As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I finished writing my dissertation on New Year’s Eve. I still have to defend it of course (and I’m sure there will be some rewriting involved), but I feel like I’ve finally come to the point where I know that I won’t quit before the phd is achieved.
Briefly, for my dissertation I created an assessment toolkit for higher ed faculty who work in “connected course” environments. The work views assessment as a highly integrated component of instructional design and therefore outlines what it means to be a connected course, provides potential learning goals surrounding something I defined as connectivity, discussed learning activities that support connectivity, and then provides some research to support using digital annotation devices (hyperlinking, embedded images, and mentions) as a means to support scalable, integrated, and sustainable (read that as promoting self- and peer- assessment) methods for assessing connectivity.
I worked on this dissertation over 18 months, and what happens to an author during the writing process impacts the process and the conclusions of the work. It’s been an interesting journey – literally – because of the amount of travel I did while writing.
This map shows all of the places in which I worked on my dissertation.
I worked in airports, planes, taxis, ubers, rented cars, trains, (one) rickshaw, and cruise boats. I worked in hotel rooms, restaurants, coffee shops, cafes, bars, and several hotel lobbies including one particularly noisy one in the Taj Hotel in New Delhi, where I had to move quickly so that I didn’t get hit in a brawl between the police and some drunk guys (it was 3AM. the police were vacating the hotel bar for the hotel staff). I worked in parks, on balconies, on city sidewalks, next to street food carts, swimming pools, on rooftops, in libraries, ski lodges, convention centers, and in museums. It’s amazing the computer is still in one piece for as many times as I hauled it along in a giant purse into boats, shops, movie theaters, and (even once) on an amusement park ride.
But here we are and here it is in one piece, so there. However, there are implications to all of this madness.
First, it is proof that life goes on while you are writing your dissertation. The world and your family cannot stop for you, so you just have to make it work. That being said, in the final push of the last few months I did ask the world to stop for me a bit and it did, kind of. My mother and mother-in-law coordinated Christmas for our families without me. My husband started making more dinners. My kids learned how and when not to ask me questions (and also to entertain and feed themselves and to solve their own disagreements). The negotiation of it all was simultaneously humbling and empowering.
Furthermore, all this travel added to my belief in the potential powers of connectivity. We all know that power dynamics and issues of access exist with the Internet, although the number of people I saw crowded around cell phones in rural India was fairly impressive. I saw more people holding discussions over smart phones than sitting around the open air televisions set up outside of the streetside shacks. Anyhow, between hotel-airport-train-museum-restaurant-library wifis and my own cell phone hotspot, I remained connected in every single one of those map pins, even Rajasthan and the Whitsundays (although it was spotty at best in the Whitsundays). Therefore, I could work even as life went on.
Finally, working in all of these places kept me feeling and working more alive. Sometimes I feel like the mainstream educational research literature is claustrophobic, with no particular expression of joy or creativity. This dinosaur-tastic approach is one of the reasons it took me so long to settle down into a research field and genre. All this travel reminded me that there are many ways to experience truth and that many of them are unknown. Life and learning is meant to be exploratory, and if that excitement and adventure isn’t seeping out of educational research then the research is not on point.
So travel, work on, and don’t be afraid to let some of life seep into your work. Honestly, I believe you, the work, and the world will be better for it.