Postcards from an EdD | I’m a Doctoral Student!

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It’s always fun when you are experiencing a big transition in life to consider what brought you to that point. Yesterday marked the end of my first week as a student in the Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University. It’s my first time back in the classroom since I finished my last master’s in 2014.

Since I was a college student majoring in English I knew I wanted to be an educator. As a master’s student, then librarian, and now faculty, I have spent countless hours trying to become the best educator I can be.

As part of my first master’s degree in library and information science, I completed several (unpaid!) internships to learn more about being an academic librarian, particularly how to teach information literacy. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to land a librarian job at graduation, but I did eventually become staff at the Arizona State University library, where I began my second master’s in an attempt to improve my marketability.

I had no idea what instructional design was until a mentor directed me to the instructional design program. From there, I didn’t look back! There were a lot of things that caused my perspective to shift when I was working on my second master’s degree in instructional design, but the focus on active learning was definitely my biggest takeaway. This second master’s finally landed me an academic librarian job, three years after completing my first master’s in library science. In 2014 I became the first ever Instructional Design Librarian at Cal State Fullerton!

I originally started this website as a platform to reflect on what I was doing and learning as a brand new librarian. I was never bored! I had so much to work on, and so many ways to get better at what I was supposed to be doing. My first two posts in 2014 when I started this site were about instructing vs. informing. I wanted to continually reflect on what I was doing in an attempt to become a better librarian and share what I was learning with others.

Traditional education is all about the “sage on the stage.” Someone smart in the front of the room that speaks and imparts their knowledge to students. In my second master’s program I learned that this is an incredibly outdated way to teach, and ever since I’ve been focused on engaging my learners.

I spent four years as an academic librarian before I transitioned into teaching full-time in Cal State Fullerton’s M.S. in Instructional Design & Technology program. I’ve now been teaching for six years. I didn’t expect to end up here, but I love teaching, and I love how much I learn from my students.

However, I feel that I’ve plateaued in my abilities as an educator. Teaching online is incredibly isolating. I can read and research all I want, and I spend so much time revising my courses, but I don’t know how to improve as an educator from here.

Thus, the EdD.

I’ve been debating pursuing my doctorate for several years. I spent 3.5 years getting my first master’s, 2 years getting my second – isn’t 5.5 years in graduate school enough? Apparently an eight-year break is adequate because here I am! I’m going to pursue my doctorate while I continue teaching full-time, work on my side business, cycle on the weekends, and be a decent enough mother to my young son (optimism!)!

What I’m most interested about in my EdD program is not the facts I’m going to learn (though those are great!), or the community I’m joining (which is super exciting!), or that I’ll be Dr. O’Neill at the end (bow down!), but the fact that the doctoral program focuses on Action Research. We’re going to learn how to do it, we’re going to do it, and then we’re going to write about it for our dissertations (easy, right?)

Action Research differs from traditional research in that it’s a strategy to solve a local problem of practice. As one of my new classmates put it, traditional research is about the “other” – the researcher studies some problem that they don’t have to deal with themselves. In contrast, Action Research (I can’t stop capitalizing it) is about using the existing research literature and classic research techniques to solve a problem in your local context. It’s about being deliberate and formal in conducting hyper-local research and then using what you learn.

For my dissertation, I plan to focus on building community in my courses, as students that feel connected are more likely to be successful. I will use Action Research to collect data and implement an intervention, all in the comfort of my own courses.

And, lucky reader, you might get to hear about it from time-to-time. I’m looking forward to learning and growing and reaching the next level as an educator!