Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Value and Contribution of Sessional Instructors - Diverse Expertise and Relevant Professional Experience

Great 2014 article by Usher on sessionals on the Higher Education Strategy Associates' Blog:

In the blog, Usher outlines reasons why sessional instructors are a growing proportion of academic staff in higher education: universities are paid to teach, and spend a great deal of time also doing research. The part that most interested me, however, was that in which Usher described two broad categories of sessional instructors: those who have full-time employment elsewhere and recent PhD graduates. This quote about the first category of sessionals resonates with my experience in our School of Education, especially the part where we are much better for their presence: 'First are the mid/late-career professionals who already make good money from full-time employment elsewhere, and who help provide relevant, up-to-date content based on practical experience in programs like Law and Nursing. For them, sessional teaching is a way to pick up an extra cheque, and maybe have some fun doing it. Outside Arts & Science, this is the dominant model of sessionals, and universities are much the better for their presence".  The second category of sessionals include recent PhD graduates looking to get a tenure track position in academia.

The blog resonated with me because I am privileged to work alongside a cohort of sessional instructors in Graduate Programs in Education, and I make these observations about my highly valued colleagues:

· The majority of GPE Sessional instructors hold full time employment elsewhere, and teach one or two courses per year with Werklund School of Education.

· Contrary to the national public discourse on sessional colleagues as under appreciated, underpaid individuals who “want to be on the tenure track”, the sessional instructors who teach in GPE are not seeking a tenure track position and they report high levels of satisfaction in their teaching roles, experience success in their teaching, and feel valued for what they contribute to graduate students' learning and development

· Each of our sessional instructors bring deep expertise in their discipline, broad experience in their profession, and current knowledge and highly relevant insights from their employment elsewhere, all of which greatly enriches and expands our graduate program offerings

· Sessional instructing also offers diverse and expanded opportunities for our doctoral students to develop teaching experience in higher education, as well as contribute their unique expertise and diverse strengths to the graduate program.

I encourage you to read Usher's blog - it offers a different perspective on the debate about sessional instructors.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My response to: Are there too many PhDs? Turns out, maybe not: A look at where PhDs end up after leaving the Ivory Tower

Here is my response to the National Post article by:  Catherine McIntyre:

Along with Danny and Stephanie, PhD candidate, I was a panelist at the CSSE session June 1 during which we discussed the changing contexts for graduates from doctoral programs. As the Associate Dean, Graduate Programs in Education, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, I can offer the academic perspective that is largely missing from this article. I contend that Schools of Education have already re-imagined doctoral education to reflect the needs and reality of our changing global contexts by preparing diverse doctoral students, who bring diverse career goals and expectations, for diverse career outcomes. For example, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, offers three different doctoral degrees. First, we offer a professional Education Doctorate (EdD) in Educational Research that prepares scholars of the profession who lead and study change in diverse learning contexts, from schools, to health and corporate settings, and in diverse disciplines in higher education. Werklund School of Education also offers the Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Educational Research, which is a research degree that prepares scholars of the discipline who aim to research and teach in higher education. Third, we offer the Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Educational Psychology that is a professional research degree that includes a one-year internship; graduates from this program aim to teach and research in higher education or to lead and study change and innovation in professional psychology settings. In Education, at least, I argue that we need to rethink the call to rethink the PHD because we have already done so with the creation of the Professional EDD and the Professional PhD with Internship. Education already provides high quality research and professional doctoral programs that meet respond to global trends and the demands of disciplines and professions in transition by being Accessible, Agile, Flexible, Responsive and Collaborative. Graduates who hold an EDD or a PHD enjoy the highest employment rates amongst all undergraduate and graduate degree holders in Canada. While I fully agree that universities must prepare students for life within AND beyond the ivory tower, and for careers beyond the professoriate, I disagree that the current employment rate of PhDs as professors is a cause for alarm – graduates from doctoral programs contribute their deep expertise, their critical and analytical thinking, and teaching and research experience across higher education, public education and many other sectors. While many doctoral students do plan for a life in the academy, a substantially higher number of students who pursue PhDs and EDDs are not planning on a life of higher education teaching and research. Like Education, faculties across disciplines should probably consider how they might provide different pathways to the doctorate. Academic faculty who are already experts at promoting a culture of research and teaching do a great job of preparing doctoral students for the academy; across Canada, Universities need to invest in expanding faculty capacity to promote and support a culture of research informed professional practice and leadership of innovation and change across sectors. 
Dr. Michele Jacobsen,,

Friday, July 4, 2014

Best offers a superficial analysis at best in: Are Universities Gouging Online Students?

Thanks to my colleague, John, for pointing me to Best's (2014) essay.  The "comments" sure counterbalance the essay's argument ....

Best, R. (2014). Are Universities Gouging Online Students? Inside Higher Education. Available online:

The comments from professors who teach online and students who benefit from the accessibility and diversity of online programs are right on point.  I have taught online for 16 years and believe that I have achieved some of my best teaching online - I also love teaching on campus, and believe I offer an engaging and interesting experience for students no matter what the delivery method.  What I have learned over the past 16 years is that to design, develop and teach an online course tends to take me at least double the amount of time that it takes me to design, develop and teach an on-campus course. Part of the extra time is spent on the design and development of the online learning environment itself, and then supporting the immersive, interactive and engaging knowledge building activities that I have sponsored in online discussions and case groups. Part of the extra time is meeting 1-2-1 and 1-2-many with my online students to discuss assignment expectations, review assessment criteria and provide feedback and support when work is returned. On campus, I can often meet with groups for this kind of interaction. Part of the extra time online is the preparation for an active and engaging synchronous session, carrying out the session and then the follow up required after each session. On campus, I can follow up with students who have questions right after class in the hallway.

As the Associate Dean, Graduate Programs in Education, I have deep knowledge of the organizational and governance structures, the program design, development and delivery structures, the program office staffing and resources needed, and the academic expertise and experience required to offer blended and online programs. With a little reflection, I was able to assemble this partial list of the additional investments that Werklund School of Education and Graduate Programs in Education make in order to design, develop and offer high quality, robust and accessible blended and online professional graduate programs and provide excellent support and service to our global community of graduate students:
  • Double the number of Graduate Program Assistants
  • A Distance Delivery Coordinator
  • A Team Lead
  • A Practicum and Internship Coordinator
  • An additional Graduate Program Director (academic)
  • A Director, Professional Programs (academic)
  • Academic Coordinators for every cohort in every program (academics)
  • Ongoing, professional learning and development opportunities for staff and instructors (academics and graduate students)
  • Release time for new program / course development (academics)
  • Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, who provides leadership and support with high quality teaching in the Werklund School of Education
  • Two Distance Technology support staff in the School, and the army of staff in the Taylor Family Institute for Teaching and Learning Center  who provide technical and pedagogical support for students, staff and academics
  • Over 80 full time, tenure track academic staff and 60+ contingent term academic staff who hold the expertise and experience to teach courses online using engaging and appropriate signature pedagogies
  • Graduate Assistant Teachers, who are doctoral students who are mentored and supported in their own development as post-secondary educators, who provide support for online courses
I will keep adding to this list -- it is a complex, multifaceted enterprise when higher education offers blended and online programs. Ongoing orientations, research events, blended symposia, online resources and tutorials and integration with contemporary learning technologies is part of the human and technological infrastructure that underpins good quality blended and online learning experiences.  There is a large list of additional investments that need to be made in order for Graduate Programs in Education, Werklund School of Education to be able to consistently offer high quality, research informed and research active learning experiences in our professional programs -- we are very proud of the quality of students in our programs, we are proud of the quality of courses and programs we offer, and we are focused on continual improvement and expansion of services. 

I appreciate the essay written by Mr. Best even though I feel it is, at best, a superficial analysis of the issues and needs associated with offering blended and online programs in higher education.  I am sure Best's (2014) essay will provoke a range of comments and reactions over the next few weeks, which is likely the most important point - to get a thoughtful conversation started.  I appreciate the opportunity and motivation that Mr. Best's essay provided for me to reflect upon the human and technological infrastructure and essential conditions required to offer high quality blended and online graduate programs. 

UPDATE: A great contribution to the conversation:  Online Pricing, by Matt Reed, July 6th:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Great Quotes about Research

As a researcher, I have always understood research to be a form of disciplined inquiry -- when I conduct research, I usually start by surveying what is known - by talking to colleagues, by attending conferences, by reading journal articles, books and resources about the topic or problem of interest. Based on the review of literature and consultation with other researchers to survey what is known, I can identify what questions that other researchers are asking, what themes are emerging in the literature, what findings have been achieved, what new problems are arising, and where the gaps are in current knowledge.  Based on the review of what is known, I can design a research protocol to explore what is not known.

Thanks to Jenn McKay, EDD Candidate, for sending along these great quotes about research:

“Research is creating new knowledge.”  ~ Neil Armstrong

“If we knew what it is we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”  ~ Albert Einstein

“Research is formalized curiosity.   It is poking and prying with a purpose.”   ~ Zora Neale Hurston

“You'd be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever.”  ~ Ernest Cline

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nov 28: Surviving and Thriving in Graduate School - PhD

What a great day!!  Today I hosted the first of four conversations in the Surviving and Thriving in Graduate School series.  A big thank you to Gwyneth Meyers, Educational Technology / Learning Sciences, and Tanya Mudry, Counselling, who shared their deep expertise and experiences as post-candidacy doctoral students and fielded many questions from their peers about strategies for success in preparing the research proposal and getting ready for candidacy exam.

"Keep writing - every sentence is a sentence closer to being done"

It was very exciting to attract and to engage with 25 doctoral students from across specializations in a conversation about the doctoral research proposal and candidacy exam. The conversation took place in Education Tower 114, the "Glass Oral Exam Room", in Graduate Programs in Education office. Given the interest, and range of questions, I aim to book future conversations that focus exclusively on the candidacy exam and the dissertation oral exam. Stay tuned!

Graduate Programs in Education Resources

Several resources on the GPE Website will be helpful as doctoral students navigate the development of their research proposal and prepare for candidacy.  You will find the following documents on the GPE Website that will guide the preparation of your research proposal and preparation for candidacy exam:
Our School of Education is unique in that we offer two doctoral program pathways:
Doctoral students in both pathways complete coursework both in research methodology and in their discipline, prepare a research proposal, sit a candidacy oral exam based on the research proposal, and then write a dissertation that is examined by committee in the dissertation oral exam.  You can study the distinctions between the Research PhD and the Professional EdD

Faculty of Graduate Studies
  • My GradSkills provides a comprehensive range of professional and academic development opportunities to give graduate students the skills they need to succeed before and after graduation, such as academic writing, preparing for candidacy and project management:
  • 3MT - Three Minute Thesis Competition, an internationally recognized research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland in 2008. The exercise challenges thesis based graduate students to present a compelling presentation on their thesis topic and its significance in three minutes or less
University of Calgary Library
  • Student Services:  There is a diverse array of courses offered by the Library on Literature Search (Very Important and Useful!!), Academic Writing, Thesis Formatting, Mendeley, EndNote, RefWorks, and more. I encourage all graduate students to take advantage of these great learning opportunities:
In conclusion, this is only a start to our ongoing conversations in Graduate Programs about how to Survive and Thrive in Graduate School, and a starting list of resources - I hope you find this blog one stocked with vital resources to scaffold and support your success in the doctoral program. Upcoming conversations are listed below.

Winter 2014

Surviving and Thriving as an Education Doctoral Student
Online, Tues, January 28 - 1800-1930

In this second session, Dr. Michele Jacobsen and two colleagues, Dr. Jennifer Lock and Dr. Veronika Bohac-Clarke, will co-host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Year 1 to Year 2 in the Education Doctorate.

Surviving and Thriving in the Specialist MEd
Online Tues, February 25 - 1800-1930

In this third session, Dr. Michele Jacobsen, and Dr. Sal Mendaglio and Dr. Jim Brandon, will co-host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Year 1 to Year 2 in the Specialist MEd.

Surviving and Thriving as a Master’s Thesis Student
March 13, from 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Graduate Programs Office, EDT 114a

In this fourth session Dr. Michele Jacobsen and Dr. Sharon Cairns from Educational Research and Educational Psychology will co-host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Research Proposal to Thesis Oral Exam. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Surviving and Thriving in Graduate School

Over the next few months, I am hosting the following conversations with graduate students:

Fall 2013

Surviving and Thriving in your PhD Program: Research Proposal to Candidacy
November 28, from 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Graduate Programs Office, EDT 114a

In this first session Dr. Jacobsen and Post Candidacy Doctoral Students from Educational Research and Educational Psychology will host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Research Proposal to Candidacy Exam.

Winter 2014

Surviving and Thriving as an Education Doctoral Student
Online, Tues, January 28 - 1800-1930

In this second session, Dr. Michele Jacobsen, Dr. Veronika Bohac-Clarke and Dr. Jennifer Lock will host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Year 1 to Year 2 in the Education Doctorate.

Surviving and Thriving in the Specialist MEd
Online Tues, February 25 - 1800-1930

In this third session, Dr. Michele Jacobsen, Dr. Jim Brandon and Dr. Sal Mendaglio will host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Year 1 to Year 2 in the Specialist MEd.

Surviving and Thriving as a Master’s Thesis Student
March 13, from 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Graduate Programs Office, EDT 114a

In this fourth session, Dr. Michele Jacobsen, with Dr. Sylvie Roy, Educational Research and Dr. Sharon Cairns, Educational Psychology, will host a conversation that demystifies the transition from Research Proposal to Thesis Oral Exam. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting Started - Developing Strong Supervisory Relationships

This week, I got to sit down with new faculty colleagues for a conversation about Graduate Programs in Education and Graduate Supervision.  In preparation for that meeting, I assembled a few "must have" documents that every New Graduate Supervisor in Education should have in their toolkit in order to study and prepare to be a Great Graduate Supervisor.

1. Faculty of Graduate Studies Calendar - Online , PDF and Hardcopy

Grab the Calendar and your highlighter and prepare to learn these sections:
  • Academic Schedule - vital for your course-based teaching and for deadlines
  • Awards and Financial Assistance - helps you advise students on funding
  • Fees and expenses - become aware of what students pay to be here
  • Academic regulations - grades, progress reports, time limits, appeals, principles of conduct, integrity in scholarly activity - you must read all of this
  • Handbook of Supervision and Examination - Online and PDF
  • A vital section of the Graduate Studies Calendar is the Handbook of Supervision and Examination, found on pages 35 - 48. Do not pass go, and do not undertake supervision without reading and understanding every section in the Handbook. 
  • Everything you need to know about examinations can be found here, and also on the Graduate Programs in Education Website (see below for specifics). Every graduate supervisor has the responsibility to know the rules and regulations surrounding supervision of graduate students and for the scheduling and conduct of exams. There is a specific section on the Role and Responsibilities of the Graduate Supervisor, p. 47-48, which every supervisor should know by heart. There are also sections on Faculty, Program and Student roles and responsibilities, that should be read and understood as part of our collective commitment to student experience and success.
  • Graduate Programs in Education (GPE) Program Descriptions, p 62 - 73
  • Read and understand and memorize the requirements for the programs in which you supervise students. It is not "nice to know", it is "Must Know" information. 
2. Graduate Supervision - FGS Web
  • Checklist of Expectations for Graduate Student and Supervision
  • Faculty of Graduate Studies Intellectual Property Awareness
Graduate Supervisors work closely with masters and doctoral students during the entire thesis-based program, from admission to orientation to graduation. One tool that supports clear communication is the Student-Supervisor Checklist. During the early weeks / months of a working with a graduate student, be sure to discuss expectations and goals using the checklist, establish a regular meeting schedule, establish a timeline with the student for major program goals, review the intellectual property checklist, and discuss other issues that are relevant to your discipline and your work together.

In Graduate Programs in Education, we expect all Graduate Supervisors and Graduate Students to review an discuss all elements of the Student-Supervisor Checklist together, and to put a co-signed copy on file once all topics on the checklist have been discussed. 

3. Graduate Course-based Teaching

Graduate Program Timelines and Dues Dates have been established for textbook orders, course outline approvals and the posting of the course outlines for each Semester. Study these due dates so that you submit your Graduate Course outlines and textbook orders ON TIME, so that Graduate Programs in Education can get these out to students as soon as possible in preparation for the semester.
  • Textbook Orders: Apr 15 for Fall; Oct 15 for Winter; Jan 31 for Spring/Summer
  • Course Outline to EDSA Chair:  Aug 1 - Fall; Nov 15 - Winter; Apr 1 - Sp / Jun 1 - Sum
It has been rumored that the Associate Dean takes people who are consistently early or on time with their course outlines to lunch. You heard it here first, folks.

4. Graduate Programs in Education (GPE) - Policy and Processes

The Faculty of Education offers several masters programs; it is important that you study each of these in preparing to advise your students:
Our Faculty is unique in that we offer two doctoral program pathways:
It is important that you understand that both of our Doctoral programs require doctoral students to complete coursework, to prepare a research proposal, to successfully complete a candidacy oral exam based on the research proposal, and to write a dissertation that is examined by committee in the dissertation oral exam.  Study the websites to better understand the distinctions between the Research PhD and the Professional EdD. You will find the following documents on the GPE Website, and it is expected that you will read, study and become familiar with the expectations for examinations in order to advise your students well and to successfully mentor them in achieving success.
In conclusion, this is only a starting list, but one with vital resources to support you in your goal of advising students well and becoming a great graduate supervisor.