Monday, February 28, 2005

EFFECTIVE Educational Practice?

The main content of my response to this exam question involves the development and assessment of effective educational practices in higher education. Also, I work in a research shop where we help institutions across the country identify what “effective educational practice” means on their campuses.

And yet, as I sit here completing requirements “toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Education at Large Midwestern University” (LMU), I can strongly and authoritatively express the following assertion that lies well within my area of “expertise” that I’m developing in this degree program:

This qualifying exam experience is NOT an effective educational practice.

“Effective” would indicate certain educational outcomes like a gain in knowledge I can use in the future, a tangible useable product, a synthesis of what I have learned produced in a manner that is useful to me, or a sense of growth that can be applied to future educational situations.

Instead, this is intellectual regurgitation. I’m doing exactly what the literature says is an amotivational, poor educational experience of moderate to low academic worth. And the ironic thing is that by the end of the day today, I will have written about 40 pages on good educational practice and the importance of engaging students in the learning process, promoting active learning, student-faculty interaction, blah blah blah. I hope I can use some of what I have written as part of my dissertation, but with the way the cards fell on this second question, that connection is more remote than possible.

And that’s too damn bad.

I suppose I did gain a few things in this experience: probably 5 pounds to be exact. Oh yeah, my office is clean (did I mention I cleaned my office??), and my tendonitis in my shoulders has probably returned…a throw back to my college days as a classical pianist. Educational gains, however, these are not.

At least it will be over soon. This is one of these hoops that we must go through to get to where we want to be eventually, I guess. It’s no wonder why the proportion of people in this country with Ph.D.s is so low that any of us pursuing one is considered statistically “deviant.”

I’M GRUMPY!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

NF = No Focus

Well, I wouldn't say I am entirely devoid and lacking of focus, but I sure could use some more.

A friend of mine & I were trying to explain the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® to another friend. The two of us doing the explaining both favor the NF functions of iNtuition for perceiving information and Feeling for for making decisions. The friend to whom we were explaining all of this stuff apparently does not favor these two functions because she proceeded to look at us and say

NF...No Focus.

I proceeded to watch my friend literally reach across the table trying to strangle her. But I was laughing....because it was true.

No Phocus...yeah, I keep thinking about possibilities, wondering if I can incorporate more information into this paper. How the hell am I ever going to write a dissertation??

In the spirit of Lemming (who had a good, productive day yesterday):
  • Words written today: 223 since 10AM. *sigh* I've got some work to do.
  • Books & articles on the floor: only 3 books, but tons of articles
  • Box of Tagalongs consumed: 1 since yesterday at 3PM (not just 1 cookie...1 ENTIRE BOX)
At least I'll never have to do this again after tomorrow. Ya know, sometimes I mourn the passing of life events, life hurdles, etc. Not this time. The mental game is over. I'll lose, I'll forfeit, call it the slaughter rule (ah the flashback to playing softball in junior high school)...just lemme off this merry-go-round.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Outline & Refs almost in order

I'm finding this process much easier this weekend. Last week I was scared to find sources and such, fearing that I wasn't going to get all of them. This time around, I think I'm already done with that process.

Even though it's not the question I was hoping for, this indeed is still within my area of interest, and yet I've pushed myself a bit to do a little bit more research for this particular question in order to answer a couple of unanswered questions of my own. I'm an advocate for the use of educational technologies, but there is always the burning question of, "Is this really worth it?" with "this" being the expenditure of money for setting up the supportive infrastructures for technologies and the training of faculty and students to actually use the technology. In the research I've been reading today, mostly on "return on investment" (or ROI) in business & training/development literature, I'm finding that YES it's usually worth the expenditure & time when a proper educational assessment is completed. It's this type of assessment that I will design to answer this second-day question.

I ramble here a bit, but I figure some of you may have similar interests since you're obviously savvy with reading blog pages about education. Or perhaps you're someone I actually know in person and may be mildly interested in what I'm actually doing with this degree program.

Or, perhaps not. But you've read this far, so perhaps you're just in denial and want to have an uber-Geek experience like I'm having this weekend? Tee hee.

Take your mark...

...POW.

I'm off again on another round of The Qualifying Exam. Yeah, big @#$% deal. I wrote two questions for my advisor: he was to pick one of them and tweak it a bit. I suggested he pick the one more closely-related to my dissertation topic...and of course he chose the wrong question. I should have known!

The saving grace is that the "tweaking" he did amounted only to adding one bullet point to my list of "things to address," and this topic is something with which I feel very comfortable. So, it shouldn't be too bad...it's just not what I was expecting.

I've been bothered by a few things I haven't been expecting this week, and unfortunately I've let these things cloud my head a bit as I'm going into this exam. Sometimes one just needs to let go of the things over which they have no control, but I'm not very good at that "letting go" process sometimes.

Somehow I need to clear my mind now and get cranking on this exam. I suppose putting these thoughts down here helps a bit, so perhaps I can focus now. Thanks for reading...more later.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

You mean I have to do this AGAIN?

I'm just beginning to realize I am about to have another crazed weekend with yet another qualifying exam question on Friday. Wow.

Honestly, the first question was not the "ohmigod this is the hardest, most grueling experience of your LIFE" that my brain had made it out to be beforehand. Yes, there was the pressure of The Qualifying Examination as "partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Education..." and sure that was a little spooky at first. However, in the moment I knew I would finish things on time and hopefully it will be good enough to pass the @#$% exam.

But now I need to do it again?? That's exhausting to think about. And yet, there's a geeky, and rather sick, part of me that looks forward to the challenge. I keep thinking, "this weekend I'll do it right and I won't be writing at the last minute."

Well, we'll just see about that. Last-minute writing has pretty much been the norm for me. "Is that wrong?"

Monday, February 21, 2005

Whew.

One down, one to go. I turned in my twenty-ish page response (OK, it was just shy of 19), with five pages of references at about 4:35 PM. Technically it was due at 4:30 - got stuck in slow Midwestern traffic (I hate how people drive here) on the way into campus. Ok, getting real: I was just plumb late, so I should stop blaming the nice people of Small College Town, USA. :-)

If I had to do it again (actually, I do have to do it again this Friday), I think I would still outline everything first thing in the morning, but then I would attempt to actually write out the prose of my response by memory for as long as I can during the first day. At that point, there is plenty of time to go back and revise things, fill in with appropriate references, etc. Where I got stuck was second-guessing the number of references, or the people I should include in the reference list for political reasons, or whatever...and it delayed the actual writing. I'm a fast writer, so I was relying on my speed to help out. Ulitmately it helped, but I didn't even have time to give the last 10 pages or so a second read-through at all.

Oh well...this exam ain't gonna be published or nuthin'.

Time to clean up the tornadic state of my office and go to sleep. My morning class was cancelled tomorrow...gotta like that.

Bye.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Girl Scout Cookies

Is it bad that I’ve gone through an entire box of “Tagalongs” Girl Scout cookies since YESTERDAY? Those are the peanut butter cookies covered in chocolate…how can I resist? Good brain food!

OK, back to the grind, then…

So, how did it get to be "Wednesday" already?

Ugh. This f--ker is due tomorrow! I hate this point in the process: is my writing making any sense whatsoever? Am I going to finish on time? Will my respectability quotient decrease exponentially from tomorrow onward as more professors read my exam? Will I ever be able to leave this office? Although, it's quite clean in here. Did I mention I cleaned my office?

OK, that's a scary look into Rob's subconscious. Back in Reality World, I do feel like I've made a decent dent in things. But I'm about to embark on the part of the paper that will be my weakest, and I'll probably get nailed for it in the oral defense later this spring. Once I get through that, then I hope the rest is smooth sailing.

Believe it or not, I used to teach first-year college students how to avoid procrastination. I know, I know...I should shut up & follow my own advice. Well, my bit of advice for me (and I'll share for anyone reading) is this: you can do just about anything for 5 minutes. Check your watch and then do nothing else but the task that you don't want to do for just 5 minutes, and then see how you're doing. Invariably, I find myself checking my watch 20 minutes later, and I've already plowed part-way through the task.

OK, here we go....downstairs to the coffee pot and then back up here to the office/prison (at least it's clean) (did I mention I cleaned my office?).

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Onwardforth & Hitherto

Am plugging away on a draft. I got to the point about two hours ago that I just had to start writing something. I have this internal push and pull going with myself.

Find more references!

But I can't re-read everything I've read since the fall of 2002 and still have time to do anything productive.

But you need to cite more sources or else they won't think you're a scholar!

Oh geez. Then what happens?

Then you fail, you imposter!

Wait a minute...if I write nothing, then they'll have on which to base any kind of judgment of my scholarly abilities. Write something down...then go back and edit. Don't be an idiot.

OK, you win.

There. Hopefully, that's the end of the imposter syndrome invading my space for the evening. Am glad I got that out of my system. Onward ho! To the end of the exam! Or at least to the next coffee break...

I'm thinking of today as Tuesday.

I ran into some colleagues last night when I was borrowing some books from a friend. One of them mentioned that four days stretched out over weekdays feels longer than over the weekend. For example, if we had received the question Monday morning, then it would be due Thursday evening. Ah...that's practically a week! So, from here on out, I'm reframing my world to the weekday...so it's Tuesday today, and I still have two, almost three, more days. Yeah, that's it.

Things are still moving along with the first question. Of course, I didn't get as far as I had hoped I would yesterday, but that's life. So far, my response is coming together nicely. As I said yesterday, it's nice to be doing this when it all feels so natural. I still have plenty of work ahead of me, however.

It's time now to focus here in my beautifully clutter-free, dust-free office at home. I have the window open just a crack for fresh air, it's sunny out (but cold & crisp), and my small shelf-top fountain is on providing me with a nice bubbling sound which I may have to turn off soon so I don't have the urge to pee all the time. Sorry, too much information.

Ok, perhaps I should put some of this writing energy into my exam question...

Friday, February 18, 2005

First Exam Question

Well, here I am at my favorite cafe in town, complete with bottomless coffee and unlimited wireless Internet access....when it's working. :)

I have the first exam question in hand, and it's definitely going to be manageable. Whew. It involves solving an administrative problem with a good combination of practical application & relevant research. This is the way I would hope to solve a problem in a full-time administrative job anyhow, so I suppose this is good practice.

As I left the School of Education and drove over here to the cafe, I kept thinking about the fact that I'm finally about go through the first major "hoop" of the program. And yet, I'm not looking at this as a hoop: I'm actually looking forward to it. Yeah, ask me how I'm doing in about 8 hours! Seriously, I think I need this summative experience to really feel like I have bridged the gap between the end of coursework and the beginning of creating my own research in the dissertation.

More later.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Blog Additions

I recently got in touch with Hugh, a friend from high school whom I probably have not seen since 1987! His blog is linked to his name above, and is now in my list of blogs, below. He taught me how to add links and other tidbits to the sidebar of this blog. Take a look.

Thanks Hugh!

T-12 Hours and Counting!

In about 12 hours I'll leave my house & head over to the School of Education to pick up my first exam question. Whew. Still cleaning the @#$% office, but it will happen this evening. Really!!! I have a good schedule set to go for the weekend's adventure, so I'm finally feeling confident about this whole thing. Relatively speaking, that is.

Earlier today I was talking with a colleague who is also taking these exams this weekend. We were both slated to take them last summer, but decided for various reasons to postpone till now. It's remarkable that the both of us feel so much more at ease about this exam at this point in ourlives. I've learned that there is absolutely no need to encounter physical stress and mental anxiety (which is what I was doing last summer!) over these major hoops toward the degree program, as we are all really on our own schedules. Now, I'm just going with my gut. That's a hell of a lot easier.

Yay.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Office Angst

I hate filing. I always have. I feel like it sucks me into a Vortex of wasted time. However, I think I hate even more having a messy office. It's a cycle...a downward spiral. Bad Rob, bad.

I should be filing right now. There are large piles of paper that I actually need to keep (i.e. paid bills and other things like that) in about four piles on the floor of my home office. There's really no excuse: I have file cabinets. I have hanging folders. They are labeled. There are even Manila folders inside each hanging folder...all labeled. The structure is in place, and I'm just avoiding the use of the structure.

But why do I do this? Why? Every time I clean the office, I say "I'm never going to let this happen again." Six months later, the Vortex is back, sucking me into its dark dreary void of existence. AUGH!

OK, I'll stop being dramatic. It's not that bad. I can still see the floor, and Chester can still curl up on my feet, as he's doing right now. That brings about a bit of peace in its own right. *sigh*...office peace within the office angst.

Wow: a post that's not expounding on epistemological development or the notion of theory-into practice. A big step for me...random babblation! Anyway, thanks for reading.

[Rob now crawls away, sheepishly, to sort through these big-ass piles of paper on his office floor...]

Monday, February 14, 2005

4-day countdown!

OK...four days to go till Friday. And the surprising thing is, I'm actually getting really excited for the prospect of these exams. Finally, a formal opportunity to "show off" my areas of expertise that I have developed over these past two-and-a-half years. This is what I came back to school to establish: what do I do well? How do I market these skills?

Fortunately, the format of the exam is one that fits my personality type. We are to solve an administrative "problem" at a college or university of our choice. First I'll describe the institution, and then I'll discuss how the problem manifests itself at this school. Later, I'll present three areas of expertise that can help toward solving the problem, all the while citing every darn bit of literature I have ever read during this program. Twenty pages later, I should be finished. I pick up the question (i.e. the "problem") this Friday morning and turn in my response Monday late afternoon. Three days later, it's onto question #2, and the whole process starts over again. Question #2 relates to my dissertation topic: I helped to write the question, and my advisor will tweak it as he seems fit. Should be interesting.

I was anal last weekend with my schedule; I planned out how I will spend practically every hour of this entire first weekend. That way, I don't have to think about what tasks I'll do and in which order...I completed all of that sort of thinking ahead of time. Instead, I can now focus on the question at hand and the writing process. I've even set up Word templates so I just can start to write and not get involved in the technical details (frankly, I'd rather do the technical details any day!).

It will be an interesting process for me, because if I follow my schedule, then I'll be done with most of the writing more than 24 hours in advance with plenty of time to proof the paper. The thing is, I typically start writing a paper at the very last minute. I don't know what it is: perhaps it is a fear of commitment to one particular set of written words? I procrastinate like no one's business. So far, I've been OK with this style, and I am almost finished with my coursework. I feel fortunate that I am a fast writer, once I develop the ideas I want to express. However, I often miss out on sleep! It's ridiculous because if I could just write days in advance of a due-date, then I could actually spend some more time refining my work and getting some rest! Hopefully, with something this important, I'll be able to reel in the procrastination and focus on the task at hand.

Today is Valentine's Day, and it reminds me that my endeavor through the Ph.D. program is made so much more easier by the presence of my wife and son. I shared my schedule with my wife, and she is determined to keep checking in on my progress. This is just one of many examples of when she does a fantastic, balanced job of being with me yet giving me the space I need to be alone and get this work completed. We're a good team!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Copperhead Rochester a.k.a. Chester


Here is a picture of Chester, i.e. the namesake of this Blog. Chester is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi (the tri-color variety).

Wooph.

Good boy, Chester.

6 Days to Go

...until my qualifying exams begin. Am I nervous? Not for the actual act of writing my response...no. In a sick, sort of geeky way, I'm looking forward to the challenge of coming up with a global response to a higher education problem, while situated in my own area of expertise. On the other hand, sure I'm scared! Scared that I'm not going to realize if I'm going down a 'bad' track with this. Scared that perhaps I haven't done all of the "right" reading that needs to be done.

One of things I'm thankful for is this blog and the opportunity to put these thoughts down on the computer. I think the more I write informally, the better I will do when needing to commit "scholarly" (whatever that means) things to the page. So, I expect I will get up each day and post something here...just to keep the creative juices flowing.

I have still not figured out how to share things on this blog with others, aside from verbally telling people about it. So, perhaps I'll start that process in the next couple of days.

More later...I will probably have some thoughts on career paths and such.

Still learning...

Still so much to learn...everywhere around me.

First, I need to learn more about this Blogging thing, in terms of the technical details. Fortunately for me, there probably are not too many people reading this just yet. That's another thing I should work on: namely, how do I get people to even take a look at this site and provide feedback?

Second, I'm still learning how to deal with academic self-confidence. It comes and goes in waves. Some days I'm Power Academic Man, set in my ways and confident about my ideas. And then there are other days where I feel like I have a long way to go before I build up any self-confidence in my academic abilities whatsoever. I think one of the most difficult parts of being a graduate student is finding your own voice and having the confidence to share it with others.

I believe I'm in a strange, sort of in-between place with my academic abilities. While I certainly feel like I'm "smarter than the average bear" and can hold my own weight in the classroom situation, I am not one to be all theory and no application. I am good with administrative details and working with people, but I also feel some comfort with the creation of ideas, concepts, etc. I think I'm a pretty good writer too. But I don't have the desire to spend tons of time working alone and researching. Instead, I like making things happen...I'd rather discuss a plan to get something accomplished than discuss an idea and mull on it for a while. This makes me a sort of academic outsider in the Ph.D. world. Some may argue the "Ph" part of my degree is not very important in my research interests. I beg to differ, and I think I'm trying to figure out my own philosophies on higher education administration...kind of an odd combination, in my opinion, but that's my thought on the manner. Darnit!

Friday, February 11, 2005

First Post - Welcome!

Salutations, and welcome to Chesterley!

In this introductory post I'll explain some of the basics of this blog by asking questions and providing answers. I figure it's as good a way as any to start, so here goes.

Where did I get the name Chesterley?

Chesterley is, believe it or not, the name of my house. No, I don't live in a mansion or even remotely in a neighborhood where houses would ever have a name. A book favored by my wife, Pride and Prejudice, features several great English homes many of which have names; for example, the character Mr. Darcy lives in an enormous mansion called "Pemberley." Our home is neither in England nor is it what one would consider "great," but still we thought it needed a name (we have a creative sense of humor, shall we say?). Our dog/first child is named Chester, so for reasons not entirely known by me we decided to name our house "of-or-pertaining-to Chester" or, more simply, Chesterley.

In turn I decided to carry the name through to this blog, as I anticipate it will become my home on the Web.

Why did I create this blog, and what themes do I expect to emerge from it?

I am working on a Ph.D. in higher education administration from "a large research university in the Midwest USA." I have two major research interests: 1) teaching and learning, and 2) college student development. As I near the end of my coursework and begin the dissertation process, I find that I need an outlet for my writing. The fact that everything I write here will be public is an inspiration to write coherently on a regular basis (good exercise!) and to express my ever-changing thoughts on my doctoral student experience and research interests.

This semester I am making the preliminary preparations for my dissertation, and as a result many thoughts, ideas, and concepts are coming together for me internally. For me, writing forces me to word some of these thoughts and make some sense out of concepts. It helps me combine new knowledge I'm learning in my coursework and my job with old ideas I have had for years, some of which inspired me to pursue this degree in the first place!

So...let's see where things grow with this blog. I am excited about the opportunity here, and I hope you'll join me on this journey.