The Research Student Blog Challenge – #HDRblog15 – November 2015

Get involved! Let's learn together with #HDRblog15

Get involved! Let’s learn together with #HDRblog15.

Writing begets writing. Somehow, the more I write the more I write. The more I think about writing, write about thinking about writing, and write about writing, the more I write. For me, tweeting, blogging and academic writing are all writing practices, ways of thinking and writing my way to understanding. They are also ways of connecting with others. Being part of research conversation and blog conversation and Twitter conversation. Telling stories. Sharing stories. Learning from others’ stories.

There are blogs which host posts by research students such as the Thesis Whisperer and PhD Talk. There are active and dormant blogs by research students which can be hard to find in the heaving mass of the blogosphere. And some research students might wonder about what blogging could offer them, but not have the impetus to start.

I’m currently taking part in the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC (massive online course) which has expanded my network of scholars, fellow researchers and fellow writers. The course, especially through its discussion forums, #survivephd15 Twitter hashtag and Periscope live chats, has shown how much a community of past and present research students, and supervisors, can gain from engaging with each other.

I am keen to build on the momentum of this course, and on the wonderful and generous scholarly Twitteratti, with an initiative that will share the stories of research students who are juggling life and supervision with writing dissertations, theses and journal articles. My answer? The #HDRblog15 blogging challenge. I’ve called it the HDR (higher degree by research) challenge as I’d like any research students (PhD, professional doctorate, Masters), and those involved with research students, to feel welcome to join in.

The challenge will be held during the month of November 2015. Its purpose is to encourage past or present higher degree by research students, supervisors, or those interested in pursuing a higher degree by research, to connect, communicate and share resources and experiences.

The challenge involves writing at least one blog post (you might write more!) and commenting on at least one other blog post in order to develop conversation and community.

If you are new to blogging, the first step would be to set up a blog. I use, which is very user friendly, quick to set up and easy to manage.

Ideas for your blog post/s might include the following.

  • Sharing a celebration from or positive spin on your experience of being a research student.
  • Exploring a question you have.
  • Illuminating a challenge you have faced in your HDR journey, and how you approached or conquered it.
  • Sharing a tip or technology.
  • Exploring a metaphor for where you are in your HDR/PhD/Masters journey.
  • Explaining a strategy you have for coping with the demands of a research degree.
  • Using an image, animated gif or video as inspiration. Just make sure that, if it’s not one of your own, you attribute it to the site or person from which you got it.

So, the steps for participating in this challenge are as follows.

Step 1: Fill in your name and blog url here in this Google doc.

Step 2: Write and publish your blog post.

Step 3: Share your post in the Google doc and on the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC discussion board, if you are enrolled (but any research students, past research students, or supervisors of research students, or people interested in becoming a research student, are more than welcome!). Tweet your blog out using the #HDRblog15 hashtag. To extend your reach, you might also like to use other hashtags like #survivephd15, #phdchat, #acwri (academic writing), and #ecrchat (early career researcher chat).

Step 4: Keep an eye on the #HDRblog15 hashtag on Twitter and the Google doc to read others’ contributions as they arise.

Step 5: Comment on at least one other post.

If you’re new to blogging, remember that reading on the web, including on a mobile device, necessitates information being presented in a way that is engaging and easy to process. This means a ‘hook’ to draw your reader in, a catchy beginning to grab the reader’s attention and short paragraphs readable on small screens and on the go.

I find 800ish words is best; it’s meaty enough to explore a topic, but short enough to be readable in one sitting. I find if a blog post pushes over 1000 words, it’s getting too long and I try to think about how I can parameterise it to reign it in, or split it up.

Visualise your audience when you are writing, to help you personalise the content and lead decisions about language, style, voice and approach. Are you writing for others in your industry? Other research students? Future employers? As a record of your own thinking for yourself?

Blogging allows us to connect with others and develop ourselves. Your blog can be a free writing space where your persona can be unrestrained and experimental. I look forward to reading your contributions!


* This post is in response to the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC 2015 ‘final activity’.

* If you are a PhD student who blogs, take the time to complete this research survey for Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson on why and how you blog.

Collecting honest data on coaching perceptions & impacts #educoach

Bruce Nauman's Human/Need/Desire, 1983 ~ photo taken at MOMA

Bruce Nauman’s Human/Need/Desire, 1983 ~ photo taken at MOMA

In a gentle way, you can shake the world. ~ Mahatma Ghandi

As coaches it is important that we gather data about the impacts of our practice. As a coach we might feel a conversation or relationship has gone well, but how do we know? How can we find out the depth of our coachees’ perceptions, vulnerabilities or reflections?

This has been on my mind as this year my school’s teacher growth model, of which coaching is a central piece, moved from pilot program populated by volunteers, to mandated model which involves all teachers in the school. This is a big shift. Piloting a model with teachers who have volunteered to be involved and are keen to have a voice in school change, is very different to applying a model, no matter how flexible and differentiated, to all teachers at a school. We’ve been very aware that one size does not fit all. We’ve tried to design something which is relevant and adaptable from person to person, early to late career, pre-kindergarten to Year 12, Physical Education to English Literature. Coaching is a big part of this as the lesson data collected and the following conversation are all about the coachee; where they are at; where they would like to go.

Over the last two years I have used focus groups of teachers and coaches to gather some of the data I’ve been using to reflect and report on our impacts. This year, too, we want to gauge how we’ve gone. The intention of our model is that it is meaningful for teachers, rather than a box to be ticked or a process to be endured. We want it to nurture cross-school professional connections, open classrooms, and build internal teacher capacities. We want it to be a process which both trusts teachers and in which teachers feel they can trust. (I visually represented these intentions in this post.) So how can we see if that’s happening beyond what the coaches might observe or what information teachers might anecdotally volunteer?

In order to get a sense of how teachers are finding the process, I have recently set up an anonymous survey monkey survey with the following questions. Apart from questions 12 and 14, which are optional comment boxes, the questions are click-button ones on a Likert-style rating scale of Strongly Agree – Agree – Neutral – Disagree – Strongly Disagree. The good thing about that is that it is quick for teachers to complete, and easy to analyse. While it provides a snapshot of how teachers are finding the coaching cycle, a limitation is that it doesn’t drill down into the why of respondents’ answers.

The survey questions:

  1. I have a clear understanding of the cycle’s process, expectations and roles.
  2. I found the reflection survey useful in terms of my teaching practice.
  3. I have felt comfortable having someone (and/or a video camera) in my classroom.
  4. I found the data collected in my lesson observations useful in terms of my teaching practice.
  5. I found the coaching conversations useful in terms of my teaching practice.
  6. I have felt that my coach is approachable, supportive and trustworthy.
  7. I have found it ‘do-able’ to manage the cycle in terms of time, scheduling, and, where appropriate, technology.
  8. The cycle has helped me gain greater awareness and clarity around my teaching and what happens in my classroom.
  9. The cycle has helped me clarify my instructional goals (i.e. how and in which areas I would like to develop my teaching).
  10. The cycle has resulted in the development of one or more collegial relationships (with either my coach or another team member).
  11. I have made changes to my teaching or classroom as a result of the cycle.
  12. Optional comment: If I have made changes to my teaching or classroom, what have these been?
  13. I think the cycle has had a positive impact on my teaching practice.
  14. Optional comment: I would like to offer the following comments or suggestions for the development of the cycle from 2016.

It is important that they survey is anonymous as we want the feedback to be honest. While these are by no means comprehensive, they provide a piece of our data puzzle in looking to the impact of our observation and coaching cycle as professional learning. It is by listening to positive and critical perspectives that we can identify those things working well, and address those areas of challenge.

Viva la boredom? A #blimage challenge post.

This blog post is part of the #blimage (blog-from-image) challenge recently set by Steve Wheeler and Amy Burvall. You can learn more about it on this video This particular image was set by Steve in this post.

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The past is for learning and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~ Adele Parks

photo by Steve Wheeler

photo by Steve Wheeler

At first this image, provided by Steve Wheeler, sparked thoughts of learning environments. Here is a graveyard of old wooden desks. Scratched. Graffitied. All bunched together in some kind of storage space. Left. Forgotten. Abandoned. Past their used by date. The sad scrawled face in the bottom right corner, a symbol of the kind of soul-crushing 50s -industrialist schooling that Sir Ken Robinson champions against.

I thought about how the classroom of today has changed, and was reminded of my thoughts around flexible, comfortable learning spaces.

But when I look at this image what I really get is a rocket back to my own schooling. Wooden desks engraved by compasses and ball point pens, with lift-up tops revealing stationary and lunch boxes and gum and whole pieces of fruit.

I’m reminded of how my fellow students and I would sit, listen, mess around, or tackle boredom. There were no smart phones, no apps, no laptops, no Smart screens, no texting. We passed notes on actual paper. We looked out of the window. We scribbled onto or carved into the rough wooden surfaces of our desks which lay in rows, etching them with our individual markings, evidence of our existence.

Recently my husband and I drove more than 800km in one day to this spectacular place, with Mr 3 and Mr then-4 in the car. We could have taken a dvd player. We could have hooked them up to please-keep-quiet digital devices most of the way. But we chose not to. We made a conscious decision that the very very long car trip (about 9 hours) was to be spent mostly old school. We sang songs. Listened to music. Talked. Played ‘eye spy’ (for the 3 year old we mostly played by colour instead of letter). Snacks, notebooks, a couple of monster trucks. C-o-n-v-e-r-s-a-t-i-o-n. It was a retro road trip.

There were 2 occasions in each car trip (we had to do the return 9-hour journey, too!) when we let them have an iPad. For 20 minutes they were able to have 5-minutely turns, so 10 minutes each; 20 minutes each all up per session. Sharing. Waiting. Practicing patience. Being grateful.

Parents might ask: Why would we do this to ourselves? Teachers might ask: Why aren’t we immersing our children in available technologies?

The answer is that we think it is good to be bored. Or rather, to have the self-capacity to figure out what to do with our selves or our brains when we are bored. Without a screen.

While I am a literature nerd who loves to read and smell books, and use old school tactile technologies, I’m also an educator who uses BYOD, the back channel, OneNote, virtual classrooms, discussion forums, Voxer, Twitter, personal and student blogging, podcasts, vodcasts, student created content, online surveys.

So when I look at Steve’s desk-graveyard image with its tactile wooden shapes and the student-made markings, I’m taken back to a classroom where a student’s main technology is their brain. With maybe some paper, ball point pens, and a compass.

It makes me think about letting the learning, not the tech, guide us. And ensuring that our children and our students see their brains as the best tech at their disposal.

Viva la boredom? Or at least viva la ability to use our brains and our character in ways that allow us to be still, be grateful, be learning, be creative. Like a blog post written around an image chosen by someone else, parameters can push us to creativity.

I love the idea of #blimage, so to end this post I’m throwing out another image, to ‘pay forward’ the challenge. So, bloggers, do your worst with this pic (just attribute the image back to me :)):

Shell Beach, by @debsnet