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.

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In 14 days it will be all over #phdviva #go_gn

Time has started flying… literally. I am now more nervous than ever. I have  been preparing for the viva since one month after submission of the thesis on the 5th of May… for almost 3 months…

The thesis was a companion this summer again and traveled with me to Greece, on a boat in the Aegean.

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the endless blue of the Aegean…

I engaged with it almost on a daily basis… my boys started showing an increased interest in my work, beyond the “mummy when will you finish that PhD?” Recently we even watched together one of Tara’s videos (thank you dear Penny for sharing, what would I do without my #go+gn family?)… and Nassi (15) afterwards checked some things Tara mentioned in my thesis… have I done it properly Nassi?

I have used a range of techniques to prepare for the viva and have progressively focused on what I have actually done, what I have found and what this could mean. The thesis has been annotated and I have sticky notes (some say these will not be useful and that the thesis should remain clean!). The preparation has led me to read a range of advice, sometimes contracting each other. Not sure yet what will work for me during the viva. I guess, I will find out.

What I really need is to be focused and actively listen to what I am asked and articulate a response that reflects my work, makes sense and shows to the examiner that I know my work and what my original contribution is.

The visualisations I have linked to my research design, the outcome space and the framework I developed will be useful stepping stones during the viva and I plan to print them. In the last few days, I have also created a page that included key visualisations, tables etc. with their page numbers which I might want to refer to. I suspect less will be more and I need to be clear and precise throughout and transparent. I am pleased that I have also kept a reflective diary during the study and mainly during the analysis stage but also used this blog (some of these posts are private) to reflect on the process and my dilemmas. I was never sure how much I should blog about it…

In under 14 days it will be all over…

The countdown to the viva has started… 46 days left #go_gn

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Chrissi a computer programmer in the Navy

Yes, I got a proper tape measure (actually 2 from the Poundshop, yes, for £1 both of them and I am not throwing away the 47-150cm bit but will make a lanyard out of it). Last time I bought one I was waiting to finish my service in the Navy. I had 150 days left then. Now I have 46 until the viva. So I cut the tape to 46cm… this is my starting point… and I will cut 1 cm each day… yes, not inches… every day I will cut 1 cm until the big day when there will be no tape left. There is a strange satisfaction in doing this and seeing the time pass in front of your eyes. 

My viva date was confirmed todayIt is the 8th of September 2017 and I am pleased that I didn’t wait to start preparing for it until I knew the date. Pleased I had my own internal deadlines. The main preparation I wanted to do is done.

I have…

  • re-read the thesis carefully and critically.
  • created one page hand written summaries for each chapter.
  • made annotations throughout the thesis, initially I thought I should keep the clean look.
  • added sticky notes to help me locate things quickly… hopefully.
  • I have found a few errors… things that I should have seen… frustrating!

AND, as a result of the above, I did definitely overcome the fear of reading the thesis, which is a good thing.

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In a PowerPoint, I captured the following

  • a presentation of the study
  • questions and answers linked to the whole thesis and individual chapters
  • questions which I have found with the help of colleagues and friends and the web, of course
  • typed up the page summaries for each chapter
  • copy of all visualisations used in the thesis and two more that will help me explain the framework and my theoretical framework, I hope…

My plan is to print this powerpoint presentation and use as a mobile revision tool in the next 45 days… The whole thesis is coming with me to Greece again this year. It wouldn’t be the same without it… but hopefully next summer I will be PhD study free… 

Colleagues have offered to do a mock viva this Friday. I am very nervous.

I will also ask my boys to keep asking me viva questions on the beach. Soon they will stop asking me “Mummy, when will you get that PhD”… if I pass… 

What else do I need to get ready? 

Thank you all.

Thesis submitted #go_gn

It was a milestone day for me as I posted the thesis to Edinburgh Napier and therefore submitted it officially for examination. There is loads I could say how I feel just now, but for now, I am adding the abstract below and need to get ready for the viva. I am not there yet…

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one set for the internal examiner, one for the external and one for me

Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development

Abstract

Academic development in the United Kingdom (UK) has been criticised in the literature for being behind the times and for not modelling innovative and technology-supported practices. Concurrently there are increased external pressures on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK to engage large numbers of academic staff in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to gain a teaching qualification and/or professional recognition, to enhance their teaching practice, and to raise the quality of teaching in order to achieve teaching excellence. The UK Government view is that teaching excellence can be achieved through competition and financial incentives. However, academic staff collaboration combined with open education, can provide an alternative model. The call for more outwards facing and connected CPD by academic developers point towards real opportunities in this area where cross-institutional academic development and collaborative open learning can play a key role. This thesis reports research that provides some options tackling issues in this area. It is a phenomenographic study, which explores the collaborative open learning experience of academic staff and further open learners in two specific cross-institutional academic development courses. It also includes collaborative open learning characteristics using digital online technologies. The findings demonstrate the impact these courses had on the study,  participants’ experience and the benefits and positive nature of collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development. The study adds to what is known about collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development, and also provides new insights for academic developers and course designers about the benefits of crossing boundaries (i.e. open learning) in an academic development context. The study concludes with the proposal of an openly licensed framework developed with the aim of informing academic developers who may be considering and planning to model such approaches.

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… I received confirmation from DHL that the yellow box is travelling North

Submitted the thesis 10 days ahead of my personal target… which was the 15th of May.

Yeah! We agreed a submission date! #phdchat #go_gn

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I thought it would never happen. But now it did. Yesterday. After a constructive meeting with the supervisory team with Sandra ad Keith as well as Norrie who chairs the progress meetings, it was decided to agree a submission date.

Some more work needs to be done, and I am determined to do this but I can’t stop smiling to have reached this important milestone. I need to be extremely focused now until I complete the final thesis on the 15th of May 2017. And viva, hopefully before August. This is the plan.

On the train back from Edinburgh I started doodling… the above is the result of this. It is not 100% accurate, especially as the first part before the 1st full draft did really take much longer… and there is history before Jan 13. I will put it all together when I reach viva stage. Now I need to focus on getting that final version of the thesis as strong as possible.

If you have any suggestions, for the rest of the journey, I would love to hear from you.

Thank you so much to all who have been, and still are, my supportive travel companions.

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Timeline of academic development in the UK #phdchat #go_gn

For the last four years I have been and still am a PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University in the area of collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development in the UK. One of the main outputs of this phenomenographic study is the cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework. More info about my study can be found here.

Since September 2016 I have been revising the first full draft.

During this process, I realised that a timeline for the literature review section around   academic development, would be useful to capture important milestones in the area and the ones related to HE in the UK. This would give the reader a quick visual overview.

I was surprised at how little specific information I could find in the literature especially around historic academic development provision and particularly dates linked to provision and when it all started. Is this linked to the fact that in the first years of its existence not much was written about academic development?

This led me to reach out to the SEDA community for help via the Jisc mailing list. I am  grateful for all colleagues who responded and helped me add some vital pieces to this timeline.

The below is this timeline.

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Timeline of academic development in the UK (Nerantzi, 2016)

If you are reading this, and have more accurate information, that should be included/replaced in the timeline, please let me know.

Thank you.

Chrissi

“Openness is the absence of restrictions, so ultimately about freedom” Rob Farrow #OEGlobal #go_gn

The above phrase by Rob @philosopher1978 stayed with me… such simple words that mean so so much! This is why we need philosophers!!!

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Is this what we are after?

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… or do we prefer this and what does this mean in the context of OER and OEP?

It was the first time I experienced the Open Education Global conference and it was truly fascinating to find out about open ed projects that were happening in different parts of the world and most importantly connect with some of the people associated with these.

The conference started with the Open Ed scene in Poland while during the conference I had the pleasure to meet and chat with Dr Tomasz Boinski a lecturer in Computing from Poland. We started talking after our contributions and I could sense that he was keen to make a real difference in his institution through opening-up practices. We started talking about our open source app we are developing at the moment and he offered to help us with finding the right licence for this and forwarded extensive resources around these which will be extremely useful for our project. On the last day, Jaroslaw Lipszyc, a polish poet, emphasised that he sees open as free, and therefore he claimed, that we don’t need the word ‘open’. But open doesn’t come without a cost attached… there is the human cost, time and resources etc. Even if for the learner the “open education product or experience” is free or freely available, the process of making this happen can be costly and rarely calculated in especially when we talk about non-funded projects and funded projects usually have a funding time frame which doesn’t go on for ever… some might.

RESOURCES

I felt that there was still a strong focus on content at the conference and many seem to be working on the production of OER, including film format. We are creating more and more such resources, not just universities but also private providers. Are we reducing learning in the open with watching videos?

While we talk about active learning, many do watch videos for hours and I can see this with my own children. We often reach out to YouTube to learn a new skill or find a new recipe or activity. It is not just children… My youngest started video production and shares his films via YouTube with others. He shares Minecraft stuff. It is an interesting development and I haven’t asked him yet why he is doing it. Looking at it from my perspective it almost feels as if he wants to give something back, as if he wants to connect through his work with others, he loves it when others leave feedback on his clips. So I think it is more than just watching videos, it might be more about connecting with others in a very humane way and non personal at this stage as he is only 12 and he is using a pseudonym. So the social interaction he has are at a somehow removed level.

My eldest, 14, seems to have great fun watching science films and funny stuff on YouTube.He hasn’t got a channel and doesn’t leave digital traces behind. He doesn’t share the stuff he creates, except some clips we added to my YouTube channel a while back now.  I often hear him laughing loudly and there seems to be emotional engagement when he watches the clips, it is really fascinating. Sometimes the boys watch YouTube video on telly… My eldest also started coding and he can do this for hours,he is searching for help to develop what he wants without interacting with anybody online… As far as I can see. We haven’t got any firewall but both seem to have a maturity when navigating through the video jungle. Two very different behaviours which make me think about learners more widely and there is something there that reminds me of the digital residents and digital visitors model by Dave White and Alison LeCornu and other stuff that might indicate that change is happening. Both are autonomous and know where to look when they need help.

… I only have snippets of their digital behaviour and habits  and maybe this is problematic especially as they are still children. Do we trust them too much? Is this freedom good for them or not?

Back to my world… still thinking about resources… While I recognise the need for putting together course resources it would be useful to further explore opportunities using inquiry-based models of learning which would I think free us from racing to produce new content. We have done this in different open initiatives such as FDOL, BYOD4L and FOS as well as #creativeHE. Could we shift the purpose of creating resources for  teaching to capture the process of (co-)constructing learning? After all we learn so much more through experiencing and making stuff. Is this another reason why OER are not used that widely? As we want to create our own resources as educators since we recognise that the process of making helps us engage deeper with our subject that we will help others understand? Is it also about academic ownership? And what about context? De-contextualised resources with global reach… how valuable are these? I am now wondering if the real potential of resources is actually (c0-)creating these as part of the learning process? Could the resources actually be more valuable for the creator and what does this mean about sharing? Are resources more ephemeral than we think? If we talk about authentic learning, could we instead use open data as Dr Javiera Atenas invited us to keep learning and teaching fresh, fully contextualise and create the conditions for an inquiry-rich environment for learning through discovery?

PRACTICES

As an open practitioner with a focus on work that sits outside MOOCland, I was interested to hear at the conference how things have progressed within it. In some cases making available resources equated to course design in a MOOC context. This was very problematic for me… I was looking for a pedagogical rationale but couldn’t see it. Some called this platform pedagogy. Not sure what this is… There were some cases and I had read about them and included in my Literature review were MOOC organisers recognised the need for social learning including learning in groups and collaborated with other institutions or colleagues in other institutions to facilitate these. One of these projects was introduced by Alannah Fitzgerald and it was fascinating to hear their exploration into using facilitators in a MOOC as well as groups and the difficulties they experienced with both but also with the technology, the team tool from EdX. Alannah mentioned “platform education”. Is this similar to teaching from within a VLE or LMS? I shared with her some information about our work in this area outside the MOOC world and the Open Facilitator Project. I would have loved to find out more but in the end we didn’t manage to get together again. At scale the challenges are amplified, of course, require big investments in time and resources, but also a robust pedagogical scaffold, I would say. The support scaffold is vital but often missing.

The conference didn’t help me understand “massive”. I am still confused why we need and often start with massive. Somewhere I read “what we mean by massive, is the potential, the potential is massive”… But  does massive work? Businesses start small and in nature things grow from a seed… Does the education world know better? What is the rationale for massive and global? And what are the real expectations? What are we trying to achieve and what is happening in reality?

The more I think about it the more I see grey zones in open education. Maybe I see them more as red zones, zones that are alarming. We all have different motivations, of course, why we are in it, in open education. If only we could collect authentic and honest responses, I think that might be eye opening… Would there be any surprises? Philosopher Dr Rob Farrow, highlighted that some of us see Open Education as a moral mission. What about everybody else? The OER Hub invited us to think big… how big can we think? And how can we make our thoughts and ideas reality? And what would we change through these if we could make them happen?

My own research reveals that learning with others and being supported by facilitators makes a big difference, feeling part of a community that fosters online and offline interactions shape our engagement in open learning with others who are like us and very different from us. Like-minded people create a sense of belonging and other-minders people stretch us intellectually. Above all, we flourish when there is variety… Variety of people, variety of approaches and freedom to make our own choices.

Learning has always been personal. How can we think that technology would change this? We are still seeking personal connections. Technology actually can strengthen such opportunities and create new ones. I have used this example before… The party. And I have a question for all of us: when we go to a party, do we chat and dance with everybody? Does it depend on the size of the party? How many people are there? How confident we are etc. etc? But I am sure if there are loads and loads of people there, we wouldn’t even attempt to interact with all in a personal way. Or would we? But we would reach out to a few, or one other individual nearby perhaps? But then again, sometimes we go to the party with somebody and stick with this person throughout. Are there parallels? Something to think about…

COMMUNITIES

What really matters are the conversations, the collaborations and feeling and being part of what is happening around us, nearby and sometimes further away. We humans always had a need for belonging as social beings and social media can be useful tools that help us connect with others in the digital jungle. Open practitioners as I mentioned already use a variety of tools and platforms, including social media. Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman and Tony Coughlan shared some findngs from their Facebook project and it was lovely to hear that the emphasis was on community. Educators and learners are appropriating social media for learning, teaching, professional development and research and they have become valuable spaces to be to meet peers and keep up-to-date with what is happening in our area. I had a very interesting conversation during the conference with Tony Coughlan about social media and open practice. Are they compatible, we were asking ourselves with open practices? Dr Ronald Macintyre in his contribution about the “hidden tariffs” also talked about the fact that open educators might be exploited by others economically… I have felt uncomfortable about this for some time now, despite the fact that I am using social media regularly and the open projects I  have initiated are all built using these. There are open practitioners out there who stay away from social media, not because they don’t like to be with others and share but because of the commercial character of social media. The poet Jaroslaw Lipszyc mentioned that we can learn loads from the open source community.Tony Coughlan has written a post about the conference and included some thoughts around this too.

“In distance education the equivalent space is owned by network providers and proprietary platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, whose primary motivation is commercial rather than educational, so their environments are designed for commercial benefit.

The open education movement has some experience of this type of challenge, as open textbooks and journals have been challenging commercial publishers with similar priorities.” (Coughlan, 2016)

I am just wondering what we could do about this as an open community… some ideas are emerging…

Very pleased I went to the OER Hub action lab on the last day where we got some insights into the very first voices that come through the survey that was shared recently. All data will be open data and I am looking forward to reading some of this. With Viviene Vladimirschi, a PhD student buddy from Brazil, we actually would like to do a tiny bit of work on some of the data linked to the action lab we participated and hope this will be possible. One of the key outcomes for me from this action lab was that we need frameworks into open pedagogical practices. I am working on one of them for collaborative learning in open settings. So that was good to hear that my work might be of interest to others. Hopefully others will test it in practice and develop it further.

logo-gogn-blue2-e14393890788191A big thank you to the GO-GN  and the OER HUB team, Prof. Martin Weller, Dr Bea  de los Arcos, Dr Rob Farrow, Dr Beck Pitt, Natalie Eggleston  for supporting this trip and enabling me to share the work we do within the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University with many colleagues from my own and other institutions in the area of open education and related PhD research. A big thank you also to all colleagues PhD students part of GO-GN who were present and others who engaged online as well as Prof. Robert Schuwer and Prof. Fred Mulder for their camaraderie.