Category Archives: writing

Research update #40: Proposal writing day 4: Edvisors and teachers

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I really didn’t expect to but I’ve caught up to my schedule. It’s largely because I decided that I needed to write words rather than write well although there is also the fact that I decided to trust my recollection of the broad ideas in the literature. Rather than painstakingly find each citation and quote on the fly as I write, I’m going to trust that they are out there and that on my next pass I can take the time to put them in. I think this will also help because I’m building a basic scaffold that seems to be flowing nicely and which should make it easier for me to find and compartmentalise the citations and quotes. I’m also fairly confident that I’ll also rediscover richer ideas that I can use to flesh out what I’ve already said. I’ll need to spend a little more time thinking about what the literature doesn’t say, and how to explain that and why it matters, but it’s been nice being able to put the pedal to the metal and just let the words come out as they want to.

In a nutshell, I covered the fact that the way that edvisor teams are structured and placed in institutions – centrally/college-based and also functionally – can be a barrier to effective work and particularly because of the tensions that exist between institutional and academics’ priorities. (Trying to remember that most good edvisors also have their own values conversation going on about ensuring the best possible learning and teaching amongst this). I moved on to the relationships between academics and edvisors and noted the difference between those from academic vs professional backgrounds. Touched on disciplinary silos, pressures faced by academics to be the experts in all things and the fact that many of them don’t really know what we do – or can do. This can be evident particularly in the research that they write and I think this will be a rich primary source to explore when I move into the research phase.

So I guess there is going to be a little more work than I expected when I’ve written draft one but the words are coming and draft two should not be far behind at all.

Research update #39: Proposal writing Day 3: “Rest day” but with some interesting revelations nonetheless

Well it was more a day where I’d made a previous commitment to sit on an interview panel for an Education Technologist position for a friend, followed shortly afterwards by a farewell party for a friend in the same unit.

I was able to take a couple of hours to glance over some of my earliest blog posts relating to this research, which were helpful in that I could see how much my question has evolved over time but perhaps lacked a little something in terms of direct relevance to the work that I’m doing now. Fortunately, the responses to the interview questions themselves did align more closely, albeit more in terms of gaining some additional background insights.

My assigned question to ask was along the lines of what technology do you see having an impact on higher education in the next 3-5 years? Something calling for a little crystal ball-gazing and my inclination was far more to give extra points to those who were unwilling to commit to specific products or brands. It was more about getting a sense of who is keeping an eye on things than getting the (impossible) right answer. Responses ranged from mobile devices (fairly likely though parts of my institution seem mystifyingly resistant to this) to AI, AR and drones. One candidate tried valiantly to steer this conversation around to rubrics and assessment and points for trying I guess.

The more revealing question was what do you think the role of an education technologist is? This was interesting because these were all people that had applied for a position with a specified set of criteria but the responses were still relatively varied. Clearly advising on and supporting the use of technology was a common theme in the responses but from there we seemed to veer into whichever areas the candidates felt they were strongest in. Fair enough, the point of the interview is to sell yourself. This included research, production of resources and information management skills. When we asked some to expand on their answers, by differentiating the technologist role from an ed designer or ed developer, things got more interesting. Before I started digging down into this field, my take was that a developer was more like a software or web developer than the more commonly used professional developer. One candidate felt that the ed dev would be building apps. Most got that the designer had more to do with course or curriculum design to varying degrees but most also recognised that there is a lot of overlap between all of these roles and the fact that they all had slightly different takes was good for me in that it reinforced what I’ve seen in the literature (and experienced in the day to day) about the fuzziness of most of these definitions.

I guess another interesting aspect of the interviews was in seeing where everyone had come from. We had people that had entered the field from graphic design, web and multimedia design, teaching and librarianship. For me, none of this disqualified anyone though the harsh reality is that in looking for someone able to hit the ground running, it’s hard not to favour someone with experience working with academics. How you get that experience in the first place is the real challenge I guess and I think I can probably expand a little on the pathways/entry point ideas section – though I don’t feel that there has been a lot of discussion of this in the literature that I’ve seen to date.

So while I didn’t write much and I didn’t find a whole lot in my previous note-taking blog posts, I still feel like I came away with a few more ideas.

Research update #38: Proposal writing Day 2 – more on edvisors, less on edvisors & institutions

I’m kind of just staring at the screen now with 27 different tabs open across two browsers so I guess it’s time to take a mental break at the very least. Going by my schedule, I was meant to have knocked out 750 words on the relationship between edvisors and institutions – or my precisely I guess institutional management/leadership. I currently have 129.

But that’s because I only wrote about 500/1000 yesterday on edvisors more broadly. I think part of my challenge is that, first draft or not, I still like to try to turn out a moderately elegant sentence that flows smoothly into the next one and advances the story or idea. What I need to do is worry less about this and just get the brutish ugly ideas down so that they might be prettied up later.

The bigger issue though is that I didn’t put enough time into getting all my sources, quotes and ideas into a single location before I started writing. I’ve spent enough time with the literature to know broadly what it says and how I want to bring it together and I know I have the citations to support this but I didn’t put them all into the notes document. They are instead, scattered through this blog, Zotero and assorted stacks of paper with pencil notes scrawled all through them. The point of blogging about many of these papers was to create a searchable archive of these ideas but with the way that the question has changed over time, the way that I have tagged these posts has not quite kept pace.

I’m still enjoying the writing and being forced to commit to particular ideas and language, I’m just slightly up in the air about whether it would be more beneficial to stop and spend the time assembling everything before I proceed or if I should just press on, write what I can as a first draft and then come up with a much improved second draft by bringing all the stray elements together. The latter seems the way to go as I’m well versed in the fine arts of procrastination and preparation, endless preparation is absolutely one of my go-tos in this regard. The other advantage of just writing is that it will let me work out the structure a little better which should make the process of searching for and gathering the quotes and citations a lot simpler.

I hit the 1000 word target for the edvisors section just before lunch but later felt that a discussion of the place of credentialing might sit better in the edvisors and institutions section. I was also a little concerned that I was discussing literature without really explaining why or what I was looking for in particular, so once more I spent a little more time than planned on that section. I had initially planned on 2000 words for my discussion of edvisors in the literature but revised this to 1000 on advice from Lina. I have a feeling that I could probably hit the 2000 without too much trouble as I dig deeper into the tensions between academic and professional edvisors.

Most of my thinking until recently revolved around the bizarre love/hate triangle between academics, institutional management/leadership and edvisors and how this impacts upon collaborative relationships. I’d kind of put aside the internal tensions both between academics and professional staff – particularly in the academic developer space where there’s a big question about where scholarly research fits into edvisor practices – and also between variously located teams within institutions. Most commonly central vs college/faculty based but there is also some toe-treading that occurs between rival disciplinary teams. The good news is that it’s all just more material to work with.

So while I’m not hitting my perhaps ambitious writing targets yet, the ideas are flowing.

 

Research update #37: Proposal writing Day 1 – Edvisors lit review

writing plan dates

I’ve booked in two weeks leave from work to get at least a first draft of my thesis proposal together. There’s a loose structure in place and I’m all about just getting the words down at this stage. As a first draft, I’m allowing for it being relatively terrible – which is probably the hardest part because I do like the words that I use to work well together – and the plan is to have something to send off for feedback just before Christmas.

Given that I’m aiming for between 750-1000 words a day mostly, I think I’ll be spending the morning pulling together the various ideas, quotes and references in the morning and doing the writing writing in the afternoon.

Today the focus is on edvisors in the literature, which isn’t as easy as I’d thought given that part of the reason for the thesis is their lack of visibility in the research. Or, more to the point, the fact that a lot of what I’ve been looking at is more closely related to where they/we sit in the institution, our relationships with institutional leadership and academics and the strategies that we do and could use to improve this. What I’m left with is more the descriptive, defining kind of work. Breaking this up into the three core role types of academic developer, education designer and learning technologist should help and there’s still plenty of time to move things around.

Mostly I just need to remember that this is the literature section, so I’m really only to talk about what other people have been talking about. I guess I can talk briefly about what hasn’t been discussed but that seems like a trap in some ways as maybe it has and I just missed it. (Pretty sure this is a universal refrain among PhDers though)

If you do read this post and are aware of a strikingly significant article or book etc about the nature of edvisors (academic developers etc – I wonder how long I’m going to need to add this), please let me know.

 

Research update #35 – Writing like a proper academic

My writing style in this blog is intended to be conversational and focused on using the act of writing to help me to give form to my ideas. So sometimes it can be insightful and sometimes it can be somewhat more rambling. I’ve been very conscious the whole way through that this is not the style that I will need to employ when I’m actually writing my thesis.

Interestingly (perhaps) I had a bit of a mental to-and-fro in that last sentence between using ’employ’ or ‘use’. Nine times out of ten I would’ve gone with ‘use’, as I believe in simple and concise language but maybe because I’m thinking about how I will need to write in the future, I went with the more formal ’employ’. Or maybe the rhythm of the words worked better with ’employ’ as there is something strangely musical in language that seems important when I write. Anyway, I did mention that I can sometimes be rambly.

This self-consciousness about my writing style has risen up a little lately as I’ve been reading some of the blog posts of my SOCRMx colleagues. Many of them are doing the MOOC for course credit, so it could simply be that they are writing as they believe they are expected to or perhaps have gotten into the habit of doing, but it is still a style that I feel somewhat removed from.

Which is why I was happy to come across this post from one of my two favourite PhD gurus, Inger “Thesis Whisperer” Mewburn. With a title like “Academic writing is like a painful upper-class dinner party” you can probably work out where she is going with it. In a nutshell, her argument is that to be taken seriously in academia, you need to write like an “uptight white person”.

Meaning essentially that caution, nuance and form rule the day, with the choice of words offering worlds of hidden meaning about your actual, never to be expressed feelings. Using ‘assert’ rather than ‘argue’ is effectively a headbutt to the credibility of the author that you are discussing as it suggests that they are incapable of rationally supporting their idea and instead need to resort to an appeal to authority to make their point. (I have a feeling that I’ve probably used ‘assert’ at some point when I simply felt that I’d been overusing ‘argue’ so I’ll be paying particular attention here)

All of which brings me back to something that I’ve previously reflected on here, which is that your reader – and more importantly your reviewer and assessor’s personal tastes can carry far more importance in how your work is received than your ideas. I can appreciate that forms of communication evolve over time and become significant because they demonstrate an understanding of certain key concepts of scholarship but overall I find it a shame that vital ideas might be disregarded because they aren’t expressed in the appropriate fashion. A few commenters at the end of the post were outraged that Inger was reinforcing this dominant paradigm and vowed never to buy her book but I think they missed the point. Inger was talking about what is and they are focused on what should be. Her core idea was that communication should still be clear and accessible where possible but that it will be read in particular ways by an audience and it is important to be mindful of how that audience reads if you want to communicate with them.

She also includes a link to an incredibly handy verb cheat sheet divided by whether you think the work that you are describing is awesome, neutral or poor. She makes the point that this is written for research in her domain – part social sciences and part education – and people need to find their own but given that her domain is mine, I’m pretty happy to have it as a starting point.

Thanks Thesis Whisperer