Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Living the Dream

It’s been a few months since I successfully defended my thesis and received my Ph.D. I convinced my dear classmate, Marcy Berger, to walk on the stage with me as we received our degrees and hoods on May 19th from the University of Rochester.

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On graduation day, doctoral candidates are “hooded” by our advisors. Here, my advisor, Professor Jayne Lammers places the hood over my head and on my shoulders, which signifies indoctrination into the academic community.

However, I did not wait until graduation day to pursue my ultimate dream, which is to change the world through education. On April 5th, I started my company, Paragon Learning Research Group. Although the company is new, it represents the culmination of my lifetime of work in biology, education, business, learning theory, and program evaluation. In a nutshell, I built this company to bring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to elementary school teachers through a digital community platform. What I’ve learned through my research at the Builder’s Brewery, I am using its best practices to design a new interactive space to help support elementary school teachers with STEM. I will save the long story of this development for another post, because it took me many months (and it is a continually evolving project) to figure out my new identity as an entrepreneur and as a company.

To bring everyone up to speed on my work since April, I am now learning business entrepreneurship at an accelerator program through the ISU Startup Factory. This one year program is designed to help new business owners develop and grow through a network of mentors, events, and classes. Every six weeks, a new cohort begins at the factory. I am in Cohort V. Each week, we present on the work and progress we’ve made to our businesses while receiving a host of mentoring advice on moving ahead.

Thanks to my mentors at the Startup Factory, I was able to have a very successful presentation about my business at One Million Cups in Des Moines. You can see the presentation below, which gives you a good idea of what I’m doing now, and why I’m doing it:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2F1MillionCupsDSM%2Fvideos%2F436424726882153%2F&show_text=0&width=560

This month represents the sixth month that Paragon has been in existence! Upon reflection, I’ve already made some pretty significant milestones in the company. The large milestone that we’ve accomplished is that last week, Paragon was awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation- MiSK Foundation Grand Challenges Grant, which helps to kickstart our work moving forward! This has been such an exciting journey, and next month, the MiSK Foundation will sponsor my travel to the MiSK Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

I hope to be able to free up more time to keep this blog updated on my new adventures, and to share lessons learned on this journey into entrepreneurship! Until next time, live your dreams, and speak your truth. You’ll people there to support you!

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Moving Forward

I took a long break from blogging and my online community to concentrate on the final steps of dissertation defense. This weekend, I graduated with my Ph.D. I could not have accomplished this without all the help from the Builder’s Brewery, my advisors, my family, and my friends. People have asked me about what I will do next! There really is so much to do, and now, I’m in a very good position to do it all. I’ve listed bullet points here of my five-year plan, but this is in no particular order…

  • Present my work to the Builder’s Brewery community – once my thesis is released publically, I will present a lecture to the communities in Second Life to share the foundation for my learning theory, which I call Interactive Spatial Learning, or ISL.
  • Attend the Connected Learning conference in Boston in August, and the Association of Internet Researcher’s conference in October. I present parts of my thesis to these conferences.
  • Publish ISL in at least two journals.
  • Begin my work at Paragon Learning Research Group as both the CEO and the STEM Education Director. This work is a culmination of all that I’ve learned from the Builders Brewery in combination to attending to the needs of teachers here in my local district. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, many students no longer have solid foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because the focus was on literacy and mathematics. Unfortunately, STEM cannot be taught without context and “doing” of things. My goal is to create a digital support system to help with this work, and to help spread STEM education everywhere and to everyone.
  • Continue the direction of Virtuosity, but perhaps thinking of ways where I can make this blog useful. I’ve learned so much from listening to peoples’ stories. My goal now is to continue sharing those stories, with the hope that they are useful.
  • Continue my mission to change the world in positive ways by pushing the different ways we think about learning and education.

Thank you for those of you who have supported me. I would not be where I am, accomplishing this very large life goal, without your help. This was one of many large mountains that I need to cross. Hopefully, I hope you will join me on this journey!

Also, if I can be of any help to you, please contact me. I’ve learned by helping others, we also help ourselves, and the world shines just a little brighter through these partnerships.

Off to Committee!

I’ve been working on various edits of my thesis, and tomorrow, I get to finally send this thing off to the committee! What happens after that is while the committee reads over and reviews my thesis, I finish writing the “front matter” on the thesis, which includes dedications, acknowledgments, notes, etc. I also prepare the dissertation defense, which is a 45 minute presentation about my study, followed by grilling by my committee.

That is, if my committee thinks my dissertation is ready! In the meantime, I’ve released it to my key informants to review.

Wish me luck!

Week 0 – Wrapping it up!

Today’s post is brief because I’m literally counting away the hours before must have everything written by this Friday, January 19th. After that, I work on the little details — table of contents, formatting, cross-checking consistencies, and small revisions from people who have been kind enough to review parts of my chapters for me. I finish all the writing this week, then will release these chapters for further comment, since I want to ensure the integrity of my work.

I have my very last chapter to write this week. Once that is finished, I know that graduation will finally be on the horizon!

Adopting a saying from my dear friend Marcy, “It takes forever, then you’re done.”

My One New Year’s Resolution

While 2018 brings new promise, and a rebirth of old meshed with new, I continue to chip away at this thesis until it is finished.

At this point, it feels as if I’m lost in the deep woods, and I will emerge when the work is done. I’ve grown quiet, which is not an unusual practice for me in the winter, but unlike my normal pattern where my work blooms in the spring, I only have one month left to complete this monstrous task ahead.

In the past week, I have continued to type sections of my thesis. It is perhaps, a more arduous task for me because I am very particular about detail and clarity. Also, the Builder’s Brewery community holds me to a higher standard — my work must be rigorous and accurately reflect the views of my participants.

I learned something very valuable this week, though, in that I am blessed with the ability to go back to the Builder’s Brewery community when I need help! Two nights ago, I was stuck on trying to explain the common phenomena known as lag in my thesis. It bothered me that I did not know enough of the technical terminology to write about it. So, I hopped into Second Life, and asked the folks at the Builder’s Brewery. By the time I left, I knew so much more and felt far more confident about writing that section, because of everyone’s help that evening.

This week, I continue to write, knowing that each day and each hour is even more precious as that timeline nears. My dissertation has moved from the (expected) 150 pages to being over 230 and growing. In part, this is because of my attention to detail and rigor.

What’s funny is that for the first time in many years, I approach 2018 without a list of resolutions. Instead, I have focused intently on just one: Finish writing the thesis in January 2018.

Do what scares you

As I write my thesis, I have these self-doubts. Questions in my head of,

“Who is going to read this?”

“How do I build on the work of so many amazing people who have done this for years?”

“Have I honored and respected all those mentors and peers who have helped me?

“What if my work is insignificant? What if no one cares? What if I’m wrong?

“How do I fit this in what we know, and how do I communicate to people how this matters, and why it’s important?

Then, I came across this quote, today:

You know what breaks me, when someone is visibly excited about a feeling or an idea or a hope or a risk taken, and they tell you about it but preface it with: “Sorry, this is dumb but-.” Don’t do that. I don’t know who came here before me, or who conditioned you to think you had to apologize or feel obtuse. But not here. Dream so big it’s silly. Laugh so hard it’s obnoxious. Love so much it’s impossible. And don’t you ever feel unintelligent. And don’t you ever apologize. And don’t you ever shrink so you can squeeze yourself into small places and small minds. Grow. It’s a big world. You fit. I promise. ~Owen Lindley

Here’s to taking big risks, being true to ourselves, and daring to “dream so big it’s silly.”

Here’s to picking up oneself, even when we don’t want to, we’re tired, we’re exhausted, and we’re scared. Here’s to picking oneself up, despite the fact that it’s going to make people uncomfortable, and that your inner protective self tells you not to because it leaves you vulnerable and open to threat. We do it anyway because we must.

Staying Grounded

We connect the dots better in our brain with things that we might think are silly or insignificant at the time, but we really don’t realize it until we see what other people have created with the same techniques. Then it opens our minds to other possibilities.
~Sen Maximus

This week has been dedicated to being fully immersed in my data and building upon the credibility of my research. While my data collection nearing completion, I must be meticulous about the trustworthiness of my study. Unlike quantitative studies which rely on statistical analysis in order for data to be valid, qualitative studies ensure rigor, or what’s called trustworthiness, through ensuring credibility, dependability, and transferability (see Bloomberg & Volpe, 2008; Lincoln & Guba, 1985; and Marshall & Rossman, 2016). Credibility refers to how well a researcher’s interpretations match and parallel their participants’ reflections.

In order for my work to be credible, I member check my findings. This means that I go back to the people that I’ve directly quoted and/or interviewed to make sure what I’ve used is an accurate and complete account of their thoughts and experiences. I interviewed eleven key informants from the Builder’s Brewery community. In order to member check my work, I sent each person a copy of the transcripts from their interview, as well as the excerpt out of my thesis on what I had written about them. Each person will have an opportunity to read, comment, and add or correct my data to make sure that what I’ve studied is accurate and true to what they’ve shared. This process takes a bit of time, because every transcript must be numbered by blocks of quotes so my informants can easily comment on my work. However, it’s very important to my study that the information in my data is accurate and also that I have their permission to quote the things that they’ve shared with me.

Another thing I am doing this week is processing my survey data. I will be sharing some of the findings from my work to the BB community and again, open a line of communication for people to comment and respond. Although my data collection is nearly complete, I want to make sure that I haven’t overlooked something glaringly important. I could not do any of this research without the help and support of the Builder’s Brewery community, which is why I feel that they should be involved as much as possible in this process. Besides, I’m really excited to share and give back to the community!

In addition to sharing parts of my data this week, I’m also comparing and connecting the work from my theory building with other learning theories that have been used with past research. It’s important that I build off of the work that has already been done while I figure out just exactly where my intellectual contribution will be. So for this week, instead of focusing on the rewrite of one chapter, I’ve focused my efforts on working the completion of Chapters 5, 6, and 7!

Literature cited:
Bloomberg, L.D., & Volpe, M. (2015) Completing your qualitative dissertation: A roadmap from beginning to end. Los Angeles, NY: SAGE Publications.

Lincoln, Y.S., & Guba, E.G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G.B. (2016). Designing qualitative research. (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Dissertation updates and other things

I’m sure there are people who have been following my work are wondering where I’m at now, with my dissertation writing. These past few weeks have been extremely busy for me as I focus on making the deadlines for graduation in May.

As of today, I’ve written Chapters 1-6 of the 7 chapters of my dissertation. I need to wait until I’ve completed the formation of my theory, which makes up Ch. 5-6 before I can finally write about Ch. 7. Every chapter undergoes several revisions before they are good enough to submit to my committee. Right now, I’ve finished the first draft versions of Ch. 1-3, 5, and 6. I’ve completed the second draft revision of Ch. 4.

So, what’s next on my docket right now is working on the second draft revisions for Ch.s 5-6. Both of these chapters summarize my findings and learning theory, and there are a lot of holes I have to account for in them. My theory constructs are still very tentative, so now, I must work on making them more concrete and grounded into the data. This week, I dive back into the data, with a focus on:

  • Developing themes from my interviews
  • Member-checking with members of the BB community by making sure that my observations and interpretations are accurate with my key informants
  • Polishing up my code book
  • Developing definitive constructs for my theory
  • Summarizing the findings from my survey

Right now, it feels like I’m on a treadmill, and I just have to keep running to make things in time. Apologies if I haven’t surfaced in a while, but rest assured, that I’ll be sharing bits of my data in the next few months!

Wishing everyone happy holiday productivity!

 

Week 4 – Presentations, Proposals, and Conferences, Oh MY!

My apologies for not being able to keep up with my blog posts! With November 30th looming closer on the horizon, I feel like my work is funneling down, and I’ve had to quicken my pace just to keep up!

Last week was the first of many presentations that I am doing on the learning model derived from my dissertation study. As a hybrid between the folks at the University of Rochester’s Learning in the Digital Age (LiDA) community and a Zoom session with over 25 people from the Builder’s Brewery community in Second Life, it was an amazing collaborative experience! I walked away with many ideas as I continue to clarify my language, strengthen my arguments with evidence, and make modifications to my model. The exciting thing is that so far, it seems that I’m pretty much on target with what people are saying, and that my interpretations are in agreement with what people perceive. This is imperative for the qualitative work that I am doing!!!

This week, I’m completing the final edits to a manuscript (accepted for publication!) from my previous work with the Rochester Institute of Technology’s COMETs program. I’m also submitting two (of four intended) conference proposals about the findings from my dissertation. Additionally, I have one more full chapter to work on (yikes, it’s the big finale chapter!) before going back to do total revisions. So far, things look good, but it’s always going to be a scramble to get everything written in time!

Hopefully, I’ll be at a point where these updates come more often.

Hope you are having a wonderful week!

LiDA talk

Week 9 – Thesis Countdown

One of my mentors in Second Life, Jadyn Firehawk, told me that my dissertation work was like a braided river. You have rivulets and streams — places where water trickles to dry, but when you look at the big picture, the river continues to move. She said that this was like the dissertation process in that we cannot cover the entire river bed at one time. Instead, you must choose which rivulets to run, and continue to progress forward.

As I work on the analysis and writing part of my dissertation, I find that I must spend less time in Second Life. While data collection is interesting and fascinating, and there are so many people I feel I should talk to and connect with, my work would be meaningless unless I graduated.

This week, I have continued to work on the different places and practices found at the Builder’s Brewery. In order to do so, I have woven together data collected from photographs, memos, survey responses, and interview responses to paint a picture of the Brewery and what people do there. It is a very slow process, because I may have to analyze long stretches of data several times to pull out the different patterns from it. However, each pass through my data forces me to become more familiar with it, and what it tells me.

I must submit Chapter 5, my findings chapter on the Brewery’s site descriptions and practices, on Tuesday. Afterward, I must do the heavy lifting of making sense of the learning theory that I have developed based on my findings. This week, I will also begin the process of member-checking — sharing parts of my written thesis with community members to ensure that I have accurately represented and described what I have found.

I have 61 days before the full dissertation draft is due.

 

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Photo Credit: Sam Beebe

 

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