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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Six Lessons I Learnt from Completing a Master’s Degree

graduationTwo years ago I was enthusiastically preparing to plunge into earning a master of education. I was a part-time student with a full time job and I knew I’d face time management challenges … surely that was going to be my only problem.

As I reflect back on the last two years, I can see how much my thinking and approach to life has evolved because of my tenacity to complete a graduate degree in the same amount of time as full-time students. Today, I’ve moved across the country to realized a dream that slowly emerged while working on my masters … embark on a Ph.D. in education.

I’m know that the valuable lessons I learnt along the way will help me wade through the Ph.D. challenges that I’ll face over the next few years. Continue reading

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Welcoming the First Six Months of 2013

2013I really hate the hype that surrounds the resolutions, and fortune telling that occurs this time of year. As a result I tend to stay away from both news and social networks and focus on my six month personal plans.

Six months may seem like a very short amount of time, but if a project cannot be completed in that amount of time, six month is surely enough time to accomplish much towards the project’s completion.

Planning six months ahead in education is a huge amount of time. It is more than one semester. It is more than enough time to complete a well-crafted literature review. It is also a good amount to time to set long-term goals that may need refining within that amount of time.

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My Three Words for 2012

Just prior to Christmas, Chris Brogan challenged his followers to “come up with three words that will help you define your goals and experiences for the coming year.” This is in place of resolutions, which I’ve never quite understood, but that’s a topic for another blog posting.
This posting is about my brief journey to find three words that I could live by for the coming 12 months, and hopefully for years afterwards.

I had a bit of a head start on the list because earlier in December I had clearly defined what I’m passionate about. I had worked on that list for about three months before finding what ignites me. The list is surprising short, but a mind map of the words would be fodder for wallpaper.

My passions, in alphabetical order, are:
Communications (social media and PR)
Learning
Research
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Student Created Curriculum Builds Enthusiasm for Learning

Everyone has a different way of studying and learning new material. As an educator, I was often guilty of creating lessons plans that favour my preferred learning style. As Socrates said, “Knowing thyself is the height of wisdom,” but in today’s higher education system it is a wise educator who first learns about his or her students.

A few years ago I was asked to teach a basic business course to students in a fairly new program. I asked the program coordinator to describe the type of students who enrolled in his program, and what he needed the students to know by the end of the course to succeed in future courses.

He told me that they were very creative, but needed confidence. They had no business experience, were between 18 and 25 and needed to know how to create a business plan. Most of the students hadn’t yet chosen an area of specialization, and were still exploring their options. Continue reading

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Using Mythbusters to Tech Basic Research

Almost every episode of the popular TV show Mythbusters includes a segment that involves research. I found using the show is an invaluable tool for teaching basic research terminology and illustrating to students that research can be fun.

In my first class I list and explain basic research terms, such as independent and dependent variables, hypothesis, correlations, types of samples, and sequencing. In the second class, I recap some of the terms, answer questions, and once the students are confident they understand the material, I play a segment of Mythbusters.

The students have a task while watching the video: Identify as many research terms as possible and provide examples used in the show. If it is a short segment, I’ll play it twice. This allows the learners to find more examples and allows them to absorb the research that is being presented as opposed to watching merely to find terms and examples. Continue reading

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Motivating Adult Learners

Adults enroll in courses for many reasons, including upgrading their skills, helping them change careers, learning for interest, or perhaps because their manager told them to take the course.

In any given class, there is a mix of learners with the above motivations to learn. It can sometimes be a challenge to keep learners motivated and engaged. This is true whether it’s a 12-week college course or a three-day corporate training course.

Here are a few tips to keep learners engaged that will help not only their retention of material, but also their enjoyment of topic:

Adults learn best by doing. In the age of computers gaming, Wii, and instant information on the Internet, adults are conditions not to sit for too long. Let’s face it, boredom can set in quickly even if a lecture interesting. Even the most animated lecturers need to engage learners by getting them to practice newly acquired information. Continue reading

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Encouraging Students to Visit Professors’ during Office Hours

Many times my office hours were taken up by the usual tasks of creating attendance sheets and other administrative duties. At the beginning of my teaching career I didn’t have my many students drop in for help, encouragement or advice. It took a few semesters before I began to realize the opportunities my students were missing by not dropping by office for a chat.

At the beginning of each semester I would tell the students that I have an open door office policy for an hour before class and that I was also available after class. The problem is that they didn’t feel invited to see me in my office; in fact most students didn’t even know where my office was located.

With one particularly challenging course, I wanted the students to drop in so we could informally talk about any issues they may be experiencing in the course. To encourage this, the first assignment had to be handed to me in my office at least 20 minutes before the third class. Continue reading

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Planning Virtual Field Trips

Classroom time constraints are a barrier to taking adult learners on field trips. Whether the class takes place as a night course or a part of the daytime curriculum, the usual three hour class prohibits taking students off campus. The answer is to take students on a virtual field trip.

Many of the popular virtual field trip (search Google for suggestions) includes museum or historical sites. Finding an appropriate field trip is often the first hurdle an educator must overcome. However, with a bit of creativity, a trip to a museum or historical site will provide a plethora of ideas.

For example, as a media teacher, several of my courses included classes on how to write a media release. I could easily take the students to the virtual tour of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and have them identify news stories and news releases based on the information found.

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Know When to Use QR Codes in Education

QR codes are slowly become more prevalent in North America. While they have caught on in advertising, they have been slow to catch on in education. One self-proclaimed American social media “expert” (there is no such thing) has gone as far as stating that QR codes are dead. I don’t believe QR codes have gone the way of the dinosaur, but I do believe that many people and organizations don’t understand how to use them properly.

Like most new technology, people tend to jump on the bandwagon simply because the technology is different and fun. QR codes have taken much the same route. Now that we have (hopefully) gone beyond the “different and fun phase,” we can start to use them properly. This begins by asking the age old question, “What’s in it for me?”

In the world of education, the educator who creates the QR code must be able to clearly identify the benefits to the learner using the QR code. Educators must go well beyond using QR codes in place of a URL. Simply stated, do not use QR codes simply because they are easy to generate.

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