What next? Looking for a new grand adventure!

Although I’ve blogged for many years, I created this space at the beginning of my PhD journey, over 3 years ago. As I re-read my first post to this blog, I am amazed at how quickly the time has passed, and I honestly can’t quite believe that I have successfully completed my PhD and am able to call myself Dr Kay.

Now, I am keen to take on a new adventure!

My desire to continue learning and growing beyond my studies is no surprise. I am driven by my passion for learning; however I am also driven by my desire to share this learning with others.

For the past week, I’ve been thinking about Inquiry Learning, as I have created the LCN616 Open Inquiry website for students who will be completing the unit with me next semester. It struck me that discovering my next challenge is very much like an inquiry. For those of you know familiar with the inquiry process, there are many models, but the one I am going to use is by Kath Murdoch, who recently published these beautiful Art of Inquiry cards, which have inspired my thinking.

Using her model to guide my inquiry leads me to begin ‘tuning in’ – immersing oneself in what is already known about the inquiry area – as Murdoch says “getting a cognitive lay of the land” and becoming more aware of our own thinking.

And so, I have asked myself the inquiry question:

“How might I build opportunities for a new challenge, post PhD, where I can share what I have learnt with others?”

Responding to this question requires some tuning in, and that is what this post is about. It is about reflecting on what I have learnt through the PhD process, and considering where my interests now lie.

Why would I do this on my blog?

This post feels like a necessary one, to connect my past three years with my future goals. I began the year with a post about creating and keeping a lifestream as an early career academic, and this is in some ways part of that lifestream. I share my reflection in light of the fact that those who have read these posts have followed my journey, and have been my critical friends along the way. I also share this post as I believe in the value of open learning, and in sharing our experiences with others. If we always kept our thinking to ourselves, we might never move forward together.

But enough of the philosophical! Onto the reflection!

What in fact have I learnt throughout my PhD journey?

Obviously, I learnt about Personal Learning Networks and online social learning.
As the focus of my thesis, (which you can read here if you are interested!) I learnt so much about how people connect online, how they construct their learning, the benefits and the challenges of this type of learning. I learnt about the theories that help explain social and connected learning, about networks and communities, about digital identities, learner identities and the potential for learning to blend across pedagogical, personal and professional arenas.

I learnt about the process of research 
It was not until my higher degree study that I could truly appreciate the research process and how the construction of new knowledge constitutes a type of research that is significantly different from that required for coursework assessments. Gathering data shared generously by research participants, analysing that lived experience, drawing parallels and identifying new insights – it is a fascinating, stimulating and very rewarding process. It is also tremendously hard work!

I learnt that I work very well by myself and I am self motivated
It takes a certain level of persistence and grit to get up every day and sit in front of the computer, struggling with difficult concepts and writing and re-writing sentences, and anyone who has completed this type of study realises that it can sometimes be a lonely journey. Although my life had its usual ups and downs (and sometimes more downs than ups) during the three years of my study, I am proud of the commitment I had to completing on time, and surprised myself by just how well I worked alone. After a 20 year career where I was constantly working with others, in the classroom, in the library, in the open plan office…being at home in my study each day was a radically different experience. I have realised that ideally, I like a balance; I appreciate the flexibility that working alone can afford, and I am not easily distracted from my work…but I also enjoy the challenge of being with others, and working as a team. I believe that I would not have learnt this about myself had I not undertaken this 3 year learning experience.

I learnt that I am happy to learn and work with others in a virtual space
My focus on personal learning networks for my thesis was instigated by my interest in how we form and maintain connections with others using social technologies. The opportunities and potential that we have for expanding our learning horizons by making connections with others from all over the world still never ceases to amaze me. While I studied, I lived my work by participating in several MOOCs and online learning opportunities that led to the creation of many new colleagues and friends. I have been involved with Open Networked Learning in a variety of capacities since 2016, and have worked closely with Alastair Creelman to develop and offer interactive webinars that have been truly global in their participation. I made connections with staff at Lulea University of Technology and have since presented in both face to face and online capacities to their academic staff. I felt that my experiences working with international colleagues prepared me to take on Connected Learning this semester, teaching the semester long Masters’ unit in a wholly online format, and also is informing my work developing a fully online Graduate Certificate course which will be in place in 2020 for QUT.

Image by Jukka Niittymaa from Pixabay

There were so many other things that I learnt about myself through my three years of study!

I learnt that I love writing and creating

I learnt that I am a ‘big ideas’ person who enjoys discussing the big picture

I learnt that I am able to take a complex idea and break it down into processes or parts

I learnt that I enjoy visualising my work and expressing it in different ways

I learnt that I can understand new concepts quickly and see their place in the greater scheme

I learnt that sometimes I let my nerves get the better of me; but that I can push through and face my fears.

I learnt that the best way to solve a problem is by having a go at solving it.

I learnt that there is still so much more to learn! 

What does this mean for me?

I have learnt that there is tremendous potential in the connectivity and capacity offered to us by social digital technologies. Therefore…

It is vital that we encourage and develop open and connected pedagogies, which support the development of critical digital literacies for all individuals.

It has become increasingly apparent to me, through my research and my teaching and learning experiences, that digital technologies are developing fast, and education is not keeping up. This is of great concern to me. While the digital divide in terms of physical access to technology and internet connectivity is a known issue in some areas, what I believe is often overlooked is a second, potentially more damaging divide created by the way we understand ourselves and our identity in relation to digital technologies and the spaces constructed by them.

There is great need for education which develops individual’s critical digital literacies at every level, and in every age group.

It is not enough to understand these technologies at a functional level. Being able to ‘use’ a mobile phone, open a Word document or edit a photograph using an app is not displaying digital literacy. Every day I see and hear individuals making statements or engaging in behaviours that concern me, or sometimes, downright frighten me. A general lack of awareness and knowledge about the repercussions of their words or actions leave them vulnerable to manipulation, surveillance, misuse of personal data and worse.

Therefore I would love my next adventure to be related to or involved with this type of education. Working with others to develop a better understanding of how we might design learning opportunities to develop the critical digital literacies of ourselves and others. I think that the way to do this is through open and connected pedagogies; those aligned with meeting people where they are at, connecting with their passions, actively and openly engaging individuals in learning experiences which are critical, authentic and meaningful. Educating those who lead learning – school teachers, university educators, vocational educators, trainers, learning development specialists and the like – so that they might continue to develop their own critical digital literacies and also feel empowered to encourage the development of digital literacies within their own learners.

It is clear to me that we learn a lot more through a PhD than just content about our thesis topic!

My next step is ‘sorting out’ – asking more questions, researching, making connections and having discussions. It’s a learning process that is ongoing, and I welcome any feedback or insights you have, as I continue to explore what is next for me in my learning journey…

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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