Tag Archives: analysis

The Weirdest First Day Ever

Fall has arrived in Ann Arbor. And for those of you who live in the academic world, you know that I don’t just mean the season. After a sweltering week of high humidity (our windows fogged over one night thanks to the hot, steamy air), the heat broke last night, giving way to chilly football weather. I’m sitting in my office chair next to a breezy open window, warming my rear with a heating pad and drinking steamy coffee in an effort to both ease the pain in my rebellious running hips and warm myself through.

But when I say fall has arrived, I’m not referring to the chill in the air. It’s the first day of everything here in Ann Arbor. First day of school for my tutoring kiddos and all public school children aged 5-18 in the greater Detroit area. First day of classes, teaching, and semester chaos for my friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan. For my entire life, the beginning of fall has been filled with excitement. That first day of classes is always thrilling, whether you’re meeting a classroom full of future teachers or walking into your first graduate course. You’re anticipatory. nervous. excited. terrified.

For me? Today is the first day of nothing. Which is WEIRD.

Well, it’s the first day of my fall fellowship, I suppose. The same fellowship I’ve been on all summer. The fellowship that requires me to get my damn work done, and that’s pretty much it.

Don’t misunderstand me, please — I am so very grateful that I attend a university and am part of a program that affords me the luxury to sit at home today in front of my computer, reading and re-reading and re-reading my interview and observation data, thinking deeply and writing reflectively about teaching and technology. Few graduate students are afforded this opportunity, and I thank my lucky stars every day for the support and encouragement I am given — both funding and academic — to pursue this PhD at UM.

However, none of that takes the edge off of the weirdness that is today. For the past 25 years of my life, the beginning of fall has meant the beginning of something new and exciting. 100+ new students filtering into my freshman English classes. The start of my master’s work. My first college class. My first day of high school.

But today, as classes start at UM and everyone on campus feels the electric charge of a new semester, I sit in my home office. Feeling weird. Like I need to be somewhere. But I don’t. I’ve checked my calendar like twenty times.

And I realize that if I’m to make this fall a successful one, I need to create my own beginnings, my own goals for the semester. So here they are: publicized, to hold me accountable. And to make me feel as though something is beginning, even if today looks a heck of a lot like last Tuesday, and like the Tuesday before that.

This is the start of a semester when I will (in this order. maybe.):

  1. define major themes in my dissertation data
  2. decide which major themes will become chapters in my dissertation
  3. code data based on major thematic findings
  4. check my interpretations of themes with my participants
  5. write my methods chapter
  6. begin revisions of my literature review and theoretical framework chapter(s?)

And because all academic goals need to be balanced with non-academic goals, I will also (not in this order):

  1. run a marathon
  2. train the dog to put away her toys
  3. throw an Oktoberfest party
  4. throw a Halloween party
  5. celebrate with family (not my place to say who yet, but someone’s getting married)
  6. sleep a lot and eat well (see #1)
  7. write four awesome posts for GradHacker
  8. write two awesome posts for Rackham
  9. keep up with my other two blogs

I know there are more non-academic goals, but the academic ones are scary, and I know each one will take significantly longer than, say, “throw a party.” Though training the dog to put away her toys might take me the better part of a month…

Despite the fact that I feel extremely weird today, I’m going to embrace the beginning of a new semester and get down to work. I hope everyone enjoys their own first days, in all their excitement, anticipation, and terror. As sad as many of you may be to see summer go, know that days like today are precious in their own strange way. They’re easier to miss than you might think.

 

Invisible Progress

One thing I’ve learned about dissertation work in the past few weeks: progress is invisible. At least at this stage it is.

I have been stuck on some analyses of my network data, which means my qualitative data has taken a back seat as I try to specify this influence model, which is resulting in much (metaphorical) banging of my head against a wall.

But I don’t want to talk about that right now because it makes my head hurt. That, and all the (again, metaphorical) banging.

It’s hard on some days to feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything. Sure, I sat here with my computer open all day. Sure, I generated about ten thousand files of output (no joke). Sure, I stared at some numbers and wrote some notes and tried some things again and stared at some numbers and wrote some notes and… you get the idea. But then my partner comes home from his day at work at 6 or 7 (or 8, or 9), the dog greets him enthusiastically (helicopter tail time is one of the best parts of my day, too, Gertrude), I stop working to fix dinner and talk to him, and I wonder… what. in the world. did I accomplish today?!

Truth is, usually I accomplished a lot. I did some important and necessary thinking. I did some problem-solving (even if I don’t feel any closer to a solution). I cleaned up data sets for future analysis. I ruled out a few more possible explanations. You know, all that. I did all that.

But, and excuse my language here folks, all that shit’s invisible.

I could make a to-do list and check stuff off to make myself feel better, but that wouldn’t help me for two reasons:

  1. I suck at updating to-do lists
  2. Tasks I think will be short are taking me forever, so it would just make me feel worse.

So I’m writing this post to remind myself that I am, indeed, making progress. It’s just invisible progress.

I’m making a little bit of visible progress (and I’ve been trying to focus on that, too). For example, I got a paper accepted into the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. And I was recently chosen as a permanent author for GradHacker, an awesome grad student blog that recently scored a partnership with Inside Higher Ed. The visible progress just doesn’t seem to matter as much as this dissertation thing I need to write. Which continues to elude me. You know. Because it’s invisible.

 

Unspoken (But Necessary) Academic Skills, Part 3: Making Obvious Things Sound Really, Really Important and Interesting

The good news? I’m unstuck. Sorta.

I’ve been able to get a little more work done this week, in the form of both visits to the school for interviews and observations and diving into a bit of the data I’ve already collected. Which mainly means more sorting, shifting, labeling, filing, and so on.

In this process, I discovered an academic skill that I hadn’t previously considered: making things that any normal person would say is obvious and morphing them into research findings that convince others your work is important.

A caveat: this post is going to sound snarky and sarcastic. It’s not supposed to be, but I think this was at least somewhat inevitable.

So here’s what happened. I’m currently trying to identify variables for a model that will tell me how teachers select who to consult about digital technologies at the school. To do this, I need to do a number of other things, including:

  1. think a lot about what might make someone go to someone else for help with tech. the fact that I’ve talked to lots of teachers about this helps.
  2. clean up data from the survey and code it so that I actually have variables to analyze.
  3. figure out how to do (2). this has taken hours upon hours.
  4. figure out what of my data might be most meaningful when it comes to selecting people to consult.
  5. get angry at myself for not collecting information that I think might be important.
  6. eat ice cream or similar junk food when frustrated.
  7. run some correlations to see how variables are related to one another, thus what might impact tech use or selection of people to consult.

So I finally got to number 7 this morning, and guess what? I found something really interesting, people.

No REALLY, really, REALLY interesting!

Until I realized it wasn’t interesting at all, because it was pure common sense. Doh. Here it is, folks:

Teachers (at this school) who are high users of digital technologies in their day-to-day lives are also high users of digital technologies in their classrooms. Teacher uses of online digital spaces in their lives outside the classroom are highly and significantly correlated (.72, p<.001) with their uses of online digital technologies in the classroom.

Was your mind just blown? Or did you just say “duh?” Probably the latter.

Why I thought this was really interesting:

Well, this is my diss project, for one, and I’m kinda geeked that I’m working with my own data and that this is based on information I collected in my very own survey. Cool beans.

But also, this excited me because it fits with something I’ve been trying to argue for years, which is that teachers’ lives in the classroom are often extensions of their lives outside the classroom, and vice versa. Teachers draw on knowledge they gain from their lives as parents, graduate students, writers, musicians, and even runners when they walk into the classroom every day, and technology is no exception to this rule.

And yet many teachers get technology “thrown at them” (at least, this happened to me, and if you’re a teacher this has never happened to, you’re lucky) in professional development sessions where other teachers or administrators, who probably have more experience with these technologies in their lives outside the classroom, tout the advantages of this or that new thing, this or that new approach, leaving teachers to sift and sort through which technologies to try and which ones to ignore. This is a HARD PROCESS, folks, and it takes time — especially today, as online technologies are in a state of constant flux. This is time teachers don’t have in systems set up for one-stop-shop PD. So what do teachers do? Probably stick with what they know, or what is least foreign to them from their experiences elsewhere in life, because they have the time and the know-how to figure it out.

What does this mean for teachers, researchers, and professional development folks? That we need to find out more about the technologies teachers already know and work with in their lives outside the walls of their classrooms and draw on that knowledge. That we need to help teachers develop digital literacies that will expand their repertoires so they can make informed decisions as professionals about which technologies will work for their classrooms. That one-shot professional development, one-to-one initiatives, and all the other tech development crap out there isn’t nearly as powerful as what teachers already know and do in their lives — as whole people.

Why this is not interesting at all:

I sat there sort of excited for a few minutes before I realized this isn’t interesting at all. It’s obvious. Or at least, it should be obvious. Of course teachers who use digital tech more in their daily lives are more likely to bring it into their classrooms.

Duh.

So I’m spending today trying to figure out if this is interesting, if this is worth writing about or investigating further, or what other analysis I need to do to give this “finding,” if that’s what it is, more muscle. And also contemplating how other academics feel (or if they ever experience this phenomenon) when a “finding” that looks exciting on the surface might actually be plain old common sense. Which if I’m being honest, is a bit of a wind-out-of-the-sails sort of feeling.