Saturday, January 24, 2009

Using what I am learning

I had my students respond to a blog question about the Inauguration on our school teacher website this week. It was the first time I had used the feature. I seemed to be more excited about it than they were but I am glad I tried something new.

A learner is like a lot of things. I am having a hard time committing to an analogy. In many ways a learner is like a plant. We tend to put the pressure on the gardener but there are so many other factors that go into cultivating a successful plant from a seed. These historically have included sunlight, temperature, soil conditions, fertilizer, attention, other roots, and rainfall. I hang out in a biology classroom and these days we talk about so much more than your kindergarten seed in a paper cup. Now you have genetic engineering, selective breeding, and cloning. Technology meets the plant world on a regular basis. In Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, connectivism tells us that the "capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known". This is true in both the research being done on plants and learning. As we discover more about the brain, our perceptions of learning have changed. Continual learning has become a concept schools are embracing. I am much more concerned about creating a student who knows where to find an answer than a student who as rote memorization skills. They are more likely to be successful lifelong learners. We have always wanted students to "grow" but the rules have definitely changed, as have theories on how to teach them.

"you can form connections with other people" through social networking with technology such as blogs and wikis that were originally established to keep people in the technology field up-to-date when the field was changing at such a fast rate. These "conversations" have a place in the educational world. Students need to be taught both technology skills and the ability to communicate with others as they learn in that same everchanging world.

Check out The Impact of Social Media on Learning



    Are you at the ABD destination in your program?

    There are two types of Ph.D. candidates that fall into this category:

    1) The "just arrived" and anxious to move forward.

    2) The "been there for awhile" and think they will never move forward.

    While both types may need help to move on, it is the latter that is likely to derive the most benefit from this article and become motivated to complete, perhaps, the most important event in their life.

    You are intelligent enough to have come this far, there is no reason (from an academic stand point) to linger in the "ABD Zone." The longer you’re in the ABD category, the more difficult it becomes to pick up the pieces and move forward.

    A qualified and experienced consultant that works with Ph.D candidates understands the special circumstances that can lead to ABD status (e.g. hectic fulltime job, family, and other personal issues). The question is, how do you find a qualified consultant?

    The best way to get started is with a phone call to a consultant and ask the question: "How can you help me move beyond the ABD level and complete my Ph.D. program"?

    For many doctoral students, the most rigorous parts of a quantitative or mixed-methods dissertation are:

    1) Methods Section

    Study Design
    Research questions and hypothesis formulation
    Development of instrumentation
    Describing the independent and dependent variables
    Writing the data analysis plan
    Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

    2) Results Section

    Performing the Data Analysis
    Understanding the analysis results
    Reporting the results.
    Many Ph.D. candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the "methods" and "results" section of their dissertation. This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their mentor, peers, university assistance and even Google. This is also the time when the student may ask themselves the question "HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH"?

    Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong. On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation (e.g. APA formatting and editing). It is also not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help with the statistical aspects of their dissertation.

    As a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggests the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.

    The ideal time to begin working with a statistical consultant is once you have a topic and you have done some preliminary literature review. Otherwise you run the risk of unnecessarily complicating your study. This could result in the consultant being unable to help you, unless you are willing to start over with the problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, instrumentation and data analysis plan.

    As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistical considerations. Frequently, a student will struggle for months before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

    If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate doing a quantitative or mixed-methods study gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics. So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much?

    I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

    To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

    It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. This is not accomplished in just one or two emails or a single telephone conversation. It is a dynamic process; one that calls for unending patience on the consultants part.

    The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics. It is the consultant’s job to see to it this occurs.

    When their defense is successful, the question "was the help too much" is answered.

    If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may wish to review the referenced sites below:


    Reference sites:

  2. I really liked the concept of your analogy that there is more than one participant and factors in the development and growth of the garden. Learning as an ongoing process is an important concept for not only educators,but students to understand. Embedding in students that even today the "fabulous Ms. Clunie" is still learning makes them laught. My purpose isn't to get a giggle, but to teach my students that we are always learning new things, tools, concepts, jobs, activities around our interests. Side note-you have done a wonderful job on your course work.....I can't seem to keep up with you! I am going to try and get ahead this week-weekend! Hope all is well with the baby!

  3. I like your emphasis on being "much more concerned about creating a student who knows where to find an answer than a student who as rote memorization skills." That is certainly a skill that today's learners will need to rely on more and more in the future.
    Dr. Burgos

  4. I love what you said about wanting your students to be able to find answers for themselves instead of simply memorizing information. This is something that I have been trying to do with my students using Harvey Silvers Thoughtful Education program. It is truly amazing, students are encouraged to use their understanding of new concepts and relate it to their own lives. It amazes me what thinkers I have in my class! The other day I used a KWL with them and I could not believe some of the questions they wanted to discover. Students need to be encouraged to ask themselves thought revoking questions. It is exciting that students have so many resources today to answer their questions!

  5. Hi Marnie, I really enjoyed reading about your personal views on education and the many factors that affects today’s learner, great analogy!! I agree with all those great points you make, especially the one where you go on explaining the importance of letting our students experience things on their own and give the opportunity to become “lifelong learners” by learning from their own experiences and understanding the reasoning behind certain educational topics instead of just giving them diverse information and asking them to simply retain it. I too think it’s better to give students the tools to figure out an “answer” then to simply ask them to memorize important facts that to them may not mean a whole lot. I love your ideas and I can’t wait to keep reading all your thoughts on future assignments:-)

    ~Karla Darby~