Grad School Day by Day: The Diary Approach

In case you’ve missed it, I recently started my Master in Education: Educational Technology degree at the University of Victoria. The cohort-based program kicks off by throwing us in the deep end; we’re completing two courses between July 3 and July 25.

  • EDCI 515: E-Research: Harnessing and Understanding Technology in Research
  • EDCI 568: Discourse on Social Media for Connected and Personalized Learning

With four hours of class time every day, plus readings and assignments, plus this job I still get paid for, and, maybe, a life, it’s going to be a busy month! Stick around to see what grad school is like, day-by-day.

Day 1: The Introduction

It’s the end of my first day of grad school, and I think I might be even more excited about this program than I was yesterday.

Today was very much an introduction day. In our four hours of class time, we got to know each other, went over the course schedule, assignments and various tech tools that we’re going to be asked to use, and had a little online visit from some former students (who refer to themselves as #tiegrad 1.0).

The class seems to have people with a variety of experiences in education, and I liked hearing everyone’s introductions. Some people are teaching classes that I didn’t even know existed (new media? robotics?), while others are teaching at different forms of alternative education schools. What surprised me a little bit is that everyone is teaching- I’m the only one who isn’t a classroom teacher. So that should be interesting!

In a program about educational technology, it should come as no surprise that we’re using a fair amount of tech. In fact, the program involves two of my favourite things: Twitter and blogging. We’re encouraged to set up and use a Twitter account (check!) and we even have a course hashtag (#tiegrad). We’re also all required to have our own blog- in fact, 50% of our final grade is based on blog posts. Seeing as I was very likely to tweet about the program and learning anyway, and I had a goal of blogging about things we’re learning and exploring already, this is all right up my alley!

One thing that really stood out to me today is that even though we’re encouraged to use a variety of tech tools (Twitter, WordPress, Feedly, etc.), none of it is required. I love that we’re given the option, very clearly, of being public or private about our work in this program. I’ve always found it interesting (and somewhat questionable) that courses, especially those that talk and teach about digital identity, the digital footprint, etc., also required students to post assignments and reflections on the internet- material that inevitably contributed to their digital footprint, but they had no choice about posting. It always seemed backwards to me, so I’m glad that this course (and presumably, entire program), is forward thinking (and FIPPA thinking!) in that regard!

The other thing that has already stood out to me, both yesterday and today- I’m already remembering how much time reading takes, and how easily I go down the rabbit hole. I’m not always a good surface learner, and I have a tendency to want to research and find answers to every single question I come up with when reading an article. And I simply don’t have the time for that!

Day 2: Inertia

We’re only on day 2, and I’ve already encountered a problem: inertia.

When I have a lot of things to do, I sometimes find myself not really doing much at all. It’s not procrastination; it’s just the inability to choose one specific thing to work on, and block out all other competing tasks from my brain. Instead, I jump from task to task to task, not really making much progress on anything.

That’s how I felt today. With a to-do list that included work tasks such as drafting emails for students, editing web content, and proofing/approving student work, plus school tasks that included setting up a blog, and starting to write blog posts, plus a few other things that needed to get done, I ended up feeling a little paralyzed.

When I have a long to-do list, paralysis isn’t really a good option. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a pretty long to-do list for the next three weeks! I need to find a way to get back to my #oneword, INTENTION. And I need to find that way fast.

Day 3: A Learning Journey

I spent a large part of today creating a ‘new’ website/blog (and you’re on it right now!). I now have my own domain name and a web hosting service, I’ve learned to export and import an entire site (I had to transfer all my old blog posts over somehow!), and I have some understanding of what a directory and an SSL certificate are. Obviously, I also spent some time scrolling through themes, because you have to make sure you have the perfect one (right?).

Our blogs were supposed to be all setup and ready to go at some point today. Just before noon, I was sitting with my professor trying to figure out how to turn a domain name and web hosting space into an actual website. At that point, it was looking a little questionable whether I would actually finish by the end of the day. And she told me (I’m paraphrasing) that it didn’t really matter. Many of the dates were more just guidelines, because a course needs to have some to keep moving forward, but it was more about the learning journey and I was obviously learning new things.

I’m going to love grad school.

Weekend #1: Was It a Weekend?

Does it really count as a weekend if the days go by the exact same as the weekends? Read, write, think, read, write, think, eat, repeat. Maybe throw in a bit of research. That’s a quick summary of my weekend.

There are two things I’m committed to throughout this 3-week intensive course period. First, sleeping in on the weekends. History has taught me, beyond a doubt, that if I don’t get at least one day of sleeping until my body wakes up every week, I’m exhausted the subsequent week. That weekend sleep is sacred- except when it’s the women’s world cup final, I guess. Second, I’m not missing a single soccer game. I think that’s the one consistent thing that’s going to keep me sane. With the travel time, playing time, and shower time afterwards, it’s a time commitment, but for me, it’s so, so worth it. Plus, I scored a goal today. 🤷

Day 4: Feeling Behind

One of the major problems with a three-week course (I’ve decided) is that once you’ve fallen behind, there’s not really a whole lot of chance to catch up.

At least that’s how it feels right now, when I’m at that point of feeling behind.

One of the other major problems with a three-week course is that I’m pretty sure it’s designed so that you dedicate all your attention to it (or in our case, and potentially even worse, the program has been designed so we dedicate all our time to two courses). That sounds delightful…but since I have a full-time job, and as someone who is responsible for pre-arrival programming, this is a pretty important time, my attention, and my time, is necessarily somewhat divided. Prioritizing two entirely different things is HARD. What’s more important- working on Wednesday’s presentation, or finalizing the draft of the email going to all incoming students next week, that is due to a coworker today? What can wait, and what can’t? I’m admittedly not great at prioritizing on a good day, and this is decidedly not a good day.

On that note, I feel as though this is a good time to mention that while I am still working, I’m not working full-time right now (oh my god, I can’t even imagine). The agreement I had with my boss was that I would work about two hours a day, and even that time was flexible depending on what my school workload was like. That sounded great when we discussed it… but then, things have deadlines. The email for incoming students has to go out on a certain day (consistency, yo!). The Instagram Story was scheduled for today, so it had to be edited to go live. The Associate Dean is waiting for my email, and can you really keep an Associate Dean waiting? End result? Since the program started four work days ago, I’ve worked about 14 hours, instead of about 8.

I’m feeling on top of the work stuff, but oh boy, that pile of papers to be read.

Fun tidbit: My go-to process for reading research papers has always been to basically skip the methods section. I just want to know what they found! It has generally made reading papers a little easier, because a) method sections can be complicated and confusing and b) it makes the paper shorter.

Surprise surprise, you can’t do this when you’re reading for a research methods course…

Day 6: Trust Yourself

Day 6. You read that right- I skipped day 5. Because sometimes, you just have to prioritize.

This morning, I had my first presentation of my masters degree. It was only to two other people and a little informal, but the preparation required was still the same as if it had been to the whole class. Not surprisingly, I prioritized getting that presentation done (and the associated blog post) instead of writing here. I’m quite confident it was the right choice.

Completing this assignment has been an interesting adventure. After attending only three classes on research methods, I had to examine a quantitative study and determine how the 4 R’s of research (the research, the researcher, the researched and the reader) would be impacted if the study had been completed using a mixed methods approach instead. My immediate (and somewhat lasting…) feeling was “I have no idea how to do this”.

One of the things I’m learning in this program, only a week in, is to trust myself. Once I read the article, marked it up with additional questions that I had (as I always do), and made sure I understood mixed methods research, the examination actually came pretty easily.

While I started the assignment by thinking I had absolutely nothing to say, I ended up with a 2000 word blog post that I had to slash 500 words from in order to meet the word limit.

Trust. Just trust yourself. That’s my new mantra.

Day 7: All Systems Go

The beginning of this program has been a bit of a whirlwind. Knowing that this entire 3 week period was going to be busy, I tried my best to prepare ahead of time. But without really knowing what the program and courses were going to be like, preparation was limited.

And so, whirlwind. I spent the weekend finalizing blog posts and prepping course readings. On Monday, I had a whole bunch of work-work that had to get done. Tuesday was entirely dedicated to creating my presentation (which I was giving on Wednesday) for EDCI 515. On Wednesday, I had to write the accompanying blog post for EDCI 515. I also had a 3-hour nap. On Thursday, I was finally able to take a step back and breathe.

I spent time post-class on Thursday setting up systems, with the hope that they will make everything easier going forward. I’ve added all of my classmates blogs to Feedly. I’ve bookmarked all the sites I’m using most commonly and added them to the top of my web browser. I set up a filing system in Zotero. I cleaned up the back-end of my blog (I briefly thought it would be a good idea to write drafts within WordPress. I was wrong). I set up a filing system on my hard drive (how I didn’t have that already, I’m not quite sure). I set up OneNote to be able to work efficiently for me.

I like being organized. I liked being efficient. I like systems. And while I’m sure they will continually evolve, I feel so much better knowing something is in place.

Day 8: Rabbit Holes

UVic may no longer have a campus covered in bunnies, but since becoming a student here, I’ve still managed to find an awful lot of rabbit holes.

I think I’ve discovered the hardest part of graduate school, at least for me. Everything is interesting (I even liked reading a paper on assessing mixed methods research…), and every interesting thing cites more interesting things. Connected ideas show up on Twitter, in conversations, in constellations in the sky… everywhere it seems! And then I just want to dive in and learn more. And more and more and more.

The fact that we’re being asked, as a cohort, to blog about our thoughts, reflections, learnings and connections isn’t helping either. There are over 100 #TIEgrad blog posts in my Feedly queue, which raise more ideas, more things to think about, and more articles to open up a new tab for and explore.

I’m pretty sure my computer hates me because of all of the tabs I have open right now.

There are so many rabbit holes to explore, and so little time. I’m struggling a little bit to focus my attention- to choose which rabbit holes are the most important, to only focus on one rabbit hole at a time, to know when it’s rabbit hole time, and when it’s assignment/reading/sleep time (I mean, I know… I just don’t always do).

These rabbit holes, alongside the mentions of self-regulation and self-regulated learning in our courses, have really hammered home the importance of setting goals for learning sessions. That’s something that, without a deadline looming, I’ve never been particularly good at. For the next week of the program, with the exception of our blog posts, I have no deadlines- which makes it a great time to test out this learning session goals concept!

Weekend #2: Writing takes time

I don’t know why I never seem to learn this lesson, but writing takes time. Like, a lot of time.

I have a long list of blog posts I want to write, exploring different topics and thoughts I’ve encountered in my classes in the last week. Friday-me was excited for the weekend, excited to finally have the time to dive in and explore and write.

I did spend a large portion of the weekend writing. At least, it feels like it. But now that it’s the end of the weekend, I’ve only moved two of those blog posts from the list of ideas into the real world. Two.

I don’t know why I always seem to think I can just sit down and words will quickly pour out onto the page and wrap themselves up with a bow. It never works that way. Ever. It’s always hard to get the words to say what I want, and I always end up having far more words to say than I had anticipated.

At the end of the weekend, I’ve probably written about 3000 words, but again, only fleshed out two different ideas. This is a familiar situation to me, yet somehow I suspect I’m still not going to learn the lesson.

Day 9: Finally

I may have mentioned this before, but of the 25 people in my cohort, I am the online one who is not a classroom teacher. Educator? Yes. Classroom teacher? Ha, no.

This isn’t really a problem, per se, but it does mean that sometimes course content and conversations don’t relate directly to the work that I do. I need to do a little extra thinking to figure out how to make the content fit. For example, today we were talking about Trevor MacKenzie’s “10 characteristics of an inquiry classroom”, and my brain is still trying to work through how to make those characteristics work when your “classroom” is online, and not quite a traditional online classroom, either.

One of our readings for tomorrow’s class was about Indigenizing online education, and it was everything I’ve been waiting for.

Day 10: Settler Education

In many ways, one day of grad school is just like the next, is just like the one before it. You read, you write, you go to class, you read, you eat, you read, and in this program, you check the class hashtag.

In many ways, today was just another day. Reading, class, work, writing, soccer, writing, reading, eventual sleep.

But I also find it hard to label today as “just another day”, because we spent almost two hours this morning talking about Indigenous education, about settler education. And while I wish I could call those topics of conversation “just another day”, we’re not there yet.

No real thoughts on grad school today. So many thoughts on settler education that I’m sure will come up in a separate post.

Day 11: This is Amazing

Grad school means I finally get to have the conversations I’ve been having with myself in my head for YEARS with other people for the first time. This is amazing. I could do this forever.

Day 13: Does This Thing Turn Off?

Seriously. I don’t know how to shut my brain off. It’s always thinking about what we talked about in class, the article I just read, the conversations I’ve been reading and participating in on Twitter, and trying to make connections between them all. It’s never ending.

Even when I’m trying to sleep.

I love the thinking. I love the connecting. But anyone who knows me also knows that I love my sleep. And lying awake at night unable to sleep because I can’t turn off my brain has not exactly been fun.

I’m tired. And if you don’t believe me, well, I just woke up from a six hour nap on a Friday night, so…

Weekend #3: Escape

I have never been good at saying “I’ll work for a couple hours, then take a break.” Or, when I know I have work to do, permitting myself to take time off. It’s always been a bit of a problem, because it can mean that I never really get a break, but I also waste a lot of time only being semi-productive.

That pretty much sums up my weekend entirely.

I somehow managed to read an entire book, but have I made any progress on assignments and readings for the week? Nope.

Day 14: Regret

As per usual, I have left an assignment until the last possible moment, and am now up wayyy too late trying to get it down. As per usual, I am incapable of half-assing anything, so there’s no quick way to the finish line.

The book I read this weekend wasn’t even that good.

Day 15: Presentation

One of the things I have noticed over the last few weeks is that the more you pay attention and think about a research article, the more you get out of it. Writing that down feels like a somewhat obvious statement, but it just isn’t ever obvious.

My approach to research articles has typically been to read the abstract, and if that’s interesting, the first bit of the introduction/literature review, and the first part of the discussion. Generally, from those pieces, I form all my impressions and decide if an article is useful or not.

Every time I have done that so far in this program, and then subsequently dove in further (probably to complete an assignment), I have gotten so much more out of the article. When reading about activity choice within an LMS for my mixed methods assignment, my initial reaction was that I wasn’t going to be able to come up with things to say for the assignment; but the more I read and thought, the more things I had to say. When I sat down to write about Twitter and professor credibility, I only had a few things to say. But the more I thought about the article, the more things I was able to pull out (and criticize). The same applied to the article I used in my presentation today. I initially didn’t think it was going to be all that insightful in terms of my research question, but I ended up pulling out a really valuable lesson that I’ll very likely move forward with.

I feel like this leaves me with a bit of a condundrum; I don’t have time to read every article that deeply! But I guess it’s good to know that there are always insights to be had if I really want to dive in and find them.

Day 17: Best Friends

It’s been 23 days since I walked into the classroom for our first class. The room was filled with 13 other people I had never met before. An additional 12 people I had never met were joining us online. It’s amazing what kinds of relationships can be built in just three weeks.

Three weeks later, it seems like we know each other quite well (especially those of us who were there in person; sorry, online folks. We’ll get there!). We’ve shared stories of past experiences, debated ideas, learned about each others’ work habits, and explored our areas of interest together. We’ve laughed at Dale’s costumes (yup, there were costumes), said the word ‘phenomenology’ way too many times, bonded over late-night procrastination (although that may have just been me and Emily…) and navigated a whole lot of new tech tools together.

All of our courses over the fall and winter are held entirely online. It’s going to feel a little weird not going to class on Monday (I have to go to work??). But it’s going to feel even weirder not seeing these folks in person for the next eleven months.

Featured image by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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