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Open PhD – Year One in Review

Learn at computer

CC-BY-SA Lumaxart

It shocked me to realize an entire year has passed since I embarked on this journey last September 22nd. I have learned a lot, often in unexpected ways and from unexpected sources. I decided a progress update was necessary for those following along.

First, a bit of a recap. On that fateful declarative day, I wrote this:

I am going to create my own Ph.D. program via open education using open courseware. My degree will be in Educational Technology with an emphasis in (what else?) Open Education as the Great Equalizer. As the tag line to my blog states: it will be all the learning, with none of the “doc”-uments. (Or none of the “cred”-entials). But I will have the knowledge; and, in the end, isn’t that the most important thing? (Oh, and I will still have my $45,000).

In the next few posts, I will lay out my 4 year plan – with help from the Twittersphere, blog readers, my advisors, and hopefully some subscribers. I plan on completing research and a dissertation as well – no shortcuts here. My first advisor – Dr. Kay Lehmann is a blogger, online instructor, book author, and course developer. I look forward to finding a few more Ph.D./Ed.D volunteers in my grand experiment.

Will this work? Can it be done? Can we make it rigorous enough to be equal to an actual online Ph.D program? Join me on this journey. Your feedback and suggestions are welcome!

I really had no idea how big the #opened movement was at that time. I learned very quickly. That first blog post went a bit viral, and one week later, I had more than 1,000 unique hits. Commentary to that first post has reached 50+ and I still get a new comment every now and then on it. Lesson #1 – this is a big idea!

Several posts later, I went on to define my plan, define exactly what was (and was not) an Open PhD, and layout the open courses I wished to pursue. Lesson #2 – finding graduate level open courses is not easy

You might be wondering where all my exploration has led me. I admit to feeling like I haven’t made a lot of progress through the courses I chose, but Year One became more of a research/intern year instead. And I am okay with that.

During my research to learn more about Open Education Resources, I have made some powerful connections in the Open Textbook movement. Judy Baker (@educ8ter) and Jacky Hood (both of Foothill-DeAnza College District) brought me into the Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources and College Open Textbooks. What a find! After attending several workshops (online and f2f), I volunteered to help the collaborative and soon found myself with a contract as a trainer and instructional designer for COT’s Moodle workshop.

About the same time, I noticed Cable Green (@cgreen) of the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges out of Washington State was spearheading an OER initiative to help lower the costs of textbooks and improve retention for community college students. As an adjunct online instructor in Washington and an Open PhD student, I wanted to be a part of this! Several months later I was (and still am) working as one of ten instructional designers to the Open Course Library project.

The Open Course Library project is about designing 81 high enrollment, important general education, and pre-college courses for face-to-face, hybrid and/or online delivery, to improve course completion rates, lower textbook costs for students, provide new resources for faculty to consider using in their courses, and for our college system to fully engage the global open educational resources discussion.

In addition, I’ve remixed the COT workshop to provide an open course workshop on open textbooks for Washington State community college faculty. That workshop will debut soon. (Ironically, for expediency it will be housed behind the state’s “closed” Angel LMS system …for now). A version of this same workshop is being held on P2PU and led by COT’s associate director, Una Daly (Adopting Open Textbooks).

Speaking of P2PU, it is one of the many open learning initiatives I have become acquainted with this year. Stian Haklev (@houshuang) has contributed many good ideas to this project and I look forward to having time to give back at P2PU – perhaps inaugurating a DIY department :-). I’ve also exchanged dialogue with other “Open” students – each figuring out this idea in their own way. Parag Shah in Computer Science, Leigh Blackall, Jason, Dan Pontefract, and the DIY Grad School among others. Lesson #3 – Open PhD’s require getting “connected”.

And “connected” I have become – from Curt Bonk, Stephen Downes, and George Siemens to Clark Quinn, Marcia Conner, Jane Bozarth, Jim Groom, Dean Shareski, and so many others. Between Twitter, LinkedIn, and resources like eLearnMag, Learning Solutions, and many blogs, I am connected to the thought leaders in not only open education, but educational technology as well. Social media is the lifeblood of the DIY student – providing that necessary component of discussion and debate.

With those connections has come the opportunity to write. My co-author and colleague, Dr. Kay Lehmann, and I have published this article about Twitter in higher education, and a chapter about Twitter in higher education for a peer reviewed book Educating Educators with Social Media (in press – due Jan 2011). I even had the thrill of having this Open Phd project mentioned in Anya Kamenetz’s (@anya1anya) book DIY U:Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. (More a study of the funding of education, there is a nice section of resources in the back).

Where do I go from here?

Solving the puzzle of recognition for the work put into an “open” degree is a vital part of my journey. I get questions regularly from readers with similar ideas – all wanting to know if their efforts will be recognized by the employing world. The real answer is – I don’t know. In the ed tech field, knowledge has currency, but in other fields, sheepskin carries the required validity. Other “open” arenas are wrestling with the same idea – and certificates of competency are emerging from some (like Pippa Buchanan’s School of Webcraft). I will blog more about this later and hopefully we can crowdsource some good ideas to move forward with.

I also want to focus my energies towards completing more of my “course load”. Specifically, project management and applied multimedia technology are the areas in which I need more depth. If you’re interested in learning about these two areas also, drop me a comment – we can form a virtual study group.

And, frankly, I need to update my blog more often…it keeps me moving forward.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions, and feedback! You are all part of my Open PhD journey.



Posted by on October 8, 2010 in Year One, Year Two


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Crowdsource credentials?

One reader posted this comment and I thought it was an interesting way to suggest the conferring of  “credentials”  for an Open PhD (I’ve reposted it along with my reply for your scrolling convenience):

This is a very nice initiative. I am sure it you are going to inspire many people who have thought of doing a PhD, but lacked the resources.

As for credentials, I wonder if they can be crowdsourced. What if you maintain a blog and wiki as you make progress in the PhD. Some sort of rating system (and comments) on the blog posts, maybe podcasts of what would traditionally be presentations, and a real project which is visible to everyone on the Internet, may all accumulate towards crowdcourced credentials. It may not be conferred by a university but it will be conferred by the “wise crowd” :-)

My reply:

This is precisely where I was going with my idea – I am hoping to shape and refine it over time with helpful suggestions from those already in possession of the knowledge I seek.  I’m sure there are plenty of things I haven’t yet considered, and plenty of naysayers who feel doctoral study/research can only be done in its traditional box.  I just don’t happen to be one of them.  As for what my final specific research will be…who knows?  Do traditional brick and mortar students know what their PhD dissertation research will be as soon as they earn their masters – especially in the education field?  I highly doubt it.  I came up through the public school teaching ranks and moved into higher education as an adjunct.  I completed my M.Ed in 1994.  This 2009.  What I was passionate about researching in the mid 90s would probably make me chuckle with my knowledge base and hard-won experience now.  I have a lot of interests in the area of educational technology – I will whittle my interests down to a very specific area of research and a good research question with the help of my committee of (how many readers will I have by that time??? – lol) as this project develops and the program takes shape.  In the meantime – look at the background material I am gathering and learning from already: open education, open courseware availability, advanced Twitter skills (archiving here I come) , and the fact that this topic is definitely touching a nerve in the edusphere if my blog stats are to be believed.  But in a general sense – I know my area of inquiry already – can this be done?

As a writer, I do know we write from what we know.  And I know this.  The gap between those who can afford college easily and those who cannot is real.  It has little to do with intelligence, initiative, gpa, or the student’s neighborhood school.  I want my PhD.  But I am 43.  I have two kids and a stepson in college right now.  I am place-bound by my husband’s job as a contractor with the military.  Does that mean I am less interested in my academic career? No.  It means I have a real life that I am bound to support along side my academic one.  They are equally important to me.

I do have one luxury.  My academic career has evolved to an online one.  Now, so has my education.  It is no longer place-bound or even institutionally-bound.  And finally, due to this flash of an idea, the last educational hurdle will not be financially-bound any longer either.

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Posted by on September 22, 2009 in The Plan


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