Category Archives: Graduate Student Life

From superficial to synthesis: A theoretical framework, perhaps…

I count myself as fortunate. I chose a graduate program based on the opportunity to learn more about particular interest areas that were already extremely close to my heart; and everybody who knows me will tell you that where my heart leads, everything else follows. It has no other choice ;-) . Now, less than a year from my graduation date (hopefully) and I am even more grateful that I entered a graduate program with relevant interests already established.

Since I have had the opportunity, over the course of the program, in which to research, refine, and redefine my interests – community, Community of Inquiry model, engaging adult and online learners, building thriving online learning communities – I have begun to understand how these areas fit into the larger arenas of adult education and distance education. That’s two years of exposure to and accumulation of new resources, of moving past the superficial to synthesis. With a master’s thesis coming up, I see this as a definitive advantage. So, when some peers are considering topics for their master’s thesis, I have already established a formidable annotated bibliography and written  a few preliminary papers on the broader topic areas involved.

I didn’t realize how far I may have progressed in the thesis development process until this semester. After deciding to switch to full-time status, the long nights of homework and constant anxiety brought on some insomnia and a few nightmares. One night recently, I woke up suddenly at 4:30 am, ran for the first piece of lined paper and pencil that I could find. In about sixty seconds or so, I had written out what looks to be the theoretical framework for my master’s thesis…I think.

This is either the theoretical framework for my master's paper or just the product of a grad student nightmare.

A Moment for Honesty & Random Thoughts on Course Redesign…

My professor sent out an email this morning. I saw his message about leadership grades and I immediately felt guilty. I haven’t done enough. I took on too much this semester. While this is all true, it seems to always ring true no matter how true it is. Do you understand? There is always more that can be done. There is always more that I want to do. There are always things left undone. I have two piles of journal articles and research reports that I want to read, but they just taunt me from their plastic sleeves on the book shelf. I struggle with finding balance. I try to be present, to stay honest, to keep it real. Have I failed? Have I just been “phoning it in”? This matters a great deal to me and for the same reason that said professor pointed out in his message – ours is not a self-study course. We may be independent learners to a certain degree, but we rely on each other’s contributions that – together with our own engagement – help us to reach deeper understanding. Now I am forced to look in the mirror and ask myself if I have been adequately engaged and if I have contributed appropriately, but I also look to the course design and how it serves to either facilitate or hinder my learning.

Part I. The Questions

(I know research shows that exposure to the elements – think no electricity – is not associated with illness, but I am currently maxed out on cold medicine as I type, so this is where the random thoughts part probably comes in.) You know what I am missing in the aforementioned course? I miss interacting with everyone. Have I fallen off the map, I wonder? Is everyone else interacting while I am a no-show? Have I set unrealistic expectations? Have overly involved faculty and peers in other courses spoiled me?

On Skype and synchronous interaction:

It took a fair amount of effort to arrange a Skype session in my group. A few of us met up and I feel like I dominated that discussion, to the potential detriment of others. A few of us met up later that evening and this memory held me to practical silence. Someone else then dominated round 2! I spent time reflecting on group dynamics afterward. Why do some peer groups really hit it off while others never really even ignite? I know that you need a common interest or goal, but there are so many other factors – size, leadership, commonalities, time zones. ;-) Then, how to get past the awkward introductions to a stage of organic growth – when the group takes on a life of its own in support of individual members? I have a sneaking suspicion that one of our teams meets up more than the other, but I could be wrong. If so, why is one used more – and perhaps more successfully – than the other?

On discussions and asynchronous interaction:

I miss interacting asynchronously, too. Maybe the discussions just work for me. Maybe I am just that kind of learner (field dependence) or maybe the discussion questions and topics or format are better suited to the threaded discussion in ANGEL. Now that we are posting both unit discussion responses and reflections, do you think that we are supposed to be interacting in both places? Are we supposed to be interacting in both places? Are we interacting in both places? Why aren’t we interacting in both places? What about in the annotated bibliography sections? The medium allows for comments, but do we make them? Should we make them? Are we even reading what others contribute there?

Part II. The Suggestions

Personally, I usually find in favor of synchronous meetings, but I am not actively participating in any for this course. Why? Is anyone else? If yes, are you scheduling specific meeting times or just running into each other by chance? Would it be advantageous if self-selecting groups used a variety of similar applications (Skype, Google + hangout, Google Talk, etc.) and reported back on a predetermined set of factors for consideration – the positives and negatives, if you will? Perhaps future learners in this course would benefit more fully if the formal groups were eliminated from the Skype component so that peers could form more organic groups based on commonalities such as time zones? If given the option, perhaps some students are just more likely to use Skype for a variety of reasons. Would informal groupings unintentionally leave some interested students out? There is a balance somewhere between the effort to arrange and to attend a session and the benefits of the actual social learning encounter, I think; but I am not sure how easy it is to find and then to maintain that balance.

I loved one peer’s initiative in bringing in an expert presenter. Yes, the presentation was live, but many applications offer a recording function that permits repeated viewing and archiving (though there is a participation benefit that can never be replicated). This student had a particular interest in LMS/PLE that he rightly thought some of us might share and he brought in an unexpected learning opportunity. I would love to see a component like this added into this course. In contrast to other courses within the degree program, I think that there are fewer opportunities to “fit” our own developing interests (and/or professional experiences) directly into this curriculum. (Maybe it’s just me?) Maybe the answer is to offer an open opportunity for individuals or groups to present or discuss. I guess this should be a given, but I don’t think that I would ever have made that leap on my own! I get the idea that part of the goal of the annotated bibliography sort of fits this notion of sharing resources, but I am not sure how realistic that is given the format. First, the only consistency is in a broad unit topic and not in the quality of the resources contributed or the critical summaries provided. Second, we are not discussing the resources or are we? Everybody drops in their contribution. We are building a sort of random database. I think this exercise is supposed to help us gain individual practical research experience while sharing what we find most valuable provides a group benefit; I am just not sure that those intentions map to reality. Somebody please tell me that I am wrong.

There is a prerequisite required for the course to which I am referring and it is the ID4T model for instructional design. At least it was a requirement for me, since I am not a professional educator. With systemic and systematic instructional design under my belt, I somehow thought the next course would be more focused on individual course design, rather than program design. I imagined figuring out innovative ways to braid lessons and technology and learning together. Maybe I used a little bit too much imagination since we’re approaching design on a much larger scale here. ;-)  Don’t get me wrong, program design is vital for us. I was just hanging out at the wrong starting gate, I think, and wondering when the race was actually going to start.

Plus, it’s tough to play leap frog in the inconsistencies between what you’re learning as the ideal (if there even is an ideal) and what you’re experiencing (which you’d like to believe should be the ideal). In my case, there was a survey to contribute my thoughts. The survey was anonymous. Anonymity promotes honesty, right? It didn’t for me. I “phoned in” my survey. I’m sorry for that. There was no hidden agenda. I just wasn’t invested in the survey, but I am invested in the success of my peers and our learning experience together. So, my final suggestions relate to the evolution of the course. I believe that we are, as distance education students studying distance education, ideally positioned to not only be critical of the course – both the positives and negatives – but to also make suggestions on how to improve future sessions. The best way to accomplish this, in my opinion, is not through a survey. Instead, I recommend an open and ongoing dialogue. Now, I am prepared for my idea to fall flat. First, unlike me, all of my peers undoubtedly completed the survey and contributed copious amounts of well-thought-out recommendations and now have no desire and see little benefit in repeating said effort, which is perfectly reasonable. Second, most of my ideas only sound good to me! Still, I stand by my recommendation for the same reason given previously – because our goal is to find a deeper understanding – and it takes all of us working together to get there. 8-)


Like every other higher education institution, mine requires formally assessing the quality of student contributions via assignment of a grade. I had a little chuckle when I started my graduate program and realized that the point total for most courses is 100 in comparison to around 1,000 points for undergraduate classes. Are graduate students -90% extrinsically motivated to meet assignment requirements and instructor expectations? Does assigning a 4.7 send a significantly different message to the learner than a 94? The apparent logic behind this sorta cracks me up. I’m afraid to say that too loudly; however, for fear that a zillion PDF research articles supporting the practice will show up in my inbox. Disclaimer: I have not done a lit search on outcomes from varying assessment point levels; though if anyone out there has, I am interested in your findings.