5 Tips for Grad Students

I’ve been through grad school twice and both times I stressed out so much during the process, but I felt that it was very much worth it for me. So, I thought I’d write down a few short hacks that could help to get you through.

But, before I get started, I’d be remiss if I first didn’t state that you better KNOW WHY YOU ARE GETTING YOUR DEGREE. Harsh start? Maybe. But, I just don’t think anyone stresses this enough! If you’re going to pay to get a graduate degree, you better know what career you want out of it and you better have researched the salaries associated with that degree and whether or not you really need this new fancy piece of paper in order to thrive in your industry. Student loan debt is a HUGE problem in this nation and I hate seeing people become a part of it without understanding what lies ahead for them. It’s extra frustrating to see this TRILLION DOLLAR issue become such a normal part of being a millennial. Benjamin Keys, a Wharton real estate professor with a specialty in household finance and debt, states that “(millennials) are starting off at a disadvantage relative to previous generations” because of the fact that so many of us hold thousands of dollars in debt.

  1. Speaking of money, get your employer to pay for it. Many companies these days will pay for continued education. Ask your Benefits team if this is something they’d be willing to help you out with. Or, check out some of these companies that seem to have pretty good education benefits. I found that article via a super quick Google search so I’m sure I have not even scratched the surface.
  2. Keep the end goal in mind. Once/if you do decide to take the plunge, whether you’re getting your MA or your doctorate, you’re going to face some grueling times. You will have a lot of school work to finish and if you opt to work while taking on this academic challenge, your life is going to feel like it really sucks for a bit. You’re going to feel overwhelmed by deadlines and your stomach might turn a little thinking of achieving your career goals all the while reading piles of books and academic papers, but visualize that very last day of school and feel your heart warm up a bit knowing that you are making a commitment to bettering yourself.
  3. Get moving. It can be easy to get sucked into a vortex of reading, writing, reading, writing and what have you. Learn to pull yourself out of it and go for a walk, run a mile (or 2, or 5…) and maybe get some weights to use while you’re .doing small tasks around the house. When I was getting my Masters I gained SO much weight because I stopped doing this. I literally weighed myself the day of my final presentation and laughed out loud because the number was so ridiculous to me. But, hey, at least I laughed and chose not to cry?
  4. Go out with friends. Seriously, just do it…you have time. You might be tempted to blow off/politely decline a friend’s invitation to go out for a drink or eat because you’re “so busy” and you “have so much work to do” but don’t. You’ve probably made time for Facebook and Instagram all those times you’ve been stuck in a writer’s block so instead of doing that, get your shit together and just spend some face time with people who love you. It’ll help you, trust.
  5. Make sure you have a good advisor. That person is going to be a huge part of making or breaking your research. If your advisor is someone that barely gives you feedback or skips meeting with you frequently, identify this issue early on and see if you can change to someone else. I had some colleagues with advisors that were never responsive to emails and this almost ruined their academic careers.

So, just a short list to get you started on your wonderful journey of education. What would you add?

“The Student Debt Crisis: Could It Slow the U.S. Economy?.” Knowledge@Wharton. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 22 October, 2018. Web. 18 January, 2019 <http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/student-loan-debt-crisis/>

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Working Together: Creating Effective Online Content with University Faculty

In my years of experience of working with faculty from several universities, I have created several tips and tricks for myself to reflect on to make each relationship I have with faculty successful and, more importantly, to produce courses and media that provide real #outcomes for students. One of the tips I have realized quickly is that in order to successfully create a stellar online course, I need to navigate my relationships with faculty members in a way that allows me to share my expertise in online learning strategically and respects that they are the subject matter experts(they don’t teach you this in school, folks!). I have my MA in Learning Technologies (shoutout: Pepperdine) so I have a lot to say about effective engagement strategies in online learning…most people don’t want to hear that schpeel so I have had to learn to strategize how I share that knowledge in a sneaky way. Part of that came from understanding how to do this was my realization that professors have different values than I do.

One of the fundamentals that drive whether or not someone will complete a task effectively is whether or not they value it. Eccles et al. (2006) explain expectancy-value theory best in two questions: “Can I do the task?” and “Do I want to do the task?.” If an individual answers the first question with a negative answer then they are unlikely to be successful. However, even if they answer yes there is still room for them to say no to the latter. Therefore, there is a delicate balance between both questions that should be identified before asking course designers and professors to complete course development with specific online learning strategies. If each, or even most, answer both questions with a “no” then an organization risks failing at achieving any goals that relate to creating effective content for online learners.

In order to achieve a successful relationship between an organization’s goal and the values that course designers and faculty hold in creating online learning content, a collaborative environment between faculty members and course designers is essential. There is a delicate relationship between both the person designing the course in its online format and the faculty member, a subject matter expert, who will ultimately teach the course.  The relationship is delicate because both the professors and the online learning experts have specialized knowledge that they bring to the course development process, but neither should overburden the other (Brigance 2011). Professors do not want to be managed by course producers, but they typically do welcome being led (Brigance 2011).

All that said, it’s amazing to me how much research focuses on how to create effective online learning and not much of it focuses on how to get people to want to do that.

Have you taken or created an online course lately?

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Influences on faculty in adopting online education

What are the organizational influences that affect how faculty members embrace, or do not embrace,  online tools and student engagement strategies in online learning?

Barker, Hovey and Gruning (2015) conducted a study on sixty-six Computer Science faculty members who were teaching courses in thirty-six postsecondary institutions in the United States.

The researchers’ findings demonstrate that many professors hear about new teaching strategies by participating in initiatives that are funded by the government and corporations or when they are motivated to solve a problem and thus search for new methods of teaching on their own (Barker et al., 2015). For example, if faculty members find that students are bored in their classrooms or if they are not quite grasping the content, professors are more motivated to look for strategies to engage their students. In terms of government and corporate initiatives,  conferences are one popular method that is used to gather instructors in one space to learn innovative methods. More importantly, the researchers state that (in some cases) faculty buy-in is best routinized when granting agencies for pilot projects are institutionalized (Barker et al., 2015).

Research is the main barrier to implementing reform in online education. Indeed, faculty members who engage in learning new strategies for their courses, do so at “their own risk (Barker et al., 2015).” Interestingly, research faculty members are not likely to use findings from educational research as a basis for changing their teaching techniques (Barker et. al., 2015). Rather, they are most influenced by the expectations of their university, its policies, the perceived cost and benefits (both for themselves and for their students) and by role models (Barker et. al., 2015).  Role models refer to any person in a professor’s network that is a respected teacher with proven results (e.g. stellar student evaluations), someone who is a respected researcher in their field or even their own former instructors (Barker et al., 2015). In terms of cost-benefit analyses, Barker et al. (2015) state that faculty either explicitly or implicitly weigh both costs and benefits of using new methods in their courses before implementing them. Some costs might be, for example, related to the amount of time spent on creating knowledge check-in quizzes for students versus spending time on research, which brings money into the school.

According to Barker et al. (2015), there are three stages of adopting teaching strategies. Those stages are awareness, experimentation, and routinization. 

Thoughts, additions? There’s a ton more to add here, but I’m leaving this here as a nugget for now.


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Crowds, Lights and Desire

In a past discussion about social vs. solitary learning, a really great talk by Chris Anderson on TED was brought up. He brings up what he calls, “crowd accelerated innovation” in which he explains three important aspects: crowd, light, and desire. The crowd consists of people sharing a similar interest, light is the open visibility into the subject and, of course, there is the desire to learn and share about the said interest.

So, in our cyber circles the most popular ways of shedding a “light on [an] interest [is] directly through Facebook, Twitter etc…and indirectly through views and links to similar resources.” Through this group sharing of knowledge and building of ideas, it’s clear that social learning environments really foster growth in education. And although there are many learning styles, it is through the collaboration with others that we really internalize new materials and expand upon what we already know.

Watching videos like this really makes me wonder how people can still even doubt online education or say that we cannot learn via online tutorials. This is a broad statement, as there are certainly different challenges within different models of online ed, but I think (with the amount of people that are being born into our world and the amount of innovation that happens because of that/growing technologies) education is just going to expand. I mean, just this afternoon I was googling ladies’ styling for salsa dancers and boom, right at my fingertips, an instructor, a community of learners and the ability to slow down/watch one more time was right at my fingertips.

After all, as Anderson states, “we’re a social species: we spark off each other,” and this leads to great innovations.

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So What is Student Engagement Anyways?

According to the Glossary of Education Reform, student engagement refers to the amount of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught. This, in turn, affects how they are or are not motivated to continue learning and progress in their education. The Glossary of Education Reform (2016) states that the general assumption when talking about student engagement is that when students are more engaged, they are more “inquisitive, interested, or inspired.” In contrast, if students are disengaged they are generally “bored, dispassionate, disaffected.” Therefore, student engagement is a common goal amongst educators.

However, engagement, as also noted by the NSSE, can also refer to the manner in which the school community and other adults “engage” their students in the design of programs, learning communities, social activities, governance, and processes.

The term engagement has become increasingly popular throughout the years, likely because of the amount of new knowledge that has developed in regards to certain “intellectual, emotional, behavioral, physical, and social factors play in the learning process and social development (“Student Engagement,” 2016).” The topic generally arises when educators talk about strategies and teaching styles that address the may influences that affect student learning. And, it is commonly viewed slightly differently across different populations. For example, a researcher might view students’ attendance in class and achievement of good grades as a form of engagement while another might measure engagement by the perceived feelings and emotional state of students (e.g. curiosity, motivation, and interest).

…engagement is more complex than it sounds.

As mentioned above, the Glossary of Education (2016) defines five different types of engagement: emotional, behavioral, cultural, social and physical. 

Emotional engagement refers to how instructors can promote an environment that is positive for students so that they can engage with the learning materials, undistracted by negative behaviors. An example of an instructor leading a class in a manner that focuses on emotional engagement is a professor that asks how students are feeling and assessing whether or not they might need outside sources or services to improve their mental state of being.

Behavioral engagement refers to how teachers use routines to drive learning in their classes. For example, breakout rooms or asking students to run certain activities every week.

Cultural engagement relates to how instructors promote inclusiveness in their classrooms. This can be by manipulating their course content so that it includes bits and pieces from other cultures or even offering translation services. This promotes an environment where foreign students feel welcome and are thus less likely to drop out of a class or program.

Physical engagement in a classroom refers to how an instructor asks students to use different parts of their brain during class by moving around, kinesthetic learning. This could be asking students to stand up and write an answer on a board.

Finally, social engagement (what I think is the most important in online learning) refers to how students engage in a community. Instructors can foster social engagement by having students develop a capstone project at the end of the semester, pairing or grouping students into groups for classwork or being cognizant of a community of inquiry in a program.

Thoughts? What, if anything, would you add to this list?

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Seven Principles of Good Practice – Applied to Online Education

Chickering and Gamson (1987) formulated seven principles of good practice in education as a means of creating a foundation for active learning. I bet you noticed that “1987” and thought, “that’s an old reference.” Well, rest assured that these seven principles have since stayed relevant and even have been revisited. They were originally published in the AAHE Bulletin (Chickering & Gamson,  1987) and are a popular framework for evaluating teaching in traditional, face-to-face courses. Additionally, these seven principles are based on 50 years of higher education research (Chickering & Reisser, 1993). A faculty inventory (Johnson Foundation, “Faculty,” 1989) and an institutional inventory (Johnson Foundation, “Institutional,” 1989) based on these principles have helped faculty members and higher-education institutions examine and improve their teaching practices.

The Seven Principles are:

  1. Good practice encourages contact between students and faculty.
  2. Good practice develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
  3. Good practice uses active learning techniques.
  4. Good practice gives prompt feedback.
  5. Good practice emphasizes time on task.
  6. Good practice communicates high expectations.
  7. Good practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

According to Phillips (2005) these seven principles give educators a good framework for learner-centered teaching and learning guidelines, not only in a face to face classroom but in the online environment as well.

Graham, C., Cagiltay, K., Craner, J., Lim, B., & Duffy, T. M. (2001), a team that identifies themselves as five evaluators from Indiana University’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT), utilize these principles as a means of examining a group of four online courses in what they identify as “a large Midwestern university.” In order to maintain the identity of the unversity confidential, its exact location is not identified. Graham et al. (2001) state that these courses were taught by faculty who also taught in on ground classes. The evaluation was based on analyses of the online, or asynchronous course content, student and instructor forum postings and interviews with the faculty.

These researchers began to identify examples of the seven principles to create a list of what is referred to as “lessons learned” for online teaching. The list is synthesized below and my comments, based on my own experiences and what that the researchers argue, are italicized:

Principle 1: Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact

Lesson for online instruction: Instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students.

Syllabi, contact information, class meeting times, assignment deadlines, rubrics, and expectations should be clear. 

Also, students should know how to get support when they need it. Should they run into technical problems, they need to know that the instructor is not the first point of contact. For example, if there is a 1-800 number or helpdesk@university.edu contact…make sure they know that. 

Principle 2: Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students

Lesson for online instruction: Well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.

This one really resonated with me. I have a professor this year that gathers all of our asynchronous discussion posts into his slides for our weekly live sessions and strives to make meaning out of what we talk about online. I love it…and so do the other students. One, I feel like I’m not wasting my time writing paragraphs in response to what I assume are meant to be “engaging” questions because I know he actually reads them and will run our discussion around them. Two, it shows he’s really invested in our learning. 

Also, grade these suckers. If a grade is not dependent on the amount of time/effort that is spent on async forums then chances are that some students are going to not put as much oomph as you might want into their responses. 

Principle 3: Good Practice Encourages Active Learning

Lesson for online instruction: Students should present course projects.

Love this one too. Even in the online world, presenting course projects is getting easier and easier. What’s that? You want your students to present as a group? You got it. Most, if not all by now, web conferencing software provide a means of sharing screens, conducting discussions and breakouts etc. Also, things like VoiceThread make it fun for students to add video and voiceovers to their group projects. I did this with a few classmates one year and it was great! I even shot my portion of my video with the New York skyline in the background since I was traveling to work #nogreenscreenhere. 

Principle 4: Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback

Lesson for online instruction: Instructors need to provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback.

Responses to students help them to feel acknowledged and that you are actually looking at their work. Graham et al. (2001) state that there are two kinds: informative and acknowledgment feedback. They are pretty self-explanatory….informative=giving a student more info on their topic, assignment grade etc. and acknowledgment is really just a, “hey…I see you.” The latter is more effective when it’s done 1:1 but since professors get so busy, simple wall posts in an LMS are also great. 

Principle 5: Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task

Lesson for online instruction: Online courses need deadlines.

Don’t let people dilly-dally. No deadlines=procrastination. Yes, it’s true that we have full-time jobs and responsibilities, so if someone needs some movement in deadlines, that’s probably fine. But, letting an entire class float around is not optimal. 

Principle 6: Good Practice Communicates High Expectations

Lesson for online instruction: Challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.

Graham et al. (2001) give a couple of examples that I really like and those are: (1) the use of case-based learning and (2) the use of models for assignments. The latter has personally been so useful for me as a student. Whenever a professor can provide me with a sample paper and tell me why it’s, “oh so great,” a little light switch turns on and I feel better about completing my assignment.  The former was actually really presented as an example of using challenging assignments to set high expectations. So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be “case-based,” but I like the implication of setting learning in real-life settings #authenticlearning. 

Graham et al. (2001) also call out the use of public praising when great work is done in class. Did that quiet student in the course submit a freaking awesome paper on why virtual reality is going to take over the education space? Give them cred! 

Principle 7: Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Lesson for online instruction: Allowing students to choose project topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.

I like this one too. In my program, there are school principals, consultants from top firms, VPs from fortune 500 companies etc. etc. That is, we have varied backgrounds! I’m sure this is the case in several other programs out there, so giving students some freedom really opens the door for some real learning to happen. 

What do you think? How do you apply these guidelines, if at all, in your instruction (either online or on the ground)?

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Community of Inquiry in Online Learning

OK, first post. Woo hoo! I’m keeping up this site as a means of tricking myself into writing more content for my dissertation. Writing for a blog without worrying so much about typos and failure at life=much more enjoyable experience. Hopefully, I’ll make these things useful for myself…or maybe I’ll just get more anxiety about how much work I still have to do for torture, I mean…school, and then continue to spiral into thoughts about failing. Oh, God…

Anywho! Communities of Inquiry in online learning, right…yes.

Today I spent a large part of my day reading through Student Engagement in Online Learning: What Works and Why by Katrina A. Meyer. First of all, this piece of work is pretty damn good. I like how comprehensive this monograph is…yet it’s so easy to follow. I feel really dazed sometimes when reading about theories and learning/applying them etc. etc. so this was helpful for me to glue all these pieces together in my head. However, sidenote, I’m pretty sure she’s missing a couple articles in her references page…which worries me, because I’m afraid I’ll do the same thing….

Moving on.

The author has an entire section dedicated to Community of Inquiry and then even offered a proposed update to it (will come back to that in another post). Here’s the original (created by Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000):

Community of Practice
Source: https://coi.athabascau.ca/coi-model/

The model is comprised of three central elements: cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence. The researchers, Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000), first introduced this model as a means of demonstrating the optimal use of online technology to facilitate meaningful learning for students.  It shows that learning should occur as a result of intersecting the three core presences.

Cognitive presence is the most fundamental element in this model. Cognitive presence is most aligned with Dewey’s theory of Constructivism (1910). What’s Constructivism you ask? Well, it’s the assumption that learning happens when we interact with other people (that’s known as social constructivism) or when we are engaged in an exercise or activity within our environment. For me, it’s easy to think about this as building a fort with Legos (i.e. that fort’s not going to build itself…I need to actually put the pieces together, and hey what do you know it’s freakin’ fun). In terms of social constructivism, this reminds me of when I had to build Lego robots in class at Pepperdine in a small group. We had to engage in a task, which none of knew ANYTHING about and figure it out together. That was freakin’ fun too! Plus, I can now build you a robot out of Legos if you really want me to. 

Social presence refers to how a student makes it known that they are real and tangible human earthlings behind their online classrooms. For example, when I think of this, I don’t think discussion board posts about weekly readings or things like that. Instead, social presence is really more indicated by things like videos that people post of themselves (informally) in an online course. While Meyer says, in this monograph, that social presence isn’t seen as all that important by some researchers I strongly disagree. Imagine being in a classroom with a bag over your head…you can’t identify with other students, you’re not really sure if your professor is looking at you…and, it smells like groceries. That’s what I imagine a lack of social presence feels like…sad.

Finally, my favorite part, teaching presence! Meyers offers us a couple concepts to focus on when thinking about teaching and those are facilitation and design. I like that these are outlined as two separate things because a course could be designed with learners in mind (i.e. formative assessments, forums, amazing videos yada yada) but without a good facilitator, the content doesn’t get any justice done. For example, if you’re a student and you spend 30 minutes writing in a forum about a really interesting case study and your professor never brings it up in class, responds or even encourages your classmates to respond you’re most likely going to devalue any of the work that you did and then not even want to spend time doing it again. What’s up with that? I’d be pissed!

What do you think about this model and would you offer any revisions?

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