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thesis aspirations…

February 26, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Last night my Assignment 2 partner and I met again. As we’ve made some very solid progress over the past week, it was a good chat and notably free from any underlying anxiety. Though we still have much to do, we have adequate time left before the “big reveal presentation” and most importantly we have a shared vision and a solid sense of trust in each other. I think it’s no small victory that my partner (who also happens to be “the new guy” in the cohort) said that this process has gone “much better than he anticipated.” Though I told him it felt a bit like a backhanded compliment, I agree completely and feel that we do make a good academic team. I have no doubt that though 45 minutes is a long time to present….we will succeed.

As mentioned before in such places as here, we are in fact using a portion of my partner’s thesis research as the jumping off point of our project. Whenever I admit that, I feel a knee-jerk reaction to point out all of the ways I’m not just the sous chef in the kitchen, I can lead too, I’m not just a coat-tail-rider, tagalong, etc. and yet…the hard truth is that in many ways I am learning more and more that I actually am the sous chef in the kitchen and that’s a totally fine and very valuable role.

Last night as we were talking through some ideas and I was asking for clarification about the whole sets, nets, group thing we began talking about his past research which led to his story which led back around to the story of how he originally integrated into this ongoing project which once more turned to his thesis research. Luckily I am very non-linear because it was a roundabout pathway. (Also as a disclaimer, he was originally part of the cohort ahead of mine thus he’s been at this all for a year longer than me. A doctoral journey is like dog years so being a year older equates to roughly seven years further along!)

As he spoke, it was fascinating and the one clear thing that kept coming through was that my partner is able to talk about his thesis like someone talks about their favorite relative or a really great mentor. As he spoke I could feel his excitement and it made me excited for it too. Ideas I cared little for a month ago came alive and for a couple minutes I found myself wondering what I was doing with weird outlier graphic design online because clearly…social media learning was where it’s at! (Lucky for everyone…those feelings quickly dissipated.) It wasn’t all evangelistic fervor as he freely admitted it’s a hard topic and he is frustrated at times but it wasn’t complaining rather, it was like the allowances you make for a good friend…knowing that no one is perfect and in the end grace wins.

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the customer service narrative

February 22, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

This week in my 804 course we’re focusing on K12 education and the ways distance ed can be integrated into the lower educational experience. Admittedly, I have very little interest in K12 education because:

1. I don’t have kids

2. I don’t work with kids

3. when it comes to kids…I have a small dog with an extensive wardrobe who travels by purse…this kind of says a lot without saying a lot about who I am

My sister is an elementary school librarian and I have four nieces and nephews who are all enmeshed in the K12 education system so I think it’s vital and important but as far as actual passion and engagement…not so much.

That said, there was one reading this week that wasn’t about K12 DE but rather was about “Changes, Challenges, and Choices” which means that it presented a lot of “this is where we are” and “this is where things are headed” and “choose if you either want to get on board or bail.” That might be a bit simplified but I do think that was the general gist.

One thing that came up quite a bit in the reading was the need for great attention to customer service in education. The narrative is:

1. the old ways of doing things with the ivory tower and the eccentric academics and all the research and headiness and tweed is gone

2. in this new era customer service for learners is a huge thing

3. for educational structures to thrive (or even survive) they need to adopt radically different attitudes toward their customers i.e. their students.

Had the Lisa-of-three-months-ago read this, she would have said “Amen!” and then raised her fist in solidarity with these prophets who proclaim good customer service to learners everywhere. In fact I cited poor customer service as one of the key things that contributed to the 803 debacle last term. Learners are customers and when their needs are overlooked or the system isn’t ready for them…customer service fail 101 where the only logical response is an uprising to bring better service for all.

So, today when I read the text once more that proclaimed a need for greater intentionality in customer service, I thought it would be the same and I’d once more think the same thoughts but…turns out I didn’t.

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in praise of nets

February 19, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

In The Distant Crowd: Transactional Distance and New Social Media Literacies, Dron and Anderson discuss the many different circles of interaction that compose social media/internet communication and how each of these circles may or may not impact a learner’s experience of Moore’s ideas on transactional distance. For those not in the know (no shame….this was me about 4 months ago) transactional distance refers to the cognitive span between learners and teachers in an educational setting. Though in distance education “cognitive span” often means physical things like time zones and geography, transactional distance can occur even when all participants are present in the same room yet because of any one of a number of elements just aren’t connecting fully. Large amounts of transactional distance tends to be bad because they mean learner isolation and all the negative baggage that isolated learners tend to bring. The three magic keys of reducing transactional distance are: dialogue between learner and teachers, structure/instructional design of the program itself, and learner autonomy.

Dron and Anderson identify four main enclaves that define social interaction. These are: groups, nets, sets, and collectives. Though it’s a bit awkward, you can think of each of these four constructs as concentric circles with groups being the most closed/exclusive (think of the internet version of the “no boys allowed” club you formed in grade 2) and collectives being literally the community where your algorithm just happens to match someone else (think this is where you may totally impulse buy the rhinestone encrusted small dog dress that was recommended to you…I speak hypothetically of course.)

For me (and I think for them but…don’t quote me), the most interesting enclave isn’t what lives on either extreme but rather what’s almost right in the middle…the “net” or more appropriately the “network.” Dron and Anderson say that nets are the social form that, “most characterize tools and environments such as blogs, shared bookmarks, media sharing, and social networking systems is the network.” In addition, “Networks are, at least in principle, unbounded, and we only ever have a partial view of them, connecting with other nodes that are, in network terms, “nearby.” Nets with their very blurry boundaries and macro views have some pretty awesome potential, particularly when you add in the whole adjacent possible proposed by Siemens and Downes.

Because these ideas are so critical to my 804 presentation, for the past few days I’ve been subconsciously tagging every piece of social interaction I have with one of these four labels. Turns out, my own personal taxonomy has been very net heavy. In my day to day busy life, groups seem to require too much cognitive/emotional load on me because I am so vested in them that I have to really think about contributions I make, words I write, etc. thus I don’t contribute regularly…more I contribute on an every few days basis. Collectives I could care less about because they’re just too big and feel too impersonal. Sets….maybe but again they still skew a bit large for my taste.

Nets are like Goldilocks and her porridge…not too big, not too personal…just. right. In nets I don’t need to give large portions of myself rather I can get in and get out and still manage a good level of interaction, challenge, and general stretch so I feel something worthwhile has occurred. It seems the keyword in nets is “fuzzy” and the key traits required are both courage to jump into murky waters and spontaneity to see where the tide will take you–sometimes nowhere, sometimes so far along at such a rapid rate all you can do is keep your head above the water. Either way as long as you’re in the right frame of mind….it’s pretty dazzling.

Is it selfish that I am skewing toward these low commitment, loose tie relationships rather than giving myself to the hardcore groups where I also belong? Perhaps, and yet I think that by virtue of the very construct of nets it’s almost expected that there’s a level of transiency and that’s okay, in fact that’s what makes nets the excellent place that they are.


You can find the Dron & Anderson article referenced above here.
Also, long live creative commons and open publication.


assignment 2 begins…

February 16, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

This long weekend I am deep in my 804 Assignment 2 which is a 45 minute (yeah, that’s right….45 minute) presentation grappling with a social/economic issue and showing how education in general and educational leadership in particular could bring positive change. It’s all speculative (meaning we don’t have to actually do what we’re investigating) and the overall thrust of the assignment is for us to test drive leadership ideas.

The good news is that it’s meant to be a partner assignment and I’ve got an amazingly capable partner. We’ve chosen to grapple with persistence in distance education and look particularly at how The Landing, Athabsca’s social site, could play a more proactive role in building community thus increasing persistence.

The even better news is that The Landing also happens to be the focus of my partner’s thesis project. But, lest it sound like I’ve been savvy in partner choice and topic (which admittedly I have) and am now coasting for the next month, I have been pulling my weight as much as possible and though I’m not the main force finding articles (since he’s basically got the library already) I’m enough of a control freak that I can confidently say my fingerprints will be on the final product to present a convincing argument that we are a team. In addition because he’s been living in these ideas for awhile, I think my fresh outlook is a good reality check. I know for me the longer I live in ideas the more I’m unable to see how things could be any other way…then someone peers in and it’s the emperors new clothes all over again as I realize what I thought was set in stone was really only written in sidewalk chalk.

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February 10, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

I was driving tonight to a friend’s house and listening to the Through Process podcast. (If you don’t know about Through Process…you’re totally missing out. It’s targeted toward design educators and design students but really, like design itself it’s about life as a human…whatever that may look like.) So, I was driving tonight to a friend’s house and listening to a Through Process podcast episode called “It’s okay to like things” where design critic Chappell Ellison joined the usual combo of Mitch and Namdev to chat about criticism, feedback and the general atmosphere around both in both design school and the profession of design.

It was a long and rambling podcast so I won’t try to summarize it here in any sort of pithy way (legit just listen….road rage decreases exponentially when you’re listening to something interesting). That said, there was an interesting point about raised about the weird image media saturated culture we live in and how that in itself has changed the student/learning experience.

At one point someone said that there’s so much access to design blogs and image banks and Pinterest and everything visual that rather than put work out there that is unique and personal and engaged with the project that has been tasked to the student….students are more likely to recycle back something “cool” they encountered on the internet—more likely to blind copy styles with little to no thought as to the why’s behind it all. When pressed into explaining the why of a piece, students come up short because there’s actually no why at all….the work is all face value.

Somebody else said that school was perhaps the safest place ever to be a designer because you can literally go off the deep end with conceptual/crazy/risky ideas and though an instructor might give you a hard mark…they’re not going to be like a client who will fire you. In school, the whole system is set up to nurture you so rather than just copy whatever the cool of the moment is, why not take the deep dive into whatever obscure inspiration you find and then just run with it and see where it takes you? You most likely will fail a bit (or a lot) but you’ll find deeper parts of yourself as a designer and the skills you learn in the engagement itself will pan out in the end.

As the sage design educator that I am, I said a hearty “Amen” to these ideas and wished that my own students would have this courage to find their own cool and not keep recycling the same stuff over and over. I even began thinking how we could shift our curriculum so that it would be more conducive to these things…be more intentional about stating what a “safe space” we actually are and using that as a catalyst to see how much deeper we can go into the learning process.

Then I began to think about the “student” thing currently happening in my own life and wonder if the same issues are in play, but just called some other stuff since this is doctoral level education. Admittedly as things got a little more close to home, they also became a bit more uncomfortable.

Here’s the truth…I’m not a tenured track academic who needs to do massive research or publish stuff in order to keep their job. I’m a student exploring these ideas for the very. first. time. In addition, I’ve got a support system in place with my supervisor, my cohort, and various other closely linked outliers who are more than willing to nurture the heck out of me whenever needed.

I’ve got all the head knowledge but…in what ways have I become like those mindlessly trolling not image banks, but articles repositories? In what ways am I so captivated by whatever is the “cool” topic/methodology/argument that it’s seducing me, ever so slightly, off course and following it is replacing looking for my own pathway? Do I realize that I could literally explore the conceptual/crazy/risky ideas to my hearts content because I won’t be fired from this experience? (I will most likely be confronted by my supervisor but still…wouldn’t it be amazing to go so deep into a path that you would get called for actually too much?)

So, this is my next new plan…my new goal is to be fearlessly courageous in probing and pushing and pursuing not because I have some weird anarchist bent but rather because I want to revel in this process as much as humanly possible. Like all my students, this is such a unique and special time and it makes zero sense to live it in such a self limiting manner. As I know from my day job, once you’re finished you get lots of limits and schemes placed on you….for this time and in this season, it’s time to delight and see just what might happen….just what I might discover.

Distributed Leadership

February 8, 2015

lisa hammershaimb


In addition to doing all the other stuff I seem to record on here, I do occasionally also write in way more formal, academic-y ways. Here’s a link to what I did this past week for my first assignment of 804. I also made a presentation on the same topic and here’s a link to those slides.

Though I gave the presentation last Thursday, I just turned the paper in for marking. As it’s the first assignment written for a prof I’ve never had before…I’ll confess hitting submit feels a little first-date-nerve-wracking as I wonder if she will get my writing style, if I really understood what she asked for, if she’ll like my APA, etc.

Overall I’m happy with the paper and even more I’m happy that I got to explore distributed leadership. After learning more about it “officially” I realize I’ve been trying to do a hybrid version of it for the past several months with my own team. Now that I’ve got the actual info (and realize what I’m doing is legit part of something that’s actually “a thing”) I’m excited to keep tweaking how I distribute leadership and truly find ways to nurture my team members so that they feel safe enough to bring their own passion areas to me and see how together we can partner to make our team and our department the best it can be. Who knew school learning actually can apply in real life too? Amazing, eh?

I could sound quite enlightened and say that I’ve learned so much already that it doesn’t really matter what my mark is. This is quite true but also….yeah, as I’ve never gotten all that great of grades in the past and thus far in the program I’ve managed to get some pretty excellent ones…shallow as it sounds, I’m beginning to give into the siren call of the letter grade. So, we shall see what happens!

on meetings and narratives…

February 6, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Today I met with my supervisor one to one. He’d contacted me last week (as he knew I’d had quite a rough one) and asked about a potential chat in the near future. As it had been awhile since we’d spoken, I’d gladly replied that it would be great to connect. After sending the response and setting up a time I didn’t give the meeting much thought until this past weekend when it dawned on me that I was a second year doctoral student and in a program that is about 4-ish years in estimated length that would put me right in the middle. I wasn’t totally sure where I had read it, but 2 years in seemed like when all the cool doctoral kids probably had at least have written a dissertation rough draft, or was the 2 year mark when said “cool kids” had already completed the revisions? Either way….eek!

So my supervisor has contacted me about a potential chat in the near future. And though it was most likely a chat inspired by things unrelated to my academic progress…I’m a second year student with a gut feeling that a potential chat wasn’t going to be a time for us to swap conspiracy theories about the Bachelor or who we thought was going to win Project Runway. If I was chatting with my supervisor the mental health check in is just code for checking up on me and my research direction, making sure I’ve got a clean APA record, am up on my article reading and generally conducting my life in a manner befitting a doctoral student. Suddenly meeting with my supervisor sounded way more like going to the principals office meets getting caught sneaking in after curfew meets executive interview and if I’m not prepared and ready to impress with some serious doctoral student-y data…I’m in big big trouble.

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distance education and ford….

February 3, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Or rather Fordism, which though based somewhat on Henry Ford who we all know and love doesn’t actually mean that it’s education you can do in your car (though legit, who doing an online program hasn’t “been in school” while in the car? Indeed when I was homeschooling in high school I completed a lot of my work while in transit on trips and outings or in the words of my mom the “real stuff of an education” but anyways….)

Fordism is a system based on industrialized/standardized mass production. In layman’s terms, it’s factory precision and predictability. It’s also proven reliability at a reasonable price, able to equip the masses with consumer goods and not bankrupt them in the process. The beauty of Fordism is that whole swathes of people who were previously out of the loop now have purchasing power and provision.

Post-Fordism is, as the name suggests, what happens after Fordism and is the era that we may of may not be living in now. In post-Fordism, the production aspect doesn’t go away instead a world of specialties and specialists emerge. Rather than the factory notion of workers popping out products in rigid lockstep, there is a focus on distribution, separation, and pleasing the individual. In Fordism, it seems it was enough to just get stuff. In post-Fordism…there’s attention to the unique human element of individualism and personal choice. I think this distinction makes post-Fordism pretty amazing but also adds in all sorts of temperamental complexity.

Education–as is often the case–has followed these themes as well. Where once the “Fordist” values of getting it done prevailed, now we’re a bit more into the post-Fordist space where we must not only get it done but allow people to be changeable and specialize and do all the quirky things people tend to do. I again think post-Fordism a good thing in theory but it’s a rough thing for education, particularly education that is distance distributed.

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