Posts that are engineering edu-ish

Want more inclusivity at your conference? Add childcare.

Providing conference childcare isn’t difficult or expensive, and it makes a huge difference for parents of young children who might want to come. If your community wants to (visibly!) support work-life balance and family obligations — which, by the way, still disproportionately impact women — I urge you to look into providing event childcare. I don’t have kids myself — but a lot of my friends do, and someday I might. I’ve seen too many talented colleagues silently drop out of the conference scene and fade out of the community because they needed to choose between logistics for the family they loved and logistics for the work they loved — and there are simple things we can do to make it easier for them to stay.

A good number of conferences have already started offering free or low-cost childcare on-site, and Above All Human is one of them. (Above All Human also used a Code of Conduct, another simple way to shift conference culture towards inclusivity and diversity.)

I talked with Scott Handsaker, one of the conference organizers, to ask how they set it up. It was easy. There was an existing daycare facility nearby, so trained staff, equipment, space, and insurance were all taken care of. All Scott had to do was negotiate the price, which ended up being $30 per child. Out of 1,000 people in attendance, roughly 10-15 used childcare, for a total price tag of $300-$450 per day.

The resulting slew of publicity was tremendous. Scott mentioned they were late in organizing childcare — too late to advertise it on the conference website — so they only had a little time to message via email and social media. Even so, childcare was the #1 thing people tweeted about leading up to the conference. (“This [twitter search] nowhere near captures the volume of tweets or the sentiment,” Scott wrote.) In fact, that’s how I found out about Above All Human in the first place — a former classmate raving about childcare on social media. This is the sort of exposure you want for your event, brand, and community. Financing conference childcare was snapped up by Slack as a low-cost, high-impact, high-visibility corporate sponsorship opportunity.

If your conference location doesn’t have childcare on-site, talk with nearby childcare providers or a local college with an education/teacher-training program. You’re looking for care providers with training in early childhood education or some similarly related field, medical knowledge (CPR/AED etc), and enough experience to take care of insurance and logistics, which often involves negotiating directly with the hotel or other conference location about space and setup.

Some conferences have written documentation on their childcare setup. GovHack wrote a behind the scenes look at childcare for their conference, and YOW stands as a good example of how to promote it.

Right now, determined conference committee members can pull something together for their own event by taking advantage of resources like these, as well as tapping into the informal network of conference organizers who’ve coordinated childcare in the past. However, that network can be hard to find — so as more and more events attempt to do this, we can share notes and work to make it easier. A great next step would be to compile more writeups about the childcare-at-conferences process and to list events that have had it and are willing to talk with other events who are interested. Eventually, we could create a series of templates and guides for how to email daycare providers, how to advertise, what insurance to secure, and so forth. If you know of existing resources or efforts, please let me know and I’ll add them to this post.

Edit: Reader-provided resources so far…

  • David Nelson Adamec noted that PyCon, a major programming language conference, provides childcare: “I like that they call out “Company X is our childcare sponsor”, making it a cool thing to be and encouraging others to follow suit,” says David. He also noted that has more general tips for organizers.
  • Sara Melnick noted that SIGCSE, a major CS education conference (academic) provides a kids’ camp, almost like a parallel conference for children:
  • Bonnie Tesch submitted MoMiCon, an academic gathering deliberately designed as a conference format experiment designed for mothers with young children. Some very cool design ideas here.
  • Anne Lucietto noted that childcare isn’t the only need — sometimes adult care is needed as well.
  • Peter Barszczewski noted that the same setup applies to hackathons.

High-level reading notes: “Promotion and Tenure: Community and Socialization in Academe”

High-level reading note summaries, in ongoing experiments to make intermediate products of my work more accessible/useful to others.

This book was authored by William G. Tierney and Estela Mara Bensimon. Worth reading if you’re interested in faculty socialization and/or the promotion/tenure process and how it can be situated in history and critically assessed. The book draws from stories about the hiring, tenure, and promotion process as told by new faculty.

Tierney and Bensimon point to many inconsistencies and gaps in the faculty hiring/promotion experience. They’re not necessarily bad inconsistencies or gaps, but seeing that they’re there lets us make decisions about what to do with them. For instance, what should happen between hiring and campus arrival — is it an issue that this space is often scattered and chaotic?

The book also has a chapter devoted to gender, and another chapter devoted to race and ethnicity, as particular factors that impact faculty socialization into academe. If you’re looking at gender, race, and/or ethnicity, those chapters are full of good stories situated in the early-professor life.

It ends with a section on what colleges and universities can do, so the last chapter is worth revisiting or reading if you’re involved in the hiring/promotion process in your institution. For instance, it recommends adopting (what I’d call) a user-centered experience design perspective on the faculty hiring perspective. For instance, instead of only considering what the campus needs to learn about candidates when they visit, also consider how candidates experience your interview process — and how you would you like them to.

Another research progress-organization braindump

Yeah, you know that thing where I think out loud for the sake of my future self, and it probably makes no sense to anyone else…

One debate about my project — which I think we’re close to resolving — is the nature of “rigor” in the results section. What does it mean for results to be rigorous and/or valid in a postmodern qualitative context? Since postmodernism doesn’t specify a bounded ideology or methodology, the question really becomes what it means for my own results to be rigorous and/or valid, and I’m working (once again) to write that up.

I’ve spent a bunch of time and energy trying to define against what it isn’t — no, I don’t need to “prove” my ontologies “came from” my data via a specified process — but not enough time saying what it is, or where it came from. Okay, so these aren’t the “right” or the “only” frameworks that could have come about. But as with an a priori codeset, I have chosen them to use, somehow. They are useful, somehow. At least according to my interpretation and my own meaning-making.

I have never felt so… inept… at making my meaning-making visible to others. I thought I was good at teaching, at explaining. At the same time, it is nice to know that I can always, always hone that skill.

So: thing to do (again) — each of the next few paragraphs is a task, by the way (hello, future self!)

Research question rewrite. It’s time to write out my results (in brief) — again — and look at them to rewrite my research question — again. (Again. Again again again.)

Last two results chapters: revise for flow. For that matter, I want to take a tour through the last two results sections and massively improve their writing quality, and then look at the second results chapter and decide whether I need to expand the section that is currently just sitting there as an unexpanded table. Am I developing ideas in sufficient depth? Am I making things visible that I want people to see? Do I need to show those things to my audience in a number of different ways?

Articulate the four frameworks I’m using, and how they are related… in the literature review section, not the methods or the results (where they currently live). When doing this, explain why each framework is useful for looking at the data and my research question.

Separately from that, write a 2-3 pager on postmodernism, as I’ve used it in this project. What is it? What do I mean by it? Why am I utilizing it, and how did I come to do that? How does it compare to more common research approaches? (Components it will probably include: historical paradigmatic framing in qualitative research, brief history of postmodernism in general and some disclaimers on definition, the role of the reader, and discussions of concepts of self/world/other.

Shape up a discussion section at the end of each result. At the end of each results section, there’s already a tiny discussion of that particular result. I can draw that out into a more deliberate discussion that connects out to usages of the ontology in broader literature. Right now, I mostly discuss affordances and benefits, but don’t connect to broader lit in organized ways. This is where I can say: this way of thinking probably sounds familiar — and here is why. Here’s where you it’s mirrored and you’ve heard it before: curriculum design, faculty development, professional identity, collaboration/partnership.

Move “methods” stuff from the first results chapter… into the actual methods section. All right. But it feels good to know my methods section is helpful and does clarify things, even if it is still a bit jargony. (It’s particularly gratifying to hear that the examples I provided were, in fact, useful.) There’s an implicit to-do here, which is that sections of my first results chapter actually belong in the methods section, so that’s another thing to do — find the general case I explain in the first results section (page 4 of that chapter right now), excise it to the methods chapter, and refer back to it at the start of each results section (but situated in each individual result, at that point). Surgery.

Make sure vocabulary for methods principles of analysis are in the lit review. The methods section is missing one last point: at the end, I discuss several principles of my methodology — but I don’t draw back to where they came from. So I need to make sure those things are present in the postmodern section of my literature review.

Freewrite on “faculty as learners.” Another open question: I need to clarify how the “faculty as learners” language is still part of my writing, so I think I’ll do that as a freewrite at some point and see where it will end up going. Maybe… a big handwritten page, a 15-minute timer. That should do it.

Freewrite on “employ the ontology.” Another freewrite task: I use the phrase “employ the ontology” a bunch in the methods section, and don’t immediately show what that means. I know I demonstrate it at some point there or somewhere in the first or second results chapter, so I can find and grab that text and place them next to each other — or have them refer to each other, one or the other.

Put the cartoons back in. One task that will be gleeful and fun: I’m going to put my cartoons back into the results chapters. So: drawing, scanning, making sure they’re well-explained. (They should be. Right now they are text, and visuals will clear the text up.)

These sprints aren’t as clear as I want them to be. They are not prioritized, and there might still be too many. But this is a start.

Notes from talking with Ruth

Processing thoughts from Wednesday’s conversation with Ruth, for my own remembrance later. Probably won’t make sense to others, and that’s fine.

Translational work is important, especially if I’m doing unconventional things. Sometimes it helps to do the orthodox first, to not spend so much energy pushing for newness. Abstract artists tend to have extensive realist art training — the “traditional” fundamentals — before they move into doing abstract art. In qualitative research, the parallel for me is between interpretative and postmodern work.

Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” caused riots on first hearing; ears needed to get used to it. I’m no Stravinsky, but I do believe I’m not doing the type of work I want to do… as well as I need to be doing it.

I want to demonstrate that I can research in ways that articulate and further understanding, as well as critique and deconstruct it. Additionally, I should reconstruct the understanding (at least partially, while talking about why reconstruction may be problematic) after deconstructing it… for this specific project, readers need to leave knowing “what have we learned from this?”

I’m struggling in this balance, and I’m trying to push most of my energy into continuing to walk forward, not ponder down philosophical rabbit holes. Part of the challenge is that some of the rabbit holes are the forward I’ve defined. Someday I’ll look back on this and it’ll be clearer. Close, ship, and go.

Someday I’ll look back on this and it’ll be clearer. Right now I’m still pulling language into things I’ve been doing for the past few years — which is ironic, because part of what I found in my data is the art and act of putting language onto things in retrospect.


I’m struggling in this ba

QualMIP week 10: topic tracking and project progress

Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here.

Another short post this week because of a time crunch and my inability to write longer coherent things today (thanks, ADHD! Sometimes you just gotta roll with it).

Today was an analysis day — project updates, studio time, collaborative analysis — not a lot of scaffolding, more tracking where people are in their work and how to move forward. This post will likely be most useful for my future self as a way of tracking which topics are good to build more scaffolding around. Here are some:

Subject protection - using pseudonyms, talking with participants about how their data will be used, etc.

Positionality (yet again) - How does your prior exposure to a topic shape the analysis you do with it — and the way you triangulate your analysis with others’ when you’re checking inter-rater reliability? Our group has a mix of people with extensive social dance experience to no social dance experience (with social dance as the chosen context of study this semester). This gives a great variety of perspectives and positionalities that become visible in projects — and need to explicitly be pointed out (what terminology should you assume familiarity with, etc?)

Relationship between methods, results, and discussion - what you did, what you learned, and what difference it makes (“so what?”)

Instrument design as a subjective act – a reminder once again that all surveys, all instruments, all scales, etc. are reflections of human decisions about meaning creation. This does not mean they are all created equal, but it does mean they can and should be tested and interrogated and developed themselves (for instance, the IQ scale has a long history of “what does it mean to be intelligent?” debates behind it).

Validity. One thing I wish I’d prepared — and perhaps will prepare for next week, we’ll see — is a discussion on validity. In the context of qualitative research, what does it mean for a study to be “rigorous” and “valid”? (I have a lot to say about assumptions in this domain…)

It’s pretty cool to see the projects shaping up — intermediate artifacts are popping out. Emily has a nice table shaping up, which spurred a discussion on externalizing one’s process and the iterative nature of instrument design. Cesar should be bringing at least one draft poster in next week so we can start the “so what?” discussion (the “discussion discussion”), and Paige will be going through her emergent analysis process and then working to articulate it. Just a few weeks left to go…

QualMIP week 9: alignment of project components

Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here.

You can tell the semester is ending soon, because my posts are getting terser… this week our studio focus was on three things: project design alignment, creation of a data inventory, and discussion of what “done” means for individual projects.

The week will be spent moving towards whatever “done” is for each person’s project — but having alignment and clarity as to what the project is is an important prerequisite to being able to do that. We spent the day workshopping alignment, with the (draft! handwritten! first version!) worksheet below as representative of how we scaffolded that discussion. (I’d love comments on the worksheet, by the way.)

Qualitative Research Design Alignment Worksheet

Current thesis articulation problems, aka “postmodernism is hard”

Sometimes, trying to clarify your problems can be a helpful step in starting to resolve them. I’m currently struggling with the following:

1. A succinct history of how postmodernist philosophy troubles old notions of self/world and self/other relations… in ways that matter to STEM folks (that second part is the problem), and…

2. Potential misconceptions that could steer readers into misinterpreting what I’m actually trying to do. I keep feeling like I’m being asked to use my data to “prove” the ontological framings I’m using are valid, that the ontologies are frameworks that “emerge from the data” and are therefore somehow “real,” but that’s the assumption I’m trying to write against.

The last thing I’m wrestling with is something that’s less of an immediate crisis, but… at the same time, it’s very hard for me to unpack/articulate my process without using it, because it’s so much a part of my process, and so much a part of the paradigm I’m trying to convey (you’re not passive readers; this text is for you to engage with, and I’m deliberately trying to disrupt the ways you’re used to reading things). So, challenge #3 is to articulate…

3. The validity of writing something that deliberately asks the reader to experience/work with the text in a way other than being a passive reader that the writer takes by the hand and leads through a maze. I want to do this for at least some little intertexts because I think that sense of reader/writer positionality is important… and I feel like the responses I’m getting are akin to saying that T.S. Eliot is a lousy writer because he doesn’t just tell us what the Wasteland is “supposed” to be about. I need to frame this technique more, name it, justify it… I am struggling to do that.

My current articulation of what I’m actually trying to do is a sort of “Intro to Postmodernism for Engineers” stepthrough. I’m using different, related, and logically contradictory ontologies on the same qualitative data. The ontologies are basically different combinations of relationships between self/other and self/world, which are big questions that plenty of philosophers have tackled.

If you imagine each ontology as a pair of eyeglasses, I use each pair of eyeglasses to look at the data… and to look at each of the other pairs of eyeglasses. In the end, the dissertation is about the eyeglasses themselves. The data is from faculty talking about curriculum development, so here’s how the ontologies translate:

  1. The self, the world, and the other are all distinct and separate components! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… who are distinct from the curricular worlds we create for other people — namely, students — to experience and learn from.)
  2. Let’s trouble the boundary/relationship between world and other! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… who enter into and learn with and within a curricular world that’s inseparable from the others we interact with within that curricular space. Our colleagues and students have shaped the curriculum we’re “inheriting,” — even with a new course, there are histories and cultural notions of what it means to teach a certain thing — and we learn within a situated experience of teaching these courses with these colleagues and these students in the room.)
  3. Let’s trouble the boundary/relationship between self and world! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… and we and our curricular worlds co-construct one another. We have been (and continue to be) shaped by our learning experiences as students, teachers, and humans existing in the world, and our values and personalities and habits are reflected in the courses we design and what and how we teach them. Other people, such as colleagues and students, can’t encounter our curriculum without encountering us, and vice versa.) (Bonus: since I have multiple narrators telling stories of courses they co-taught, each narrator shows up as both a “self” in this ontology, and an “other” in ontology #2… in stories about the “same” class.)
  4. Let’s trouble the boundary/relationship between self and other! (We, the faculty, are the narrating selves… but wait, are we? In terms of who impacts curricular design decisions and how, it’s overly simplistic to define a group of faculty and say “yep, these are the people who made the curriculum, that’s it.” Sometimes we talk about ourselves as individuals; sometimes we speak as part of a group of colleagues, sometimes we include students and alumni and industry in the conversation… We constantly blur and move the boundary between “self” and “other” when deciding who to include as part of the “selves” who create curricular experiences.)

The end goal is to call into question our assumptions/usages of ontologies in general, not to prove that any ontology is “correct” or “better,” or that any of the ontologies can show us the “truth.” (Or even “all of them combined,” since there are an infinite number of possible viewpoints.) Instead, I’m trying to show that each ontology hides and reveals different things, and that these stories (and our realities as engineering educators) are complex and not always logically coherent. Lack of logical consistency isn’t a sign that there’s an error to be fixed; the world itself is complex and messy.

These things are all surprisingly hard for me to unpack and convey, and this almost certainly an issue with my weakness in articulating what I’m trying to do.

I’m hoping that talking with postmodernist researchers (especially qualitative ones!) and/or STS (science, technology, and society) folks who do or understand postmodernism — and how to articulate it to a STEM audience — might kick me out of my rut and get some useful insights on how to bridge these worlds, because right now I’m feeling like an incompetent engineer who isn’t thinking “rigorously,” as well as an incompetent philosopher/postmodernist/cultural studies/etc. because I’m not really any of those things; I’m an engineer trying to translate a few ideas to my own realm.

The ADHD Academic: a ritual of typed thinkalouds

You know, I might as well start posting about how I handle ADHD stuff too — those moments of little practice-sharing to remind my future self of things that work, and maybe other people might find some of this useful as well? Yeah, that.

One of the things I’ve done to get my ADHD brain more tamed (applicable to non-ADHD folks too!) is to freewrite-out-loud at the beginning of a writing sprint, letting my thoughts meander while leaving traces that eventually arrive at pretty reasonable small concrete tasks. This is the self-instructional freewriting from today, unedited.

I need to get the data into the results chapters; they should be the backbone of those chapters. (I feel like I’ve done this at least a half dozen times before. Guh repeated drafting process. Guh guh guh.)

I’m worried about the open licensing for Gary and Alan’s stuff, but should not think too much about that right now. Tomorrow, Stan can start to help me pull out of that thinking hole. Right now, the important thing is the data.

I’ve got a list of stories on these post-its; I can try to type them up and see where they cluster. The largest clusters are D&D and UOCD, and there are individual conversation/disagreement stories inside them. I think these are going to be collections that get edited into dialogues — I already have some really worked-over pieces for UOCD and D&D, and the Alan/Mark disagreement; I have indexes by page number in this document beside me.

I need to find a name for what I’m doing methodologically; at some point I should probably just ask Patti to help, or reach out to methodologists (which I should get more in touch with, honestly). I wonder if I can do an intro/letters sprint at some point, and be brave about reaching out to people I don’t know who… do really awesome work… and… yeah.

Back to the topic, though. What’s my intermediate artifacts here? I’ve got about an hour on this sprint clock before I need to get home and change for the exercise that’s going to keep me in gear.

Intermediate artifacts… well, first I want…

1. A grouped list of story clusters (I know I have multiple extended versions of this, they were for different purposes, do it AGAIN.)

2. Look up the status of each of those story clusters; which ones have existing drafts? And then, from the index: which transcripts and which page numbers do I pull from?

3. Turn page numbers into line numbers and pull the data. No, Mel. You are not allowed to write another Python script for this.

…stop there for now — the next step will be pulling out these stories and I know we’ll insert them into the chapters soon… but remember how much easier the chapter drafting was when you had the stories whittled out already? We’re doing this again. So focus in on these three steps. Let’s do it.

One current answer to “So how’s the writing going?”

Because people have been asking how the dissertation writing is going, and giving myself permission to post the informally worded, slapdash quickie explanation versions I give friends is somehow very liberating and helpful and I can get on with my life and so forth. This was (mostly) an email to a friend, so my language usage is totally messy and slapdash where I should be careful about terms — that’s entirely fine, fine, fine for now.

Thanks for asking. The writing is progressing, which is — that’s good, right?

It’s a tricky results section to write, because I’m actually kind of writing four results section and then a fifth meta-results-discussion section. Well, more like rewriting, and rewriting… it hurts to look at the folder with all of my aborted drafts. I’m writing four separate lens through which to look at the same data:

1. Curriculum is a thing that faculty make for the benefit of their students (they’re three separate things: faculty, curriculum, students — corresponding to self, world, and other.)

2. Faculty are learners who step into curricular experiences (broadly defined, not just courses) that have a long history of being shaped by others (faculty colleagues and students) Basically, instead of the three-separate-things perspective above, this separates the faculty “self” but lumps everything else together — the curriculum/world and the “others” in that world — as a soup the faculty learn with/in.

3. Curriculum and faculty are inseparably intertwined; past curricular experiences deeply influence one’s identity as a scholar and teacher, and one’s identity and values can’t help but spill out into the curriculum one designs and teaches. In other words, this one tangles up the faculty “self” and the curricular “world” (and separates out, for the time being, “others” like students and colleagues and external evaluators and so forth).

4. Faculty and colleagues and students are inseparably intertwined; they’re not uniform/same/ASSIMILATED BY THE BORG, but there is a sense of partnership and co-journeying and co-creation of the curriculum. This ontology separates all the “agential” (people!) parts of reality from all the non-agential ones (an inanimate “curriculum” as boundary object)

You’ll note that these are basically rearrangements and regroupings of the components in the first ontology (self, world, and other) — all possible logical pairings/clumpings of the trio, except for the one where everything gloms into everything else (that’s an ontology for the discussion section).

Each of these lens comes from my data, and each could be a dissertation in its own right. The point I’m trying to make is that these four lens coexist AND logically conflict and can’t be stitched into a calm, untroubled Frankenstein(‘s monster) — that the reality is super messy and full of tensions.

Simple example: is the curriculum for the benefit of the students, or the growth and interest of faculty? Oftentimes, it’s an “and” and not an “or,” but when they conflict… which lens do we make decisions from? For instance, if a professor can teach one more class without overloading, do we let her teach the advanced elective she’d be really badass at because it comes from her research (which a small handful of students would take), or assign her to teach an intro section for a subject she barely knows because we need to cover another faculty’s sabbatical (and lots of students are super-interested in the topic and need it for graduation)? No real right or wrong answer; depends on priorities, depends on the lens you use to view it… (this is not the greatest example but I’m rushing to explain while trying to figure out my next cup of coffee).

So the end result is really all four ontologies played and diffracted against each other, showing how each makes different things visible/invisible; it’s not that one is inherently “the truth” or “better” (all models are broken) but all of them (and more!) are present at the same time, and… hrnghh. It’s really hard to describe each ontology well and “prove” it’s there, and yet not spiral into the trap of writing FOUR SEPARATE DISSERTATIONS because ugh.

I keep pulling myself back from writing an entire dissertation for each sub-result in non-helpful ways; my prior attempts have all used a technique I jokingly refer to as “data vivisection” — taking a small excerpt and then picking it apart into the tiniest atoms possible. As in — I was diagramming sentences, obsessively tracing a pronoun’s referents throughout a paragraph — I kid you not. Tiny, tiny microscope.

And then, two weeks ago, Robin asked if that was actually the process I went through to arrive at my results, and my response was an immediate no. And then a headdesk. I see all the stories at once, but I’ve been living with them for two years — and I should be trying to convey that glorious big web to others, not…. 

Okay, back to it before my Ritalin wears out for the morning. And then postdoc things, because there’s a slidedeck draft I want to finish before 3pm. See you online.

(and rewriting, and rewriting… it hurts to look at the folder with all of my aborted drafts)

QualMIP Week 8: narrowing research question and unit of analysis

Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here.

Sparse notes again because of the busy time, but today each person:

  1. Gave an overview of the data collection/analysis they did over the past two weeks
  2. Had someone else in the group write an “abstract” consisting of 3-6 points they saw throughout our reported data. After a time of trying to diverge and divest ourselves of as many filters as possible, we are starting to converge and filter once again — but this time, much more consciously.
  3. Figured out what research paradigm they seemed to be working in (everyone is interpretivist for this project; I re-presented a version of the main paradigms for this discussion).
  4. Honed down on their unit of analysis and research question (by me giving examples and then everybody iterating on theirs with studio critique).

This is the last week before our Data Collection Cutoff. A constant part of our iterative focus is trying to make sure that our data and questions coevolve in such a way that the data can answer the questions. (I’m also thinking on how this dynamic scales up the next time I teach this as a course; I suspect more scaffolding and possibly even some readings will appear.)

We also looked at the classic paper “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” as an example of… well, I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what one could use it as an example of — quite a few things, as it turns out. (It wasn’t assigned reading; we read parts of it aloud in studio, so my “no readings” rule stands unbroken.)