Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Groups, cooperatives, collaboratives, swarms...and the ongoing dissertation proposal...

It's been quite a while since I last shared a few thoughts.  I guess time flies even if you aren't having fun 😆. In the past few weeks I've been contemplating the direction of my dissertation proposal.  I am not changing topics (now THAT would be silly, and an unnecessary amount of work), but I am considering the framing of my argument.  The topic (just to refresh your mind) is "Why do we collaborate?" and it's an exploration of the emergent groups that formed in Rhizo14 and rhizo15 to conduct some sort of academic work in order to figure out why we did this (after all, everyone hates group work, right??? 😜) This academic work wasn't part of the original Rhizo-course plan†, so why the heck did we band together to do this type of work?

The question, I should point out (again) wasn't originally mine - I just took an interest in it.  Rebecca H. had originally asked this question of our MobiMOOC team back in 2011/2012 - but we all went (sort of) our separate ways and we just hadn't explored it in depth at the time; and this seemed like a good question for dissertation research (and I found it interesting, so it checked off that internal motivation box), and there were enough people in Rhizos collaborating in groups that made for a viable case study.

Now, one of my stumbling blocks has been terminology. I started off calling what we did (in our various groups) a 'collaboration'.  But, collaboration has certain specific connotations.  Was it really collaboration?  Or did I just see what we did (and what others did, for groups I wasn't part of) as collaboration?  Is a "swarm" different from collaboration? Or is it a specific type of collaboration? It should also be noted that not all work was 'swarmed'.  Part way through this gargantuan proposal I started replacing collaboration with group work, which seems more value neutral than collaboration, this way as part of the research I can see how different people perceived the joint-effort we/they accomplished as somewhere on the 'working together' spectrum.    Is there a word that is value neutral (or mostly value neutral) that rolls off the tongue that means "3 or more people working together on a common goal"?

But I still have a little trouble with the term "group work".  For me it harkens back to school days where teachers put us in groups to do something together that wasn't always of interest to the learner, and people were placed in a situation where they had to work together but it was just awkward (my experiences in the rhizo work didn't feel awkward).   Is the term "team work" more appropriate? Is it more value neutral?  A team may be more self forming...maybe...but it also reminds me of the artificial aspects of corporate 'teams' where work gets done (I think), but there really isn't much camaraderie.  In my experience there was camaraderie in the collaborations I was in...at least from my own observations.

That said, this bring me to the next stumbling block. How did I see this thing/action/project/collective that had/have?   Do I address my own views about the collaborations Ive been part of in the introductory chapter to my proposal/dissertation?  Or do I save it for my data collection section (self-interviews and journaling) as some research methods books suggest? Or, is there a good mid-point where I can address potential biases by discussing it a bit (but how much is enough?) and then saving the rest for the data collection portion?

When the researcher is part of the researched it makes things a little muddy.  Things that are 'clear' in my head aren't necessarily things that are transmitted as 'clear' to the eventual audience of my doctoral work. I think part of the problem is that my direct experience really colors my perceptions (as I expected it would), but also that the question "why did we do this?" is intentionally broad. Would it be helpful to narrow it down to a specific aspect of our work together? And, if yes, what specific aspect would be of most interest to this community I am researching (and am a member of)?  Loads of questions...


OK, that's all the reflecting for now.  What do others think?





Marginalia:
† Although, with the mindset of "the community is the curriculum", one could argue that such group work was part of the curriculum.  Cormier! you evil genius! 😈

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Burn those Business Schools (or...maybe don't!)

The other day Paul Prinsloo posted this Guardian article on Facebook, and it seems like a popular article because Shyam Sharma (among others in my online educational social network and PLN posted it). As usual my PLN got me thinking (and, as is evidenced by this blog post, creatively procrastinating and not really working on my dissertation proposal...D'oh! 😜).  This blog post started life as a comment back to Paul, but it got too long, so here it is - migrated to the blog!  I should say that two of my master's degrees are from a business school (B-School hereafter) and my views are framed from an emic and etic perspective (hey, why is my dissertation proposal leaking into my blog? get out! 😏)

From my own personal experience I think that B-Schools are in part complicit with what's going on, they are after part of the business landscape, but I think that they are only one part of the picture.  I am making my way through Ken Bruffee's book on Collaborative Learning, which frames a lot in terms of language, and by language I think a lot of what's encompassed isn't just how you write in specific disciplines but also (and I am not sure Bruffee articulated this) what assumptions, values, and ways of being are articulated by those disciplinary 'languages'.  Bruffee tells us that students enroll in specific programs so that they can gain access to those languages, and by extension gain access into the networks of people that utilize those discourses.

But what's the goal of the learner?  Well, it really depends on each student, but in my own (anecdotal) experience many people gravitated toward the MBA because they were driven by the promise big financial gains. Don't get me wrong. I like a good paycheck (I have bills too!), but if money is the only motivator (or the largest of the motivators if more than one exists), then there is something wrong, and short-sighted. While I do think that B-Schools have a moral obligation to improve society, they also need to teach their students about what's going out there in society. They wouldn't survive long as schools if they ignored that because students would just not come to them.

From my own class experiences, here is an example:  I was in an Introduction to Finance class for my MBA. This was just before the last crash that was brought on by bad housing loans. There were some students that were having the proverbial wet dream about these mortgage derivatives. While the professor did speak against these financial products from his own (extensive) experience in the field we didn't really discuss it a lot in the finance class, and we focused on our texts and what was on the syllabus  for that week.  This was a perfect opportunity to look at current day trends, critically analyze them, and speak for/against them.  Nope, it didn't happen.  I liked the class, respected the prof that voiced his expert opinion.  I think an off-the-cuff remark was something like derivatives are basically like going to Vegas and playing the roulette or something like that.  I see this as a lost opportunity, and lo-and-behold, a few semesters later came the crash. The crash was instigated by blind financiers (blind willfully or negligently) who were focused on just profits.

I agree with the criticism, in the article, of the curriculum (and what that curriculum signals), but the then I'd argue that you can't just 'fix' the curriculum of a B-School and call it a job well done.  Things operate in certain ways outside of the walls of academia. We need to be preparing students to change not just themselves but also those systemic inequalities in the way we conduct business, and how our laws operate in our country; anything and everything from cost of healthcare, cost of going to school, cost of housing, how those things operate, and who's pulling the strings.

We also need to look outside the B-school for solutions to change the legal aspects of how businesses run; this later part is broad because it includes things like taxation, healthcare, education, environmental health and safety, and  so on.  When you have people joining B-Schools because their goal is to make money (and they do that because that's what society signals as a core value, and everyone wants to be part of that 1%) then you aren't going to get a lot of takers to go to B-School that doesn't equip you to do that, at least one that overtly doesn't sell that brand of success.  I am not sure what's happening in the rest of the world, but the US seems very much into the myth of individual exceptionalism, hence this all about "me" and eff everyone else weltsanschauung, is what's implicitly marketed, both by schools and by politicians who want 'practical' degrees, does not really provide fertile ground for a healthy society.

I don't have a solution for this issue, but burning down the B-Schools is definitely not part of a solution that I would advocate for.  Maybe instead of having undergraduate B-Schools we should require people to study philosophy, sociology, art, and history (among other liberal arts) before they can gain access to B-School for graduate studies instead of having people go to B-School right from the undergraduate business degrees.   Maybe those graduate students would need to be connect their undergraduate studies to their business pursuits. Perhaps B-Schools could nurture connections with local, regional, and national organizations to help support the greater welfare of everyone, and not just focus on individual gain.  As another personal example, to finish off this post, while I did find international finance interesting, and the concept of arbitrage fascinating, it's a good idea to question who benefits from these systems, who has access to international markets and the capital necessary to make profits in arbitrage? And do these people who make money out of nothing help support the broader well being of a society? How about we introduce that critical aspect into the curriculum.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Random draw from the comment-box!

I tried to come up with a witty title for this post, but I guess maybe it's didn't work out ;-).  Anyway...yesterday as I was working on my proposal I thought "hey...I haven't seen George Siemens blog recently..." which also made  me wonder when the last time I blogged was. Not as long as George (that's for sure ;-) ) but long enough.  So I thought I'd pull together some random streams that have been whirling around as disconnected strands.

First, one exciting thing that transpired between the last blog post and how is that not one, but two, members of Cohort 6 have completed their EdDs!  Both Lisa (@merryspaniel) and Viviane (@vvladi) successfully defended their work and are one step away from commencement and official conferral of the degree :-).  Lisa's Dissertation is already available at the institutional repository (click here) if you'd like to read it.  For Lisa and Viviane it's a major victory completing their doctoral work, but it's also a small victory for us in the sidelines plugging away on our own work.  It's another positive example that there is light at the end of the tunnel! :-) 

Another exciting thing that happened since the last blog is that one of our RhizoCollaborations earned an award...sort of.  The 2018 GO-GN (Global OER Graduate Network) gave one of our papers an Honorable Mention.
An Honorable Mention is given to Aras Bozkurt for ‘Community Tracking in a cMOOC and Nomadic Learner Behavior Identification on a Connectivist Rhizomatic Learning Network‘, co-authored with Sarah Honeychurch, Autumn Caines, Maha Bali, Apostolos Koutropoulos and Dave Cormier, and published in the Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education (TOJDE).
This was a total surprise because I didn't even know that we were in the running, so the fact that we were even nominated for this was something amazing. When Aras and other co-authors posted and retweeted on twitter I got a rush.  It reminded me of the rush I felt back in 2011 when our MobiMOOC Research Team earned a 'best paper' award at mLearning 2011, which was also unexpected.  I also feel that the recognition is actually amplified by the fact that this was a collaborative effort. While I would have been proud to have my work awarded even if I worked alone on the deliverable, I think the fact that there are other team members to share the glory with makes the nomination even more magnificent.  These individuals have, over the years, and through our collaborations, played a role in my own learning, and I hope that I've contributed to their own growth it in some way.

Finally, there's my own dissertation proposal in the works.  Still plugging away at it! I am behind where I thought I would be, but I am making progress.  I now have a co-supervisor as well.  My initial (main co-) supervisor will be retiring in 16 months, so just in case I am still plugging away at my dissertation by 2019 we're making some succession plans. Although I really, really, want to be done by July 2019 at the latest. As much as I enjoy being in school, I don't enjoy paying program fees ;-).

From the most recent round of comments, my Introductory chapter and Methods chapter needed some tweaking and/or adding to.   I spend during this last week or so working on the first chapter which has now been tweaked. This weekend I needed a breather before I moved on, so I started looking at the Research Ethics Board requirements.  I created an account at AU's REB site, and I started plugging away at the (multiple) tabs that required my project's information.  After a couple of days most tabs are complete.  The REB application isn't ready for submission though.  I'll hold off until my committee thinks that the proposal is defendable, and then I'll make sure that what I've plugged into the REB application matches any subsequent edits to the proposal.   There is still the issue of recruiting my 3rd committee member.

Alright... back to work I got!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Peer Reviewing snowballs!


There must be some cosmic signals that have gone off line the bat-signal indicating that I am 'free' because I am waiting for feedback from my dissertation committee.  How do I know this?  Well, the requests for me to peer review articles has increased!   Not wanting to disappoint, if the article is within my field of "expertise" (whatever that means... the more I learn, the more Socrates whispers at me "the more you know, you know that you know nothing" ;-) )

One thing I don't like doing is outwardly rejecting an article.  I don't just approve articles, but if an article has some merit (even if authors have to do a ton of work to rehab it), I reject but keep the door open for reconsideration.  I have outwardly rejected articles in the past, but I'd estimate that it's only 25% rejection (another 50% needs major revision, and 25% minor revisions).  Despite trying to be a caring reviewer, and honestly striving to give good feedback, there are articles I read that being out my inner Joe Bastianich (known partly for his look of disappointment and disdain on the television show "MasterChef").

Now, I try to not have these "ugh" feelings make it into my feedback, but I do wonder at times. Do others, who do peer review, just get an article and think "Jeez...why did the editor send me this piece of flaming ****?". Luckily I don't get this visceral reaction often, but I do wonder if my reactions are hyperbole, or if others get the same feeling from time to time.

Thoughts?



Saturday, March 17, 2018

Rationale? I don't need no stinkin' Rationale!†

 Alfonso Bedoya in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Dissertation proposal, draft number...I don't know - lost count - has been submitted.  Things look good, well at least in my humble view, so I hope I am ready to defend this proposal within the coming month and become a "candidate" soon‡. With the draft submitted I can now focus on the other pile of academic work that needs attending to, and is more collaborative than my dissertation.

In any case, a recent incident (incident sound too austere...happening? occurrence?) I was reminded, for the umpteenth time that what we, as educational researchers, are expected to have a purpose in our research. What is the rationale for the study? people ask. Why undertake this study?  Who benefits? What is the problem you are trying to solve?

As you can tell from the title of this blog post I hold the position that I don't need no stinkin' rationale.

I could make something up like "by examining population X, subgroup Y, we can infer that the results might be applicable to generation Z" (or something like that).  If pressed, I could be convincing in writing some rationale like that, but it wouldn't necessarily be the truth, hence, in my view, it should not be included in the published literature just to check off a requirement.  I firmly believe that if a researcher finds some occurrence interesting and wants to investigate this curiosity they should be able to do so (within the limits of ethical practice of course), without being weighed down by needing to produce a rationale for the study when they try to get it published.

This is by no means new to me.  I've been hearing various versions of this from established researchers for the past decade. My first exposure was when I was an MA student and we had a guest speaker in class who boldly proclaimed that if your research doesn't specifically address social injustices and under-represented populations your research is basically garbage♠. I basically wrote her off because she clearly didn't seem interested in a discussion about this topic (very odd for someone in that position of authority if you ask me).

In any case, while my other experiences with academics have definitely been less polemic compared to that initial experience, I am still surprised that academics basically act within a prescribed box.  I am not taking about the necessity for validity, reliability, and/or trustworthiness. Those are important in research. What I am talking about is purpose. At the end of the day, if I am satisfying my own personal curiosity as to why an event is happening, is that any less valuable than doing it for the benefit of others from the start?  It is certainly appears to be more altruistic, I'll grant you that, but does value diminish simply because you didn't work on something that was meaningful to others as well, at least at the time of research?

Thoughts?


Marginalia
† In writing this post I learned where "I don't need no stinking..." comes from! (see here). Who would have thought an academic rant would teach me some pop culture?
‡ You know, recently I've felt that doctoral students should have some cool video-game-esque ranks, maybe with some badges to go with them, but I guess that's a thought for another post 😜
♠ Well, OK. No, she didn't say this exactly in those words, but based on what she was touting about her research, and her research agenda, and how it was related to other people's work that was more theoretical in nature, or didn't deal with her populations, it was easy to connect the dots.