Organizing Journal Articles

create-865017_960_720One of the biggest challenges I’ve had on my PhD journey is organizing. Organizing journal articles, organizing time, organizing the contents of the dissertation, and organizing concurrent projects.

I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last, PhD student to have these problems. Over the last couple of years I’ve read copious blogs posts and talked to other PhD students about how they organize everything to do with school, and, not surprisingly, everyone has different methods or organizational procedures.

Raul Pacheco-Vega provides excellent advice about organizing at the academic level. I totally understand why he is an organizational guru. Like me, he values his time and strives to work effectively and efficiently as possible.

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Dissertation Writing isn’t an 8 Hour a Day Job

To Do List

Before I began my PhD journey, I had a to do list of unrelated things I wanted to complete either before I graduated or shortly thereafter. Looking back on that list as I enter my third year in the program, I realize that I  accomplished only one goal: continue to teach. The other goals were pushed aside by real and self-imposed deadlines … and life.

Teaching, particularly a very interactive online course, takes up a large amount of time, both in prep work (on average it takes me about one hour to script, shoot, and edit one minute of video) and during the semester (student meetings, synchronous classes, and marking).

I try to front load as much as I can into the LMS prior to the semester because I need to free up time to mentor students through an undergrad research project, work on my dissertation, and also work at the university as a writing tutor.

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Course Re-Design Update

Course re-design project

You may have noticed the lack of posts about my course re-design project. Thankfully, I had only put a few hours into the initially planning stages before I stopped working on it all together.

As a sessional teacher (or an adjunct if you’re in the States) I do not have the academicfreedom to substantially change a course. I can certainly understand why this is, as a course could be changed so often that if may not resemble the original intent of the course. If I were a program co-ordinator or program chair, I know I would not be happy if a course was changed with each new sessional instructor.

I am about to teach the same course for the third time in as many years, so I am very familiar with the content, the types of student the course attracts, and areas where the course could improve. Unfortunately, the changes I want to make suffer from bad timing. With the chair away on sabbatical, there was little chance the interim chair would approve my changes.

Nonetheless, I hold out hope that 2017’s version of the course will be revised. In the meantime, I’m gathering material for the revision and also updating most of the information and required readings.

Prepping for a course redesign in this manner will give me time to either find or create new OER material and help provide a solid proposal of where revisions should take place while clearly identifying current content that has stood the test of time.

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Assignment Revision

In the last post I described why I revised the course outline because of a problem with the final assignment. This revision has put me a bit behind schedule, but if I run out of time I’ll simply not re-shoot as many videos as I’d hoped.

The revision stemmed from a problem I had with the final assignment. Last semester I noted that students struggled with meeting the expectations of the assignment.  I hadn’t changed the assignment from the previous delivery, so after examining my notes I decided to provide more information about how to create a very basic WPL program.

This simple decision had a domino effect as it may impact other assignments, the content of the modules that I had not scheduled to change, and amount of work required by the learners.

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Continued Changes to the Course Outline

Changes to the Course Outline In the previous post I took a closer look at the syllabus and the course layout. As I mentioned, this was my first draft and I knew there would be a few changes once I started to closely examine the course content and the videos.

The changes add much needed depth to the course but they do not address the problems I see in the final assignment. The more I think about it, the more I am certain that creating a WPL program does not belong in week 7.

The WPL course assignments are all problem-based learning, except for the first assignment, which is a short essay. To keep the spirit of the course intact, I need to engage the leaners by including different elements of a WPL program into the course. Stuffing all the information into one week just won’t work.

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Reviewing the Course Syllabus

Reviewing a Course SyllabusLast week’s blog post looked at my justification for re-designing a synchronous online university course I teach each fall. I’m in a bit of a time crunch because all the videos must be shot and edited no later than mid-April.

In this blog I’m going to describe how I went about adding in three new topics to the 12 week course.

When I began teaching in the early 2000s, it was drilled into my head that I could not deviate from the supplied syllabus. This was reinforced in many of the courses I took in my B.Ed. It was explained in simple terms: The syllabus is a legal contract between the institution, the professor, and the students. Therefore, what I put in the syllabus must be followed, however, an addendum is permissible if the syllabus clearly states which section may be adjusted during the course.

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Why Re-design the Course

Jan 4, 2016 picIn the first post in this series, I provided some background information about the course and the learners. A course re-design must be soundly justified, so in this post I’ll provide further background information about the course and identify what needs to be updated and why.

Facilitators are expected to update one-third of the course every year. The updates should include required readings and videos. The first year I taught WPL I updated about two-thirds of the videos. It just felt wrong to me for learners to see me in class (Adobe Connect) each week, but I was not in the videos.

I had the opportunity to review the course syllabus when I interviewed for the job. The course was well designed. It had a good flow and was very easy to follow. Each weekly topic was tied directly to at least learning outcome (objective). All assignments were tied to at least two learning outcomes. The learning outcomes were reasonable, well worded, measureable, and achievable.

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Course Re-design Project

A few months ago I came to the conclusion it was time re-design an online course I teach. Over the past decade I have created and re-designed a number of courses that were delivered both in the classroom and as eLearning courses. In addition, I have experience as an instructional designer. How I go about re-designing courses has not been at the forefront of my mind in years. I just do it. It’s time to document the journey.

Interestingly, I’m also in the midst of searching for research articles about how professors go about creating and re-designing courses. Some of these articles may find their way in to the forthcoming blog posts, but only if they are open access articles.
About the course

The course I’m re-designing is workplace learning (WPL). The course is part of an undergraduate degree program in education. The age range of the students is 20 to 60 years old. The vast majority have worked, and many of them work full-time. Some students have English as a second language, but of the 60 or so students I taught the course to, only two students had serious writing challenges.

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Tracking Time Saves Time Revisited

New time sheetAs the end of the year draws near I update, review, and reflect on my many projects. One mini-project (I always have a number of these on the go) is keeping track of my projects. This is done, if you recall, with a time tracking spreadsheet.

The time sheet is now six months old and, yes, I am using it every time I sit down to work on a project.  It serves its purpose well because I review where my time is spent both weekly and monthly.

I believe it has helped me become much more aware of my time and how to spend it more productively. For example, I aim to work seven hours per day for a 35-hour workweek. It does not matter to me if this includes weekends, or if I achieve my goal in four days. I may find that by mid-week I have not averaged enough hours per days to meet my goal if I continue to work at the same pace. This, then, spurs me on to put more hours in for that given week.

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Tracking Time Saves Time

Photo by Janet Symmons

Distillery District clock
Toronto, Ontario
Photo by Janet Symmons

Time is something we all wish we had more of, and yet we let so much of it slip away from us.

This became very apparent to me as I made my annual cross-country summer trip. I had time to reflect on my progress towards completing my dissertation. With nine days and nights to reflect, it soon became obvious that my PhD progress was far below my expectations.

I needed a solution to get me back on track.

I needed to know what I spending my time on and quickly saw the similarities between creating a money budget and a time budget.

I felt I was spending hours sitting at my computer, but I was churning out papers quick enough, my lit review had holes in it, one proposal was incomplete, and a job application was also sitting on my desktop. Why couldn’t get all this done?

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