearly twenty years as a student, instructor and staff (playing all three roles at once many times), my experience, research, and reflection has shown me that the degree to which an institution embraces aspects of radical access goes hand in hand with how well all students thrive in college, are capable of substantially shaping some aspect of society, all while better understanding themselves and the world they live in.


Radical access moves beyond the traditional (but still important) forms such as racial, socio-economic, ability-oriented, intellectual ability access and focuses on inclusivity, flexibility, transparency, and equity. It isn’t about who we let in but how we court, make room for, clarify our intentions towards, and uphold everyone’s right to be there in meaningful ways. By focusing on these attributes, radical access better ensures the traditional forms of access. In many ways, radical access is not the way many colleges operate. It is not the way that I used to act as an instructor. Yet, as I have worked to enact the practice of radical access, I have transitioned t from sage on the stage to being part of a community, from where the classroom was a place of antagonistic tension to where it is a place of learning intention, and from where intellectual challenges are collaboratively engaged as opposed to hierarchically mandated.



Inclusiveness

To be radically accessible, institutions must be inclusive; they must dissolve the doors and walls between themselves and their communities so that it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. I would go as far as to remove the term “higher” for all its implications of elitism, and reframe higher education as “embedded education;” education as community, not as apart from. Only in this way can an institution be deeply entrenched with the public to actively co-create what it means to improve society for all of its members (Simpson, 2014). In this way, colleges and universities can reimagine what it means to fulfill a public good purpose. I envision an institution where it does not stick out physically and socially from its community, but rather is so ubiquitously interspersed to the point of being almost rendered invisible to the community (akin to pavement, electricity, etc). In such an environment, where anyone at any time can become part of a college, it feel like we would have achieved inclusivity. The difference to me is akin to how one might celebrate and be thankful to friends and family throughout the year as opposed to how we typically celebrate one another’s lives largely on birthdays and other significant holidays (e.g. Christmas). Higher education currently operates like this, engaging with community on special occasions rather than being engaged in multifaceted ways year-round.


Flexibility

Campuses need to embrace flexibility, which means resituating learning to meet students where they are, rather than having the student contort into what is preferred by the system. For instance, the current system arbitrarily determines the terms of engagement regarding acceptance into college, when semesters start, when courses run, what format they are run, where they occur, the frequency of offerings, etc. A good macro-level example of this is the starting times of semesters at most higher education institutions, providing most courses in September and January, and then a fraction of courses at other times. If a student fails or withdraws from a course in mid-October, they may have to wait between three and eleven months before getting another chance to take that course again. That gap happens because many colleges put the needs and wants of the system and its more powerful representatives at the center of decision-making, rather than students. On the micro-level, flexibility can embody the structure of learning activities. Course activities and learning experiences are often predetermined and preassigned. Few instructors are likely to respond and pivot according to the students rather than blame the students for not meeting the instructor’s preconceived notions. It’s the rigidity of these practices that physically and chronologically distances the student from his or her education. It reiterates that the system is the machine and the student is the raw materials; a dualistic relationship that offers superficial choice or flexibility for the students. Over the years, I have worked hard to reinvent my classrooms in ways that emphasize flexibility and choice for the student. I work to to convey a desire for them to succeed and for each student and myself to collaborate to make that happen when the way the course is running doesn’t meet their needs. As an instructional designer, I am often trying to find ways to nudge faculty to see and respond to the innate abilities in their students and to be flexible with them. 


Transparency

Authentic transparency is essential for higher education. Clear, timely, and easy-to-find information should be provided. For instance, institutions often fail to articulate the exact and total costs of individual courses, full-time education, extra-course costs (course texts, necessary equipment, etc), the courses required, the means of achieving success within a given course and in the program as a whole. But transparency also extends to adequate information about how decisions are made throughout an institution and how one can contribute to changing things within the institution if he or she believes it important. Too often, the institution feels like an impregnable system that students (and for that matter faculty and staff) feel subject to rather than a part of—that they either accept things because they get run around or have been told that things aren’t possible. If higher education is meant to empower people, providing the means and tools with which they can begin to practice such things in the college community is a good start. This transparency filters down even into the courses where all course content, expectations, and considerations for a course should be made readily available even before a student registers. It is ridiculous to ask students to spend so much money on their learning with nothing more than a 100-word generic description of the course and no real indication to the learning methods, activities, and intellectual demands that they will be engaged in. Any given course is apt to ask much of a student but that student has no easy or consistent method of understanding what is being asked until the first day—all the while, we require them to divulge piles of data about themselves just in order to be “accepted” and become a student at the institution. As early as a month before a class starts, I am emailing currently enrolled students to provide them with relevant information for the course, potential expectations, and what they might need to know about the course. With faculty, particularly in online classes, I strongly advocate for such transparency around course content and if they need to make changes or make mistakes. 


Equity

Higher education must also constantly revisit equity for all those who are part of the college and even the community. The hierarchy of powers that exist within the classroom between students and faculty remains unbalanced and too often students are stuck in situations where they feel unable to challenge their instructors, compromise their values and education, and decide if problems they encounter are worth the hassle of getting them resolved. Whether courses and instructors fall short or overstretch, the student often believes that his or her voice or ability to change the outcomes is beyond them. This powerlessness is trained into the students throughout their entire education as their movement is entirely subservient throughout the educational experience: they ask for admission, they must wait to be told what is available (admission, financial aid, courses offered) and when they can sign up for courses, they must sign innumerable forms and agreements about their conduct, health, behavior, and commitment, they must apply for their graduation—their institutional interactions all speak to them as the supplicant and the institute as the master in a ceaseless game of Mother-May-I. Equity goes beyond students and affects faculty and the different faculty at an institution. The rights, access to resources, and stability of a part-time faculty member or a graduate assistant pale in comparison to the tenured or tenure-track professors; and it is often the latter who are centrally involved in decision-making while the others are intentionally or de facto left out. If an institution is to become learning-centered, it would mean reexamining the power differences among the different types of faculty (as well as staff and administration for that matter). I do as much as possible to level the playing field within a classroom by empowering students to choose the materials that work with their learning preferences and personal interests while also providing assignment choices that let them approach learning as a more demonstrative experience rather than a solely evaluative process. For nearly a decade, I helped to run a professional development program for part-time faculty members in large part because it felt like a valuable way of empowering and helping part-time faculty better claim space and power within the institution. In both the classroom and my work with part-time faculty, I always find it important to recognize the value and dedication so many of them bring day-to-day into the institution, despite the ways in which they are unfairly treated. Even as an instructional designer, I often seem myself as a force to better create equity between students and faculty in an online class, where the concentration of power can be even more extreme.

If higher education proves inclusive, flexible, transparent, and equitable enough, there is the possibility to holistically engage students with intellectual challenges and education that is transformative. Without constantly working towards inclusivity, flexibility, transparency, and equity, higher education offers little more than lip service to the kind of learning that Friere, Simpson and others offer. I believe that these elements maximally reduce unnecessary hurdles to learning for the students to allow them to focus their energy and intellectual capacities on the deeper and more powerful learning that can happen within higher education; learning that transforms the people, the institute, and the community. This is the radical access I believe in.


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  • Thompson, C. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing our minds for the better. Penguin.
  • Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don't students like school: A cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Zakaria, F. (2015). In defense of a liberal education. WW Norton & Company.


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[1] I have included but not cited these texts as a bibliography as I see them as a part of me and shaping my thinking over the years.  I was challenged to do so since in some ways, these books represent my own challenge with “banking education” wherein accumulation is the goal.  Yet, books can often be dialogic in that they offer ideas that change with each viewing.  In that vein, they are much like Heraclitus’s river, in that one can never step into the same river twice and therefore, the books are less static knowledge than dialogue that happens in different contexts.  

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.

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