Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Digital Visitors and Residents

I really like this way of looking at people’s different approaches to web-based technology!


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An article based on the qualitative component of my mixed methods dissertation study has been accepted for publication.

Thompson, P. (in press). How digital native learners describe themselves. Education and Information Technologies.

This article reports the phase of my study where I talked to eight university students about how they think technology affected their learning, and what they think of the popular discussion of them as “digital natives.”  In a nutshell, I would say that even when outward behaviors seem to conform to the popular conceptions of digital natives, the processes going on inside the learners’ heads is a lot messier and more complicated. The students I talked to were cognizant of both the benefits and the risks of ubiquitous communication technology, and they took a fairly strategic approach to integrating it into their lives and their learning. I will post the full reference information once the article comes out.

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Under construction

I plan to do some remodeling on this site over the next few days. The layout and content will be temporarily in flux, but when it’s done it will better reflect my current work rather than the work I completed as a graduate student. Maybe after I’ve cleaned up the clutter I’ll be inspired to blog a little more frequently. 🙂

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First publication from my dissertation

The first journal article based on my dissertation research is now in press:

The digital natives as learners: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning

This article covers the quantitative portion of my study (a self report survey), and in a nutshell adds to the growing body of evidence that the claims often made in the popular press about the “digital native” generation are oversimplified. Immersion in digital technology certainly has some influence on how people think and learn, since everything we immerse ourselves in changes us in some way, but that does not mean that a whole generation has exactly the same technology exposure or is influenced in precisely the same way, or that technology use is the only influence on their development.

Now that the first article is out I’ll be hard at work writing up the qualitative component of the study, where I had the opportunity to talk to a few digital native college students and let them tell me how they think technology use has influenced them.

On another note, I will soon be revamping this whole website, as it is still currently organized around showcasing my graduate school work. I’ll be streamlining this one and integrating it in some way with the faculty web site that our department webmaster will soon be providing.

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Dissertation Defense

On June 18, 2012 I successfully defended my dissertation at Michigan State University. Some people who were not able to attend have asked to see my slide presentation, so here it is!

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Higher Education Pedagogy Conference

This week I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy at Virginia Tech. I presented a poster session where I talked about how we (in the master’s programs in the college of education at Michigan State University) use an online design studio approach to scaffold the development of e-portfolios in the master’s capstone course.

This was a different type of conference from what I usually attend for two reasons (1) it was focused on the scholarship of teaching rather than on more “pure” academic research, and (2) it included scholars from all disciplines and not just people from education departments. It was quite stimulating to interact with people from fields as diverse as communication, biology, and engineering, all sharing a common sincere desire to improve their own teaching and share their successes and lessons learned with like-minded colleagues.

I attended many great sessions but two stand out in my mind, not only because the topics corresponded to my own two main research interests but because the passion and dedication of the presenters came through so clearly.

One of my favorites was Dr. Joan Watson’s presentation “Soft Teaching With Silver Bullets: Digital Natives, Learning Styles, and the Truth About Best Practices.” In this presentation she challenged the popular notion of the “digital native” and more generally the tendency to look for quick simple pat solutions to our teaching challenges. Good teaching is not “soft,” she insists, it is hard, and no one-size-fits-all solution will change that.

My other favorite presentation was Jill Sible’s “Fueling a Passion for Discovery through use of New Media in Undergraduate Science Courses.” She talked about her rewarding experience of increasing student engagement in a biology class by requiring students to blog about “anything related to what we’re studying in this class.” The blogging exercise helped students relate their coursework to things going on in the world (e.g., news stories) and their own personal lives.

If you have a passion for excellence in teaching I encourage you to follow the future work of these two scholars. I know I will be keeping my eye on their work in my search for inspiration and lifelong learning as I finish my Ph.D. and begin my own career as a teacher and scholar.

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Reflecting on the ePortfolio

Recently I have been immersed in electronic portfolios. As a teaching assistant for the capstone portfolio course that our master’s students take (ED 870 for the online Master of Arts in Education program and CEP 807 for the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program), I guide students through the process of developing their online portfolios and then evaluate these portfolios at the end of the semester. Spurred on by the great work I’ve seen from the students, I also devoted the past weekend to updating and adding to my own professional website. It got me thinking again about why electronic portfolios are valuable and also inspired a quick browse through some of the literature.

An article I found in Teacher Librarian caught my attention because it provides such a nice summary of the rationale for preparing an electronic portfolio as well as some practical advice for creating one. The article is called, “Electronic Portfolios for Reflective Self-Assessment” by Marilyn Heath. Though published in 2002 when computer technology was very different from what we have today (e.g., Microsoft Frontpage is briefly mentioned as a good option for creating a website), this article still comes across as very relevant today.

Heath describes the portfolio as a vehicle for presenting one’s professional accomplishments in a unique and individualized way.  A good portfolio must be more than simple presentation of artifacts, though; it should be an act of reflection that “indicate[s] areas of proposed future growth based upon assessments of past performance and current strengths.” (p. 19). While building and maintaining a professional portfolio requires time and effort, the author insist that the effort is worthwhile because it allows for an individualized presentation of accomplishments and it encourages reflection on both knowledge and practice. An electronic portfolio can accomplish these two goals in ways that a static paper portfolio cannot, due to the ability of multimedia to “present artifacts in ways that convey the vitality of our profession.” (p. 20). Heath’s formula for choosing artifacts to include in a portfolio is simple and elegant: describe what you’ve done, demonstrate what you’ve learned, and discuss what you plan to do next.

Heath devotes some space to discussing how to present an online portfolio, and while some of the details of her advice are now out of date, she emphasizes one timeless message: “Presentation and production are important elements, to be sure, but content should remain the primary focus.” (p. 23).

When I look at the work we do with our students in the capstone course (which was originally designed by Dr. Patrick Dickson and is now taught under the direction of Dr. Matthew Koehler), I see these principles reflected clearly.  Our students do not simply compile collections of artifacts (though collecting and presenting artifacts is certainly one very important assignment). They contextualize these artifacts and articulate what they learned from creating them. They write essays that demonstrate (rather than simply describe) what they have learned and that push them to reflect on where they have been and where they are going. And, thanks to the many website hosting options available today (e.g., Weebly, WordPress, Google Sites, and many others), the technical challenges of web publishing are consuming a smaller share of the students’ time and effort than they did even five years ago, allowing content creation, and the reflection and self-assessment that precede it, to take its rightful place at center-stage.


Heath, M. (2002). Electronic portfolios for reflective self-assessment. Teacher Librarian 30(1), p. 19-23.

(This blog entry is cross-posted on www.ideaplay.org)

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Who likes to teach online?

“I hate teaching online!” was the Facebook status message one of my friends greeted me with one day last week. It surprised me at first. I love the flexibility and the overall less hectic feeling of my online teaching. How could my friend possibly hate it? Not just dislike it or have a different preference, but actually hate it? It made no sense – until I stopped to think about my friend, and how her personality differs from mine.

I once had the opportunity to observe this friend interacting with her undergraduates. I only saw the first 10 minutes of her class, but that was all it took to see the fantastic rapport she had with her students. I could see it in her comfort level and her easy way of making small talk before class started. I see the same quality manifest itself in her interactions with peers. She’s the one who’s always ready with just the right one-liner, sometimes subtle and sometimes outrageous, but spontaneous and always perfect.

My style is very different. My students like me, for the most part, but our interactions are a bit more formal. I’d like to be able to chit-chat with them more before class starts, but I don’t really know what to say, and neither do they. I don’t really struggle when I’m in front of the class, but I have to mentally “gear up” for each class session and I’m a bit drained by the time it ends.

The way I communicate best with my students is through email. I don’t dash off emails quickly, I compose them. I read them, edit them, re-read, and edit some more. I try to anticipate anything that could be confusing and address the potential misconception explicitly. I make sure I always begin at the beginning and provide plenty of context for the message I want to convey. I have just as many typos as the next person (perhaps more, since all that deleting and rewriting brings the risk of leaving a stray word behind), but my choice of words is never an accident.  In contrast to my face-to-face sessions, these written conversations through email or course discussion forums energize me.

So it seems the difference between loving and hating online teaching might have a connection to the familiar (though often misunderstood) Introvert/Extrovert scale from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It makes sense that my friend, an apparent extrovert who draws energy from the challenge of thinking on her feet, would feel drained and frustrated by the slower, less spontaneous communication that occurs online. As an introvert, I thrive on the opportunity to think before I speak, and to really craft my communication with students. There isn’t much space for small talk, but the “big talk” is carefully constructed and mostly under my control.

I was curious enough about this potential connection to do a quick skim of published literature, though I have not had time for an exhaustive search. I found some studies showing that introverts may prefer online communication in general (Goby, 2006) and that introverted students prefer taking online classes while extroverts prefer learning in a face-to-face environment (Harrington & Loffredo, 2010). The one small pilot study I found that looked at instructor preferences did not show a difference in how introverts and extroverts felt about online teaching (Fuller et al, 2000). Nevertheless, I’m convinced there’s an interesting research question in all of this, still waiting to be studied…

(This post also appears on ideaplay.org)


Fuller, D., Norby, R. F., Pearce, K., & Strand, S. (2000). Internet teaching by style: Profiling the on-line professor. Educational Technology & Society 3(2), p. 71-85.

Goby, V. P. (2006). Personality and online/offline choices: MBTI profiles and favored communication modes in a Singapore study. Cyberpsychology & Behavior 9(1), p. 5-13.

Harrington, R. & Loffredo, d. A. (2010). MBTI personality type and other factors that relate to preference for online versus face-to-face instruction. Internet and Higher Education 13, p. 89–95.

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Thinking about the writing process

Having recently jumped through the flaming hoop that is the comprehensive exam (and landed on my feet on the other side, albeit with some painful blistering burns!), I’m thinking about how to navigate this last phase of my program somewhat gracefully. I’m starting by putting some thought into the writing process and reading some of the many books about how to actually get the dissertation done. The topic of today’s post, then, is the writing process.

Most of the books I’ve found have the same basic message: just do it. Bolker (1998), for example, says that “the single most useful piece of equipment for a writer [is] a bucket of glue. First, you spread some on your chair, and then you sit down” (p. 32). These books are helpful, though, because it’s hard to just do it, and sometimes it helps to have someone cheering (or even jeering) us on.

Silvia (2007) offers the most practical advice when he discusses the common excuses we use to avoid writing, and why these are “specious barriers” (p. 11-28).  His four specious barriers, and his counter-arguments against them, are:

1. I can’t find time! The solution: make the time, Schedule it like a meeting and then defend it from encroachment by other people…and by your own excuses.

2. I need to read or analyze more. The solution: anything that is legitimately connected to your writing counts as writing, so use your writing time to do these things, so you can get them done and then write about them.

3. I need a better computer, desk, chair, etc. The solution: this is an excuse that even you don’t believe, so quit it.

4. I’m waiting for inspiration. The solution: “The Ancient Greeks assigned muses for poetry, music, and tragedy, but they didn’t mention a muse for journal articles written in APA style” (p. 26). You don’t need inspiration for technical writing, you just need to write.

So once you’ve glued your backside to the chair, how do you get started actually writing something? Bolker (1998) suggests beginning with “freewriting” – putting all your random thoughts and notes to yourself on paper. Keep doing this until it begins to take shape as the “zero draft,” which is still messy. Only when you have “free written” your way to a zero draft do you worry about imposing structure on the mess and transforming it into a first draft. Your elementary school teacher may have admonished you to think before you write, which had the unintended effect of nurturing an inner critic that is now blocking you. Bolker insists that you must “write in order to think” (p. 5).

Fiction writer Anne Lamott also knows a thing or two about telling the inner critic to shut up. She emphasized the importance of the…ahem…crappy first drafts. “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts” (Lamott, 1994, p. 21).

So far this advice is helping me get going on a dissertation proposal. While my research plan is still fuzzy and emerging, I’ve set a modest goal of writing 500 words a day. On a good day, this means 500 words actually added to the rough outline of my proposal. On a not so good day it means 500+ words summarizing articles that I ultimately decide are irrelevant to my project. But it’s all good. Anything that gets me a fraction of a baby step closer to a completed zero draft is infinitely better than sitting on my hands waiting for the dissertation proposal muse to enlighten me!

(cross posted on ideaplay.org)



Bolker, J. (1998). Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day: A guide to starting, revising, and finishing your doctoral thesis. Henry Holt and Company: New York

Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. Doubleday: New York

Silvia, P. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. American Psychological Association: Washington, D.C.

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I am ABD

I passed my comprehensive exam. It wasn’t pretty, but I made it to the other side. I’m taking a short break from research for a couple weeks, and will then start writing the dissertation proposal.

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