Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Finishing Well

The end is in sight!

For regular readers, you will likely know that I am currently studying in the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program in Educational Technology at Boise State University. I cannot tell you what a phenomenal experience this has been for me over the past four years.

I recently submitted my dissertation to my committee, and my final defense meeting is scheduled. This is the culmination of my studies, and I can hardly believe that I am at this point! In fact, as I think about it, I'm now curious how many of my friends and relatives don't actually know the process I've been working through in my doctoral work. So, here it is in a nutshell, for those who are interested...

I started coursework for my Ed.D. in the fall of 2013. I have taken two courses every term (fall, spring, and summer) up until spring 2016. Yes, I study online, but for anyone who thinks that "online" is the same as "easy"...well, frankly and with all the kindness I can express, you are wrong. (At least, this has been my experience at BSU. It may be that "online" and "easy" are synonymous other places...but I will say unequivocally that the courses I've taken in the EdTech program are HANDS-DOWN the most challenging, most stretching, most demanding courses I have ever taken in my life, irrespective of the format.)

The courses I have taken have been a combination of foundations of my field, research methodologies, and applications to my interests within the field of EdTech, especially online learning and technology integration in schools. I have become used to developing research proposals, conducting literature reviews, and carrying out different kinds of research studies. And, along the way, I've discovered that while I am still a teacher, I am also now an academic--I love to think, and learn, and research, and write, and present the things I'm learning to my peers. (Not everyone's cup of tea, I understand.)

After completing 3 years of course work, I had comprehensive exams last spring. This was an extremely stressful and daunting process. Basically, over the course of three weeks I wrote three research papers that together totaled over 80 pages of writing. Passing this examination was without a doubt the most gratifying part of the process to this point. It was a chance to demonstrate to my professors that I am capable--worthy?--of joining the ranks of professional academics in this field. After passing comps, my title in the program changed from "doctoral student" to "doctoral candidate," and after working out details with my advisor, I was cleared to begin the dissertation process.

It is definitely a process. The dissertation is a substantial research project intended to be a contribution of new insight in my field. Capitalizing on my strengths and the things I've learned throughout my coursework, this is a means of culminating what I've done and learned so far. Working with my advisor and a committee of other faculty, I developed a proposal over the course of six months. This involved writing a document approximately 80 pages in length that explained the problem I would like to address (understanding how pre-service teachers learn about technology integration, in my case), formulated specific research questions I would answer, provided a thorough review of the relevant literature (that is, the things other scholars have researched and discovered related to this topic), and explained the methods I would use as I investigated my research questions.

After the proposal was written, I had a preliminary defense meeting with my committee. After these three professors had read the proposal, we blocked out two hours to talk about it. They asked me all sorts of questions about the project I was proposing, poked at my research questions, prodded my methodology, and pointed out areas of relative strength and weakness of my literature and the theoretical framework I had proposed. While I was definitely nervous coming into that meeting, I found it to actually be a very collegial process of working with these experts in my field who had agreed to supervise my research. They challenged me and questioned me, but they also encouraged me. I passed--with some revisions that needed to be made before I could begin to actually conduct my study.

Once those revisions were made, I was cleared to begin actually collecting data to answer my research questions. My study is a mixed-methods case study. This means I'm drawing on both quantitative data (numbers to be analyzed statistically) as well as qualitative data (interviews to be analyzed textually) to answer my research questions. The data collection took me about a month, and the analysis took another month.

This spring, I have been writing, writing, writing. I started with my dissertation proposal, and reshaped it into the first three chapters (out of five) of my dissertation, which explain the problem (ch. 1), the existing literature and my theoretical framework (ch. 2), and the methodology I used for conducting the research (ch. 3). Chapter four--by FAR the longest of my dissertation--explains the results of my study. And chapter five is the discussion, in which I talk about what it all means, how my study fits in with the rest of the research on this topic, a plan of action for the future, some of the limitations of this study, and some suggestions for further research. Including table of contents, references, and appendices, the document is 232 pages in length, with about 180 of those being the body of the text. (Yes, I wrote a book.)

A screenshot of my "final" dissertation cover page...

I submitted my "final" dissertation to my committee a little over a week ago, and my defense meeting is now scheduled. Since my program at BSU is entirely online, my defense meeting will also be held online, so that my classmates from all across the country (and around the world, actually) can attend, if they wish. The defense meeting will begin with a presentation I have prepared that is about 20 minutes in length. In this presentation I will briefly explain my study--the methods I used, what I discovered, and the implications of these findings. After the presentation, the other grad students and professors in attendance will have the opportunity to ask me questions about my research, whatever they want. (And I better be able to answer them!) After this public meeting, I will have some time with just my committee in which I will answer their questions too. Assuming all goes well, after that meeting, I will be "Dr. Mulder."

There will almost certainly be some clean-up needed for this "final" dissertation document; I am told that almost everyone has some edits or revisions to their dissertation after the defense. But the end is near! I feel a strange combination of excitement, and horror, and anxiety, and jubilation to be at this point. I am simultaneously confident and nervous, but it will all be culminating very soon!

I am proud of the work I've done over the past four years, and I am grateful for the opportunities I've had to be stretched, and to learn, and to deepen my understanding of my role as a professor, and to share my work with different audiences. I have had to sacrifice some things; my family has definitely sacrificed as well. (Seriously, I could not have done this without their support. It has been hard sometimes, but they have been amazing, and I'm not just saying that.) There have been moments where I doubted myself. But am confident of this: I am finishing well, Soli Deo Gloria.

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