Dissertation Journal: Defended, Edited, Submitted, Accepted

It’s been about a year-and-a-half since my last post about my dissertation.  Two weeks ago, I defended my dissertation NON-RESPONSE BIAS ON WEB-BASED SURVEYS AS INFLUENCED BY THE DIGITAL DIVIDE AND PARTICIPATION GAP.  I’ve included the abstract below if you’re interested in its content but I’ll focus here on some of the process.

I originally intended to write a lot more in this blog about my dissertation-writing process but my posts eventually petered out as I got further and further behind schedule.  After a while, I refused to write about it not only because I had nothing new or interesting to say but more importantly because I was simply ashamed to even bring up the topic.  I don’t know why I stopped writing.  It took me about three years longer to finish this than it should have taken and I can’t help but wonder how different my life and career would be if I had finished in a timely manner.  I’m not sure why I avoided working on this for so long but I know that all of the obstacles were internal and emotional.  And I can’t tell you that I had any miraculous breakthroughs that let me finally finish except for that fact that I was almost out of time.

The defense itself turned out almost exactly as expected.  My committee requested only very, very minor edits that required the addition of only a few sentences.  I had set aside the two days immediately following my defense to make edits and the final submission but I only needed a few hours to make those edits and a second round of (minor typographical) edits requested by my graduate school.  They’ve accepted the document and forwarded it on to ProQuest for permanent archival so I think I’m just waiting for a few random bits of paperwork to work their way through the systems before everything is completely, totally, and finally done.

I’m not sure what my next steps will be.  I worry that the data are too old – Internet access and use data collected in 2010 – to be publishable.  Of course, I have many ideas about how to conduct further data analysis and push this particular set of ideas further but I don’t think that anyone can be surprised that I’m a little bit burnt out on these specific ideas right now.  I’ll be sure to write more here if I do any further work with this study.

I think that my colleagues, family, and friends are surprised that I’m not more celebratory about finishing my doctorate.  The dissertation itself  – conceptualization, collection of data, analysis, and writing – was pretty easy for me and it doesn’t feel much different from other studies I’ve completed.  But the emotional drain of living with this immense self-imposed and emotionally puzzling weight for so long was so soul-sucking that I’m  more relieved than happy or excited to finally be done.  I’ll try to learn to celebrate later but for now I’m enjoying just living without the shame and embarrassment I’ve hidden from everyone for several years.

Now that I’m done, I can begin to chip away at my large backlog of video games.  I’ve tackled the problem of non-response bias on a Web-based survey but now I’m going to save humanity from aliens.


Abstract

Higher education scholars, policy makers, and administrators know little about the experiences of undergraduate students who matriculate with minimal experience with technology. It is often assumed that all students, particularly traditionally-aged students, have significant experience with, knowledge of, and comfort with technology. Although that assumption is correct for many students, it is false for others. Despite the enormous increase in the use of Web-based assessment surveys and the increasing importance of accurate assessment and accountability data, those efforts may not be collecting adequate and accurate data about and from all students.

This study explores the non-response bias of first-year undergraduate students on a self-administered Web-based survey. First, data were collected with a supplemental survey added to the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE). K-means clustering was used with this newly constructed Internet Access and Use survey to classify students according to their Internet access and use experiences. Second, demographic data from BCSSE and the Internet access and use data were included in a logistic regression predicting response to the subsequent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

The Internet Access and Use instrument proved to be a viable way to classify students along lines of their previous Internet access and use experiences. However, that classification played no meaningful role predicting whether students had completed NSSE. Indeed, despite its statistical significance the final logistic regression model using provided little meaningful predictive power.

Generalizing the results of this study to all Web-based surveys of undergraduate college students with random or census sampling indicates that those surveys may not introduce significant non-response bias for students who have had less access to the Internet. This is particularly important since that population is already vulnerable in many ways as being disproportionately composed of first-generation students, underrepresented minority students, and students with lower socioeconomic statuses. This reassures assessment professionals and all higher education stakeholders that cost- and labor-efficient Web-based surveys are capable of collecting data that do not omit the voices of these students.

New Job: Hello Assessment, Goodbye Student Affairs

Three weeks ago, I started a new job: Senior Research Analyst in the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning at the University of Delaware.  I have not updated this blog, responded to blog comments, or even looked at Twitter and some e-mail messages for the past month-and-a-half as I’ve been busy and focused on moving halfway across the country and and starting a new job.  That should change as I settle into things and regain my focus.

My new job focuses on assessment of student learning, particularly general education goals.  Some of that will involve analyzing existing assessment data and helping faculty and administrators understand the results, including providing them with concrete recommendations.  Some of that will involve working with others to create or modify plans to assess student learning.  I already know that I will work some with our ePortfolio program as our FIPSE ePortfolio grantpays for some of my salary. Similarly, I am already working with our Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Science Education Program grant as that grant also funds a small part of my salary.  I am also very pleased to already be involved in consulting with faculty on research design and assisting my colleagues with teaching and learning workshops.

My new job, however, does not focus on or often interact with student affairs programs and staff. I have already applied the skills and knowledge I gained working with student affairs programs and earning a student affairs graduate degree so this is not a complete disconnect.  But I will not be working in the culture that has been most familiar to me throughout the first decade of my professional life and that is a little bit daunting and sad.  On the whole, however, I am ready to move on as I am very ready for some new challenges and I am very happy to work in assessment and faculty development.  I confess that a tiny bit of that is related to my experiences in my job search, especially the dearth of appropriate jobs in student affairs for someone with my deep and broad knowledge of technology.  I am also sad that I am leaving many of the professional communities that have been so important to me, particularly the less formal but more spontaneous ones like #satech and #sachat.  But on the whole I am very happy to have found a new home that will allow me to stretch my wings and apply many of my skills in analysis in a job whose fundamental function is to ask and answer very important questions.

As I move on, I will be working to tie up loose ends and bring some projects to closure.  In particular, I still plan to complete my research into student affairs professionals’ historical views and uses of technology; I am not sure what form that will take (journal article(s)? series of lengthy blog posts? interactive timeline?) but already know that I will not be presenting at #NASPAtech next month as originally planned.  Of course, I also have to complete my dissertation but that deserves a separate post entirely as that’s more complicated and not tied to student affairs.

I don’t think that this new job will dramatically or instantaneously change many of my broad interests or the topics of this blog aside from the obvious shift away student affairs, a shift that has been underway for quite some time now anyway.  The impact of and use of technology in higher education is still one of my primary interests and I hope that my new job will provide me with new insights and spark new questions.  For example, I am sure that my work with ePortfolios will inform my thinking.  Additionally, I still have connections with other researchers who actively work on interesting questions and plans to continue working with some of them.  And I’m already beginning to work with faculty here who share these interests, including one who is beginning to explore some possible predictors of student success in hybrid courses (compared to face-to-face courses), so the future is bright!

Little Things DO Matter

I’ve never liked the trite phrase “don’t sweat the little things.” I have no argument with the general idea that you should spend most of your time on the large, important things. But I reject the implication that the little things aren’t important and not worth spending time on. It offends my passion for detail and belief that details are important. More importantly and more defensible is the idea that “little” is relative; what is little to one person is large to another.

Let me offer an example.

One of the projects at my research shop, the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), focuses on law schools and law students in the U.S. and Canada. I don’t have any formal responsibility beyond general collegiality and professionalism to work with the project and its staff. However, I work on LSSSE projects when they need assistance and my schedule permits because (a) the work they do is important and interesting and (b) I love working with the LSSSE staff. A few months ago, the LSSSE folks needed some help preparing their latest Annual Results and I was very happy to help. They surprised me a few weeks ago by letting me know that in return for my assistance they gave me “top billing” in the Annual Results by including me in the LSSSE staff listing on page 1 of the report.

In many ways, this was literally a little thing. It costs the LSSSE staff virtually nothing to do this. It’s less than half a line of text that few people will ever read (even if you’re interested enough to read the LSSSE Annual Report I doubt that you’ll read through the staff listing, too!). And it only took them a few second to include my name in the document.

But to me, it’s not so little. How wonderful that the LSSSE staff thought enough of me to claim me as one of their own! What a kind and unexpected gesture of thanks!

That is why I think it’s important to spend a little bit of time “sweat[ing] the small stuff:” You never really know what is small. So spend some time working on the little things because they may unexpectedly grow into big things.

Personal Update: It’s Already August???

I’ve been quite disconnected for the last couple of months. I think that I am almost reconnected and settled into my new apartment so I will soon be back to myself with some updates for this blog. Quick thoughts are listed below in no particular order; please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of them.

  • My time at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme was amazing. This was the third young scholar/advanced doctoral student program I have attended and it was by far the best one. The program was fantastic, the location amazing, and the faculty and participants are as kind as they are intelligent.
  • It took nearly a week for my cable company to get my Internet connection working in my new apartment. I’ve never been more isolated or more productive. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Perhaps as a result of my concentrated time in Oxford focusing on Internet studies and my time in a research center, I am feeling more and more disconnected from the student affairs profession. I continue to wonder about the priorities of the profession and the academy-at-large, especially as we continue to adjust to a new reality of limited funds and increased public scrutiny. Although I agree that most of the services provided by student affairs units are good and useful I don’t know if adults should be forced to fund those services. At a more basic level, I don’t know if all of these services should be performed by colleges and universities even if they do contribute to enrollment, retention, and overall well-being.
  • I am immensely saddened and angered by the continuing slap fight between ACPA and NASPA. It’s unprofessional, wasteful, and embarrassing. I have already decided to let my NASPA membership expire and I am edging toward allowing my ACPA membership expire, too.
  • I don’t think we’re quite ready to make a public announcement but I’m extremely excited about a partnership between my current employer and another of my favorite organizations. I’m smack in the middle of it all and so happy to be there!
  • I said “no” today and I’m very proud of myself because it’s not something I do as often as I should. I really wanted to work on the project, too, so I’m a tiny bit sad about the timing. But my time is limited and I must develop and maintain focus.

Confessions of an Uninvolved Student

This is a further development of thoughts that occurred to me as I read and responded to John Gardner’s latest post.

I have worked in student affairs and I have a Master’s degree in that field. I am a PhD Candidate in one of the world’s best higher education programs. I work at the National Survey of Student Engagement. These experiences and education have firmly drilled into me the benefits of being engaged and active in campus groups, events, and activities. I see and hear from my colleagues and my students the incredible impact of these activities, especially the acquisition of lifelong friends.

Here’s my secret confession: I was involved in virtually nothing as an undergraduate and a Master’s student. I can only name two fellow students from my undergraduate alma mater; I’ve scarcely exchanged Facebook messages with them and haven’t spoken to them since I graduated from the University of Tennessee (with a 2.48 GPA; “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me!“). The story isn’t much different for my Master’s classmates; with one exception, I only keep in touch with them through coincidental attendance at professional conferences.

My lack of campus involvement was my choice, for good or ill. It’s part of who I am and I can’t envision my life any differently. And I don’t think anyone could have convinced me to act differently or be different.

I make these confessions because I know there are many other students who are making the same decisions and I don’t think those students and their decisions are understood by or respected by many of my colleagues, especially those in student affairs. I get the impression that sometimes those students are viewed with pity and even scorn because they choose not engage in our favored activities in our chosen environment. And that saddens me, especially because we preach the benefits of diversity and choice. Many of us believe those students need to be “saved” but that seems very disrespectful of those students and their choices.

How I (Don’t) Use Social Media

This is an uncomfortable post to write. I’ve never wanted to use this blog to discuss personal issues and it feels very vain and self-important to describe some of my own personal habits and practices. But every time I’ve mentioned the things below people are intrigued and interested. Some people are even relieved to find someone else with some of the same practices. So here goes…

My personality strongly shapes my use of social media. I am introvert and an intensely private person. I am also learning in very profound ways what kinds of relationships I want in my life and I am working very hard to find and nurture them.

Specific ways in which my personality and interests shape my social media practices:

  • Facebook: I don’t use Facebook. Like most people my age (33), I was an avid Facebook user for several years. But I don’t use use it anymore unless I specifically receive an e-mail message or a personal request of some sort. I don’t dislike Facebook or people who use it. I simply reached the conclusion that it was not meeting my needs. I realized several months ago that I didn’t like reading about my friends’ and colleagues’ lives because it was unfulfilling. I don’t want to read about their lives – I want to be part of them. For me, it feels cheap and even a bit hollow to read about and see pictures from someone’s life when I want to be part of that life. Maybe it’s selfish but it’s important to me that we reinforce our relationships in substantial ways. I want to hear about your weekend over coffee, not Facebook. (And I never got anything out of Facebook as a scholar, student, or professional; maybe I just never looked in the right places for substantive information or support.)
  • Twitter: I don’t follow anyone. I typically use Tweetdeck and I have it set up to search for several hashtags and subjects of interest to me. It’s how I try to avoid the banality of Twitter: I don’t care what you had for breakfast but I do care if you have something to say about a passion we share.
  • LinkedIn: I don’t have a LinkedIn account. The idea of pure networking – meeting and “connecting” with people just to use them – is morally offensive to me. People are not means to ends and I refuse to use them in that manner. Yes, I’m sure that I’ve got a very skewed and probably incorrect perception of LinkedIn and how it’s used (e.g. I know some people love the discussion forums and get quite a bit of professional knowledge and support there). But I’m okay with that and with those who use LinkedIn; I just don’t think it’s for me.
  • FourSquare: I don’t have a smartphone so naturally I don’t use FourSquare or other similar tools. Even if I had a smartphone I don’t think I’d be comfortable broadcasting my physical location (although it would simply alternate between “work” and “home” most of the time). I don’t agree that “privacy is dead” but I think that we’re (often unwittingly) doing our damndest to kill it.

I’m not a Luddite or an antisocial recluse. I just have a very good idea what I want out of life and my relationships with others and I don’t care to use tools that don’t contribute to my life in the ways that I believe are positive. I know there is a price to be paid for a refusal to use these tools or an unusual usage of them. I’m okay with that.

Maybe you think I’m wrong or misguided. I’d love to hear from you! And I’d love it even more if we could spend time together substantively addressing and appreciating one another. So let’s not discuss this on my Facebook wall. Let’s discuss this over coffee, drinks, or dinner.

Yes, I know that’s unrealistic and we’re destined to have most of our conversations in blog comments, Twitter messages, e-mail, and – if we’re lucky – Skype. But a guy can dream, right?

Moving to Indiana

I will be very slow to respond to comments and communications over the course of the next few weeks.  Today is my last day at Sewanee: The University of the South.  This weekend I will be moving to Bloomington, Indiana.  I will begin work as a Project Associate at the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) in about a week.  I will also begin full-time study in Indiana University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs PhD program in the fall.  I do not expect either of these new roles to significantly change the content of this blog or my own interests; to the contrary, I expect they will enhance, broaden, and deepen my knowledge in the areas in which I have focused and write about here.