The feeling of being behind

I’m certain anyone who’s worked in academia has felt ‘behind’. I would bet many early career academics feel this way constantly.

I admit that I have (and still) get myself into a headspace where I’m saying things like “I should be doing more” or “this should be done by now.” My university recently opened our new state-of-the-art library and learning centre – filled to the brim with exciting new technologies and teaching spaces. While I can’t speak for my colleagues, I feel there’s more pressure to deliver this Fall. However, a couple of recent experiences have grounded my expectations and made me take pause.

I recently read a 2016 blog post by Zack Kanter which outlines why we feel behind. Most of us have a vision of our perfect self and we constantly compare ourselves to this vision. Kanter’s summary is perfect.

The question that finally helped me break the cycle was: behind compared to what? Some alternate-reality version of yourself without flaws, a relentless Terminator on the Perfect Course of Life, chasing down and slaying goals and if you stop to catch your breath for one second the cyborg-take-no-prisoners-has-no-bad-days-or-relationship-or-family-issues-and-never-binge-watches-Netflix ‘you’ will just fly by and you will never be able to catch up no matter how hard you try?

I will tell you a secret. There is no other version of yourself, there is only the version sitting here right now. You are not behind (or, for that matter, ahead): you are exactly where you are supposed to be. So take a deep breath and relax.

The perfect version of myself has already published the two research projects I’m currently working on, planned all his classes, and has pre-read all the committee materials. But, putting unnecessary pressure on one’s self-doesn’t lead to greater productivity.

During a recent conversation with a colleague, this feeling of being ‘behind’ came up. She asked me about my current research projects and what teaching strategies I planned on implementing, to which I provided a lengthy explanation. Her reply was, “You’re doing a lot! You should slow down.” I was taken aback. Her comment was followed by a book recommendation – The Slow Professor. The book argues that “corporatization has engendered a pervasive time pressure” in academic life. In the book’s ‘slow manifesto’, the authors say this:

While slowness has been celebrated in architecture, urban life, and personal relations, it has not yet found its way into education. Yet, if there’s one sector in society which should be cultivating deep thought, it is academic teachers… Slow Professors advocate deliberation over acceleration. We need time to think, and so do our students.

It’s ok to stop and think. It’s ok to breathe. I still think being ambitious and productive are good goals. So instead of feeling behind, I’m feeling motivated. The difference? Tempering expectations. Assume what you want to achieve will take longer than you think. Learn to appreciate the small accomplishments along the way.

My process for qualitative web research

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CC0 image – Rachael Gorjestani

I’m a bit of a research methods geek. As I’ve become more familiar with qualitative methods and coding data, there’s a few tricks I’ve learned which I’ll discuss today. Disclaimer: I’m not a methods “expert” (though I’m not sure many people are), and I developed this approach from experience and exhaustive reading 👨🏼‍💻 of the academic literature.

I enjoy working with both numbers (quantitative data) and documents (qualitative data). Qualitative methods are interesting because they provide the researcher an enormous amount of flexibility, and the data often provides a great depth of understanding. The downside to qualitative approaches are that they’re a bit fuzzy. There’s also A LOT of qualitative techniques. You have to be comfortable with loose approaches to analyzing data and, occasionally, creating your own method – usually derived from one or more existing approaches – to fit your project. However, while the methods can be flexible, it’s important to employ your method as consistently as possible.

First, some background. I’m currently conducting a content/policy analysis of Open Education Resources Policy in Western Canada. You don’t have to know what that is. What’s important is that my data is 100% web documents. There are no experiments to run, no statistics to gather, and no people to interview. (Well… I chose not to interview this time around).

Within the documents I collected, I’m looking for snippets of text that make mention of my topic and I’m assigning those snippets a “code.” If you’re not familiar with coding I’ve included a couple of solid resources:

So, here’s what I’m looking at…

This is one of my Excel sheets. I prefer to organize data I’ve found using Excel because programs such as NVivo don’t seem as flexible. Each row is a separate document and the columns label the information in each cell.

Tip 1: Colour Code and Prioritize

It looks like a mess, I know, but there’s a logic. Green rows means I’ve read and coded the document. White rows mean that I’ve skipped those documents for now. These docs might be useful, but certain types of documents are hit or miss with regards to relevance. Conversely, others are DEFINITELY what I want. Time is precious, so working in order of relevance, not chronological, is key.

At this point you might be thinking “What a waste of time! Why collect irrelevant documents?” But, wait!

Tip 2: Collect everything you find as you go, and deal with it later

Time is precious, and it’s likely I’m going to do a “similar” project on the same topic (because it’s interesting). Re-finding documents I’ve already come across is a waste of time, so it’s best to collect them as you find them. Always be thinking of how documents could be useful to you one, two, three, or ten-years down the road. All documents that could be useful later are indicated by the dark blue cells on the left. This process also helps limit the scope of what you analyze. A minute saved is a minute earned? (I just made that up).

Tip 3: Multiple Excel sheets!

It’s imperative to have multiple sheets when coding with Excel. Snippets of text are on the left, and a code is assigned to each snippet.

Text snippets and codes are blurred because… it’s not ready yet!

I also have the document details on the right, in the same format as the previous sheet. Some people don’t agree with this approach because you’re not separating yourself from the documents when creating themes from your codes. My work around is to cover up these details when I organize my codes into themes. Just temporarily shade cells you don’t want to see in black. Problem solved!

Spring conference tour 2017

 

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This spring marked the last conference presentation, and it was a good one.

The Alberta Library Conference (ALC), which is held at the Jasper Park Lodge annually, is a beautiful venue. Attending the conference is as much a getaway as “work event,” which explains the number of smiling faces.

This year I was lucky enough to speak to academic, public, and some school librarians about the library’s role in the open education movement in Canada. Speaking at ALC is fun but it poses a challenge insofar that there librarians from various sectors. As a speaker, one wants to create something that’s meaningful to everyone.

I’ve addressed the topics of the open education movement and open educational resources several times. This particular presentation covered a lot of ground:

  • OER and the open education movement
  • OER policy in Western Canada (this is my primary research project)
  • A discussion about OER and the public library
  • Examples of ways the public library can support open education
  • Challenges to OER

About two-thirds of this presentation was me talking, but I tried something a little different this time around. First, before launching into my own ideas about the public library’s role in open education I posed two questions to the audience.

  1. Are there patrons, or specific groups, that would benefit from OER in any way?
  2. Can you think of an experience you had when you were trying to help a patron find some information where an OER might have been helpful

Literature about the public library and OER is greatly underrepresented, and I made specific mention of that in the presentation. The participants were extremely vocal and their examples were quite surprising.

Some identified patrons / groups included high-school students, those looking for career changes, second language learners, not-for-profit employees, internationally trained professionals, people with access barriers (health and otherwise), and people looking to start their own business. These examples give an idea of the variety of patrons the public library is expected to serve. While the participants admitted to using some good commercial products, there are still resources not available for purchase. OER can fill this void, but many of the participants were unaware of the repositories that exist. This underscores one of the primary shortfalls of OER – a general lack of awareness.

It is my presumption that public libraries are equally – if not better – suited to advancing OER awareness. They have broader needs than academic or special libraries, and they service a wider segment of the population.

Participants’ answer to the second questions was equally surprising. Responses included programming lesson plans for robotics and STEM, examples of in-depth reference questions (I presume for training purposes), resources for children to keep up with their school studies, homeschooling resources, and oral histories. Again, this demonstrates a wider need than academia which is largely focused on course plans and textbooks.

At the end of the talk, I encouraged participants to ask if there were resources they wanted that were not covered in the presentation. I also asked them where they’d like to see scholarship on this topic published. In response to the latter, one participant suggested a K-12 or teacher librarian publication that’s open access.

I think public libraries are largely underrepresented in the OER literature and, given the thoughtful feedback and positive reactions to this presentation, I’m considering what such a publication would look like.

Presentation slides