There is life after the PhD… at least for a phenomenographer #go_gn … webinar companion post

Thank you everybody for joining this webinar. Bea, Nats and Matrin for your help, support and moderating. I hope it was useful for colleagues. On my blog, you will find more resources that could help you on your doctoral journey including my viva preparation. Let me know if you need anything else.

Two ideas that emerged through the webinar…
A list of alumni on the GOGN website with the methodologies we used in our studies may help colleagues to identify who could help them with their study but also help other individuals consider us for supervision and/or external examining. A similar list with our areas of interest, may also be useful for the same reasons.

I used the same title for a recent GOGN webinar (announcement here) and before I actually put together the presentation for this I wrote the following post related to this as my thinking was focusing on this. It all happened over a few days on my train journeys to work when my head was still fresh.

The abstract I had submitted is the following:

In this webinar Chrissi will share with us her doctoral research milestones, the discoveries she made along the way in the area of cross-institutional academic development and collaborative open learning and where these are leading her now in the world of academic development and supporting colleagues developing in the open. Phenomenography, is a methodology developed especially for higher education research. It is a methodology that calls for action. It was the methodology used in this study. Where are the tensions and the opportunities for institutions, academic developers, academics and students? Join Chrissi in this webinar, to discuss and debate. You are all warmly invited. 

I will add a link to the webinar recording here.

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Caption… Warning! A PhD doesn’t come in a bottle… what you see is an optical illusion…

A PhD is a complex and complicated adventure through which we make new discoveries about the world around us, other people but also about ourselves. At the time and for a long time we will feel confused, disappointed, disheartened, alone but also excited and without eureka moments and self-belief we wouldn’t reach the end line. This is how it was for me at least. But what we also need on this wild rollercoaster ride is companions….

Mantai (2017, online) was right when she wrote “It is no secret that it takes a village to raise a PhD graduate”. A supervisory team will never be enough to support a PhD student. Further connections, peers and mentors play a vital role in the doctoral student experience. In my case my critical friends were my peers from the Graduate OER Global Network (GOGN) and a few close colleagues at work. Of course my family supported me too. They all saw the struggles, the frustration. They lived them with me, through me. They also were there to share the good moments, happy times and the success when it was finally arrived. So Matai (2017) is definitely right! A village is needed, if not a town…

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GOGN girls having fun! A must in the doctoral process…

I did my PhD at Edinburgh Napier University and my final supervisory team were Dr Sandra Cairncross and Prof. Keith Smyth. The seed for my doctoral studies was formed through course work projects I did during my MSc in Blended and Open Education at the same institution. The MoRE project and the dissertation that followed in which I created an online course and brought PgCert in Academic Practice/Higher Education students from different parts and higher education institutions of the UK together to learn about assessment and feedback using problem-based learning in facilitated groups. In that study I explored the learner experience using phenomenography. That was my very first experience of using phenomenography and an initiative developed and offered in 2010, that brought together PgCert students studying on different programmes together in distributed facilitated groups. Some research linked to that early work, and also work done during my doctoral studies, around cross-institutional collaboration in the area of academic development, which I have initiated and then developed with colleagues, has been shared through the following publications:

  • Nerantzi, C. (2011) ‘Not too much facilitation going on’ – Issues in facilitating Online Problem-Based Learning in Academic Development, in: Celebrating the Past and Embracing the Future: Evolution and Innovation in Problem-Based Learning Conference, 30 and 31 March 2011, University of Central Lancashire, pp. 111-124.
  • Nerantzi, C. (2011) Freeing Education within and beyond Academic Development, in: Greeener, S. and Rospigliosi, A. (eds.) Proceedings of the 10th European Conference on e-Learning, Brighton Business School, University of Brighton, 10-11 November, pp. 558-566, ECEL2011
  • Nerantzi, C. (2012) A case of problem-based learning for cross-institutional collaboration, Special European Conference in E-Learning, Brighton 11, Volume 10, Issue 3, Special Issue EJEL, The electronic Journal of e-Learning (EJEL), pp. 306-314, available at http://www.ejel.org/issue/current.html
  • Nerantzi, C. (2014) A personal journey of discoveries through a DIY open course development for professional development of teachers in Higher Education (invited paper), Journal of Pedagogic Development, University of Bedfordshire, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp. 42-58 http://www.beds.ac.uk/jpd
  • Nerantzi, C. (2015) Who says academics don’t do CPD? Connecting practitioners and developing together through distributed cross-institutional collaborative CPD in the open, in: Rennie, F. (ed.) The distributed university, JPAAP Special Issue, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.98-108, available at http://jpaap.napier.ac.uk/index.php/JPAAP/article/view/136
  • Nerantzi, C. & Gossman, P. (2015) Towards collaboration as learning. An evaluation of an open CPD opportunity for HE teachers, in: Research in Learning Technology Journal, volume 23, available http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/26967
  • Nerantzi, C. (2017) Quality teaching through openness and collaboration – an alternative to the TEF?, Special Edition: Teaching Excellence Framework, in: Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, Vol. 10, No.2, Greenwich: University of Greenwich, available at https://journals.gre.ac.uk/index.php/compass/article/view/485

Further related publications can be found here. Then one idea brought the other and I soon realised that open academic development courses can be sustained if developed and organised in collaboration with colleagues from other institutions, therefore being informal cross-institutional collaborations and presenting and alternative model for offering academic CPD.

And this is what happened. The module Flexible, Distance and Online Learning, a module I created for our PGCAP at the University of Salford, also became an open cross-institutional course that was organised with Lars Uhlin at the Karolinska Institute using Problem-Based Learning. FDOL was offered for the first time in 2013. One of its iterations became one of my case studies for my doctoral research. The course team split in 2014 and two new courses emerged through this that are still active today, Open Networked Learning (ONL) and Flexible, Open and Social Learning (FOS). The second case study became a course I developed in 2015, Creativity for Learning (#creativeHE) again with collaborative learning features but not predefined or fixed in advance… The course became almost immediately an open course and an open community and was part our our MA in Higher Education at Manchester Met where I moved to during my studies.

As part of my study I reviewed a large number of pedagogical frameworks and models that had collaborative learning features. There was a mix of conceptual and empirical ones that were proposed using digital technologies and used in a range of settings  including face-to-face, blended, fully online and in the open. The analysis showed that there were four common characteristics: facilitator support, activities, choice and community (Nerantzi, 2017).

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Design frameworks and models reviewed with collaborative learning features and supported by digital technologies (2017)

One of the key output of my studies is an openly licensed collaborative open learning framework. I added this below.

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Cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework (Nerantzi, 2017)

The framework synthesizes the phenomenographic findings, the categories of description, the outcome space together with a critical discussion of the literature. It’s three dimensions: engagement patterns, learning needs and design characterises help the course designer and facilitator in creating learning opportunities that are responsive and flexible. It is a cross-boundary collaborative learning framework, you may have noticed. Boundary crossing as defined in this study has four dimensions (Nerantzi, 2017):

  • Cross-boundary learning through modes of participation
  • Cross-boundary learning through time, places and space
  • Cross-boundary learning through culture and language
  • Cross-boundary learning through diverse professional contexts

I hope course designers will consider the collaborative open learning framework, when they (re-)consider their collaborative learning strategies. The thesis is in full available online (see references). I have been writing up specific sections from the thesis to publish them in peer reviewed journals. I have to admit that I found it hard to get back into something I feel has come to an end when I did my last corrections and submitted the thesis to the library.

Shortly after completing my doctoral studies I was selected to be an UNESCO co-mentor with Naomi Wahls, also a GOGN member, on an exciting open education project in Uzbekistan in which we reviewed together the current re-accreditation programme for academics who teach modern foreign languages at Uzbek universities. The process was fascinating and we all learnt a lot. Based on our collaboration, the mentors proposal we put together and my doctoral study, I have started constructing an open learning framework with a focus on engagement that incorporates the collaborative learning dimensions. I am adding it below as it stands at the moment and I will be refining this and writing this up in more detail.

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Open Learning Framework (Nerantzi, 2018)

Now, what I think is interesting for me as an academic developer, at a time of turbulence and competitiveness, at least in the UK but also more widely, is that academics in these open cross-institutional courses come together with others from different disciplines, countries and sectors, to share practices. Academics do engage in development activities driven by their own interest to enhance their students’ learning experience. Academics see their development as vital to enhance student learning but they want to be in the driving seat and not be told what to do. Who does… and this is why professional relationships of equals based on trust can make a real difference. When academic development collaborates with faculties and departments as equals, as colleagues, when it is not seen as “the soft arm of management” (Di Napoli, 2014, 5) and academic developers work with academics in networks and communities, the approach is seen as more democratic and more effective (Neame, 2011; Neame, 2013). My research shows this too. Democratic is often mentioned in the findings…  Crawford (2009) found that academics seem to prefer external, in her case disciplinary networks and communities after they have completed their internal development linked to their teaching, typically a PgCert, to meet their contractual requirements. There they find fertile ground to grow their teaching and supporting student practice. Today the plethora of open practices creates alternative opportunities for academics for engagement driven by their own interests and aspirations. More than ever before. My own research in this area confirms that not only cross-disciplinary or even cross-institutional but especially cross-boundary approaches to professional development, networks and communities that foster open collaboration act as motivators for engagement in such activities. It will be important for institutions to acknowledge this and provide the freedom, space and resources to academics to enable, support, foster and recognise the value of such development opportunities for their staff through academic development in collaboration with academics in the faculties, students and the public. The recent TLCglobal, an idea by Associate Professor Dr David Smith, Head of School of Education at Charles Sturt University, started in 2017/18, brought together a small group of academics from ManchesterMet in the UK and Charles Sturt University in Australia for peer-to-peer support of practice. Preliminary findings indicate that trust relationships among these academic peers developed rapidly despite or maybe even thanks to the physical and institutional distance and disciplinary and cultural otherness.

Earlier this year, I completed a postgraduate module on Research supervision and the MA in Coaching and Mentoring (pending the marking of my dissertation). I am looking forward to continue mentoring doctoral students through GOGN and can’t wait to get my first doctoral student. Could this be you?

Wishing all my GOGN buddies all the best on their journey and reach out when/if you need help.

Tuko Pamoja GO_GN-01

References

Crawford, K. (2009). Continuing professional development in higher education: Voices from below. University of Lincoln. [EdD thesis]. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/2146/1/Crawford-Ed%28D%29Thesis-CPDinHE-FINAL%28Sept09%29.pdf

Di Napoli, R. (2014). Value gaming and political ontology: between resistance and compliance in academic development. International journal for academic development, 19 (1), 2014, pp.4-11.

Mantai, L. (2017). Pracamedics, teaching during the PhD, 3 October 2017, Teche Maquarie University’s Learning and Teaching blog. Retrieved from http://teche.ltc.mq.edu.au/pracademics-teaching-phd/

Nerantzi, C. (2017). Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development. PhD thesis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from https://www.napier.ac.uk/~/media/worktribe/output-1025583/towards-a-framework-for-cross-boundary-collaborative-open-learning-for.pdf

radox

I think Radox has worked out what doctoral students and academics want and need! Feel positive > feel energised > feel free > Stress relief, if everything else fails…

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Building bridges #go_gn

Tuko Pamoja GO_GN-01I am now on my way back to the UK after an exciting week in Delft for the GO-GN seminar and #OEGLOBAL18. It has been a fascinating week in so many different ways. I feel so lucky to be part of GO-GN, this caring, warm and welcoming family.

The seminar was such a useful opportunity to find out more about emerging findings of current doctoral research in open education by researchers from around the world. Nothing has changed for me since completing my studies and becoming an alumni. I still feel very much part of this community and I have now an even greater opportunity to give back. To nurture colleagues and to help them grow.

The workshop Catherine and I were invited to offer really helped share a range of challenges we all experience as doctoral students but also collectively identify possibly solutions that will help to get unstuck and progress. We have a record of the information and I am wondering if it would be useful to create a resource that could be used by others in workshops as discussion triggers but also for self-reflection. This is something I would like to discuss with Catherine and Bea when we have a little bit of time.

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pic from the workshop Catherine and I co-facilitated

30,000 feet in the air at the moment and we just heard that it is not very pleasant and that it is raining… in the pilot’s words. This week was full of sunshines and ideas, and will keep me good company in the north. My eyes are closing, so will continue this when back home.

I just rediscovered this unfinished post (weeks later…. many weeks later… I have to admit) on my iPad… I do need to finish it. Oh dear…

When I first joined the GOGN family in 2015, I was not really sure I would be able to make progress with my doctoral studies and complete them successfully. Looking back now at the last two days in Delft, I can see my past self among colleagues who are at various stages on their journey and the important role this community played for me in believing in myself that I can do this but also knowing that I was not on my own as well as get a confirmation that there is value in what I was doing.

I have no idea what would have happened without me joining GOGN during my doctoral studies. I don’t think I would have progressed so quickly. It is always fascinating to be among pioneering open education researchers who push the boundaries and through their work will bring new insights that are vital to widen and deepen the knowledge base of open education and research and practice forward. I think open research is about open practice and communities as the collective power lies in individuals and their desire to come together for the wider good. Adrian in his contribution for example, made the connection between open education and participatory democracy and social justice; Helen talked about the individual as an open educational resource and the power of collaboration. I remember Sheila MacNeill referring to the individual as an open educational resource a few years back in a keynote. Marjon, highlighted the strong support for open education in higher education and more widely in the Netherlands and a call to innovate and share resources. Something similar was just recently announced in Brazil and I am sure Viv’s recent study in schools will provide valuable insights to make this work through specific professional development interventions. I hope she will be able to contribute further to this important work. Penny on the other side of the world, in Australia, also brings new insight in open education in schools and discoveries opportunities and challenges particularly in the area of professional development or open professional learning, how she calls it. Sharing these openly and connecting studies, but also building new research on completed studies would I think create some continuity and interesting extension activities to work done by GOGNers. It was indeed fascinating to listen carefully to all the current studies that were represented in the two-day seminar and hear about some of the emerging findings, some of which are echoed across studies, across sectors, across continents. Marion, Verena, Helene, Adrian, Helen, Penny, Leo, Jenni, Judith, Natasha, Virginia, Dilrukshi, Eyak and Viv who is now almost done, all did a great job sharing their work.

I don’t know if it would be useful to conduct a meta-study that brings key outputs from all completed GOGN studies together? What could we learn from this? What are the trends? Where are the gaps? What are the needs and priorities perhaps?

Prof. Fred Mulder, Open University in the Netherlands, and Prof. Rory McGreal from Athabasca University in Canada created something special in 2013, in the year I actually started my doctoral studies officially. GOGN has kept growing since then and its current guardians within the Open University and the OER Hub, are making a real difference to doctoral researchers in open education across the world. GOGN has become a vibrant and supportive community, and open family, that welcomes doctoral researchers in open education from around the world with warmth and care.

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Rob, Bea, Fred, Martin and Bea

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Gigantic congratulations to GOGN for this super award and recognition for all the important work you do!

Prof. Tim van dear Hagen, rector of Delft University of Technology, said during his address at the OEGlobal conference which followed the GOGN seminar: “Without bridges we wouldn’t be here today.”

It was indeed wonderful to hear many others talking about and sharing cross-institution

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we found the big blue heart… with the girls… 😉

al collaborations. For example Prof. Robert Schuwer and colleagues shared two current initiatives in the Netherlands. I felt that there is so much potential to connect, build more and stronger bridges and am looking forward to contributing to such developments.

A big thank to GOGN, Bea, Beck, Nats, Rob and Martin for taking me to Delft this year and the judging panel for awarding me the GOGN Best Open Research Practice Award. I will treasure it for ever. Congratulations also to Glenda and Aras as well.

thesis live in full and open to all to read ;) #go_gn

thesis (2)

Over the last 4.5 years I have been working on an exciting phenomenographic study through which I explored the collaborative open learning experience of learners participating in open cross-institutional academic development courses. This study brought new insights relating among others to the power of cross-boundary professional communities and the opportunities these bring for academics and other professionals who teach or support learning in higher education when learning collaboratively in the open.

The following is a commentary by Prof. Linda Drew about my study included in her pre-viva report shared with me on the 8th of September 2017, the day of my viva:

“The candidate has made an original and satisfactory contribution to the field of study. I enjoyed reading it. The candidate’s obvious enthusiasm for the topic area – and her commitment to collaborative open learning – is clear, leaving me in no doubt that this is an independent, authoritative and substantial piece of work.

The conceptual framework is clearly explained and the candidate’s personal standpoint in relation to the study is outlined in considerable depth. The choice of methodology seemed appropriate and linked well to the conceptual framework that had been established. The choice of methodology and research methods were well articulated and well defended. Limitations were acknowledged appropriately.

The work reads well overall, and is extremely systematic. The candidate is well able to explain and critique her field of research. The thesis presents a sustained argument throughout, which is well-developed in a persuasive way.

The study takes a novel, arguably radical, stance in relation to the field of academic development. I consider this to be a particular strength of the thesis. It’s novelty lies in the ways in which it evidences and illuminates participants’ experiences of ‘alternative’ continuing professional development opportunities for academics.”

My thesis has been made available in full through the Edinburgh Napier University repository. To access it click on the link below.

Nerantzi, C. (2017) Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development. PhD thesis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier University, available at https://www.napier.ac.uk/~/media/worktribe/output-1025583/towards-a-framework-for-cross-boundary-collaborative-open-learning-for.pdf

Thank you everybody who helped me get there! See who they are in the thesis. A big thank you also to my examiners Prof. Linda Drew and Prof. Kay Sambell. I will never forget viva day and what a valuable experience this was 😉

Abstract
This phenomenographic study, explores the collaborative open learning experience of academic staff and open learners in cross-institutional academic development settings, and adds to what is known in these settings. It provides new insights for academic developers and course designers about the benefits of crossing boundaries (i.e. open learning) in an academic development context and proposes an alternative model to traditional academic Continuing Professional Development (CPD). It engages academic staff in experiencing novel approaches to learning and teaching and developing as practitioners through engagement in academic CPD that stretches beyond institutional boundaries, characterised by diversity and based on collaboration and openness. Data collection was conducted using a collective case study approach to gain insights into the collective lived collaborative open learning experience in two authentic cross-institutional academic development settings with collaborative learning features designed in. At least one of the institutions involved in each course was based in the United Kingdom. Twenty two individual phenomenographic interviews were conducted and coded. The findings illustrate that collaborative open learning was experienced as two dynamic immersive and selective patterns. Boundary crossing as captured in  the categories of description and their qualitatively different variations, shaped that experience and related to modes of participation; time, place and space; culture and language as well as diverse professional contexts. Facilitator support and the elasticity of the design also positively shaped this experience. The community aspect influenced study participants’ experience at individual and course level and illuminated new opportunities for academic development practice based on cross-boundary community-led approaches. The findings synthesised in the phenomenographic  outcome space, depicting the logical relationships of the eleven categories of description in this study, organised in structural factors, illustrate how these contributed and shaped the lived experience, together with a critical discussion of these with the literature, aided the creation of the openly licensed cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework for cross-institutional academic development, the final output of this study. A design tool developed from the results is included  that aims to inform academic developers and other course designers who may be considering and planning to model and implement such approaches in their own practice.

Keywords: Academic development, collaborative open learning, boundary crossing, cross-institutional professional development, open education, social media, framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning

About this work
Crossing boundaries with #byod4l – some thoughts on sustaining and extending open: design, resources, practice by Sheila MacNeill, 28 January 2018

Looking back… #HEblogswap

Note, this post was first shared via Sue’s blog. It was also reblogged at GO-GN.

Thank you Santanu Vasant (@santanuvasant) for bringing #HEblogswap to life. It is a great way to share and connect experiences among practitioners.

Doing something in tandem with Sue Watling (@suewatling) came to my mind as soon as I received the information. Sue’s post can be found here. We first met at Lincoln University in 2012 during an HEA OER Change Academy project. Since then we both changed institutions. But we stayed in touch. We worked and work together in the open and are both PhD students. When Sue invited me to write about my PhD journey for this blog swap, I thought do I really want to reflect on the experience of the last 4.5 years at this moment in time? I just survived my viva last Friday. Everything was still very fresh in my mind… I decided to go ahead and am looking back not at the whole experience but specific only aspects of it.

Ok, how did it all start?
When I was an academic developer at the University of Sunderland, I started an MSc at Edinburgh Napier University in Blended and Online Education. My dissertation brought me to experiment with academic development initiatives that had a cross-institutional and collaborative dimension. I immersed myself into this study. The seeds for my doctoral study are in there and for the many open projects that followed. I was encouraged to consider a PhD by my personal tutor. That was then Dr Keith Smyth was leading the programme and who moved to a different institution and is now a Professor. The PhD I started was at a distance, part-time, self-funded, while working full-time and with a young family. Even before I started it was evident that it wouldn’t be a smooth ride. In fact it became a rollercoaster ride. There were ups and downs… Good times and bad times. I will focus only on a few aspects of the journey today.  

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How does your journey look like?

Closing my eyes and transporting my self back in time, the following fills my mind…

Loneliness
Community, or the lack of community, during the first years. I felt lonely and in the dark for a long time. I had no cohort, no peers to turn to. I was doing this study on my own and really felt it. It was hard, super hard. I missed the conversation with peers, other PhD students. People I could share my struggles with and my ideas. The lifeline came when I joined the Global OER Graduate Network for PhD students in open education from around the world. A project led by the Open Education Research Hub at the Open University in the UK. The network literally saved me and helped me grow and believe in what I was capable to do. The network has a face-to-face and online dimension and both are equally important. My own research has illustrated the importance of community in the context of professional learning. Find your network and if there isn’t one consider creating one. My colleague Penny Bentley did exactly that. She needed help with phenomenography, the methodology we both used in our study and decided to create a FB group, which has become a small but useful hub for phenomenographers, where we can support each other. So a sense of belonging was important to me and when I found my home as a PhD student, I started growing and gaining confidence in who I was and what I could achieve. 

Oh, no, what time is it?
There were time pressures from work, my studies and often I felt that I neglected my family. I felt guilty. Guilty for coming home switching on the laptop and working. Guilty for working during many many weekends and holidays. “Mummy will you get that PhD?” Is a question that my boys often asked. I needed to be disciplined, determined and stubborn, I guess, to keep going and bring this study to fruition. The discoveries I made during the study fascinated me, helped me to look beyond time. I did find time where there was none. In the end everything came together. It was an exhilarating process and I wanted to share my findings with others. I started sharing my work in progress with others through conferences and articles but also used my learning to develop open initiatives. Some might thing/say that these were distractions but in reality they helped me test some of my ideas and were invaluable for my development as a researcher and practitioner. I could do all this as my study was linked to my work. Some might not have this opportunity. 

Writing is super hard! 
It is one thing to do the research and another to write about it and articulate it so that it makes sense and is appropriate for a thesis. I am not an English native speaker, so conducting the whole research in English was not easy. However, I am not sure if it would be any easier in Greek or German, as my professional language is actually English. Whatever the language, academic writing does not come naturally to me. My background in teaching languages and translation literature, means that some of that more playful flavour was making its way into the thesis. What helped me was sharing early drafts with colleagues and friends. Even my husband read multiple versions… They could see much quicker what didn’t make sense, what needed to be explained better… Write everyday a little bit, set realistic targets so that you get a sense of achievement. Stick to the routine. Write, write and rewrite. We are all getting better at it through writing. I accepted criticism and learnt through this process. More recently, I have started helping other PhD students unofficially and I can see that I have grown and can help others. Something else, I did to get a break from academic writing… I started writing children’s stories again, especially near the end when I was preparing my thesis for submission.     

There were sunny times too
Some might get the impression that it was all a struggle… Yes, there were moments when I thoughts this is never going to happen. But I kept going. My supervisors kept saying “keep going”. I kept going. They were right, I got there in the end and much sooner than the supervisory team expected. And the feeling was amazing. You just need to get through the challenges and you will. A massive portion of determination and stubbornness is of course needed. And support! So so vital. Becoming a member of a  community really helped me and filled my batteries with determination and self-belief. I can do this and so can you. 

Viva o’clock
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I just had my viva on the 8th of September. There were many moments where I thought this day would never come. But it did. Today, I feel a real sense of achievement and can see that I have contributed a little something that can make a difference to my own practice and help others consider collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development settings through the cross-boundary framework I developed and released under a creative commons license and the specific new insights I have gained into collaborative open learning and the course characteristics that play a key role in shaping that experience. If you would like to read about my viva experience, the preparation I have done for it, check out https://chrissinerantzi.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/i-have-survived-big-friday-go_gn/ and related posts to the viva.

 

I hope some of these reflections on the journey will be useful for other PhD students, potential and current ones, especially those at the initial stages of their studies.

If you need help, remember to reach out! I think this is key!
Through the PhD journey you will discover who you are and who you are becoming.

I hope some of the above will be useful for you.

If you would like to get in touch with me, feel free to tweet me at @chrissinerantzi.

I survived Big Friday #go_gn

I remember packing my suitcase (not the tiny yellow one unfortunately… as I had just too much stuff, you can imagine, many women find it hard to travel light, but the thesis itself took up a lot of room in the tiny suitcase… so I had an excuse this time) on Wednesday and travelling to Edinburgh via Liverpool. In the train I was convinced that I had forgotten my toothpaste and some other little special things I wanted to take with me for the viva. I opened the suitcase in the train to check and couldn’t find these… I thought, that is just typical! Easy to buy some toothpaste, of course, and I did when I arrived in Liverpool. But the other little items I couldn’t replace especially the ring Adam bought me and I wanted to wear. I was upset but I couldn’t do anything about it… When I reached my hotel and opened my suitcase I found everything I thought I had forgotten. The ring was also there. Am I panicking? I think I was. My viva was on Friday and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go back home before then.

After a fascinating day and evening at the ALT conference, seeing many friends and colleagues and celebrating the ALT awards together as well as getting loads of valuable last minute viva advice (thank you especially to Nicola, Stathis, Glenda, Rob and Martin), my journey the next morning continued towards Edinburgh. I left very early and was very anxious. I had some notes in my bag and during the trip I looked through some of them but I couldn’t focus. Most of the journey, I looked out of the window and the beautiful scenery,  the green hills, the clouds in the sky, the sheep in the fields, while trying to imagine what would happen in the viva.

I had booked the Eden Locke hotel (well, not the whole hotel!) and it was definitely the best choice. It felt like a home. Friendly service, super clean, quiet, tastefully decorated and with so many little touches that made a huge difference (that massive shower head was just amazing! Just like a waterfall) and helped me feel relaxed ahead of a very important day. Even the spacemask (you must try these!!!) and the shower gel and shampoo really (especially made for this hotel, that is what it says on the bottle) helped me relax and prepare for Big Friday.

While I had said that I would be quiet (see above tweet…), I kept capturing my last pre-viva day by posting some photos on instagram and talking to very close friends and family. Thank you especially to Cristina and Adam. I guess, this helped me feel somehow connected with the outside world. Their support in these hours was invaluable.

The hours started passing and I did some last minute checks in my thesis and the notes I had printed and other ones hand written. Even looked up one or two things I wasn’t sure in some of the literature. I went through the summaries of my chapters (not in detail this time, I found it hard to read these again… it was all blurring into one big pot of letters… like an alphabet soup if you ever had one).

Going for a walk and rediscovering the baked potato shop which I first visited many years ago with Adam,

touching the toe of David Hume’s statue which apparently helps students in exam situations (I was hoping the magic toe would help me too).

I prepared a simple healthy meal in the evening. That worked as well.  I had salmon (just smoked), broccoli (very lightly boiled) and a red pepper (raw), strawberries (without sugar) and apricots from Kent (my curiosity made me buy these in the nearby supermarket. Never thought they grow in the UK). So nothing unhealthy. Everything was light. And a really aromatic camomile tea. I switched on the TV for a tiny bit but couldn’t stand the noise so switched it off again. Silence.

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I had no idea that apricots grow in the UK…

After waking up at 2.30am from a nightmare… I managed to sleep again but then woke up for good much much earlier than I had set the alarm clock. I had another waterfall shower in the morning. I can’t remember how long I was in there but it was really really relaxing. Maybe I tried to wash all my worries away.

I ironed my clothes the night before. I didn’t have to think what I would wear, which often can be a challenge… As I had no idea if there was a dress code (apparently some unis have one!), I had asked Sandra during our last chat a few days ago. She confirmed that I could wear whatever I wear when I go to work… she told me this when I was actually wearing jeans (she couldn’t see me)… I assumed this wasn’t appropriate and that she meant something a little bit smarter. As I didn’t want to distract from the viva and the conversation we would have, I decided to wear black trousers and a black top (this reminded me of Cristina). Another reason was that these clothes were comfortable. Now shoes were the problem and while I had decided which ones to wear (after a long process of deciding… back home with Adam…), as the weather looked a bit rainy I picked my red ankle boots (which added a little bit of colour) and not the black shoes I had selected originally. Women always change their minds about shoes… Some might think who will care? But I think it matters and we need to feel good in our own skin. An outfit can and does help us in this process and make a difference at least to us. Adam had bought me recently a lovely ring (the one I mentioned earlier, which I thought I had forgotten at home) for our last anniversary which reminds me of the sea, so I did wear this as it helped me feel that I had him and my whole family with me.

I started getting ready, packed all my stuff, had a healthy breakfast which included cereal with nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. I also had a green tea. There was still some “energise” super smoothie from the day before so I finished this as well.

I left the hotel early, around 8am. I had plenty of time. The viva was scheduled for 10am.

On the street, my suitcase suddenly felt even heavier than the day before.

It was finally Big Friday.

I felt that I couldn’t remember a thing that I had done in the last 4.5 years. And I started worrying again. I took the bus to Edinburgh Napier University. I arrived early. I went to the cafe and had another green tea… I felt like a proper student. It was a good feeling. I tried to relax and tell myself that everything would be ok. My biggest worry was that I would be asked a question which I couldn’t answer. But everybody had been telling me “nobody knows your work better than you do”. Was this the case? I guess, we would find out soon.

Then it was time to meet my Director of Studies, Sandra, 30 mins before the viva. We had a chat and then the Chair of the panel took us down to the room where it would all happen.

That was it.

I was in the room and the viva was going to start.

Sandra experienced the viva with me. I sat much closer to the examiners than I thought I would. Around a table. Not them on one side and I on the other. I was inbetween them. This was a good thing as it didn’t feel like “them” and “me”. It was “us”.

It was estimated that the viva would last 2 hours.

We finished in 1.5 hours.

When I entered the room, the atmosphere was very friendly. The room was filled with  smiley and welcoming faces. I saw the two copies of my thesis that the examiners had in front of them on the table. They had loads of colourful sticky notes and I thought “Oh my god, this is going to be tough! It will take us ages to get through all these…”

I was asked a series of questions but it didn’t feel like an interrogation. It was a professional discussion. I relaxed into it and was surprised how natural it came to me to respond to their questions and stay focused on the work I had done. Adam had advised me “Don’t waffle. Focus.” I guess, he knows me… But I did stay focused 😉

I got a sense that the examiners found my work interesting and were positive throughout. This helped and I could just be me. I was open and honest about the work I had done and I think the examiners appreciated this. One of the examiners said that they liked the approach I had taken in the literature review (this happened near the beginning) and felt that my study makes a significant contribution to knowledge and that I should target heavy-weight journals and that this is REFable work (near the end of the viva). I had written these comments in my notes.

After the viva, Sandra and I were asked to leave the room. Sandra had captured important bits from the discussion and I am grateful for this. I could already sense that there were a few things that I would be asked to fix. But that was fine.

During the viva, I had my thesis and the appendices in front of me but didn’t need to open them at all. I didn’t open them. What I did find useful is writing down keywords relating to the questions. This helped me stay focused and respond to the questions with greater accuracy. I also had my notes (some copies of pages from the thesis). I mainly used the framework and the outcome space figures. I think it did help that I had printed these out.

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My LEGO(R) Phenomenography kit

The little bag with LEGO(R) bricks was used to explain the methodology. I wasn’t sure how this would be received… But I decided to take this risk. I am pleased I did, as it helped me relax a bit more and show that complicated things can be explained in simple and creative ways.

Sandra and I stepped outside when it was all done and we then waited for an hour to be called back in. This must have been one of the loooooongest hours… I spoke with Adam and told him that the viva was a positive experience but didn’t know the outcome yet. Then it was time to go back in. The outcome was…

Award PhD subject to minor corrections:

  • some typos and repetition
  • enlarge the picture of the outcome space and the framework I developed
  • explain briefly the link between the structural factors and the lived experience area of the outcome space
  • rewrite the abstract as I didn’t sell my work
  • remove some of the appendices

Well, I was informed that I have 2 months to fix these and submit the changes (from the moment I receive the official letter from the Research office) to the internal examiner… I have already started working on the above (Sandra predicted this) and hope that by the end of next week (we will of course need to wait to receive the official notification from the Research office first), we will be able to submit the final final thesis with a record of the changes made.

In my hands, I have a copy of the informal report from the external examiner which says some very encouraging things about my work and definitely made me smile. Not sure I am aloud to share this in public, so will wait until I find out.

I received a text message from Nassi (15) my eldest just after 2.30pm who I guess was thinking of me. He asked me “Πώς πήγε;” It is always so nice to receive messages from my little boys. They always come through in Greek despite the fact that when in the UK they always speak to me in English. But that is ok.

When I arrived home, two big bunches of colourful flowers were waiting for me. Ody and Nassi had picked them. It was such a nice feeling to be back home.

Thank you to the Chair of the viva panel, both examiners, Sandra for being there with me, the whole supervisor team, Norrie who chaired all progress meetings also for suggesting the examiners  and all family, friends and colleagues who have supported, encouraged and believed in me in this process over the last 4.5 years.

Thank you so much Simon Rae for creating this and Sally for sharing with me and all. You touched me deeply.

If you have followed my viva prep chronicle here on this blog (there are multiple blog posts that capture my whole viva prep since I submitted the thesis on the 5th of May 2017)… I have to tell you that everything I did helped and I am pleased I started this preparation.  I am grateful to everybody who has helped me. Even the early and little last minute rituals made a big difference, even my little art projects and the pottery I made with my sister in the summer, to my readiness to perform in that viva. Some of it might have seem too much (I think a colleague of mine said, “I don’t know anybody who has prepared for their viva that much”, I think it was Rachel), but my body and mind did synchronise and worked together in harmony and I achieved a good result. I am very happy.

Thank you Sandra for being there with me on the day.

Note 1: Below is the Powerpoint I had put together in preparation for the viva. 

Note 2: By 8.20am this morning (9 September) I had made most of the corrections. Three more to go and I am done ;).

Note 3: Just the abstract now and I am done 11.55am (9 September).

Note 4: Working on the abstract (10 September), the final change I need to make and I am done.

Note 5: Everything is done now (10 September pm). Sent everything to Sandra for a final check.

Note 6: Contacted the Research office (11 September pm) asking when I would receive the official notification so that I can submit the requested changes to the internal examiner.

Note 7: Received the official letter today (14 September) about the outcome of the viva and what I need to submit, in what format and where. Have done all this and forwarded to my Director of Studies today. Hope to be able to submit final thesis to the Research Office beginning of next week. 

Note 8: I sent all the changes, the thesis with highlighted the changes I made and an accompanying document with the location of the changes to the research office (15 of September, exactly one week after the viva). The internal examiner will now check these. Hopefully everything will be ok. 

Note 9: Examiners approved the amendments (21 Sep). Committee meets on the 4th of October. I can graduate end of October. Yeah! I can wear the silly hat… this will be my first ever graduation I attend. It will be end of October.

Note 10: BTW I registered for a Research supervision and examination module.

Important stuff (pp. 4-6 from my thesis)

Thanks and Acknowledgements

First of all, I would like thank Adam Frank, my husband and father of our two boys, Thanassis and Odysseas. There have been extremely difficult and demanding times for all of us while I was working on this research which took me away from many precious family moments. I know that I would not have been able to carry out and complete this study without his patience, understanding, tolerance and unlimited support in so many different ways. I will be forever grateful to Adam for his unconditional love and support and the boys for their unlimited patience and understanding.

A big thank you goes to the supervisory team who believed in the importance of this research and supported it.

  • Prof. Keith Smyth, initially at the Edinburgh Napier University and then at the University of the Highlands and Islands, for believing in me and my initial research idea which was a result of my MSc Dissertation in Blended and Online Education, and for his valuable support and advice throughout.
  • Dr Karen Aitchison, Head of Academic Practice, of the Office of the Vice Principal (Academic) at Edinburgh Napier University in her capacity of Director of Studies until March 2014 and supporting the application and start of this research especially.
  • Tom McEwan as second supervisor from April 2014 to July 2015 for his critical comments and advice during this period.
  • Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal at Edinburgh Napier University and Director of Studies since April 2014. Her systematic approach and persistence played a key role in bringing this research to fruition.
  • Dr Norrie Brown, Senior Lecturer and Senior Teaching Fellow, School Academic Lead for Quality Enhancement, School of Health and Social Care at Edinburgh Napier for chairing the progress meetings during my studies with great honesty and directness and for his constructive feedback on the draft thesis.

As an open researcher I would also like to acknowledge the following individuals for their help on this journey:

  • Lars Uhlin, Karolinska Institutet, for his interest in my PBL work and for co-developing and co-delivering three times the open course Flexible, Distance and Online Learning (FDOL132) and all further colleagues who supported this initiative and participated.
  • Sandra Sinfield, London Metropolitan University, Dr Nikos Fachantidis, University of Macedonia, Sue Watling, University of Hull and Prof. Norman Jackson, Creative Academic, who embraced the open course Creativity for Learning in HE (#creativeHE) and co-organised and co-facilitated this and all course participants.
  • Penny Sweasey, my line manager at Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) for granting me some time to work on this research in the form of study leave.
  • Carol Yeager, Dr Charles Neame, David Hopkins, Frances Bell, Dr Leslie Robinson, Prof. Norman Jackson, Dr Janice Whatley, Viviene Vladimirschi, Dr Bea de los Arcos, Dr Beck Pitt, Dr Cristina Costa, Barbara Thomas, Dr Javiera Atenas, Dr Anne Algers, Prof. Ale Armellini, Bernard Lisewski, Prof. Carol Haigh, Chris Rowell, Simon Thomson, Dr Caroline Baylis-Green and especially Dr Stephen Powell and Dr Peter Gossman for our valuable professional discussions and moral support.
  • Colleagues from the Global OER Graduate Network who found me and helped me to connect with fellow PhD students in Open Education from around the world and participate in some of the network activities, which I found invaluable for my development as an open researcher and made me feel part of a community of open researchers.
  • Further individuals from my social media networks such as Penny Bentley, Prof. Åke Ingerman and especially Margy MacMillan, who responded to my calls for help on social media. All of them were instrumental in my development as a phenomenographer.
  • Colleagues Stephan Caspar, Viviene Vladimirschi, Dr Stephen Powell, Frances Bell, Ronald Macintyre, Nikos Moratoglou, Denis MacGrath, Dr Whitney Kilgore, Dr Sukaina Walji and Dr Carina Bossu who reviewed the draft framework of this study.
  • Many colleagues from the ALT and SEDA communities and especially Prof. Sally Brown, Prof. Phil Race and Dr David Baume, for helping me fill in some of the gaps in the academic development timeline.
  • Study participants from FDOL132 and #creativeHE for being so generous with their time in providing demographic information, participating in the interviews, checking the transcripts for accuracy and commenting on the phenomenographic findings including the outcome space.
  • Thank you goes also to everybody who participated in FDOL132 and #creativeHE.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank the Higher Education Academy for awarding me a National Teaching Fellowship in 2015 and Manchester Met for supporting my application. I used part of the award to pay the fees for the last two years of these studies.

This thesis is dedicated to Adam, my boys, Thanassis and Odysseas, as well as my Mami and Papi who always supported my love for learning.

 

Nerantzi C. (submitted) Towards a cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework for cross-institutional academic development, Doctoral thesis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier.

Big Friday… almost there now… #go_gn

This Friday is big Friday for me, a day that marks the final examination of my PhD studies which I started on the 14th of January 2013. Four and a half years ago or 1699 days, or 4 years 7 months and 26 days including the 8th of September 2017 (I used TimeandDate to calculate this for me).

Throughout the summer I have worked systematically to prepare for Big Friday. I have captured this preparation here on my blog through a series of posts but also through visual messages on Instagram hoping that some of this will be useful for others. 

In the final 10 days, Adam volunteered to grill me on a wide range of questions that I have prepared. I know some of you will say, but it won’t be a grilling… Every evening for the last 7 days, in our living room, I sit in my comfy armchair (I know I won’t have one on the day…), my thesis in front of me, a few empty pieces of paper, a pen and some notes I have prepared to take with me into the viva. These notes, over the days, have been refined. Practising has enabled me to find out what would be useful and what wouldn’t. The grillings were really helpful and I am grateful to Adam for helping me with these. 

In the last few days, I also had a final conversation with Sandra, my director of studies and Keith my supervisor. Both conversations were really useful. I was reminded of the process, what would happen on the day and help me feel a little bit more confident.  With Sandra, we also did a mini mock viva, which went well. 

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I have also re-read the thesis over the weekend and Monday. I did this slowly and systematically. I decided that not reading the thesis in a linear way would be more useful. So I started with chapter 1 (introduction), then moved to chapter 8 (conclusions), then chapter 4 (background info about the collective case study), chapter 5 (findings), chapter 7. (Framework), chapter 2 (literature review) and finally chapter 6 (discussion). This was a useful order for me.

Tonight is the last grilling. Then I need to relax and get ready for the day.

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Tonight! Will also taking my favourite olive shower gel with me…

I have my outfit sorted… shoes will depend on the weather. Also, I have looked into what I should eat so that my brain works properly. I have started this process over the summer when I was away so hopefully my body and mind will be on my side on Big Friday.

A big thank you to everybody who helped me on this turbulent and equally fascinating journey over the last 1696 days… it is not over yet… 

10 am this Friday, Edinburgh Napier University

I hope I will survive it!