Dispatch from #dml2011: Designing Learning Futures

It is quite early here in Long Beach, but I am still on EST, so I am taking advantage of my early rising to tap out a blog post here in the deserted vestibule where registration took place yesterday.

Then, of course, it was a different story. The place was abuzz with interesting conversations and ideas zinged past more quickly than I could hope to capture here.
For people like me, who love to move between practice and theory, the trenches and the ivory tower, this place feels a little like the promised land.

I also have to admit to having a serious case of imposter syndrome when I finally sat down to read the session descriptions and presenters. I still can’t believe that I was able to run a workshop here. To take an idea that Peter Kittle, Paul Oh, and I have been thinking about for so long and throw it to the most diverse, intelligent, thoughtful and creative people from across fields and sectors was a powerful and transformative experience for me. The conversation was so alive, vibrant, and deep. No assumption went untroubled, connections were made, and ideas were birthed.

And that’s pretty much how I felt as a participant yesterday, as well. I have more notes and tweets and jottings than I could possible curate into a coherent blog post at this point, so what I will do now is just make a list of the sessions I attended and the other ideas that, time permitting, I will blog about later:

–Performing Public Secrets: workshop by Stephanie Hendricks that examined the ways in which PostSecret represents abuse, and how the discourses around abuse occur across online spaces.

–Our session (with Peter Kittle and Paul Oh) is available on the Digital IS

–Thinking through code: DIY data-mining and the politics of off-topic forums (organizers: Lana Schwartz, Joshua McVeigh-Schults, and Kevin Driscoll): this was perhaps one of the most useful and interesting workshops I’ve done in a while, and for this data loving geek, it was speaking to my heart. I have the most notes from this session and cross my heart that I will link you up with the treasure trove of resources and ideas I got from this session.

–Opening Session keynote with ALICE TAYLOR!!!!! OMG!!! It was as awesome as you imagine.

–The Mozilla Science fair, complete with a robot making squeeze cheese crackers and the coolest, hippest geeks around. I had a great time and am leaving with a ton of ideas. My favorite so far was a late entry, Wikiotics, which is an open learning wiki for second-language learners. I will be using this in my adult literacy work this week.

Today is Friday, and I am in complete indecision about what I will see before I fly home. For more information in real-time, please follow the twitter stream: search the hashtag #dml2011. The conference goes through tomorrow: http://www.dmlcentral.net/conference2011

#Jobs4Phds or Finding a Job Outside of Academia

Yesterday, the MSU Grad School hosted an event called “How to Find a Job Outside Academia, Even if You Aren’t Sure that You Want One.” The speaker was Dr. Susan Basalla, co-author with Dr. Maggie Debelius of “So What Are  You Going to Do with That?” Finding Jobs Outside Academia.

Clearly, this whole question has been on my mind and I started blogging about it last week. It was interesting to note that the post got so little comment here: I was inundated with DMs, emails, and facebook notes after I posted it.  People wanted to talk about what I had written, but just not out loud.

The statistics the authors cite in the book are startling, and remind me of why I feel so hell-bent on looking beyond the ways of the academy for my career path. 30% of History Phds are working at a tenure track position. For English it was 40%.  Social Sciences/Education (my field) fare hardly better.  It seems to me that it is only wise to consider a job outside of the academy (henceforth to be called “post-academic” jobs via Dr. B) when they make up the whopping majority of what it is people do with these PhD thingies.

Which brings me to last night’s event. Dr. Barsalla, first of all, is charming, funny, and clearly very smart.  I am not sure I want her job, but I know I want to BE her: that confidence, that spark, that zest for living.  You can tell: she LOVES what she does.  And she has a PhD in English. And has a job.  My mind is blown.

And here is where I admit to my startling naivete when it comes to Higher Education. Even after two years working in the College of Arts and Letters at MSU, I completely missed that a post-academic job was failure. Apparently, this is the first and only commandment when it comes to Phd world: Tenure-track or nothing.  This still blows my mind.  How is it that the whole academic culture is set up to myopically focus on producing tenure-track professors? THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO ME.  Really, I don’t get it.  And I keep stumbling into conversations where I walk away puzzled because of the way I so highly value my non-academic pursuits when those around in me graduate school world are so focused on what I am publishing. Seriously? This is the way you are going to mentor me in this endeavor? To a dead-end job or no job at all? Um, no thanks. I think I’ll keep barking up this post-academic tree.

I came to my graduate program to be able to take my analytical and research skills to the next level. I wanted to read difficult things, grapple with difficult ideas, talk it over with smart people, and write a few things. As I see it, I get to do all of that, and, more importantly, grow the skills I highly value.  I don’t expect my graduate program to spit me out at the end, ready to take on the tenure track.  Maybe this path will lead me there, maybe it won’t. I certainly don’t see taking a different career course as failure. My favorite quote from the book is really early, from a Chemistry PhD who became a patent lawyer:

“People always say, ‘You’ve spent your whole life doing this, and now you’re throwing it all away,'”, Mrkisch says. “But they never think to say, ‘What a great stepping stone to other things (11).'”

In the end, the talk was mostly about convincing us, the eventual Phds, that getting a post-academic job was not failure.  I still am amazed that people need to be convinced of this, but looking around I see that this myth pervades.

Dr. Basalla also dispensed some Don’ts of the post-academic job hunt, which I dutifully tweeted (and tagged with #jobs4phds) for all of those who couldn’t join us in the room.  Here is the archive, in reverse chronological order:

Interesting to hear Dr. B discuss the attitudes towards searching for jobs outside the Academy. (It wasn’t good). #jobs4phds
The term is post-academic, thank you! Not alt-ac. Not a fork, but all available options. #jobs4phds #PhD
Dr.B is going to give us the 5 don’ts of the post-academic job search. #jobs4phds #PhD
Dr.B: 1st DON’T In post-academic job search: your dissertation is not your biggest accomplishment. Focus on skills, not topic. #jobs4phds
Note: outside the academic world, the details of the CV don’t matter. Transferable skills matter. #jobs4phds
Dr B’s 2nd Don’t: don’t spend more time on job boards than on networking. Get out and meet folks!!! #jobs4phds
Dr. B suggests that networking starts with Google stalking. I’ve got this part down. #googlestalker #jobs4phds
Dr.B’s 3rd Don’t: don’t underestimate the value of your non-academic pursuits. #jobs4phds
Dr. B notes that things without footnotes have value. #jobs4phds
Dr.B’s 4th don’t: don’t be afraid to start low. Think of this as a career switch–and high performance means rapid advancement. #jobs4phds
Dr. B’s final don’t: don’t do it all at once and don’t wait until the last minute. Start peeking beyond the walls of this tower. #jobs4phds

Using Digital Storytelling to make research compelling

On this site, I’ve been creating a Research Development Portfolio as part of my coursework for the doctoral program in Ed Psych, Ed Tech at Michigan State University.  This is my first semester, so I am tasked with beginning my journey as an academic and researcher.  For this particular assignment, I was asked to utilize the genre of Digital Storytelling to create a compelling introduction to my research interests.  What I attempted to do with my research statement is to boil it down to its essence, pulling from the genre of poetry to do it.  I was thinking of how, in poetry, no word is wasted–it seems almost antithetical to the world of academic compositions.  I tried to play with the genre, the ideas, and the task to create something compelling.  I am also under enormous pressure and deadlines this week, so I was limited in the time I had to dedicate to the task.  Isn’t this usually the nature of composition though? That the writing is never finished, it is just due?

Comments welcome: I am hoping to revise once the semester is over.

POST EDIT: Since I am having issues with the youtube embed and my theme, the direct link is http://youtu.be/dhS_P1wHb7E

RDP: Research Interests