My Dissertation: The Lonely Toddler Years

My dissertation turned 2 years old on February 1, 2015. Like most dissertations, mine has been mostly useful to me and me alone. I have secured two pretty great jobs since successfully completing my Ph.D. and I attribute some of this success to having completed a dissertation. I doubt anyone at either of my places of employment over these past two years has actually read my dissertation (nor do I expect them to), but the sheer fact that I completed the thing likely counted for something in the hiring calculus.

As I continue to learn more and more about the world of OER, I have reflected a bit on the work that occupied every waking hour of my life for several months not too long ago. I haven’t published my work in a journal, but I have a goal to do so by the end of 2015 (open-access, of course). The case I might make in such a publication would probably relate to the potential usefulness of my work to faculty using OER, especially to faculty using open textbooks.

The research I conducted involved a mixed-methods approach where I first gathered a large amount of qualitative (interview/survey) data from college students who were using open, digital textbooks as part of a large OER initiative. I asked these students what they thought made for good (“high quality”) digital textbooks. I analyzed this data and looked for emergent themes, searching for the main aspects of digital textbooks that mattered to students. I then used this qualitative data to construct a quantitative measurement model (this it where it gets wonky, but stay with me). In essence, I mapped out the themes in a nifty little diagram that looked like this:

Factor Model

The themes (called factors in this model) are the ovals. This diagram allowed me to construct questions (the rectangles in the model) that would map to each of the factors. Essentially, with the factors in place, I was able to construct specific questions about each theme that would allow me to test the viability and relationships of the factors in another population of students. For example, for the first theme that emerged from the qualitative data – Navigation – I wrote several questions, including this one:

  1. How useful to your learning is the search function in your digital textbook?
    1. There is no search function
    2. Not at all useful
    3. Slightly useful
    4. Moderately useful
    5. Very useful

I wrote several questions for each factor and compiled these questions into a questionnaire, which I then administered to a several hundred students who were using a digital textbook in one or more of their courses. The student responses provided data that allowed me to refine and improve the questions (or remove some altogether) and also test the accuracy and reliability of the model.

The end game in all of this was to provide empirical evidence about what students think are the important things authors should consider when constructing a digital textbook. In the context of OER, this model and the final questionnaire that derives from it provide an empirical tool that faculty can use to continually revise and adapt their open textbooks – in real time. The value of my dissertation to others then, if there be any, is in the context of Open Pedagogy (or Open Educational Practice…pick your poison for now). As Wiley defines it, Open Pedagogy includes teaching and learning activities that are only possible in the context of the 5R Permissions of OER: revise, retain, remix, redistribute, reuse. When these permissions are in force for a digital textbook, the model and questionnaire I have developed could be useful in informing faculty in their revision decisions and, presumably, support changes that improve the content in terms of student outcomes.

I would love to see my model and questionnaire used in practice, so I’m making it available for anyone to administer at any time, either by porting the Word version  into an online survey tool of choice or by administering via the Qualtrics link tied to my personal account (this option requires me to pull the data and send it out upon request, which I am happy to do, but be sure to include a unique identifier for your course so that I can find your students’ responses).

I would also love to see my model and questionnaire improved and iterated upon. I don’t do research myself anymore (that was so 2010-2012 for me), but I am posting here and on my dissertation page the quantitative data I used in my modeling work, with a CC-0 license. It’s an experiment in openness for me, and something that, on a personal level, is long overdue.

Happy birthday.

2 thoughts on “My Dissertation: The Lonely Toddler Years

  1. Thanks TJ – great idea and great dissertation. One small quibble: You said, ” I haven’t published my work in a peer-reviewed journal, but I have a goal to do so (or at least submit to an open access journal) by the end of 2015.”

    The way you phrased it made it seem that “peer-reviewed” and “open access” were different. As you know many open access journals are peer reviewed! I’ve appreciate your published articles in OA peer-reviewed journals such as First Monday and JIME.

  2. Great points, John. I did indeed phrase that sentence awkwardly and did not mean to imply that peer-reviewed and open-access are necessarily different. I will actually edit that sentence directly, so that other reader(s) are not confused.

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