I preface this statement with an acknowledgement that my views here are intended to stimulate discussion at Texas A&M–Texarakana and do not apply to my feelings about the use of the GRE at other institutions.
I have been asked to revisit the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) requirement for admission into the ITED program at TAMUT. I have tried to address the issue with as much clarity as possible, and have concluded, after closer inspection, that the policy of using the GRE as part of admissions criteria is not only inappropriate for TAMUT’s ITED program, but is also potentially misleading in making admissions decisions. This statement lays out my rationale and a proposed replacement to the GRE requirement.
There have generally been four purposes of the GRE in the admissions process. Those reasons are:
(1.) As a minimum cut-off used in order to manage large numbers of applications for programs where the application pool is larger than department or universities’ resources allotted to review applications.
(2.) As a predictor of success in graduate school in order to locate learners who may need additional support once admitted;
(3.) As an additional point of observation to compare similar boarder-line admissions candidates;
(4.) As evidence of sincerity in a candidate’s desire for admittance to graduate study. I will address each point separately.
1. A minimum cutoff to manage large application pools
The ITED program is not presently overwhelmed with applications. To make a statement that this is the purpose for the requirement would be unethical. In an effort to make our admissions as transparent as possible, we should exclude this purpose from our application statements. This purpose is also advised against by the test developers: “A cutoff score based solely on GRE scores should never be used as the sole criterion for denial of admissions.” (from the ETS website.) Using the test in this way is misuse.
2. As a predictor of success
The test does not assess the skills associated with the program, and in doing so, provides no relevant measure of potential success in the program. ITED is a design program, but the test measures other types of knowledge not sufficient in the process of design. Design programs train learners to uncover unforeseen solutions, while the test measures how well a learner can mimic the test creator’s logic. Furthermore, even for more strictly academic programs, the use of the test as a predictor has been widely discredited (This Chronicle of Higher Education article and dozens of others). Previous studies show that the GRE only explains 6% of the variation of first year scores, and even has negative correlations with graduation rates (Onash 1994). Using the test to predict success in the ITED program hinders our vision of who might actually be the most promising candidates because even high scores will have no relevance to program success.
3. Identifying students who may need support after admittance
The GRE measures analytical writing, verbal (primarily English language manipulations) and high school mathematics. Apart from the skill of constructing coherent and complex arguments explaining rationale, most of the areas measured on the GRE fail to align with problem areas common to the ITED program—difficulties in understanding and applying instructional and learning theories, and the technical aspects of computing and digital design. Since the GRE does not identify problem areas, another criterion would be more appropriate for this purpose. For example, learners who have difficulty with digital skills could be identified early on via a digital artifact. They could be required to take a TAMUT basic computing course or web design course as a condition of enrollment. Using the GRE weakens our ability to detect these deficiencies in preparation for graduate study in Instructional Technology.
4. Evidencing sincerity in desire for graduate study
Were it the case that all applicants had access to the same financial resources, this might be a plausible use of the GRE. However, having no other purpose, imposing this financial barrier on the population that TAMUT is situated to serve is suspect on a number of levels. The price of the test may be equivalent in dollar value to each learner, but in terms of percentage of resources the cost may vary dramatically from learner to learner. Thus the practice of requiring the GRE may favor more financially well off students, and obfuscate the institution’s vision of the most qualified students. This dynamic works against our mission to provide equitable access to learning, and on these grounds cannot be assumed to discriminate fairly among candidates.
An alternative requirement: A designed artifact
In comparison to other institutions, an equal number use and forgo the GRE as a requirement. Among those that do require the test, we do not know why they use it. I can only conclude that the negative aspects of using the GRE on admission requirements outweigh the positive aspects of requiring the test. An alternative measure might provide the additional level of granularity some programs are searching for in their requirement of completion of the GRE. Thus, an alternative may prove to be a more useful and appropriate means of assessment for admittance.
One possible alternative is requiring a designed artifact. Requiring a designed artifact holds the potential to address the skills we hope to enrich in the ITED program- applied creativity and innovation in creating learning. An artifact of design can clue us into a candidate’s ingenuity, their ability to take information and apply it to real world contexts, and a learner’s tenacity to complete a design task. The practice may avoid the caveats presented with using the GRE as a criterion for admissions. Requiring a designed artifact may weed out learners who have little or no concept that ITED is a program where the creation of materials for learning is the primary objective, thus narrowing the pool to those who have a concept and desire to study in the program for which they are applying. A designed artifact also directly aligns with the learning objectives in the program and in so provides a more appropriate measure of potential success. Unlike the GRE, a designed artifact may expose learners’ limits in relevant skill areas, thus pointing to better means of preparing learners for graduate study in Instructional Technology in the early stages. And finally, requiring a designed artifact is a non-prejudicial practice, discriminating on relevant experience and knowledge as opposed to financial resources.
Onasch, C. (1994). Undergraduate Grade Point Average and Graduate Record Exam Scores as Predictors of Length of Enrollment in Completing a Master of Science Degree. ERIC Document No. 375 739.
Sacks, P. (June 8, 2001) How Admissions Tests Hinder Access to Graduate and Professional Schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Expanded title might read, Why I forbid students to use certain words when they describe a design, and the list itself
This week a student asked me to explain the differences among discussion boards, discussion forums, and blogs. I paused because I knew my answer was actually a blog post, and not really what a student wants to hear. I wondered if my answer held value for her the same as I felt it holds for me. I am someone who appreciates an accurate description of a design, but not a lot of people do. Maybe that’s because design communication is one of those things that really only get appreciated when it breaks down. So I paused, and thought about it, then I gave her and the whole class the whole long-winded lecture (via the Blackboard asynchronous message feature) about why it’s important to describe designs well. Here’s what I said.
The hard and fast difference among discussion boards, discussion forums, and blogs is nothing. They are all slang words for asynchronous configurations, and at this point in time, have generally become so varied in specific manifestations, that the terms are slightly more valuable than total gibberish. So to me, they all signify the same thing– asynchronous communication that needs to be described more accurately to be understood. Blogs are supposedly reverse chronological journals of substantial length. But of course there’s Twitter, the quintessential micro-blog with a character lengthy of what, 150? Obviously not very blog-like. Then you have discussion forums that have traditionally been open-access, threaded asynchronous messages that are persistent—meant to be knowledge development venues that stay available pretty much as long as those who contributed to them might ever want to retrieve them or look something up. Our limited access Blackboard forums erase themselves two weeks after the end of the course, so they are really not forum-like either. The varied asynchronous communication configurations on Blackboard are given a bunch of these random titles simply for the purpose of selling the LMS to faculty who have better things to worry about than what is really a blog, and what is really a forum. (Incidentally, there is nothing done on Blackboard that can’t be done on WordPress for free, and Blackboard costs 20,000$ a year, just to run the platform. These sales tactics work really well.) The inaccuracy of these words in relation to their less than uniform manifestations is exactly WHY I give my students a list of forbidden words. “Blog, forum, discussion board, etc…” are all terms that are way too inaccurate for an instructional designer to use on the job without long explanations of what they mean in a given case. These are sales-language terms and inaccurate tech-slang, not design terms. I tell my students that clients may use them in talking to you, but you should not use them when talking to your clients. As an instructional designer, you need to know more than these vague words to talk about online learning, technology enhanced learning, or technology integration. While it may sound like a very small point I am making here, we are actually talking about a lot of money when it comes to the job itself. Imagine a design needs to be amended or reconfigured because of a communication error between client and designer. You’re likely imagining serious lost time, like entire weekends spent recreating a design to fix the miscommunication. If you’re billing by the hour, you might save your client (20 hours X 50) 1000$. If you’re doing this once a month, you’re 12,000$ more valuable as an instructional designer than your peers, simply because you use the right words when you sit down and talk about a design, not to mention the fact that your clients are happier and giving you more work. I say call a spade a spade, don’t use forbidden words, use accurate design terms, or, in this case, call your high-tech spade with embedded communication for learning a “persistent, asynchronous skeuomorph, affording multiple channel, limited access, converged CMC.”
The forbidden words
- Web 2.0 (as if this ever actually meant anything anyway)
- Blog (Some Blogs are reverse chronological, some are chronological, and some are not even weblogs thus making them not blogs at all. The term is so misused it is no longer meaningful when talking about design. It’s ok if you say “this is my blog” because you have identified a specific Blog. However, if you say “It is designed like a Blog” the listener could be thinking one of one hundred different things.)
- Wiki (“openly editable webpage” is far more accurate for some platforms commonly called “wikis”, otherwise wikis have so many versions it is hard to imagine what you mean, exactly)
- Social Bookmarks / Bookmarking
- All proprietary words are forbidden except as archetype comparisons (e.g. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, etc…)
- Podcasts & Vlog (these are slang terms for uploaded video, but actually are aligned with not design, but content genre. Avoid these terms unless you’re analyzing content)
- Chat room
- All proprietary words are forbidden (e.g. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, etc…)
- Cell phone (no one knows what a cell phone is anymore because the concept of “phone” is gone when we text on a phone but make calls on computers, aka via VoIP, “Skype.” Avoid saying “phone” because everyone seems to suddenly get confused.)
- Good, bad, best, better, worst, great, nice, ok, interesting. These are all vague and confusing.
The recommended terms
I preface this list of preferred terms with, “Here are words that are typically employed by professionals and demonstrate an understanding of emerging technology for instructional design: (You should use all applicable terms here instead of the ones above.) If you do not know any of these words, look them up.”
- Open access, single access, limited access, password protected
- Vertical / horizontal array
- One-to-many / one-to-one / many-to-one / user-to-interface
- Responsive design
- Handheld device
- Computer-mediated communication (CMC)
- Converged media CMC (CMCMC)
- Social Network / collaborative access
- Character allowance
- Images, Image-texts, imagetext
- One-to-many / one-to-one / many-to-one / user-to-interface- communication types
- Password protected / access protected
- Responsive / unresponsive or “fixed” design (means the display does not adapt to the device)
- Design tensions (I cannot stress learning this term enough. All designers use this word, and if you don’t recognize design tensions, you’re not analyzing very well. They are there in every design.)
- Learner experience
- Video sharing site
- Presence indicator
BONUS TERM: skeuomorph
The picture is graciously stolen from a New York Times Magazine article about their forbidden words list, linked here.
I have been asked about publishing as a graduate student, and have decided to share that opinion here with some pointers. I chose the blog as opposed to elsewhere because the blog is the venue for these perspectives—not a university website, not in-class materials. These views are not the views of Texas A&M University, nor do they really belong in any of the classes I teach. Publishing as a grad student is not part of my course; rather, it is part of how I see the experience of being a graduate student, what it should be, and what it is.
Occasionally a paper written for a course actually has enough merit to be the raw construct of a paper worthy to be read by others. For advanced graduate students, writing for school is writing for publication, if you’re doing it correctly. At the undergraduate level, and in some parts of early graduate school, the act of writing is one of honing your thinking, sharpening the analytical knife, and learning to put knowledge to use. But in the later stages of graduate school, the healthy target is publication because the publication process is where coddling ends, and the writer faces the real challenge of expert review.
A student asked me, “But aren’t our professors experts?” It is very likely your professor is an expert in the topic of the course, but your professor reads your paper with a completely different purpose than she reads articles for review. She reads your paper to see if you understand the concepts and procedures she taught you. She reads submitted manuscripts to see if the knowledge presented is a contribution to HER knowledge, not yours. This difference is subtle, but important. There is much to be learned in the process of publication, and the experience of the publication process while in graduate school is essential to understanding what it means to be a scholar. While I am not advocating that all final papers be submitted to journals, I am advocating that submission to publication is the ideal target for young authors, especially when those young authors are students who are interested in going into higher education or research.
I need to preface my tips for preparing a manuscript with a few warnings. Publication circles are small. Submitting a term paper for publication prematurely can get one’s name associated with low quality scholarship. While publication is a worthy target, it’s also a target that should be approached with caution, preparation, and rigor. This blog post was inspired by student questions about my position on writing for publication at the graduate level, not because I advocate sending final papers to journals. That would be irresponsible, and counter-productive. I didn’t like getting papers written for class as an editor, and I got a few. Here are some things to keep in mind should you endeavor to publish from what you wrote in a grad school course.
1. Select the publication venue PRIOR to writing your paper. Imagining the readership of the magazine or journal while writing tends to force some students to re-think before they write. If you know real people will read it, you’re less likely to write far-flung ideas and more likely to explain your position in simple language. For some, imagining real people can also have the adverse effect of writers’ block. Let’s assume for now that that will not happen. Selecting the venue first can be influential in helping you accomplish tasks during the process as well. Searching that journal for articles on your topic and then responding to those articles directly in your paper can bring a stuck writer to some valuable insights early in the process of writing. This also provides direction for style and gives the work real meaning beyond the credits awarded for the course. It also leads into my next point.
2. Make sure that you have cited the journal to which you are submitting. This is valuable for 2 reasons. First, if you can’t cite the journal, your article probably does not belong in that journal. A great example is a paper I helped someone prepare for a games and simulations journal. The literature they were using was not from the journal to which they were submitting, even though the title of the paper and the title of the journal seemed to match. Under closer inspection, it was a poor fit. Preparation of that article for that journal would have been waste of time. The second reason is that each journal is a discussion in progress and the reviewers need to know that you’re up on the discussion taking place in that journal. Not all the reviewers are fully up-to-date on ALL topics being addressed in a journal. A paper that cites NO work in that journal is a good indication that the article was NOT written for that journal and would not be very interesting, or helpful, for those who read that journal for that topic. In fact, if it is truly outdated and uninformed, it will drive some readers away. Therefore, I know as an editor I was always suspicious of using up reviewers’ time with articles that were outdated or uninformed. Making sure there are a few substantive citations from that journal to situate the article within the larger discussion gives the reviewers and editor a means of deciding whether or not what you have submitted will be interesting for readers.
3. Anonymize. An “A” on your paper does not mean your paper is ready for submission. There are a number of tasks that need to be accomplished before the manuscript is ready to send off to submission. An obvious but sometimes forgotten task is to clean up and anonimyze the manuscript for review. If you have had to deal with peer or teacher comments, address as many of them as is applicable to improving the manuscript, BUT GET RID OF THE COMMENTS. Accept all changes, save as a clean draft, and remove your personal electronic stamp by (…if using MS Word) going to Microsoft emblem in the upper left->prepare-> then properties. Also make sure there are no remaining tracked-changes lurking at the end. Your goal is to make it to review; only a clean, anonimyzed manuscript will be sent out.
4. Save your acknowledgement for later. If you’ve had previous support by the teacher or classmates to help develop the manuscript, it’s professional and courteous to include an acknowledgement of that support, but NOT at the submission stage. Remove the acknowledgement if you’ve already placed it in. That acknowledgment goes back in after the first review. Also, you need to remove any language from the acknowledgement that could be interpreted as promotional, subjective, or identifies this article as coursework. Once the course is over, it is no longer coursework. The revised manuscript after review will likely be quite different from the manuscript you submitted. Remove any sentences in the manuscript that state or imply the manuscript was part of a course. If you have never written an acknowledgment, keep it modest and simple. Here’s an example I gave to one of my students. It’s not particularly elegant, but it’s a functional acknowledgement for someone who had not written one before.
I acknowledge the guidance of Craig D. Howard PhD, Assistant Professor of Inst. Technology at Texas A&M – Texarkana, the helpful reviews of XXX,YYY, ZZZ, and the anonymous reviewers at [publication name here]. I acknowledge the US Army Tuition Assistance Program for supporting the development of this article while I was deployed in Afghanistan.
This particular student was in the active military at the time when he wrote this article and his study was supported by a US Army program. I cautioned him to check if there were any grant numbers or specific language that should be included, but honestly, I know very little about these legalities and a comment from a reader on this point would be very helpful.
5. Read the writers guidelines. These are also known as “Instructions for Authors” at some publications. Check the publication’s website. Here’s an example of some writers guidelines at Tech Trends.
Writers guidelines invariably have little nuances that can slow down your article’s review. Get as many of these minor changes BEFORE submission. Sometimes an article gets to the top of the to-review list, a guidelines problem is uncovered (like a bio left in the article or style issue) and the article goes back to you for repair, only to go to the bottom of the list when re-submitted. Just off the top of my head, watch out for short abstract word limits and the publication specific spellings such as “m-learning” or a preferred way to write electronic mail (Email, email, or e-mail.) Don’t be afraid to condense some of your text. Unlike some papers for school, longer papers have a more treacherous road to publication than shorter ones. (This is more of an issue in print journals than electronic ones.) Exceeding the word count on the writers guidelines can easily get you a rejection prior to review.
Along these same lines, if you have included terms specific to your institution, remove them. I have returned at least a dozen manuscripts to authors prior to review asking that the authors replace course numbers with course names. “In our course, w200, there were 4 instructors and 120 students over five sections.” No one wants to guess what w200 is, though we can if we must.
6. Craft your bio. The editor may need it quickly and having it handy and in the online system, or ready to be emailed saves time. Keep your bio under 100 words. I have seen 200-400 word bios that get an article pushed to a later issue based on space limitations. Remember, a shorter bio is more publisher-friendly than a longer one. Your bio is always written in the 3rd person, and usually ignores your undergraduate education. I recommended to the students above to write his as follows:
Joseph Dotson is a Masters student at Texas A&M University – Texarkana and a [rank here] in the US Army.
While this bio is short, it is important. Be careful about the name you use. You want the formal version UNLESS you’re going to stick with the informal version forever. I had to switch to “Craig D. Howard” once I learned there was a Craig Howard in New Jersey writing Jewish nostalgia. I am neither Jewish nor very nostalgic. This is one case where your middle initial is helpful for disambiguation. I know not everyone has a middle initial, but if you do, use it.
7. Register with the journal as an author, upload and SUBMIT. Of course, be sure to read the submission steps. They usually tell you when you’ll be hearing back about the journal’s receipt of your manuscript. Sometimes the confirmation is sent automatically via a bot, sometimes it’s an actual email from the editor. Can take anywhere from a couple hours to 2 weeks. The time of the year plays a role as well. Both Tech Trends and IJDL were inundated with manuscripts during the first week of June, and received NOTHING in October and November. Be aware that holidays can slow the process down at every stage. My quickest confirmation was also a rejection. It took Abbie Brown 3.5 minutes to reject my article while he was the editor at Tech Trends. I considered that a success to because I learned something right away– if it can’t be anonimyzed, it goes elsewhere. Remember, just getting into the process is an accomplishment. If you are a student, and your article is rejected, CONGRATULATIONS! You just got more learning out of the course that you took than a large percentage of the students who paid the same tuition that you did.
On 11/16: I gave a talk entitled Instructional design & design thinking: How we develop knowledge in instructional design and used some slides that students might find handy later on. I covered a definition of instructional design, what is and is not design knowledge, and how we might build design knowledge for learning contexts. This is contrasted to how we build knowledge about theories related to instructional interventions.
On 10/22: I also gave a talk at Texas A&M University about my dissertation, but focused on the research methods. The links I used are below, along with the main points of what I had to say:
- My dissertation: Higher Order Thinking in Collaborative Video Annotations: Investigating discourse modeling and the staggering of participation. (2012)
- The new media created and studied I named Collaborative Video Annotations. I provide an example here
- I focused this talk on three terms underlined here: This was a quasi-experimental content analysis of learner discourse.
- Every study has some big findings and some lesser findings. My big ones were: “Learners in the staggered conditions groups produced twice as much higher order thinking than learners in the basic condition. Learners in the modeled discourse condition produced three times as much higher order thinking. The staggering of learner participation also required no effort and thus should be a requisite design feature in online discussions.”
The darker side of academic publishing is now part of my teaching thanks to a few solicitations over the past few months from somewhat questionable publishers. These publishers wanted to add me to their reviewer list or their “Editorial Boards.” I use quotes there for a reason. I have to wonder just what these editorial boards do. I am quickly learning that a knowledge of predatory publishing is required to understand educational research in an internet-connected world. One must be able to pick out what is worthy of citation and what is not. An email this morning reminded me to write this post.
While Macrothink Inc. is to credit on this occasion, previous solicitations to the most recent one have been similar. The business model is easy enough to understand given the context. Since faculty need to publish research to make tenure, there is a demand out there for the quick publishing of less-than-polished research, for cash payments. This means the authors pay the journal and the journal publishes the article. I have to question the quality of the research if there is financial incentive to publish it. Pay-for-publishing venues immediately raise concerns when there is such a dynamic in the process. What’s the barrier to publication if there is money behind the acceptance? I don’t find acceptance rates on their homepages. Every couple of weeks I get a request to review for such a journal- sometimes it is a request to be listed as a “Board Member.” With so many requests, I have become even more skeptical. We also need to ask just what role the reviewers have in donating their time for others’ financial gain. Is it ethical to ask faculty to donate their time towards a service that is financially driven?
The dynamic inherent in pay-for academic publishing hammers home the need for information literacy– a point Howard Rheingold makes at length in his new book- Netsmart: How to thrive online, which calls again for more information literacy. His recent talk at AECT 2013 brought up some familiar themes. He calls it a crap detector, but the skill set does not propose any new questions that others such as Damico’s critical web reader have been propoising for years.
The email however provides excellent course material for an activity, because it violates basic tenants of information literacy– the context of the communication should be studied before consuming the content. Below you will find a copy of the solicitation email from Macrothink. It is curious that the email signature is from “John White,” the email address is unrelated – “jet@macrothink,” and the registered name is “Leonard Bai.” These are great indicators of the nuances of reading skills that are required to make sense of email these days, a topic I addressed in An instructional paradigm for the teaching of computer-mediated communication here. The tone of this solicitation struck me as the academic equivalent of the queen of Nigeria emailing me for a business transition and bank account information. If anyone is interested in doing a lit review on predatory publishing in Ed Tech or Inst Design, the field dearly needs it. There should be more out there about how to teach this in effective ways.
All is not lost; we have a more general resource to help us. Jeffrey Beal at UC Denver keeps a running log of predatory publishers. Macrothink, the originators of this email, are listed on Jeffrey Beal’s blacklist. I have copied the solicitation email I received yesterday into the space below. I have also removed their links (by adding XXX in the http space) because on the internet, links have meaning. I don’t want to appear as endorsing this publisher.
Dear Dr. Craig D. Howard,
I have had the opportunity to read your paper “An instructional paradigm for the teaching of computer-mediated communication” in Instructional Science and can tell from your work that you are an expert in this field. We are recruiting reviewers for the journal. If you are interested in this position of reviewing submissions, we welcome you to apply for. Please find further details at XXXmacrothink.org/recruitment/
I am John White, the editor of Journal of Education and Training (JET). Journal of Education and Training (JET) is an international, peer-reviewed online journal published by Macrothink Institute, USA. This Journal publishes research papers cover the whole range of education and training, aims to provide an international forum for the exchange of ideas, opinions, innovations and research on topics related to education and teaching. Professionals and researchers are encouraged to contribute their high quality, original works of the field.
It is a great pleasure to invite you to contribute your best knowledge and research. Your contribution will help us to establish a high standard. We use a double-blind system for peer reviews. The paper will be peer-reviewed by at least two experts. The review process may take two to three weeks. If you are interested, please find the journal’s profile at: XXXmacrothink.org and submit your manuscripts online. Or you can send your paper directly to the e-mail: XXXmacrothink.org. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the editorial assistant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would appreciate it if you could share this information with your colleagues and associates.
Journal of Education and Training
5348 Vegas Dr. #825
Phone: 1-702-953-1852 ext.534
Noam Chomsky, exposing insights admittedly not purely his own but rather present in centuries of educational theory, told the students and faculty at Arizona State University that if we knew what the outcomes were before we started teaching, it would not be education. Education, he says, is joint discovery that happens among teachers and learners. He stops short of saying what it actually is when we do know precisely what the learning objectives are- but it’s not hard to guess. Mager has made a career of instructional performance objectives. Standards and school districts spend countless hours debating performance objectives. But at what point should the learner move from instruction, to education? I think there is a midpoint, and I call that point stochastic learning objectives.
Stochastic Learning Objectives are a set of competencies or knowledge items that we hope learners with come to in the process of learning, but our instruction is not measured or focused on any single one. Rather, the instructional design is aimed at building a context where the learning of these are likely to occur. A sequence is not dictated, nor are the items contingent upon one another. This same approach is taken in a number of fields. Jackson Pollack is often credited as being a founder of stochastic art– at some point the process will come upon the aesthetically pleasing image (see public domain image to the left). A great example is the use of the word “notion” in PhD programs. In lay speech we find the term “idea” quite often, but when we switch to academic discourse, ideas seem to be replaced with notions. I would guess that notions are less rigid that ideas, but honestly, I would be hard pressed to say anything about “notion” other than academics seems to have about as many notions as everyone else has ideas. Notion is a wonderful example because while I find that graduates of PhD programs have notions, and others have ideas, I have never heard of any course or advisory bullet point directed at teaching PhD students to have notions, not ideas. In fact, it is ludicrous to think of it. Stochastic outcomes are quite common in discourse learning; at least I have had that notion for the past few years, previously I only had ideas.
But at-a-distance learners are challenged with this type of bridge between instruction and education. Clear performance objectives and lots of support via examples and supplemental material are common recommendations for online and at-a-distance designs, but instructional designs that lack an element of exploration will stop short of education, stuck in instruction. No amount of supplemental material will prepare learners for some of the learning needed for instructional to become education. The example of “notion” in PhD programs is typical for discourse learning, but other examples abound in other areas as well. For example, a recent activity I assigned asked for learners to collaborate via a wiki. A specific learner, through no fault of her own, experienced some of the less attractive attributes of wiki collaboration, namely her work being saved just moments prior to another student’s saving a different version of the wiki page- effectively deleting her entire contribution. A second experience revolved around incompatibility issues that resulted in her screen showing something completely different from the wiki saved on the server. Both of these experiences strike me as valuable lessons to learn about wikis. While both possible situations could have been included somewhere in the literature I gave learners about using wikis, no amount of preparation can lead someone to recognition these are negative attributes of wikis when one is in the driver’s seat. These must be experienced for the concept to be learned. As a teacher, while I did not intend for students to delete one another’s work, and made some comments hoping to avoid these experiences, I did want learners to learn both the positives and negatives of the wiki. I don’t know how effective my explanation of this was for the learner who experiences the anger of “saving” only to find garble return on the screen. At-a-distance learners are focused, so when the technology fails them, even if the result is solid stochastic objective learning, it’s not easy. They like their learning to be broken up and dished out one concept at a time.
The term itself comes from discussions around my dissertation with two of my four advisers. Elizabeth Boling and Ted Frick both identified that I was trying to teach stochasticly before I did. Teaching discourses, the gateway into communities of practice, is so much the air I breathe that I failed to even recognize how it is different from teaching concepts and procedures. In truth, they were the first to put the terms together, not me. Incidentally, if you would like to stop education altogether, skip instruction, and go directly to the conferring of degrees, Craig Nakashian offers degrees at a significant discount – 50$ for another PhD was a bargain I thought, until I heard the catch. He includes a gentle disclaimed that the degree in conferred without reference to education or instruction. Curiously, Nakashian’s perspective jives well with Chomsky’s, “It doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what we discover.”
Matthew Might’s Big Picture Illustration seems apropos to me right now. Yes, the a PhD is a pimple of knowledge on the enormous buttocks of human understanding. That pat answer won’t make the inquisitive MA student very happy though. They want clear cut, one-size fits all advice. It’s a shame such does not exist.
One-size fits all advice does not exists because no one can know all too much about doctorates other than their own. I find that fielding questions about what degree is appropriate for X learner is uncomfortable. About my own PhD, I think I know a fair amount– about 6 years of full time study. Unfortunately, I don’t know much else, besides second-hand knowledge I gather from the Chronicle of Higher Ed. I would not be surprised to hear pretty much every other scholar say exactly the same. Actually, I would expect them to say the same. I don’t presume to know much about their doctorate, and I would expect the same courtesy- they don’t know much about mine. This puts an MA/MS student looking for guidance on doctoral study at a real loss. No one is going to step out of their shell and say they know much about the landscape of EdD’s, PhD’s, or SciD’s. So all i can really say is about R1 PhD’s. I know, this is just a fraction of the landscape of higher ed past the masters level.
Some PhD granting institutions value their balanced approach— that’s not a descriptor I would use for R1 PhD programs. R1 PhD’s are focused on research. But of course, the MA candidate in education doesn’t actually know what real research is. R1 institutions offer other wonderful things as well: poverty after many years of study, opportunity costs when you could be in a lucrative job, access to world-class scholars who have done the same sacrifice, circles of other students who have had varied amounts of life experience and are also intellectually curious—not to mention the smugness factor: the self-important feeling of knowing that when you finish that defense, you know that you are the world’s leading authority on your thing, and you know that 4 or more of the world’s leading authorities have confirmed this (Ennis, 2011, here). Of course, there are those who get through R1 PhD’s without become such leaders, but I would say that generally, there are more scholars than non-scholars that come through the ranks of the R1’s. In the end, the R1 PhD is designed to produce a rigorous scholar, and that’s about it. Not a teacher, and not a person who is beneficial to the university through their service or administrative skill; that’s stuff you’re expected to learn on your own. Some R1 grads have these skills, but they sure did not acquire them in the R1 program—or at least not as a consequence of it. Some R1 candidates luck out and get a very holistic adviser. I was lucky in that way. But that’s not something one can expect from an R1.
I think I have to tell students that no one will really know except you, which program is the best for what you want to do. I left an Ivy League R1 (well, decided not to re-enroll for the PhD) for a Big 10 R1 because, for what I do and what I wanted to do, the Big 10 school was a better fit. Sometimes I regret that decision, but not often. No one on the outside would ever know, really, the ins and outs of that decision, nor question it, I expect. However, by making that decision I ended up in a job that I did not initially plan on being in at the start of the PhD. I thought I would be in a language education program of some kind as the tech person. Instead, I am teaching in an Instructional Design & Technology program as a language person. While the difference is not enormous, it is clearly different. The important thing is that after two years of PhD study, I realized this was going to happen, and I made a conscious decision to go forward. I am happy where I am now. Had I not made that decision when I realized my study was not going in the direction I had planned, I think I would be very unhappy now in this new job. Charlie Reigeluth was the person who forced me to face this situation directly; guidance that has proven enormously valuable in my life and career.
PhD study is not a continuation of MA/MS or even M. Ed study. It is an entirely different thing altogether, and what you learn in master’s coursework will probably not help you much in a PhD. (Of course there are things that on can learn in MA study that *do* help tremendously, but they are not coursework.) Transferring in credits is one of the greatly misunderstood obstacles for those making the transition from MA to PhD. I fell strongly that transferring previous grad credits is unwise in an R1 context, even if your credits are coming from another R1. (If they are coming from a non-R1, forget it. Transferring credits in robs a student of the chances to make the relationships they need to finish the degree.) The goal of the R1 study years is to become an intellectual sounding board for (a) faculty member(s); transferring credits handicaps the learner from making those relationships. Why would one sabotage one’s own degree? Intellectual relationships require time, and usually course credits to build. What credits one collects from grad funding that are not used in building the primary relationship should be used in building the secondary relationships – those who will sit on your dissertation committee and mentor you with the inevitable bumps in the relationship with the primary adviser. “Credit” in the traditional sense, 3 credits per course, is actually irrelevant. (In fact, I have heard persuasive arguments for taking coursework without credit to build relationships.) In the end, credit or non-credit coursework is only valuable when it results in:
- An intellectual relationship with a faculty member
- A publication
- Ideally, both
On a PhD, your grades absolutely do not matter—you don’t go there to transfer to somewhere else, so whatever grade that passes you if fine. Instead, publications and relationships matter. Those are what you need, not A’s. Completion is based on whether or not your work is true and publishable, that’s it, nothing else. Some of the best guidance I got was to, figure out how many publications, or other experiences (teaching etc..), that you will need to get the job you want prior to enrolling in a course of study, and then focus your time wisely. Curt Bonk at Indiana University says three publications is enough for a first job. I would say you need more and that the three pubs target is outdated. However, planning of this type of extended trajectory is not what MA’s are really used to doing. I wasn’t. When I graduated with my MA, I could plan about 5 years into my career. A PhD is planning for a much longer term and a significant chunk of one’s life. Many would say planning a lifetime in advance, though there *are* other opportunities besides going on to teach. Matthew Might (PhD from Georgia Tech, now at Utah) says it particularly well in his classic blog post “An Illustrated Guide to The PhD”. He puts it into graphic terms. I wish I could ask every MA/MS student who is silently considering doctoral study to read it. It’s also nice to think about just how many little bumps of knowledge have been created by those who have welcomed me into this new group of scholars.