Friday, March 10, 2017

EDDE 806 - Post XII - Of Navigators and Succession...

Last evening we had our penultimate EDDE 806 session for this season. On tap for the evening we had Neera's presentation (originally of Cohort 6, but now firmly "one of our own" in cohort 7), and a presentation by Stephanie.

One question that came to mind, outside of the context of these presentations, was how long do EdD students stick around in 806 after they have met the requirements of the course?  If they don't come back, why is that?  If they do return, why do they return, and what influences their regularity of participation?  I guess this could be a dissertation topic in and of itself, but it's a question that came to mind as I saw some very familiar names in the guest list on Adobe connect last night, and noticed the absence of other names that I've seen over the last year or so of my 'informal' 806 participation.  Of course, a dissertation topic like this would most likely add 2-3 years to my studies, and that doesn't seem like an appealing prospect :p

For the presentations of the evening, Neera presented on her proposed study, titled Succession planning in higher education: condition for sustainable growth and operational resilience, and Stephanie's proposed research topic is titled Developing routine practices for health system navigation in Canada.  Neera is focusing succession planning, with a focus on Polytechnics (with potential study participants coming from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and British Columbia.  I was surprised that there are Community Colleges in Canada - I tend to think of community colleges as a US term.  Looking little community college might be one of many terms that refers to the same type of institution in Canada.

In any case,  I think that Neera made an interesting point, and something that I've seen at my own institution: In higher education it often seems that hiring new people at the institution, or replacements for key positions, takes a lot of time.  That ends up potentially costing the institution money because there isn't someone in the position to take care of the critical needs for that institution; and if someone is hired but the search fails (bad fit for example) it's still money down the drain.  Hence a good succession plan (implemented well) would conceivably benefit the institution.

For Stephanie's presentation, since I am not in the healthcare field, I am a little less able to say something other than it's a cool project :-) I don't want to just summarize her presentation though.  The thing that struck me, both with Stephanie's presentation and Neera's (and other presentations I've seen over the years) is that most dissertations and dissertation proposals seem to be either Qualitative in nature or Mixed Methods, but I have yet to see a strictly Quantitative approach just yet.  I wonder if others have seen those in their experiences in EDDE 806.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Loyalty a one way street?


[Warning: longer than usual post] Recently I came across an article on InsideHigherEd titled In Higher Ed, Loyalty Is a One-Way Street, and the tagline was "Loyalty of students and faculty is often demanded. Is it returned?"   The main thesis of the article is that in higher education the job you're in is the job you're in unless you apply for another job and get in, at which point you can either leave your old job or use your new offer as leverage for a better job (or better pay) at your current job.  The article is written from a faculty perspective, but it resonated with my own experiences at the university.  However, I wouldn't really call it an issue with loyalty, but rather it's an issue of organizational culture and lack of meaningful (to the individual) rewards for that loyalty.   Here are my observations as a staff member from the last (close to) 20 years at my institution, and a story from my first job on-campus.

When I first started working here, I worked as an assistant (no benefits, hourly employee) in media services while studying as an undergraduate. It was a fun job, I worked with, and for, interesting people and I can say that I learned a lot from the job and from the people I interacted with.  The job was always meant to be temporary since it was renewed on a semester-by-semester basis.  And in my second year of employment I got more responsibility by being given the reigns of the weekend operations (again hourly, non-benefited, but more responsibility).  After about 3 years of being non-benefited someone retired and his job posting opened up.

Having show progressive responsibility I was a prime candidate for the position. I applied, interviewed, and ultimately got the position.  I still worked in the same place as before, doing about the same things, but now I was benefited, full-time, with managerial responsibilities on top of everything else.  For five years I did my best to learn more about my job, and to try to be innovative to help the department.  I started an MBA, I joined a professional association (with my own money),  I learned, prepared, and passed the relevant entry level certification, I connected with IT folks from the university to keep my department in the loop, and I volunteered for AV projects with my colleagues during slow periods in the office. I didn't do this for recognition, but so that I can be better at my job.  Ultimately however, one does expect some sort of recognition (in some way, shape, or form). Our university does not award merit points for employees who continue to keep up with their professional development.   Everyone gets the same Cost of Living (COLA) increase as everyone else.  If you want a pay increase you need to show that your duties have significantly changed since you were hired.

In five years my duties had indeed changed in practice, but not on my job description (what governs your pay).  I was doing different work than my colleagues, but we were all paid the same; they actually were paid more as a result of compounding COLA increases, because they had been working here longer, which was fine.  Our supervisor was a nice guy, but he hated to differentiate (the kind of person who treats all his kids equally, no matter what).  This was problematic because everyone he managed "exceeded expectations", but this praise felt a little hollow after a few years.  Praise needs to be accompanied by something else to be useful (if you use it a lot), like a little more flexibility on vacation, or a pay increase, or some money to attend a PD event, or whatever. So, the only option for a little more money was to go through the official procedure (which was fine).  My boss at the time told me that he supported me, but privately he told others that he would never support it unless others got the same deal (regardless of their duties).  This was a natural extension of "treat everyone the same".  Since I ultimately did not get a promotion there, I looked elsewhere for work.  It was sad because I liked both the job and my colleagues, but you do what you have to do.  When I told my boss that I got another job, his boss attempted to retain me in the department asking if I would stay if they matched the salary. I would! But, I wouldn't wait around for it (two in the hand is worth more than two in the bush).  Since they couldn't make it happen, I left. I still kept in contact with my colleagues there, they were great people (and it's a small campus), but I left that department. And they were inconvenienced because they couldn't hire a replacement right away, and my area was the busiest on campus (based on department held statistics).

To bring it back to the IHE article, without knowing that this is the game to play in academia, I ended up playing this game.  I looked for other jobs, I interviewed for them, got an offer for them, and did respond in the affirmative that I would stay if they matched the salary (which would also mean that I would get another job description, which was originally turned down). But, given the steep bureaucracy of the university (at least mine), it wouldn't have been nimble enough to do it as quickly as accepting the new job offer, and the trust relationship was broken since my supervisor told me one thing and told others something else (those others eventually telling me), so there was no guarantee that the retention offer was any good.

This is one story.  I've experienced other things in my close-to-20-years here, and I've spoken to colleagues and have heard their stories too over the years.  My 2c on the matter are as follows (mileage at your college may vary, this is just based on my local colleagues around the Boston area):

There is a fundamental problem of organization culture.  Warner writes that  he has"witnessed genuine loyalty among colleagues at the department level, but this is a reaction and response to the lack of loyalty at the larger institution level. They have banded together as protection from above." I've seen this myself, and have heard it from colleagues at other institutions as well.  Some departments are better at self-supporting than other departments but this creates structural inequalities within the organization as a whole.  If your supervisor likes you, and you get all the perks in your department, but a colleague is not liked (or has an ineffective supervisor, or doesn't enjoy the group protection you do, etc.) they do not get any of the perks you get, an in some cases doing the same job! This type of unequal treatment isn't a hypothetical, it's happening. And in instances where merit payment are involved some employees may be eligible for a merit pool because their supervisor loves them and gives the "Exceeds expectations" all the time, while other employees might be working for someone who believes in the power of the bell curve, and everyone "meets expectations" with the exception of a few 'high performers' and a few 'low performers', so in essence these managers no only shoehorn people into the bell curve, they deny them an opportunity for merit/bonus pay that they would be entitled to if their supervisor were someone else.

Another issue I've seen is that everything is treated as a net-zero outcome.  Someone's gain is regularly someone else's loss.  So if you work for a big department (or a college/faculty within a university), if an employee has an opportunity to grow in their job, but that growth takes them out of their smaller sub-unit into another sub-unit of the organization, the organization is resistant to embrace this.  Even though the employee will still be connected to their previous sub-unit, and could help take care of work/issues within that sub-unit as well, that "transfer" would be most likely blocked because the originating sub-unit would not necessarily be able to get funding to replace that previous position.  There concern seems to be how many warm bodies each department has, and not necessarily what type of work needs to be done.  Just as an example from my first job on-campus.  It's been 12 years since I left that job. The number of warm bodies doing  the same work has remained the same even after having 2 retirements and (sadly) 1 death. Those positions have been replaced to do pretty much the same thing, regardless of where research into educational technology and learning have lead us since. That department is still a separate fiefdom and people get annoyed when they are asked to take care of something that another IT department "should" be doing (never-mind that they are all part of the same IT parent department).

Finally, it might seem that my position is higher salary (or other monetary perks) as a general acknowledgment of employees' good work and loyalty.  Or, associated with more money is moving up the ladder work-wise into a more managerial position.  While money and career development are nice, sometimes they are not the end-all be-all.  My former colleagues seemed to like what they did.  They didn't seem interested in changing jobs for higher pay.  Maybe pay for them wasn't even a top concern (bills paid, mortgage paid, savings at an OK level), but they may have wanted more flexibility for vacations in order to spend more time with their family. A flexible organization should be able to be able to give such perks (fairly, and across the organization) to people who earn it (good work, loyalty, and so on), and at the same time have the resilience to work around any issues that might arise from this individual flexibility provided.

At our institution I think that the institution does attempt to demonstrate appreciation of loyalty to its employees, and I do think that upper administrators care (to some extent at least); that is to say I don't believe them to be greedy monsters that just look at the bottom line.  One of the events we have each year is the "years of service" event where people are recognized for their service in 5 year increments.  Last year I was recognized for 15 years of (benefitted) service to the institution for example.

In the end I don't think it it's a matter of loyalty.  Loyalty (or lack of loyalty) is a conscious effort (or lack of effort).  I think the issue is systemic, and it's really an issue of management.

So... my question (to anyone who is reading this), is how to we make academia responsive, and at the same time equitable, and flexible so that it works both at the individual level and at the organizational level?  Thoughts?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

EDDE 806 - Post XI - Get your Waldorf on...

Statler & Woldorf, muppet critics
This past week the presenter of the week was Angie Parkes of Cohort 3, who is a fellow instructional designer!  Angie was presenting to us  her (potential?) dissertation proposal which as to do  with testing the hypothesis that the DACUM process can be done effectively online.  More specifically, her three hypotheses are that (1) an online asynchronous DACUM can produce a comprehensive and rigorous competency analysis; (2) the online asynchronous DACUM can be completed in less than 6 months (2 financial quarters); and (3) the online asynchronous DACUM can be completed for less than $1000.

Angie is coming at this problem from a corporate instructional design lens, where a lot of money is spent in corporate environments for training, however 50%-90% of this training is deemed ineffective.  Because of this training departments are one of the first things that get cut when a company needs to tighten the budget (explains a lot of the angst that friends who are corporate IDs feel).  I do wonder though what about corporate training makes it ineffective.  Being a bit of a Waldrof (or am I more of a Statler?), it seems to me that fellow instructional designers in corporate settings do what's expected of them to do (self-paced, drill & kill interventions), but those don't work because they are usually compliance (and everyone seems to hate that).  If instructional designers were more integral in the talent development cycle, the interventions might be more effective.  Anyway, I think I digress.

So, one might ask, what is DACUM?  DACUM was new for me, and it is defined as:
Developing a Curriculum (DACUM) is a process that incorporates the use of a focus group in a facilitated storyboarding process to capture the major duties and related tasks included in an occupation, as well as, the necessary knowledge, skills, and traits.  This cost-effective method provides a quick and thorough analysis of any job.   
It seems to me to be one of the tools used by instructional designers in the needs analysis phase to determine what is needed to be accomplished by the learning intervention. Apparently DACUM is only done in person at the moment, which can be quite expensive when done face to face, and synchronously, for the same reason that training is deemed expensive at times: you need to pull employees away from their work to do this thing.  Angie is looking at employing Design Based Research (DBR) with a Delphi approach. Her expert informants will be 6 PhD Psychometricians at her company, distributed over a geographic distance (some are in the same office, but some are not). She will have one group of senior psychometricians and one group of junior psychometricians (it will be interesting to see if there are differences between those who are more senior).

On another note, it's interesting that this is not Angie's first idea.  She's had several over the years, but opportunities dry up and doctoral students are left trying to pick up the pieces.  I often wonder what happens if you've passed your dissertation proposal defense (and hence you are formally an EdD candidate), but that opportunity dries up and you need to do something else.  Does you committee ask you to re-defend something new?  Do you try to salvage what you have with what little is left?  Do you put together a new proposal with just your advisor?  With coursework it's pretty cut and dry - you do the work, you get a good grade, you pass.  The dissertation can be a year long project (or longer) after you defend the proposal.  What happens when stuff hits the fan when you're in the thick of it?

If any cohort 1 or cohort 2 folks are reading this, advice is definitely welcomed :-)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Are MOOCs really that useful on a resume?


I came across an article on Campus Technology last week titled 7 Tips for Listing MOOCs on Your Résumé, and it was citing a CEO of an employer/employee matchmaking firm.  One piece of advice says to create a new section for MOOCs taken to list them there. This is not all that controversial since I do the same.  Not on my resume, but rather on my extended CV (which I don't share anyone), and it serves more a purpose of self-documentation than anything else.

The first part that got me thinking was the piece of advice listed that says "only list MOOCs that you have completed".  Their rationale is as follows:

"Listing a MOOC is only an advantage if you've actually completed the course," Mustafa noted. "Only about 10 percent of students complete MOOCs, so your completed courses show your potential employer that you follow through with your commitments. You should also be prepared to talk about what you learned from the MOOC — in an interview — and how it has helped you improve."  

This bothered me a little bit.  In my aforementioned CV I list every MOOC I signed up for(†) and "completed" in some way shape or form. However, I define what it means to have "completed" a MOOC.  I guess this pushback on my part stems from me having started my MOOC learning with cMOOCs where there (usually) isn't a quiz or some other deliverable that is graded by a party other than the learner. When I signed up for specific xMOOCs I signed up for a variety of reasons, including interest in the topic, the instructional form, the design form, the assessment forms, and so on. I've learned something from each MOOC, but I don't meet the criterion of "completed" if I am going by the rubrics set forth by the designers of those xMOOCs.  I actually don't care what those designers set as the completion standards for their designed MOOCs because a certificate of completion carries little currency anywhere. Simple time-based economics dictate that my time shouldn't be spent doing activities that leading to a certificate that carries no value, if I don't see value in those assessments or activities either. Taking a designer's or professor's path through the course is only valuable when there is a valuable carrot at the end of the path. Otherwise, it's perfectly fine to be a free-range learner.

Another thing that made me ponder a bit is the linking to badges and showcasing your work.  Generally speaking, in the US at least, résumés are a brief window into who you are as a potential candidate.  What you're told to include in a resume is a brief snapshot of your relevant education, experience, and skills for the job you are applying for.  The general advice I hear (which I think is stupid) is to keep to to 1 page.  I ignore this and go for 1 sheet of paper (two pages if printed both sides).  Even that is constraining if you have been in the workforce for more than 5 years. The cover letter expounds on the résumé, but that too is brief (1 page single spaced). So, a candidate doesn't really have a ton of space to showcase their work, and external linkages (to portfolios and badges) aren't really encouraged. At best a candidate can whet the hiring committee's palate to get you in for an interview. This is why I find this advice a little odd.

Your thoughts on MOOCs on résumé?


NOTES:
† This includes cMOOC, xMOOC, pMOOC, iMOOC, uMOOC, etcMOOC...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Course beta testing...


This past weekend a story came across my slashdot feed titled Software Goes Through Beta Testing. Should Online College Courses? I don't often see educational news on slashdot so it piqued my interest. Slashdot links to an EdSurge article where Coursera courses are described as going through beta testing by volunteers (unpaid labor...)

The beta tests cover things such as:

... catching mistakes in quizzes and pointing out befuddling bits of video lectures, which can then be clarified before professors release the course to students.

Fair enough, these are things that we tend to catch in developing our own (traditional) online courses as well, and that we fix or update in continuous offering cycles.   The immediate comparison, quite explicitly, in this edsurge article is the comparison of xMOOCs to traditional online courses.  The article mentions rubrics like Quality Matters and SUNY's open access OSCQR ("oscar") rubric for online 'quality'. One SUNY college is reportedly paying external people $150 per course for such reviews of their online courses, and the overall question seems to be: how do we get people to do this beta test their online courses?

This article did have me getting a bit of a Janeway facepalm, when I read it (and when I read associated comments). The first reason I had a negative reaction to this article was that it assumes that such checks don't happen.   At the instructional design level there are (well, there are supposed to be) checks and balances for this type of testing. If an instructional designer is helping you design your course, you should be getting critical feedback as a faculty member on this course.  In academic departments where only designers do the design and development (in consultation with the faculty member as the expert) then the entire process is run by IDs who should see to this testing and control. Even when faculty work on their own (without instructional designers), which happens to often be the case in face-to-face courses, there are checks and balances there.  There are touch-points throughout the semester and at the end where you get feedback from your students and you can update materials and the course as needed. So, I don't buy this notion that courses aren't 'tested'.†

Furthermore, a senior instructional designer at SUNY is cited as saying that one of the challenges "has been figuring out incentives for professors or instructional designers to conduct the quality checks," but at the same time is quoted as saying “on most campuses, instructional designers have their hands full and don’t have time to review the courses before they go live.”  You can't say (insinuate) that you are trying to coax someone to do a specific task, and then say that these individuals don't have enough time on their hands to do the task you are trying to coax them to do. When will they accomplish it?  Maybe the solution is to hire more instructional designers? Maybe look at the tenure and promotion processes for your institutions and see what can be done there to encourage better review/testing/development cycles for faculty who teach. Maybe hire designers who are also subject matter experts to work with those departments.‡

Another problem I have with this analogy on beta testing is that taught courses (not self-paced courses, which is what xMOOCs have become) have the benefit of a faculty member actually teaching the course, not just creating course packet material. Even multimodal course materials such as videos, podcasts, and animations, are in the end, a self-paced course packet if there isn't an actual person there tutoring or helping to guide you through that journey.   When you have an actual human being teaching/instructing/facilitating/mentoring the course and the students in the course there is a certain degree of flexibility.  You do want to test somewhat, but there is a lot of just-in-time fixes (or hot-fixes) as issues crop up.  In a self-paced course you do want to test the heck out of the course to make sure that self-paced learners aren't stuck (especially when there is no other help!), but in a taught course, extensive testing is almost a waste of limited resources.  The reason for this is that live courses (unlike self-paced courses and xMOOCs) aren meant to be kept up to date and to evolve as new knowledge comes into the field (I deal mostly with graduate online courses),  Hence spending a lot of time and money testing courses that will have some component of the course change within the next 12-18 months is not a wise way to use a finite set of sources.

At the end of the day, I think it's important to critically query our underlying assumptions.  When MOOCs were the new and shiny thing they were often (and wrongly) compared with traditional courses - they are not, and they don't have the same functional requirements.  Now that MOOCs are 'innovating' in other areas, we want to make sure that these innovations are found elsewhere as well, but we don't see a stop to query if the functional requirements and the environment are the same.   Maybe for a 100 level (intro course) that doesn't change often, and that is taken by several hundred students per year (if not per semester) you DO spend the time to exhaustively test and redesign (and maybe those beta testers get 3-credits of their college studies for free!), but for some courses that have the potential change often and have fewer students, this is overkill.  At the end, for me, it comes down to local knowledge, and prioritizing of limited resources.  Instructional Designers are a key element to this and it's important that organizations utilize their skills effectively for the improvement of the organization as a whole.

Your thoughts?




NOTES:
† Yes, OK, there are faculty out there have have taught the same thing for the past 10 years without any change, even the same typos in their lecture notes! I hope that these folks are the exception in academia and not the norm.

‡ The comparison here is to the librarian world where you have generalist librarians, and librarians who also have subject matter expertise in the discipline that they are librarians in. Why not do this for instructional designers?