Transcribe via Pomodoro

I have found the most difficult challenge in my doctoral thesis (dissertation) thus far to be transcription.

As a matter of fact, there are few things I have struggled with more than transcription. While I love hearing the interviews again – I make connections, I feel even more connected to the experience – but for some reason(s) my mind goes numb when I think about transcription. I either type slowly or my mind wanders or I nod off or whatever, so much to the extent that I finally had to hire somebody associated with my university to help with my transcription. Either I was going to go broke and get it done or I simply was not going to finish.

Thus, even with transcription behind me, I still have to re-listen to the interviews and review / correct / edit them. Even the best transcriber in the world was just not there at the interview, and thus cannot know the context as much as I do. Thus, I need to re-listen and check and verify and tweak before I return to the interviewees for their checking, and while this is close enough to the transcription process that my mind borders on numbness and revolt, I have discovered a technique (once again from my wonderful #phdchat network!) to help me chunk this process into small portions that are not overwhelming.

Enter the pomodoro.

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple time management process where you do a single task for 25 minutes, without any distraction, followed by a 5 minute break. Track the success. Repeat. Get the idea? Large tasks can be overwhelming, though if we break them down to doable chunks, called pomodoros, we are able to make progress and track it along the way.

The process can get a little more organized, or course, though this is the extent that I have started to use to help me to get through my transcription, and thus my thesis, at this point. Working through a 90 minute interview, stopping to rewind and make corrections and edits along the way takes hours, but chopping it into short 25-minute pieces – hey, I can do that!

While this can be done with a simple timer (I bought one for this when I started, one of those wind-up kitchen timers), there are also a number of applications and apps to help with the process. I finally tried and found one I like, called Pomodoro, and the few dollars I spent on it has been well-spent. After all, a few optional dollars to help overcome a major challenge by helping to break it up into shorter bits of doable effort is OK in my book.

While pomodoros can be used for all sorts of tasks, it is simply another process tool to help increase efficiency (and simply finish). I am using it with success at this point, though can imagine its application being almost limitless (especially when surrounded by everything so interesting in social media and the internet!). After all, in the spirit of the #changee MOOC, doing something new and counter to how the mainstream does, can be useful indeed. Learning opportunities indeed do surround us!

BTW, I wrote this post in a pomodoro as a colleague asked me what it was!

Out with the Old, or How did we do in 2011?

As we near the end of 2011, I have to wonder about how the year went. No, I do not mean in the news or the international stage or the weather, but rather where am I now? How did I do? How am I doing now? Perhaps looking back to debrief will help me look forward . . . 

I am glad to say I am still employed, as that helps to keep most other things moving along. For those who may not know, I work professionally as a project manager in clinical education for a large home care nursing non-profit organization in New York City. I also teach as an adjunct instructor at Pace University and New York University, though as I am working on my doctoral thesis (aka doctoral dissertation in the US), I have significantly reduced the number of classes I am able to teach (presently teaching only a class on Teaching and Learning at Pace in the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree program). I hope to teach more once I have those 3 letters behind my name, which brings me to my highlight of 2011 — my doctoral studies.

I am now engaged in my doctoral thesis in educational research, specifically in a program in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning, at Lancaster University in the UK. I am researching liminal experiences that occur during doctoral studies related to learning leaps or aha! moments. I have completed my data collection and, now that the transcription was just finished, am doing a final review of the transcripts by re-listening to the interviews while checking the texts before I return to the interviewees for their review.

I travelled to the UK twice in 2011, both times for academic meetings, with only one conference, the British Education Research Association, where I presented my work in 2011. I did take a quick trip to Dublin while on that side of the pond to visit a close friend from college, though otherwise no other travel to speak of.

I spent time with Spencer and Posey (in my arms in this picture), as well as with Michael and his increasingly fascinating work with his books and Christmas ornaments. Some time in the country exploring druidry, reading fantasy and science fiction, trying to make sense of actor-network theory, learning through the #change11 MOOC, and making wine (a hobby I am expanding in 2012, but more about that later).

I am thankful for all these things, and hope to continue all these things into the New Year, with one or two additions. Perhaps I will discuss my resolutions in a follow-up tomorrow . . .

Holidays, Time Off, Fairness, Studies, and Self-Confidence

Have you ever noticed how stressful the winter holidays can be, what with family obligations, spending money, getting off schedule, meeting the expectations of others, and on and on? What about when we see other people who seem to buy or give nicer or more thoughtful gifts, get more time off than we do, or greater bonuses? Don’t even get us started on how even more doctoral student colleagues earn themselves time off with great strides in writing and research and progress! 

Ever make you think that life is not fair, or everybody has it better, or just somehow I am doing the wrong thing? The holidays can certainly bring these emotions and more up in us, and I think it is worth reflecting on.

Well, I started to think about some of these things when I returned from a long holiday weekend (I took a vacation day Friday and Monday was a holiday). The city seems so empty, did everybody really go off to Paris or the South of France, as I imagine happens when somehow the crowds I am used to are not around and I have to go back to work?

Mind you, I like my work and studies and such, though somehow everything seems more difficult when we are alone, and not of our own making.

How about how quiet online communities, such as #phdchat, seem to be during the winter holidays (including Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Year’s, and such), nothing like time to catch up while having nobody to reply back!

Of course, this is simply not true. There are so many people around all the time, in-person as well as online, that it is an exaggeration to claim that nobody is around or I am all alone. Take the winter holidays; even when we seem to have it worse than others, there are always people who have it worse off than we do. Sure, some people may have organizations that give them the entire week off, or supervisors who invite their students for holiday gatherings, though I suppose all that comes at a price, often one that is easy to miss when we feel in a rut. Misery indeed loves company, and the holidays seem to breed both.

After all, even vacation taken now may mean less for the spring or summer!

Even with our endless media telling us what gifts to give or receive, I have still never seen anybody give or receive a Lexus, regardless of the size of the ribbon and how perfect everybody and everything in the ads appear. Hey, Madison Avenue, that is not my life, and quite honestly that is OK.

Can any ad or product or statement or statistic ever fully capture our lives? If no, why do they affect us at times?

Thinking of my research, how often am I convinced that every other doctoral student moves faster through their dissertations or theses than I do, or that everybody else somehow gets better funding packages or has more travel budgets or extra help with supervision? It is so easy to miss that we each move at our own pace, each have different skills, resources, access, and developing understanding of our work. Some people move faster and make better progress, and some don’t.

As a matter of fact, some give or receive better gifts, while other receive less. Or none. Some people have a bonus week off, and some cannot find any work at all. Some make speedy research progress, and some cannot get into a program or afford to stay once they start or have supervisors interested in their work. 

While this may seem a rambling post that has perculatd for the past week, suffice it to say it is really rather focused. Life is not fair, and while we each have our own challenges, we also each have our own benefits. I suppose it is valuable for us to focus more on the latter than the former. It somehow is easier to see what we want and don’t have than what we have that others may not. In other words, we are all different, and in this great diversity life seems to be this exciting experience. We have what we have, and what we do with it is up to us. There will always be people who have more, and there will always be people who have less–financial, educational, social, healthful, etc.

Happy Holidays all, and don’t let Santa, whoever or whatever that may be to you, make you believe that everything else is better; nothing can be further from the truth.

Avatar and Game Design with Clark Aldrich

After taking 2 somewhat quiet weeks (of reading, with little synchronous or even formal online participation) in the #change11 MOOC, I am glad to be able to spend a little time this week with the current area of discussion as facilitated by Clark Aldrich. While Clark will speak about Advanced Learning Strategies and Designing Sims, based around his book Designing Sims the Clark Aldrich Way, and given that I have never found games or sims or avatars useful for my personal learning, I think this week may be a nice (or challenging) stretch for me to see potential in areas where I may have missed it previously.

While Clark is evidently a very serious, talented, and sought after professional in this space, I noticed that his work seems to follow (in a most basic manner), the traditional ADDIE model of instructional design. This makes me feel comfortable, as it is somewhat familiar.

I then stopped in my tracks when I read his book, where at its beginning  (pg. 11) , he said:

Competence plus Conviction = Comfort
One core reason to do a sim is to drive competence and commitment. In fact, sims do this better than any other media.

Competence is the ability of a learner to apply the right skills. It can even include use the right words.

But developing conviction in an audience is even more important for most applications. Conviction is the enduring understanding and drive in the learner to do the right thing.

Nothing particularly revealing here, except that this seems oriented toward a positivistic approach where there are right (or correct) skills to apply in this or that situation. After all, how else can a system determine I (or somebody) is competent, unless there are clear guidelines against which one may be measured? This may work well in factories or the military, where a certain compliance to working toward a goal seemingly requires a consistent approach for all people to the same matter; how else can consistency be attained (and thus measured)? While I often build learning interventions in my professional work that meets certain similar approaches, I also find this quite contrary to my own learning preferences.

I struggle when generic learning or processes are applied to me; somehow I often feel I do not readily fit into these sorts of patterns that many learners seem to fit into. No, I am not special or anything like that; perhaps the issue is just that my education and experiences make it increasingly difficult to pigeon-hole me in a way that the objective approaches of sims or games that have clear objectives seek to measure in standardized ways. Perhaps this can be done for repetitive tasks that can be taught to be done in a seemingly mindless way (making widgets, for example), though I struggle consistently doing repetitive tasks! All my efforts right now are toward my doctoral thesis, which is all about creating new knowledge (in some established semblance of a recognizable process, of course!).

With all this said, I look forward to hearing what Clark says about all this in his synchronous session today.

Farewell to Rhizomes #change11

I am very happy our #change11 MOOC week on rhizomatic learning is now behind us.

For anybody not familiar with this, take a look at some of the excellent electronic ink that has been written on it by Dave Cormier (whose energy is quite contagious and who I admire for all his work over the past week with his postmodern approach to interaction and learning), Jenny Makness, Keith Hamon, Terry Anderson, and John Mak, among countless others.

Yes, I know that rhizomatic learning–learning that that happens without a beginning or end or middle or goal or direction or structure or leadership or objective or focus–will happen regardless of our week ending and our attention moving on to another topic. In fact, this metaphor seems to capture much of the richness (for those of us in the education business, if you will) of learning, though it also demonstrates (for those who like to measure everything in a positivistic or scientific manner) how edu-talk sustains itself without improving (or relating to) anything in the world.

With all this, I am left grasping for what all of this rhizome-talk means for us in practice. In other words, what do I do with this now that I could not do 2 weeks ago? Yes, I now have more of a metaphorical language and have had lots of interesting discussions, and while that may be enough to help move me toward my MOOC goals, I am not sure where all this specific rhizome-talk leads, beyond miring us into swirling chatter that leads both everywhere and nowhere, leaving me a bit unsettled.