Tag Archives: research

A Reflection on Access to Academic Research

I’m writing this quickly, my fingers flying across the keyboard in a quiet room on a Sunday afternoon. I hope my daughter doesn’t wake up from her nap before I finish, and I know that my time is limited. I’m excited to have a few stolen moments to write here, in this recreational writing space I so rarely visit these days. Today’s topic: a reflection on a most privileged kind of access: access to academic research.

I’m doing research this afternoon on reading and writing in digital environments. I’m doing this research so that I can discuss plans for introducing more digital reading and writing tasks into middle school curriculum with our district’s ELA director. This is research I’ve conducted before, both within and outside of my doctoral program, and I am thanking my former self for saving few PDFs in the archive.

I’m glad I saved PDFs because as I conduct my search, I am reminded that I lack the privileges once granted by my affiliation with a major research institution. The University of Michigan, Purdue University, and The University of Illinois boasted library collections and databases that gave me access to… well, anything I wanted. If I didn’t have access through my university, I had access through the robust Big Ten Interlibrary Loan network, and when that failed me, I could ask my trusty School/College of Ed librarian to consider adding a journal or database to the collection (which they often would).

When I was associated with a major research institution as a graduate student, the research process was pretty simple. I searched library databases. I found excellent articles in prestigious or lesser-known research journals. I downloaded a PDF and saved the citation. The end.

Today, my process looks a little more like this:

  1. Search of old stuff from my own archive, because let’s face it, start with what you’ve already done. But most of this stuff is from 2013 or earlier, so…
  2. Google Scholar Search, editing parameters for only those articles that include an openly available full-text version.
  3. Google Scholar Search v.2, eliminating the extremely limiting PDF parameters, and archiving citations using Zotero for future search in our High School databases.
  4. Extremely frustrated break for lunch.
  5. Remember the Directory of Open Access Journals and comb it for education journals that are open access. Bookmark these journals for later searching.
  6. Academic OneFile Search (we subscribe to this database for our high school students) for articles for which I already pulled citations, in hopes the journals are included in that database. Very few of them are. Note to self to check public library databases later.
  7. Regular Old Google Search, which turns up an article from Scientific American (okay yes, it’s a media outlet, but it often does a pretty good job offering up “digested research,” IMO). Archive a few citations from this article, repeat steps 5 and 6.

I can navigate this process in part because I know how to navigate our district and public library resources. I know how to do this in no small part because of my background in research and my former affiliation with large research institutions, and because I am pretty good at navigating the Interwebs and conducting strategic keyword searches. So it’s fine that I need to do all of this, if a little frustrating, because I have the information literacy skills needed to find the 345 workarounds I need to gain access to rigorous academic research.

But I will not walk away with all of the articles that I want, and I will spend a long time finding the ones that I do finally gain access to.

Access. We ask teachers to engage in research-based best practices, but they (and sometimes we — leaders of these teachers) do not always have the access we need to the research that helps us understand, study, and develop these practices.

Access. Even when we do have access, we sometimes need to understand how to use that access — we need the information and digital literacy skills to navigate online databases and search engines.

Access. I never realized how much access I had to the brightest minds in the world until I suddenly had extremely limited access.

My time runs low, so I’ll end my reflection here. I know many newer journals are open access, embracing the call of many in the academic community to embrace the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement, and I hope I more scholars will support this movement by submitting to these journals too… not always the journals that make a lot of money because of their high impact ratings (which also get professors tenure, and grants, etc.). I understand why some journals are proprietary, but I can’t help but find myself, a k12 educator and teacher leader in search of excellent literacy research, a little disheartened and disappointed by today’s search.



Sooo… tomorrow I defend my dissertation. WHAT?!

I wanted to make a few materials available here, for purposes of accessibility for those attending my defense. Enjoy!

Transcript of my Defense Talk

Defense Talk Slides (PowerPoint)

In other news, I ran a marathon this morning. I ran clear to Canada and back with my friend Ann! Check out the view as we approached (and then ran over) the Ambassador Bridge:

Ambassador Bridge at Sunrise: Detroit International Marathon

Ambassador Bridge at Sunrise: Detroit International Marathon

Easily the best way to spend the morning before my defense — celebrating the marathon that has been this PhD with a marathon tour of Detroit!



Submitting the Dissertation

I submitted my dissertation to my committee yesterday (can I get a what what?!)

 GIF credit: sqider-man.tumblr.com

Let’s pause for a second so I can tell you what that was like. Because it was really unlike any other submission experience of my life. All day I was thinking “okay, so I’ll go home, finish checking references, and submit. NBD.” It was going to be like when I submitted my first year exam or something. Send an email, sit back in my chair, sigh.

Then I actually entered the last page number in my list of figures and went to save it as a PDF, and my world came crashing down around me.

 GIF credit: gifovea.tumblr.com

My thoughts included:

  1. I forgot something. No, I forgot all the things. They’re never going to let me graduate with this piece of crap.
  2. This is easily the best thing I’ve ever written.
  3. I can’t let go of my baby! Why are they taking my baby?!
  4. THANK GOD this thing is being excised from my life.
  5. Nope, not ready. Not ready at all. Maybe I’ll just wait till tomorrow.
  6. Is that a typo? Nope, just a speck of dust on the screen.
  7. HOLY SNOWBALLS, my title sucks.

That heart-in-throat, blood-pressure-rising, omg-I-can’t-even-hit-the-send-button, if-I-fail-at-this-I-fail-at-life feeling was easily unlike any other I’ve experienced up to this point. Once I actually managed to hit “send,” it felt like the world’s largest elephant had been lifted off of my shoulders (but he was quickly replaced with a second, slightly smaller elephant, whose name strangely happened to be Defense). I called my partner, made some zucchini-and-onions (a comfort food fave from my childhood), poured a glass of wine, and collapsed on the couch.

And this morning is weird. I had settled into something of a routine, getting up at 4:15 or so to feed the pup, work on the diss for a couple hours, go for a very short run with my furry best friend, and head to work. But this morning I’m not sure what to do with myself. So I made coffee. Window shopped on Amazon. Checked Facebook (but nobody’s up, so once you look at your newsfeed once, it’s not like there will be new posts the next time you hit “refresh”). Checked Twitter (same problem).

I’m sure I’ll find things to do in the coming weeks (my list is long… now I have to prepare for the defense, among articles that need to be submitted and other such things). But this morning, I’m happy to blog, enjoy social media, drink coffee, and bask in the awesomeness of no more revisions (at least for the next month).

 GIF credit: reactiongifs.com

NCTE Assembly for Research Materials

Headed to Elmhurst College for the NCTE-AR Midwinter conference — looking forward to it! This is actually the second time I will have been to a conference at Elmhurst College; I attended CEE 2009 there as well. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to the same place twice for a conference. This career first goes to Elmhurst!

I wanted to provide conference participants with my talk materials in case they find them helpful. I also link to these materials in my CV. I made a Prezi for the first time for this conference — don’t judge my Prezi skills. The non-linear presentation is one digital literacy I am definitely still working on.

And here is a link to my talk transcript, as well.

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.