My name is Michael Harris and I am an associate professor of higher education. I have spent over ten years teaching and researching higher education issues. This is my personal blog focused on demystifying higher education. I do this in two ways. First, I address current topics and issues facing colleges and universities. Second, I write about productivity and personal development.
Leveraging professional experience in an Ed.D. dissertation can prove useful in conducting qualitative research and yield insights into problems of practice. Students should lean into their experiences and expertise, not only help ease the dissertation process, but also to potentially yield better results. In this post, I will discuss how to leverage professional experience in the Ed.D. dissertation and the benefits this can bring to your work.
Photo credit: TireZoo
EdD students typically possess a wealth of experience to support their dissertation projects (Costley & Armsby, 2007). Qualitative research offers an avenue to leverage this experience by placing you, the researcher, at the center of data collection and analysis.
We discuss the role of the researcher in future chapters, but here, we emphasize the notion that the researcher plays a critical role in qualitative research: “It is the researcher who gathers and organizes data. It is the researcher who makes meaning from the data, who interprets the data, and ultimately who makes the world visible to others” (Lichtman, 2014, p. 12).
Each researcher brings a unique set of experiences, strengths, and abilities that inform engagement in the research process. For students, with significant professional experience, who undertake applied or practice-focused studies, this insight can help throughout the research process and improve the overall quality of the dissertation (Murphy & Vriesenga, 2005; Shulman et al., 2006).
Students with significant professional expertise and experience have a twofold advantage (Costley & Stephenson, 2009).
First, this experience and expertise aids in identifying important problems of practice. During the course of everyday practice, professionals see issues that might be improved with additional time, resources, and/or data. In fact, advances towards solving or mitigating these problems could be made if only practitioners could dedicate the time and energy to researching solutions.
Further, these problems, which may be highly salient for practitioners, are sometimes ignored or overlooked by academic researchers not embedded in the professional setting. When brainstorming dissertation topics, we encourage our advisees to mine their professional experiences—and especially frustrations—for potential ideas. These topics impact their daily professional lives and often provoke passionate responses. This passion generates useful enthusiasm for pursuing the dissertation and represents a real advantage of professional experience.
Second, students with professional experience often have the ability to collect and understand data differently, and from another perspective than a researcher without real-world engagement with the issue being studied (Fulton, Kuit, Sanders, & Smith, 2011). For instance, an EdD student who has worked as a principal for many years is probably better suited in creating questions and recognizing the core issues faced in the job than a researcher who studies school leadership but has never worked in a school.
In qualitative research, personal experience serves as a resource to improve the study. Our same principal/EdD student may better identify nuances and build connections with other participating principals during interviews, yielding richer and more informative data.
At the same time, professional experience can be incredibly useful during the data analysis phase. Rather than trying to ignore experience in favor of objectivity, this expertise may illuminate connections that other non-practitioner researchers may miss.
We fully suggest you embrace this experience as beneficial for the dissertation. This experience, of course, does not substitute for sound and trustworthy research methodology; practitioner researchers must always consider how their own experiences influence their approach to the study and data, and take special care to identify potential blind spots, biases, or other problematic issues.
Students too often worry that objectivity will prove impossible when studying something that they deal with at work. With a well-designed and conceptualized study, however, this issue need not be a concern.
Strategies in this and other qualitative research guides can help you develop a trustworthy research design.
Our students who have adopted this mindset over the years have created dissertations that allowed them to positively impact problems of practice. We highly recommend students consider how their professional experience and expertise can improve the dissertation process.
After all of the work necessary for completing a dissertation, preparing for the final dissertation defense can seem quite difficult. However, in my experience, the final dissertation can be an opportunity to show off your work and bring an appreciation for all that you have accomplished. In today’s post, I will discuss how to prepare for the final dissertation defense to set yourself up for success.
Dissertation Defense at Universiteit Leiden.
In the final dissertation defense, you and your dissertation committee meet to discuss the dissertation. Typically, these meetings run an hour or two long. The meeting often begins with you making a brief presentation and transitioning to a question-and-answer and discussion period. The defense format generally works similarly to that of the proposal defense, so you should find this process familiar.
At some institutions, defenses are public and open to the campus community; on other campuses, attendance is restricted to the student and committee (Brause, 2012). If your institution allows outside attendees, we highly recommend you attend a defense or two prior to your own.
For your defense, we suggest bringing a colleague as a friendly face and note taker, if permitted. Your committee usually provides a number of areas for edits and changes mixed in with their questions, and the defense will go more smoothly if you only have to worry about answering questions rather than taking notes as well.
Most institutions mandate that you submit the final dissertation, approved by the chair, to the full committee at least two weeks before the defense. Even if this deadline is not required at your institution, follow a similar guide in order to respect the committee’s time and ensure they have sufficient opportunity to read your dissertation before the defense.
You increase the likelihood of the committee having an in-depth discussion of your work, rather than simply asking clarifying questions when you give the committee sufficient time to read the dissertation before the defense. While the proposal defense likely included edits, suggestions, and revisions to the study, the study is concluded by the time of the final defense. The committee will not ask you to go back and complete more interviews or add a new case study site—those issues were settled at the proposal defense. Giving the committee time to digest the study and ponder the results deeply ensures that the defense represents, in fact, more of a dialogue.
Additionally, giving the committee adequate time to review the work allows them to raise any glaring issues that may be resolvable before the dissertation defense. If a dissertation committee member has such major issues with your work, these should be addressed before the meeting and, likely, the defense should be rescheduled. Your chair and committee are responsible for identifying major issues and even canceling the defense if necessary. In our view, no student should fail their defense unless they push ahead without their chair or committee’s support.
Neither you nor the chair or committee should put you in a position where failing the defense is a possibility. If your chair and/or committee raises concerns, take them seriously and do not be afraid to push back the defense date, as defending later than planned is much better than having an unsuccessful final defense.
During a successful defense, you will often notice a shift in the focus of conversation and questions during your defense. About halfway or so through, the questions will turn from focusing on your analysis, findings or recommendation to what is next for your work and how the dissertation will inform your future career. This natural progression signals that you have transitioned from a student to a colleague. Beyond this general observation, we find that the final defense tends to focus on four general types of questions.
Type 1. Questions About Differences Between Defense Presentation and Dissertation Document
Often, during their presentations, students bring up ideas or information that are not included or receive little attention within the dissertation document. As we have advised earlier, you should not include every single detail in your dissertation; sometimes even important and interesting ideas get left out—and this is okay. The committee may pick up on these ideas, ask questions about them, and ultimately ask that they be added to the dissertation during the post-defense revisions.
Type 2. Questions About Clarifying Information
As in the proposal defense, many questions focus on clarification—particularly at the beginning of the defense. Sometimes an issue is legitimately unclear; other times, the committee wants to ensure you can articulate and defend claims not only in the written document but also orally. In responding to clarifying questions, articulate why you made certain decisions, note any tradeoffs that were made, and defend the research choices to demonstrate understanding of the topic, method, findings, and conclusions.
Type 3. Questions That Push You to Expand Your Findings and/or Conclusions
Committees often try to push you to expand your findings and conclusions. We commonly find that students seem timid, fearing being wrong or offering conclusions beyond the data. The committee will ask questions and push to see how far you can take the analysis and conclusions. Not only will this feedback improve the dissertation, but the ensuing dialogue also shows that you know the limitations of the data.
Type 4. Questions About What’s Next
As noted earlier, the conversation during the final defense will likely turn at some point to the future. Where might you publish your dissertation? How might you put your recommendations into practice? These and similar questions are geared toward helping you think about what comes after graduation and how you can take the dissertation beyond simply an academic requirement for the doctoral program. In some ways, these questions can prove the most challenging, as you may not be sure what you want to do, but students’ answers to these questions can be the most rewarding aspect of the dissertation defense.
The tenure decision process varies from university to university. However, there are some general guidelines and levels of review that you will frequently find at many institutions. In today’s post, I provide a broad overview of what you should expect from the tenure decision process at most universities.
Photo credit: Terry Kearney
Department Level Review
The first step in the review process takes place in your academic department. A committee will either be created either specifically for your case, or your department will convene its standing tenure and promotion committee. This committee is comprised of tenured professors in the department, who may be drawn from all tenured faculty in the department or from a smaller subset. They are the most likely to have knowledge of your areas of research and are familiar with your teaching. This is because faculty in your department are, in many ways, the most expert reviewers for your case. They have worked with you on committees and know you better than other colleagues on campus.
Your department committee reviews your tenure dossier and discusses your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. At the end of this discussion they likely vote, with each member voting yes or no to grant tenure and promotion to associate professor. Once the vote is complete, the chair of the committee drafts a letter conveying the outcome of the committee’s review and vote regarding your candidacy. Following the department committee review, your case moves to the department chair, who will assess your case. In some cases, the chair’s review stands apart from department review, while in other cases the department review gets incorporated into the chair’s review. The chair then drafts a letter registering the departmental view of your case and his or her own vote before your file moves to the next level of review.
School Level Review
A committee of tenured faculty next review your dossier at the school level. This committee includes faculty from across the school who review all candidates up for tenure and promotion during that particular review cycle. In many institutions, the school committee review operates independent from the department review to provide a “check and balance” for your evaluation; at other institutions, the school committee may be privy to the discussion and evaluation of your candidacy from the department level. In either case, the school level committee reviews your file, discusses the strength and weaknesses of your candidacy, and takes a vote regarding your tenure and promotion. Next, the committee chair drafts an evaluation report or letter summarizing the review discussion and vote outcome. This letter is then sent to the dean to be included in the dean level review.
Dean Level Review
Following completion of both department and school level reviews, the dean (and possibly an associate dean) review all materials related to your tenure case. These materials include your dossier and all previous reviews from the academic department, department chair, and school tenure committee. The dean considers all of these evaluations and your materials before deciding to support your case or not. After making this decision, the dean drafts a letter summarizing his or her judgment and decision regarding your case. At this stage, all reviews in your school have been completed and your case moves to the institutional level review.
Institutional Level Review
The amount of review your case receives at the institutional level can vary tremendously, particularly depending on the size of your institution. Smaller institutions may provide more in-depth reviews at the institutional level, as they have fewer cases to review, while very large universities cannot possibly give all candidates a thorough evaluation. Reviews at the institutional level may include a faculty committee or senior members of the provost’s office.
The institutional tenure and promotion committee includes tenured faculty representing the various colleges and schools on your campus. Since this committee also considers candidates going up for full professor, its membership may be restricted to full professors who can also review those cases.
The primary purpose of this review is to advise the provost or president in making a final determination on your case. Different from the overly specific reviews you may receive at earlier levels, the institutional tenure and promotion committee often attempts to provide a fair and consistent review across all units on campus. As a result, this committee plays much more of a “check and balance” role to ensure that all policies and procedures have been followed as well as to evaluate the specific aspects of your case. After discussing your tenure case, the institutional level committee also drafts a report and takes a vote to support your candidacy or not. This report goes to the senior administrator who makes the final decision in your case.
While the Board of Trustees for your institution may have the final say in your tenure case, this level of review is most often perfunctory, a rubber-stamp for the recommendations of senior administrators (Euben, 2002). As a result, the decision of the provost or chief academic officer on campus constitutes the deciding vote in your tenure case. This person reviews all previous votes and evaluation reports, then makes a decision regarding your case. In most instances, the provost reviews all the votes and, assuming consistency across the various levels of review, makes a decision in line with earlier votes.
While the term is quite common in certain national higher education systems, not every student fully understands the meaning of “A.B.D.”
A.B.D. stands for “All But Dissertation.” A.B.D. means that a student has finished coursework, qualifying examinations, and all other requirements for the doctorate—except for the final defense of the dissertation.
The term, although widely used, does not represent a formal status; at no point in the doctoral program should students receive an email from the faculty congratulating them on earning this distinction.
Furthermore, we recommend that students not use the term on their email signature, after their name (i.e., Maria Garcia, A.B.D.), or in other formal contexts. However, students might include the term on their resume or CV to note where they are in the doctoral process alongside an anticipated date of degree completion, depending on institutional and field-specific norms.
If the term does not denote a formal status, why is it so common?
One unfortunate reason is because doctoral students may end up getting stuck at this stage (Locke & Boyle, 2016).
In a study by the Council of Graduate Schools (Sowell, Zhang, Bell, & Redd, 2008), just over 40% of students in the social sciences completed their degree within ten years.
The number of students completing doctoral degrees in the United States declines dramatically after years 6 and 7 across all fields of study. Although the study did not draw conclusions regarding the dissertation as the cause for this decline or differentiate between students in a traditional PhD program compared to a professional doctorate program, undoubtedly many students make it through coursework only to run into a roadblock with the dissertation.
Regardless of the labels, different degree structures, and varied programmatic approaches, common strategies can help students transition from A.B.D. to degree completion.
First, as you finish coursework requirements in your program, keeping your personal and professional life as consistent as possible proves enormously helpful.
While the ability to avoid professional change is not always possible, realize that the period of time in which you are writing the dissertation may not the best for a promotion, a job change or taking on extra responsibilities.
Although some people succeed while making professional changes at the same time as pursuing their doctoral degree, getting up to speed on a new role or workplace can drain mental energy and leave low reserves for the dissertation.
Second, do your best to stay connected to campus, faculty, and peers.
While technology provides remote access to resources and people, too much physical distance from campus can create feelings of disconnect or loss of focus.
Distance makes meeting with your dissertation chair in person or accessing hard copy library books more difficult.
Of course, journal articles and books can be accessed easily online, and some academic institutions support distance students by mailing necessary materials or providing electronic access, but distinct benefits exist to being able to get to campus.
We advise students to think of campus as a workspace separate from both home and work. By doing so, you can more concretely conceive of dissertation research and writing as a “third shift” at which you can clock in, clock out, and approach the experience like a separate job from home and work.
If you do not currently have a space on campus that is your own (for example, a cubicle in a graduate student suite or a desk or corner in your advisor’s office or department suite), discuss the issue with your advisor and peers. You may have find an empty corner of the library or a quiet student lounge in another academic building. Do whatever you can to locate a designated, on-campus space where you can work solely on the dissertation.
The third major problem causing students to get stuck in the dissertation pipeline is that some students fail to set aside time to work on the dissertation (King & Williams, 2014).
For students in programs with required coursework, successful completion of courses almost always signals that students have the skills and knowledge to complete the dissertation.
The ability to dedicate time to the dissertation separates students who finish in a timely manner from those who never do or take an inordinately long time to do so.
Finally, we find that students fail to reach out to their dissertation chair to seek help and advice. This particular issue tends to snowball; as students get bogged down, they become embarrassed by their inability to make progress or deal with arising problems.
In turn, this embarrassment leads them to not seek out help. Even when students do reach out, they might apologize for their lack of progress or responsiveness to emails asking for updates. Apologies in this regard are not productive!
Dissertation chairs have busy personal and professional lives and often do not keep track of their dissertation advisees, especially considering their own research and teaching activities (Storms, Prada, & Donahue, 2011).
It is nearly impossible for chairs to track all of their advisees’ progress, meaning they are unlikely to be sitting in front of their computers waiting for a message from an advisee to arrive.
Doctoral students must be proactive and reach out to their chair to ask for help (Ahern & Manathunga, 2007). While the dissertation chair can and should give guidance during the dissertation process, they cannot do this if students do not ask for help.
Asking questions, seeking advice, and pushing past feelings of inadequacy are crucial to getting unstuck with the dissertation.
Ultimately, our suggestions here boil down to this: Develop the conditions that best position you for success.
Eliminate any issues that hinder progress. Additionally, set personal deadlines and expectations that enable you to prioritize dissertation work. After doing everything you can personally to set yourself up for success, remember to use your dissertation chair as a resource and guide.
Proactively seeking support from the chair and peers can prove profoundly beneficial. Setbacks will inevitably occur, but as the famous N.F.L. coach Vince Lombardi famously said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
In many ways, this approach is at the heart of successfully writing a dissertation: Encountering roadblocks within or outside of the dissertation requires figuring out a path forward and continuing to make steady progress.
As we continue celebrating fives years of Higher Ed Professor, I want to look back at this past year and share what I’ve learned in 5 years of blogging. When I started this blog, I had no idea exactly where it was going or where I would come up with enough content to fill the now more than 250 posts. In today’s post, I want to give a sense of the state of the blog and the four lessons that I have learned.
I’m quite grateful to all of our readers whether in the United States or around the world. During the past year, we’ve had more than 100,000 readers from all 50 states and 197 countries.
This year has also been one of tremendous growth in readership. Last May, we were averaging just under 5,500 readers per month. Last month we jumped to almost 17,700.
One of the things that I’m most excited about is that (as you could see from our top 10 last week) posts from years ago are still finding traction. Anyone who writes for a living is glad when their work doesn’t just rot on a shelf somewhere.
Or whatever the internet’s equivalent is with the graveyard of old blogs.
Lessons I’ve Learned From Blogging
1. The Power of Streaks
I’ve always recommended that anyone who has to produce writing on a regular basis use the power of streaks. The concept is pretty simple. You keep track of your schedule and every day that you complete your expectation gets a mark.
Your goal is to keep the streak alive. Even when you don’t feel like working, the desire to keep the streak going provides motivation. For the first four years of this blog, this was a powerful motivator for me. When you’ve been doing something every week without missing a single one, you find a way to keep it going.
Last year, I found myself overcommitted. Between my administrative role and a book project, I couldn’t keep everything going. So I missed a post. Then another. Then another.
The second half of last year didn’t see much posting. I resigned myself to this fact given my other commitments. I couldn’t do everything.
However, this experience also showed the power of streaks. The streak kept me going longer than I could have on my own. And once I broke it, it was pretty easy to miss again.
2. Find Your Voice
One of the best advantages that I’ve received from blogging is finding myself in writing. In other words, my voice.
I’ve spent most of my adult life with writing as a major part of my job. Yet, I never truly felt like I owned my writing. It never felt like it was mine. This blog as changed that completely.
I now know myself and my writing. To be sure, I can’t write the same way here as in an academic journal. However, through hundreds of posts, I found my voice and personality in my writing. For those of you who haven’t read my book, How to Get Tenure: Strategies for Successfully Navigating the Process, stop and go get yourself a copy.
Of everything I’ve done, I believe I’m most proud of that book because I was able to take the lessons from blogging and directly translate them into a book that is hopefully informative and fun to read.
3. Reassess What We Define As Scholarship
Finally, my biggest revelation has been the need to redefine what we consider scholarship in higher education. More specifically, what is public scholarship and how does it count in the faculty evaluation process.
While I have learned tremendously from the process of blogging and it has directly improved my work as a scholar, this blog does not count for anything in terms of my evaluation as a faculty member.
It isn’t on my CV or in my faculty activity reports. When I apply for full professor, external reviewers won’t consider my blogging as part of my scholarship. Although probably more people have read my blog than all of my books, book chapters, and articles combined.
The reality is that we only consider limited and traditional measures of scholarship. This has to change. Not every scholar can and should blog or engage in other avenues of public scholarship. But we shouldn’t penalize those who do.
Longtime readers know that I believe strongly in the rights and responsibilities of tenure. In many ways, this blog is my rebelling against the system. Sure, it won’t count for making full professor, but I’m engaging with people, teaching readers, and learning more about higher education.
Forget impact factors and journal rankings. Forget citation counts and acceptance rates. Those things have a role and a proper place in higher education. Yet, for me and my trusty blog, we’re just going to keep putting ideas out into the world and see what’s next.
Can you believe it!?! Higher Ed Professor turns 5 years old today. As is our tradition each year, I want to share the Top 10 posts from this past year. I always love seeing the posts that people find the most interesting and connect with readers. For our new readers, I hope you will enjoy seeing some of these posts for the first time. If you’ve been with us from the beginning, did your favorite post make the cut?
WThe desire to understand the lived experiences of people and the ways in which they make sense of their everyday lives rests at the core of qualitative research (Merriam, 2009). Unlike research studies in which settings are controlled, such as laboratory experiments, qualitative research typically occurs within natural, real-life environments such as schools, neighborhoods, and businesses. Researchers working with qualitative methods conduct naturalistic inquiry, examining real-world settings with an inductive mindset. In today’s post, I will discuss the key ideas behind qualitative research methodologies.
Photo credit: Casey Fiesler
Quantitative approaches commonly develop a hypothesis and then collect data to test the hypothesis, while qualitative approaches employ an inductive mindset, allowing data to emerge and shape understanding. From the emergent data, the researcher generates patterns, themes, and categories that offer insight and new knowledge.
These patterns, themes, and categories facilitate stories that illustrate research participants’ diverse perceptions of reality. During the course of the study, the researcher develops a greater understanding of the participants’ lived experiences, such as the experiences of a first year teacher, college student perceptions of campus life, or the relationship between a superintendent and a board of education. Qualitative research begins from the assumption that reality is not objectivebut subjective—constructed by individuals interacting with their social world. This assumption means that qualitative researchers do not generally predict or conjecture but rather seek to understand and richly describe the realities in which their participants live. Patton(1985)emphasizes that qualitative research comes from:
An effort to understand situations in their uniqueness as part of a particular context and the interactions there. This understanding is an end in itself, so that is not attempting to predict what may happen in the future necessarily, but to understand the nature of that setting. (p. 1)
Through qualitative analysis, researchers describe what is happening in the setting under examination. How are people experiencing what is happening? How do they understand their circumstances? How do they interact with others? Qualitatively oriented questions might examine “how” or “why,” such as howa nontraditional student accesses information about college policies. Questions might also focus on “why” like whya school adopted a new schedule. Qualitative researchers analyze and share participants’ subjective experiences and describe in great detail the setting in order to increase the reader’s understanding of the situation or context. In its focus on setting, qualitative research represents “a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that makes the world visible… This means that qualitative researchers study things in their natural setting” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008, p. 4).
As you may discern from these descriptions, qualitative research is an umbrella term for a variety of approaches to studying human behavior and meaning-making within specific contexts. The qualitative researcher serves as the instrument for data collection, making the process fundamentally social and human. This reality inevitably means that no universal approach to conducting qualitative research exists. While quantitative research focuses almost exclusively on numerical data, qualitative research encompasses a wide array of data. For this reason, many students initially express concern or confusion about the nature of qualitative data. What is it? Where does it come from?Simply put, words (interview transcripts, published writing, fliers and marketing materials, etc.), pictures, videos, and other typically non-numeric information comprise qualitative data. Qualitative data commonly represent information that may not be quantifiable, such social interactions, experiences, and perceptions.
Although students often place the qualitative and quantitative research approaches at opposite ends of a methodological continuum (and situate mixed-methods research in the middle), qualitative research is not inherently the opposite of quantitative work. Instead, each approach “presents a different view of the phenomenon studied and uses different means to persuade the reader of the validity of the conclusions drawn” (Firestone, 1987, p. 16). Assumptions about the world, the research purpose, the research approach, and the researcher’s role are key differences between qualitative and quantitative methods. The uniqueness of qualitative data extends beyond its non-numerical nature. Qualitative and quantitative data ultimately serve different, yet mutually reinforcing, purposes(Merriam, 2009).
Paradigms, or the basic beliefs and worldview that guide the researcher, constitute the theoretical underpinnings of qualitative research (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Corbin and Strauss (2008)further explain a paradigm as “a perspective, a set of questions that can be applied to data to help the analyst draw out the contextual factors and identify relationships between context and process” (p. 89). Interpreting qualitative research means understanding that researchers operate within paradigmatic norms, which are typically defined through the lens of naturalism or social construction. Naturalism suggests that social life is best understood in the natural environment, while social construction concludes that the nature of knowledge and reality originates through human interaction. Scholars often group these two paradigms together as interpretive.
Researchers who adhere to principles of naturalism focus on social life in the setting where it occurs. Their studies are highly descriptive as a way to understand the setting, and have limited to no generalizability. The researcher plays a critical role. Bloor and Wood (2006)conclude, “The researcher is no neutral observer but is his or her own research instrument, seeking empathetic appreciation of a culture through the experience of co-participation” (p. 124). The related paradigm of social construction assumes that repeated, regular interactions establish patterns of meaning in the world and serve to construct reality. Language is the central means by which people make sense of the world and engage in these patterns. As a result, questions of knowledge are paramount: Who has knowledge? Who generates knowledge? What counts as knowledge?
Important assumptions related to the interpretive paradigm, and therefore to the practice of qualitative research, include: 1) that there are multiple, different, and sometimes conflicting realities; 2) that understanding a particular topic must incorporate the time and context of the topic; 3) that knowledge cannot be separated from the person holding or generating the knowledge; and 4) that the act of research can never be fully objective (Guba & Lincoln, 1994). These assumptions remind researchers about issues such as conditions (the why-where-how and what questions related to the topic), interactions or emotions (how people felt about these situations), and consequences (what happened as a result) (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). Making the case for pursuing qualitative research for your dissertation requires demonstrating how the research question and proposed methods best align with the interpretive paradigm and these assumptions.
Over the past several years, Slack has become one of the most common and valuable software tools that I use. Slack is a cloud-based communication and collaboration software. Essentially, Slack serves as an instant message or chat room for messages and files that helps organization your communications. In today’s post, I will share the five strengths and uses where I find Slack to be the most helpful to explain why I use Slack and you should too.
Slack has been exploding in popularity in recent years so I suspect you probably have at least heard about it. But whether you are a faculty member or an administrator leading a team, Slack is definitely worth trying.
Slack works similar to social media or other sites that you may be familiar with in your daily use. You can send messages to a group of people in channels or one-on-one through direct messages. Additionally, you can comment, like, or add emojis. The software also allows you to upload files and overall keep all of your communications organized.
I use Slack in every aspect of my work including my research with collaborators and with my team in my administrative role. Slack has quite simply become the most important tool in my communications toolkit.
Five Benefits of Slack
1) Reduce Email
Longtime readers know that I hate email. I hate almost everything about it. So undoubtedly my favorite thing about Slack is that it has dramatically reduced the amount of email I receive.
If I had to guess, I would say that Slack has reduced my email by at least 50%. For example, my staff and research assistant pretty much never email me.
In particular, what Slack eliminates are those one-line emails that we all send back and forth. When we really need to have a quick chat or conversation, email is the worst medium. Slack has stopped that process for me and reduced the amount of email I receive. And as a result, the amount of email I have to send.
2) Easily Searchable
While I am pretty good at storing emails and files, searching those has never worked quite as well as I hoped. For example, I could find files in Dropbox or conversations in email. But what I often need are both to fully understand the context of something.
Slack solves this problem for me as I can find files and the conversations about files in one place. I can go back to the conversation that I was having which helps jog my memory and helps me reconstruct historical things much better than either cloud storage or email were ever able to do.
3) Bringing Telecommuters Closer
In my office, we have a few people that work from home a couple of days per week. Telecommuting is becoming a bigger part of the economy even though many of us in higher education have experienced this for years. We often work with people at other campuses or other parts of our own campuses that we don’t see very often in person.
Slack helps bring those people more into the fold. It is almost hard to describe, but I guess the easiest way to describe Slack is as a virtual water cooler. It is easy to send short messages or even memes in a way that makes you feel like you’ve talked with a person.
To be sure, Slack nor any software is a perfect replacement for in person interactions. However, Slack keeps teams connected and improves relationships more than any other tool that I’m familiar with right now.
4) Easily Control Notifications
I have turned off most of my notifications across all of my tools. I don’t want or need the distraction. And let’s be honest, almost never is it an emergency.
With so much of my communications funneled through Slack, the ability to control notifications is key. For example, I may be a member of a channel for a project in the office, but I do not need regular updates. Thus, I can mute it while still keeping access.
To support work-life balance for my team, we have deactivated notifications for the entire team after hours. As an individual you can opt in, but the default is to turn them off. I also have set up a hashtag that my team knows will give me a notification so if I’m out of the office or if they really need me, they can get in touch with me.
5) Segment Teams
In line with my desire to limit the amount of notifications and distractions, Slack enables you to segment teams. This allows everyone to know what they need to know, but not be bombarded by information that is not related to their work.
For example, on my team, we have a channel for team meetings that everyone is a member of because everyone attends those meetings. However, for more specific projects, there is a channel that just has the relevant people as members.
This ability avoid turning Slack into one giant reply all which could easily happen and cause more harm than good.
Give Slack a Try
As a user for the last 4+ years, Slack has greatly improved my efficiency and more importantly helped me focus. Whether you are leading a research team, administrative team, or just work with different collaborators, Slack can be a tremendous benefit. These are the five benefits that I experience, but there is a lot more that the tool can do that may assist you. I recommend you at least give Slack a try and see if it can improve your work.
Longtime readers know that I am always looking for the best tips and best practices on productivity. I believe spending the time to work smarter is always better than simply trying to work harder. Over the years, I’ve often looked at the work that Michael Hyatt who has done as some of the best and most useful writing on productivity out there. Now, he has published a book based on his successful training course, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less. In today’s post, I will review his book and point out a few of my takeaways from it.
Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt
It is all about the flow.
Unlike many books about productivity, Free to Focus is not about the tools. In fact, it is tool agnostic. Elements of Michael’s system might work better with some software tools or the planner produced by his company, but overall you can implement his recommendations using your existing productivity tools.
I often find that productivity systems work okay for administrators who have more traditional office roles, but seem less than helpful for the irregular schedule of faculty. This proves particularly true for research faculty balancing a variety of different roles, responsibilities, and projects.
Free to Focus is an exception to this and I found that I can quite easily adapt the lessons to my work. As I balance, teaching, research, service, and my administrative role, I was able to use the workflow that Free to Focus suggests across all of my faculty work.
Doing Less, Not More
Too often, all of us in higher education fall into the trap of trying to do more and more with less and less time.
There will never be enough time to get everything done. Instead, you have to focus on getting the right things done. The first half of Free to Focus is about concrete steps to make sure that you are eliminating the things that you should and stopping those activities that are not worthy of your time.
I have personally used many of the strategies in the book and quite simply: They work.
Take Action to Achieve Success
Only after working to eliminate those activities that distract from your highest priorities does Free to Focus turn toward more traditional aspects of productivity .
The book identifies clear processes to go about to make sure you achieve success of those areas that you’ve identified as key to your work. I particularly find the chapter on planning your ideal week as key for faculty in higher education. There are so many demands on our time and the ideal week offers a way to stay grounded to key projects and work.
Most of us start off with a great plan at the beginning of the semester only to find the crush of meetings, student requests, and other pressing demands knock us off course. The ideal week process helps to identify the key projects and provide a vehicle to continually adjust to not allow those urgent but not important tasks to derail us.
I’m very excited to announce that my latest book will be published by Routledge next week! Coauthored with my friend and colleague, Karri Holley, the book will provide a guide for Ed.D. students pursuing a qualitative research dissertation. The Qualitative Dissertation in Education: A Guide for Integrating Research and Practice walks readers through every step of the process from deciding on a topic to preparing for the final defense. We wrote the book to serve as a manual for students working on their own or as a textbook in a qualitative research class. In today’s post, I will share the preface from the book to give you a better sense of what we attempted to accomplish. I can’t wait to see how this will help Ed.D. students!
Photo credit: Marco Verch Preface
For many decades, the dissertation represented the culmination of study for doctoral students in higher education. The status of the dissertation prompts hand-wringing from students and faculty. Students often arrive at the dissertation stage exhausted from the completion of required coursework. They also are likely balancing numerous areas of their personal and professional lives with the dissertation, such as full-time employment outside of the university, care of children or aging parents, or their own health issues. Faculty advisors probably chair dissertations in the same way they experienced the process some years ago as they went through their own doctoral programs. Faculty may be overwhelmed by a high number of students; they likely also balance competing demands for their professional time and energy.
Faculty members who have worked with doctoral students tell many stories of students who excelled in coursework only to struggle with the dissertation. Other students barely survive coursework but thrive under the freedom and autonomy of the dissertation. Between the two of us, we have a combined 26 years of working with doctoral students, including chairing dissertations. We are among the first to acknowledge that the dissertation is a complex, difficult endeavor, and that students may not proceed through the dissertation in the same manner that they proceeded through required coursework. This simple fact cuts both ways: students’ past academic performance does not predict their performance during the dissertation process.
As we wrote this book, we were consistently reminded of the unique and highly personal nature of the dissertation. No student experiences the dissertation process in the same way as another. The dissertation game is played by a set of unique rules, which you must learn and adjust to in order to complete your degree. While coursework should develop and refine the writing and research skills necessary to complete the dissertation, the classroom environment differs from the one you will experience with the dissertation. Some of the challenges we see come from the relative lack of structure inherent to the dissertation process when compared to classroom-based learning. The dissertation process typically lacks built-in deadlines such as a syllabus, due dates, and regular engagement with classmates and the instructor. When students are unfamiliar with the steps of the dissertation, they may find themselves wandering aimlessly. Even knowing the steps does not guarantee the ability to seamlessly complete the process—or to negate the feelings of “one step forward, two steps back.”
The book is written for doctoral students in education, but also may be useful in other professional or applied disciplines, who are pursuing a qualitative approach to the dissertation. We seek to not only distill the elements of the dissertation process, but also to emphasize the unique characteristics of qualitative research and offer the steps necessary to complete a rigorous, high-quality qualitative dissertation. The term “qualitative research” spans across different types, methods, and philosophies, but a shared emphasis on documenting and understanding the human experience exists. Using this approach successfully means aligning the research design with the research purpose and questions; defining the scope and boundaries of the study; developing skills in interviewing, observing, coding, and data analysis; and keeping track of multiple transcripts, documents, and the like. Each of these elements should be taught as part of the doctoral curriculum. The dissertation offers students the platform to put all of these elements into practice.
We reflected on the doctoral students with whom we have worked as we outlined this book. Many of them were students in professional Doctor of Education (EdD) programs including an accelerated executive-style EdD designed to help mid- to senior-level professionals complete the doctorate in a way that aligned with their professional careers and personal lives. The program moves quickly, and each step of the curriculum is designed to prepare students with the necessary skills needed to complete the dissertation. Other students progressed through a more traditional-paced program, reaching the dissertation stage after two or three years of coursework. Regardless of program, a few students—highly capable, highly motivated, many at or near the top of their professional careers—would struggle to complete the dissertation. What is it about the dissertation process, we wondered, that might cause these issues, and indeed, cause some students not to finish their degree?
This question (and our inherent belief that students are capable of finishing the degree) motivated this book. Below, we provide an outline of the book to help navigate the dissertation journey. The structure of this book follows a road map and will guide you through the steps of the dissertation from idea to final defense. Of course, each dissertation experience is unique to not only the student but also the degree program and university. In some situations, you may be asked to complete required steps other than those outlined here. For readers outside of the United States, you may experience country-specific requirements and steps. Nevertheless, we review the common stages and steps of the process to help explain and plan for the dissertation—and we do so in a way that assumes every student’s potential to write a rigorous dissertation that is well-conceptualized and well-executed. Be sure to discuss the particular requirements of your program with the faculty and dissertation chair. Ask questions and gather information from all available, reliable resources.
About This Book
This book is written to be responsive to the needs of the unique reader. Some readers might find it helpful to read the book starting at the beginning, while others may find that the table of contents provides a helpful roadmap to their specific situations. The book is broadly structured chronologically, taking the reader from the start of the dissertation process (pre-proposal) through the successful defense of the final dissertation. Part I covers the pre-proposal stage. We encourage students to understand the characteristics of qualitative research, especially related to an applied academic discipline such as education and the work required of students pursuing a professional doctorate. In Chapter 1, we review the dissertation structure and format; walk readers through ways to select a dissertation topic; and discuss how you might leverage your professional experiences when writing a dissertation. Chapter 2 reviews the most common obstacles we see doctoral students encounter as they work on the dissertation. In this chapter, we acknowledge that many of these obstacles are shared among students (a reminder that you are not the only one experiencing the issue), and we also offer specific strategies for confronting these issues in a productive way that helps you move forward.
Part II examines the dissertation proposal. The proposal is one of the most crucial elements of the dissertation process; a strong proposal sets up the student with the tools, knowledge, and timeline necessary to complete and defend the dissertation. In Chapter 3, we reflect on the structure of the proposal with a focus on Chapter I, including the problem statement, purpose of study, research questions, and significance. Chapter 4 examines the dissertation’s literature review. The literature review not only demonstrates to the dissertation committee that the student has examined in depth the relevant literature to the study and considered its implications, but the review also allows the student to determine what is known about the topic and where the dissertation might fill a gap. In Chapter 5, we briefly review the most common qualitative approaches used by doctoral students in education, summarizing not only the history and details of the approach, but also the advantages and disadvantages to each. This chapter includes suggestions for future reading related to each approach, which should give students the chance to understand more details about the methodology. The last chapter in this section, Chapter 6, presents ideas on designing the dissertation, including connecting research questions to method and data; understanding the importance of units of analysis; selecting the best approach; and inherent limitations of research design.
Part III emphasizes the active dissertation stage which involves data collection and analysis. This section builds upon the previous by emphasizing connections between choice of research method with the intricacies of data collection, as one example, as well as how decisions about research design (such as the research site) will shape data analysis. Chapter 7 outlines the components of data collection. We emphasize how these components vary among the different qualitative approaches, including individual interviews, focus groups, observation, and document analysis. Regardless of the approach, students must make decisions about sampling strategies and site selection. Again, these decisions are inherently connected to ones made previously in regards to research design. This chapter concludes with a discussion of transcription, which leads in Chapter 8, analyzing your data. Effective data analysis requires understanding not only the steps involved in the process, but also issues of organization, data management, validity, and research software.
The final section, Part IV, covers the development and writing of dissertation chapters IV and V as well as the final defense and next steps. We discuss organizing and writing findings in Chapter 9 with a special consideration on deciding what data to present and how. Chapter 10 gives insight into Chapter V of the dissertation, which requires you to answer the research questions, make recommendations for scholars and practitioners, and consider the implications of the work. In Chapter 11, we offer an overview as to what can be expected during the final dissertation defense as well as what it means to join the ranks of the scholar practitioner. To avoid confusion, we use Roman numerals when referring to chapters of the dissertation and Arabic numerals for reference to the chapters in this book.
As we outlined chapters, brainstormed ideas, and discussed conflicting approaches to key dissertation elements, the book’s primary purpose remained ever present, which is to empower students with the actionable knowledge that is necessary to understand how the process should work. Indeed, one of our main goals was to make the often unwritten and implied rules of the process, more explicit and transparent for doctoral students. We hope that will find the discussions in the following pages helpful both for understanding the dissertation process as well as qualitative research. Bringing together your professional expertise, an understanding of the dissertation, and a strong qualitative research design background will enable you to meet the requirements of your doctoral program and prepare you to assume the mantle of scholar-practitioner.