Back in the saddle

When the Fall semester begins, I will officially be a grad student again as I enter the first semester of my Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction. I am excited to be gaining knowledge in my new career path and look forward to all that will come with it. My first course will be EC&I 831: Social Media and Open Learning with Alec Couros. I know 3 other people taking the course and expect to learn quite a lot, having had some chances to learn from Alec already. He knows his stuff!

At the same time I find it rather daunting. The last time I took a class was 2008, I believe. This was before I started working on my comprehensive exams for my PhD. Suddenly I am going to be back at the Master’s level in a completely new field. I am starting over in a lot of ways and it is definitely making me somewhat nervous.

As a first class back, however, this is a great one because it is an online course and very different than any course I have taken before. I won’t really have anything for comparison and I know part of the intent is to push us all outside our comfort zones in some ways. At the same time, the topic is one I know, at least somewhat. I have been researching and using social media for quite a while so I won’t feel like I am suddenly thrown in the deep end.

After my first experience with an online course (a horrid teaching assistant experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy), I now work with online courses and have come to see just how positive they can be, if done well. This will be my first time as a student in an online course but this is definitely not your traditional online course. It is open, meaning that it is not bounded by the learning management system, and as far as I know, everything will be accessible by anyone on the internet.

I should put in a caveat that I did register for a MOOC (massive open online course) that Alec ran this past Winter semester, but fully admit that I did not end up participating, having been overwhelmed with the volume of participants and finding my job at the beginning and schedule not meshing well with the schedule of the course. This will be significantly different as I will receive credit and have the support of my current employment to participate in this course.

So I suppose all of this is leading around to me considering what might be different this time in grad school.

For one thing, I have been through it before. I am not new and not overly daunted by the idea of pursuing a graduate degree. I know exactly what my first Master’s degree and my mostly-completed-but-unfinished-PhD are worth in terms of skills and knowledge (highly useful) but also in terms of how impressive they make me (not very, in reality).

In a discussion the other day with a friend, I also cemented for myself one incredibly valuable lesson I learned from my previous path through graduate school: I will take control of my education. I have no qualms about choosing my courses, determining my path, and doing what needs to be done to get the education I want. I am the only one who can ensure I get out of my degree what I am seeking and I am so very, very glad that I already know that.

For one thing, it meant that I had no qualms about meeting with someone to fix my major when it was changed from what I had on my application. I had already done my homework so I was able to explain why I chose Curriculum and Instruction over Adult Education. Thankfully it was relatively painless to fix the issue but I am not sure I would have argued it the first time around.

Thanks to some good advice, I also already have plans to take courses at another university to augment what is available to me through my own program. I can take more control and not just accept what is already on offer. Coming out of the humanities, I am used to setting my own topics so this is not much of a stretch for me.

Another change was made to my program in that I am currently assigned to a course-based route instead of project-based which is what I selected on my application. I have not done anything to change that yet, but I am considering it. I already work with online courses so I would have ample opportunity to do research and work on a project. In fact, a friend and I already have ideas for some research we would like to do. I received a great suggestion of who I could ask to do some supervision for me, so I am keeping that in the back of my mind. It does seem a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to work on a project that could be useful for my job and for my employer and get some credits while I do it. The first time around I would never have really thought of pushing to make something happen. I could easily just take courses and go through without the hassle.

One other thing I bring is my own level of balance. I know where my boundaries are. I also am willing to be honest with myself about when something is worth doing and when it is not. I have withdrawn from a PhD program before and will forever be ABD when it comes to that degree. I have no urge to finish it just to finish. I learned a lot from my progress in that degree, but just as much from acknowledging the end of the path. I refuse to be pushed into unreal expectations just because I got myself into something and I am happy to be old enough and secure enough in myself to know that now.

I suppose I am less daunted by returning to studenthood than I thought. I know it is a challenge I can meet!

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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Grad School


Diving into #etmooc

etmooc begins today and this will be my first experience with a MOOC.

I work at the University of Regina, although currently my job is in program coordination for our Lifelong Learning Centre rather than educational technology. Edtech is most definitely my favourite area though and I spent 7 months working at the Centre for Teaching and Learning as the e-Learning Coordinator. I do intend to work on my education after having started out in a totally different field (religious studies). I’ve always found technology fascinating but never had a whole lot of encouragement or time to integrate it into how I thought of teaching until I worked at our CTL. My hope is to eventually make my way back to educational technology and instructional design.

I’ve tested out various forms of edtech, done research, and hosted workshops on different ideas. I have spend some time as a consistent blogger, I’m a semi-regular tweeter, and I am looking forward to expanding my PLN and gaining insight from the experience of others as well as sharing what I know and think!

Excuse the lack of sound or video but I promise to try to get there. When I record I tend to spend ridiculous amounts of time redoing flubs and was not really up to that for the first blog.

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Posted by on January 14, 2013 in etmooc


Digital Distractions

A friend posted an article to Facebook about how one prof deals with digital distractions. In his class, students must pledge not to use their laptops for anything other than class business, and pledge to be honest if asked to check a neighbour’s screen. He also bans cell phones entirely. Overall, not the worst policy (although asking students to spy and snitch seems counter productive). The prof does, however, ask students to leave if they are caught distracted, whether or not it is distracting anyone else. I commented on my friend’s post, stating my own personal preference but had a feeling that I’d be one of the few not sure this is the best tactic.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate to think just how many students are sitting in classes and doing something completely irrelevant to the class. Those students aren’t learning what they are there to learn and they aren’t contributing anything positive with their presence.

I’m not the only one sitting on the other side of this question. Rob Jenkins at the Chronicle also has some concerns about rules that are difficult (or impossible) to enforce and what he calls the “electronics police.”

One common argument I see is that students are distracting other students with their laptops and that they are capable of distracting more students with a laptop than had previously been possible. Sure, who hasn’t seen someone’s laptop open and wondered what they were looking at? I can understand how this could be seen as a concern.

But then again, I would still argue that the students who are distracted by someone else’s laptop screen would probably have been distracted by something out of a window, by thinking about their plans for after class, or just about anything else because they want to be distracted. The made the decision to look in the first place and to look for longer than a second after they did look. Their curiosity and interest were engaged but it was not by the person leading the class.

This does not count disruptions like students’ cell phones ringing or pinging or noise from laptops or headphones. That is something that I would have no problem having my students agree about. It’s part of our culture that you should turn your sound off when in a situation where it would be disruptive.

The issue of distractions and how we handle the potential for them, though, is one that gets under my skin. I am a person who finds it significantly faster and easier to take notes digitally than to write them. I do still write notes by hand and do understand the cognitive theory of writing as opposed to typing, but it is so much faster for me to type. So I would be hard-pressed to ban laptops unless we were having a class discussion and I did not plan to ask students to use their laptops.

Moreover, I admit that I spent my fair share of time distracted during class. I never felt the need to blame others for it (except maybe the instructor). There were times when I was waiting for others to finish, parts of a lecture that I already knew or already understood, or days when I was tired or just not cognitively present.

I actually do not take issue with asking students to pledge to use their screens only  for class. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing. I do, however, think that that needs to be built as part of a bigger aim to teach them how to learn and to take ownership of their own learning. If we just make rules for them for a class, then great, they learn that rule in that class. Will they apply it elsewhere though?

Learning is not something that most people do without training. We have to learn how to learn. Being taught how to deal with distractions or potential distractions is part of that. There are many techniques out there for helping to manage distraction vs productivity (Pomodoro has gotten quite a bit of attention). Most of us have struggled with it. So learning how to cope is important.

So is making our classes engaging enough that students find it harder to tune out. If all students are doing is listening, writing notes or looking at slides, there is not much brain power required of them. They will be primed for a distraction. Yes, some will stay focused because they know they need to do so and are aware of the importance. But others won’t. That is where instructors come in.

The more active we can make learning, the less opportunity students have for surfing the net or texting. This doesn’t mean that there is no place for lectures. There are many instructors who are incredibly engaging lecturers. Others are not. So it is important to find a style that actually supports student learning and to use activities to support that. Discussions, in-class writing, experiments, etc are all ways to keep students learning rather than just memorizing.

When it comes to active learning, there are ways to use their electronic devices too. Why not use the laptops for more than typing? Engage the Google-fu of your students. Teach them appropriate ways to use their technology for learning. Use cell phones for response to in-class polling. Have them tweet questions or take pictures or video.

No, it isn’t necessary to let students use their electronics. Sure, you can ban cell phones and police the use of laptops. If you are making it worth their time, then they are likely to be willing to go with it. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage laptops during a discussion and definitely not if I was having students up and moving.

Just be aware that times have changed and they will continue to do so. Technology is becoming more central to how more and more people operate and we do our students a great service if we help them learn how to make technology part of a productive life. They can get a whole lot out of their technology that they may never have considered if we can only help them learn how.

I want to return to what I said before about having students take ownership of their learning. For me, that really is at the root of the issue here. It’s even at the root of students pledging not to use their devices for anything other than class. The important part for me, though, is teaching them why. Why does it matter if they are playing a video game, checking Facebook or even typing up notes for another class? “Distracting other students” is not sufficient. I always come back to the question of why those other students are then not taking ownership of their own learning.

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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Teaching


Thinking about Educational Technology

In my job as an eLearning Coordinator, I spent a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about educational technologies. 7.5 months of that solidified my passion for how technology can be used to help educational goals, both for students and instructors of all types.

Now I work at a job that involves very little educational technology because I am even farther removed from a classroom. I hire instructors and I speak to people who do presentations but I am rarely in a setting to talk about how to deliver information or to share technology with those who have an interest.

This has very much solidified my interest in educational technology.

With that being the case, I hope to devote more of my spare time to talking about educational technology, #edtech, instructional technology or whatever you want to call it.

With that in mind, I have dipped my toes into involvement with an upcoming MOOC, #etmooc. Spearheaded by Alec Couros of University of Regina’s Education department, it promises to be a fascinating look at the development of a MOOC and a wonderful chance to explore educational technology with others who also love this weird ed tech stuff. If you have an interest, definitely get involved in some way, shape or form.

I am also considering going back to school. I haven’t taken a class since 2008 and I was last working at the PhD level which made the thought of classes seem a little daunting. This is especially true as I’ve watched my husband travel through his undergraduate degree. I realized that I would have to be darn interested to even consider taking classes and doing assignments again. I much prefer creating and grading assignments, I’ll be honest.

Then I heard about the Master of Educational Technology at UBC. It was a bit like a kid in a candy store looking at the classes. Really? I could take a class on that?! I could do it online from where I am now? (Note: I vowed to myself after being a teaching assistant for a horrid online course that I would never want to take an online class. I changed my mind.) So I am hoping to apply for Fall 2013.

The price is a little scary, at least for Canadian universities. Especially when it would mean two students in the house. It is definitely motivating though.

I finally figured out where my interests lie and it is time that I move forward with that. Especially true when I realized that I have been avoiding many of the blogs I came to love while at my last job precisely because I was no longer at my last job. I had no excuse and reading them made me miss having time to delve down rabbit holes after now technology I could play with, or having the opportunity to blog about articles I read or ideas in my head.

So it is time that I get back to thinking about educational technology. With that in mind, I hope to blog more often also. I’ve missed blogging too.

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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Ed Tech


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On finding my passion for teaching

As I said before, my path was rather unexpected. I’ve always had a desire to teach, that has been the one constant. I just somehow never really thought about the fact that it was the constant. I began with a passion for art and thought I would like to teach that. Then I had a passion for religious studies and thought I would like to teach that. Along the way I never spent enough time thinking about teaching though.

I think this is one of my biggest disappointments with higher education, this lack of time spent talking about teaching. The focus is most often on research and publication and even on service. I have been lucky to have professors who wanted to talk about teaching but when I look at my studies? So often it was secondary or just assumed. It was up to me to find time to do that or to just figure it out. It was sort of a trial-by-fire sort of thing. 

In a conversation with a friend today, I heard something that I think we need to think about more. That teaching is integral to research. It got me thinking about how important it is to be capable of passing on what we know and value. Yes, most of us learn about being good presenters and we learn to write. We are pressured to publish. What about the next generation, however? How do we inspire those who will take our research forward? How do we convey our knowledge to them and prepare them to continue?

It took me a while to realize that my interest was in that area. I could find people to talk about research, about our overlapping topics. I found it rare, however, to find someone who wanted to discuss how to teach. When you are busy marking exams, you talk about that. Not about methods of guiding learning. 

So for me, my acknowledgement that I no longer wanted to complete my dissertation came long before I realized where my passion actually lies. In fact, it was a job that truly unveiled my direction. Instead of beginning with the desire, following through to formal training and being hired that way, I’ve gone a circuitous route. I found my training along the way in bits and pieces. I got the job. Then I realized that I had found my passion. 

I want to talk about teaching. Ilove talking about teaching. Specifically teaching higher education and adults. I wish I had taken more time to do this along the way but I was blinded by the focus on research. It was only as I did more teaching that I was able to realize that that was what I loved. Then it was only when I was encouraged and supported to research and learn about teaching that I recognized my interest was in that.

So now I need to find a way to remain connected to this passion, preferably in a way that also helps pay the bills. But this is a passion that I know I will continue. Perhaps a Masters in Educational Technology? Or Instructional Design? The thought of taking classes again is a bit daunting but having credentials is a definite bonus.

Regardless, I’m a convert. So I hope that someday I can talk to you about teaching. 

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


To begin with…

I (rather unexpectedly) have found myself back on the job hunting trail. That has finally pushed me to begin my own blog after spending the past three and a half months blogging for my position as e-learning coordinator, realizing that I have something to contribute to the exchange on higher education.

My path has been an unexpected one. When I began my higher education adventures, I thought I wanted to be a high school art teacher. I was quickly disabused of that notion after one semester in visual arts. That was not going to be for me. Creative output is my way of dealing with the rest of my life, not my driving passion. I did, however, discover a fascination with religion and a talent for writing papers.

Like many other students, I changed my major.

I went through my undergraduate degree and master’s with the expectation that I would end up in academia, a tenured professor. The teaching was what drew me in, to be quite honest. I had recognized that high school was not what I wanted to be teaching, but university? That was a completely different story. I wanted to share my passion and my fascination with my field (Religious Studies).

Then I started my PhD. I was still certain of my goals but I was confused. Why did nobody want to talk about teaching? We could sign up for a semester-long workshop given by another unit but nobody in my department thought developing and discussing teaching our subject was mandatory. In fact, it was only after I had moved away that my continual discussions of why grad students should talk about it resulted in a workshop. In fact, I was never employed as a sessional instructor in my own department. That was not what I was expecting.

That was really when my eyes were opened. Sure, I knew that research was a focus, but it had never occurred to me that teaching was not. I had had fantastic professors through my undergrad and master’s who cared about teaching – and talked about it – so the idea that the university as a general organism (and specific departments) didn’t was baffling.

I had always had a technical slant to my hobbies. I was an internet addict. I loved my tech gadgets. I chatted online, played World of Warcraft, and found online communities to which I could belong. I blame my first job which involved teaching people about the internet and about building websites.

Now when you move away from your current university and are seeking work as a humanities major you may discover that the jobs available are limited, especially if you are highly overqualified for many of them. I found a job as an administrative worker. It was a job and I met many people I enjoyed. It was not, however, a career path I wanted in the long run.

I taught as a sessional. It was one heck of a learning experience although at the time I was so frantically busy that I couldn’t really absorb much. I was working full time plus teaching an intro course for the first time. It meant a lot of nights writing the next day’s lesson, grading papers on the weekend, and not a lot of time for reflection. I did, however, enjoy it.

Then I was encouraged to apply for a position: e-Learning Coordinator. It was listed as  being about instructional technology, both researching and teaching instructors about it. I was leery of applying but it was an 8 month term job at the university – I longed to be back in the academic world and the job sounded fantastic. I just wasn’t sure I was qualified.

Obviously, I was. I was hired and have spent the last 6 months finally finding my niche. I have discovered a whole lot of fascinating technologies that I would never have found otherwise. I have also discovered a passion for teaching itself. Not solely being in front of the class, working with students, but discussing and learning about better ways to teach. I have learned many of the mistakes I made with my own students and have begun thinking of ways I could do it differently.

I also discovered the network of alternative academics (alt-ac) who are all academics in a non-tenured-prof type job. They work in all sorts of capacities and have a different experience but that experience can be fantastic. That was what I wanted. That fit! Tenured prof was not for me. I had finally realized and accepted that. But alt-ac? Yes please!

Alas, provincial budget cuts and university belt tightening ended my vision of my term being extended. That was always the plan but when there was no longer any spare money available, that plan was over.

So now what? I have applied for a variety of positions and hope that my experience and my networking have paid off. I know I will have fantastic references but will that be enough to land me a new job I can enjoy? Thus continues my journey in academia.

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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Jobs


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