Fitting in exercise around a professional doctorate and full-time work

I’ve just entered my tenth year as a student. While my first three years were full-time undergraduate, its been part-time study ever since. Balancing full-time work alongside part-time study has required a lot of jiggling around activities and the stopping of other things entirely. One of the first things to go was exercise. That pretty much disappeared at the end of my final year of university as the assignments stacked up.

I guess the first mistake I made was not finding time for exercise when I first started work again. I just did not get back into a good routine. In hindsight, I had the time. Loads of time. I just never really realised that until I started part-time study. By that time, all the that time was going on my masters. When that stopped, the time went on the doctorate. Any downtime or study gaps went to CPD. Volunteering quickly hoovered up any spare time left. Finding my soulmate and growing our relationship. Well. That threw time on its head. By this point, I was absolutely convinced I had no time for exercise.

Turns out I was wrong.

After much persuasion from some sporty colleagues to join them, and, assisted by the fact I am getting married, I finally jumped into exercise. It started with a yoga class, followed by spinning the week after. Over the couple of weeks following we were heading to the gym and playing badminton. A couple of months later, we were running outside. Most important of all. I feel great, and, it really didn’t take that much time!

komposita / Pixabay

Turns out, the whole exercise and time thing I had going on was a mental block and not a real one. I’ve made most of this work by fitting in exercise over lunch. Exercise isn’t eating into my mornings when I catch up on work. It isn’t eating into my evenings when I spend time with my fianc√© or study. Combined with some more flexibility about how I fit in doctoral EdD work, I’ve even found enough time to nip to the gym or go for a run on weekends.

The best part about exercise, is that I feel great. I’ve feeling fitter, healthier, more awake and I’m loosing weight. Exercise really wakes me up to the extent that I feel I need less sleep. When I am awake, I feel more awake too. I’m kicking myself for not getting back into exercise sooner.

This last three months has made me realise the benefit of exercise for study. Turns out it’s pretty good for the soul too ūüôā

Attending an online conference: The ALT Winter Conference 2017

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Winter Conference. This free conference was entirely online, delivered via a series of parallel sessions. Webinars, Twitter chats and wildcard sessions formed the basis for these sessions, with a good mixture of each across both days. It was my first time taking part in an online conference and so I wanted to reflect on the format here. Technologically, I thought BlackBoard Collaborate Ultra served for the webinars very well and it was nice to experience this first hand. I usually use Adobe Connect in my own practice so it’s always nice to see another system working.

The first thing that is important to note is that I attended from my open plan office at work. This of course makes a difference as I was surrounded by colleagues, and I was fitting conference sessions in alongside other work commitments. This means I wasn’t fully dedicating all my time to the event, which is a very different experience to being at an actual conference where you are fully immersed. This had advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, I was able to take part in the first place. I simply would not of had the time or money to travel to any conference at this time of year. On the negative, I felt it was not as good a networking opportunity as face:face conferences, and, that it did not provide the same ring fenced development time that you get with being away.

It would be unfair to say networking opportunities were absent. Dialogue and interactivity was present in every parallel session. There was also the #altc hashtag on Twitter for the backchannel conversation throughout both days. However, this is no different to the opportunities afforded at any conference. What I really missed however were the little conversations after sessions, in traveling, between parallels, over coffee, throughout lunch, at evening events and through drinks. I find a lot of the benefit of traditional conferences can be found around the formal programme, not just within it. I should note, the conference did have an always-on cafe for conversation. It was just empty the couple of times I tried to visit. Perhaps Twitter was the better forum?

Pacing the conference around work activities was fairly easy, and I imagine I was not the only person doing this. This did mean some times of day were perhaps busier than others, but this could have been depended on the sessions. The only frustrating thing about attending remotely is the clash between a very useful parallel and a work activity. Of course the work activity takes precedence! It just always tends to coincide alongside the one session you really wanted to see.

The aspect of time away is a difficult one. One of the things I like about a traditional conference is the mental break you get. The time away. The opportunity to focus on self-development, learning, thinking, networking, idea sharing, collaborating and more. The day job, research, writing or whatever else you are doing is placed on hold. Not forgotten, but you put yourself in a different space away. I’m not saying this is absent in an online conference, but because there is a tendency to take part from home or work, it is not the same kind of break. As above, this is advantageous as it means work does not need to stop for your to take part. But it prevents gains in some areas.

While I missed the face to face elements, I think this kind of conference is a fantastic opportunity. As I stated above, I would not have been able to take part were this a traditional conference. I also liked that I did not have to dedicate two whole days and travel to this. While I would usually gladly do this for any conference; work, my research, volunteering and general life are too busy to take all that time out! I’d like to extend a thanks to anyone running a session I attended at the conference. They were all engaging and I look forward to enacting some of this stuff in practice. Huge thanks to ALT too for putting it all together and making it possible.

Maybe I should also celebrate the fact an online conference helped me avoid a few wet days!

The EdD – One year on!

It seems like only yesterday that I started on my EdD journey.

As I sat at home filling in my annual review, it really struck me just how quickly this year has gone. While this year has led to many achievements of which I am proud, I have also noticed an absence of many things I *should* have been doing as part of my EdD journey. While I can be proud of my bibliographic management, organisation, note-taking and writing – many other things are absent…

Where are the conference papers/attendances?
What additional seminars have I engaged with?
What happened to my blog…

I figured writing down these shortcomings would be a useful way of (publicly) identifying some goals for the year ahead. I have made a great start in so many ways, but now is time to pick up the pace and continue to develop my wider engagement with the programme, with doctoral study and with the communities of practice for which I subscribe.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself in the context of the other achievements I have made this year. I have gained both my Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy and my Postgraduate Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society. I now need to leverage these networks alongside the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education to continue to develop my thinking in all things to do with learning development and space. After all, what is the use of joining networks if I do not use them…

Something every day…

The flying start to my doctoral studies that I had planned¬†(well… if I am more honest) expected didn’t really happen. Right after our first weekend, life simply got in the way. Even worse, it wasn’t anything in particular. Nothing bad or unexpected happened. I just fell out of the first EdD weekend right back into my regular routine.

That annoying little voice at the back of my mind knew this was a sure path to later stress and inevitable failure. So what did I do? I did what any self-respecting student does РI ignored it!

But it didn’t go away.

There was only one thing that I could do to get back on track. That started with admitting I was off track in the first place. I ‘bravely’ wrote an email to the rest of my tutorial group, admitting I¬†had done nothing. Quite honestly, I was hoping everyone else was waaaay ahead to give me that pressure. (Yes – I am one of those annoying people who quite like working under pressure). Annoyingly I didn’t exactly get the response that I wanted. I just got a lot of comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. What did help however was the advice¬†Azumah shared with the group and that was my reason for writing this post.

Azumah has blogged about¬†Getting stuff done on the Hull EDD blog and it is definitely some of the best advice I’ve received so far:

Set yourself a start day.¬†So I did – and that date was today. Although the second piece of advice has led me to do a little something every day, I made a point of ‘fencing’¬†off all of today to’ sink my teeth’ into my first assignment. I have actually had a lot of fun today – what took me so long! (more on this another time I think…).

Do something every day. It seems quite obvious really – but it is something that I have striven to do every day since that post went live. This has even led to nights where I’ve gone to bed and have had to suddenly spring out of a light slumber to make sure I do¬†something¬†before the day ends. It has kept the EdD in my thoughts for each day because of this. Even if I only do a little thing like read a few pages, conduct a search, add some articles to my EndNote library or even print some things out ready it has been enough.

Read every day. I am lucky that every day I read stuff that is useful for my EdD as part of my job. What I have done since however is ensure I always have something ‘ready to read’ either in print or electronic form. If I have a few minutes I can easily pick it up. No searching. No procrastination – speaking of which…

Turn vice into virtue. I have been known to procrastinate on occasion. Even today, I decided to do nothing until the courier arrived. I managed to convince myself I¬†really¬†needed those post it notes for my reading today. Thankfully it was an early delivery. But in all seriousness, this is something that I am aware of. Whenever I feel like I need a break and I’m sliding into procrastination I turn to Twitter. As I use Twitter for professional purposes, the worst I could probably do is tweet about something academic or end up reading an article that isn’t entirely relevant. Either way I get a break and I get something that contributes to my wider contextual knowledge within my disciple (see – I’ve been working on justifying this for a while).

Anyhow! I hope my reflections on starting the EdD have been interesting – if not somewhat useful. I wanted to share this to first of all thank Azumah for her advice and secondly, to share some of my worries with you all. I imagine I am not alone!

I’m a student again!

Perhaps I am being somewhat misleading with my title. It suggests I wasn’t already a student – when actually, I’m heading into my 8th¬†consecutive year as a student at the University of Hull. This however – is the start of a new programme. I’ll be doing an Educational Doctorate (EdD), a five year part-time research programme. To say I am excited would be an understatement…

We received our reading list for the first weekend a few days ago and I’ve spent today pouring over journal articles in preparation. The articles have been a fascinating introduction to both professional doctorates and the concept of ‘inside researchers’. It has really made me question the multiple roles I will have through the programme. I am a graduate of the University of Hull, thanks to the EdD I am also both a student and to some extent a ‘researcher’. I can’t overlook the fact that I am a staff member too.

The interesting thing about a professional doctorate is that it is focused on the context of your profession. That means you research on your own doorstep. Now I knew this – this was my main reason for choosing the programme. I could root my research into my profession – making it relevant to my daily work and to the service I work in. What I had not considered was the multiplicity of roles that I would assume through the process. I could be both tutor/adviser to a student – but also ‘researcher’. I had not even considered how I would be both a ‘colleague’ and a ‘researcher’.

This is an interesting dilemma. I had not even considered that my friends and coworkers could perceive me differently though undertaking the programme. Now that is probably a bit dramatic. I am sure it won’t be too big a deal – and I’m positive it will all work out. It is however going to be a whole additional dimension that I need to keep in mind. I’ve always loved the deep complexity of phenomenon. This is going to be an interesting five years ūüôā

Studying on a MOOC: Introduction to Psychology

I wanted to create this post to reflect on my experience of studying on the Introduction to Psychology MOOC. The MOOC was run through Coursera and was taught by Steve Joordens, a professor at the University of Toronto. As mentioned in my previous post, I started this Intro to Psychology as I wanted to experience a MOOC first-hand and I have always been fascinated by psychology as a discipline. I completed the MOOC a couple of weeks ago and I now feel I am in a position to reflect on this experience.

Learning experience

This course was structured in a classical university format. We received weekly lectures and were graded via a mid-term exam, a final exam and through a peer-assessed assignment. Naturally – this was all a little different as it was all done online. The video lectures were 10-18 minutes long on average which made them very easy to fit in with work and my other commitments. There were eight lectures a week and the course was eight weeks long so there was a lot of content. Each lecture included a mini quiz to test understanding and linked to a collection of further reading/watching. Like a good student, I took diligent notes for all the lectures, using the experience as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of note-taking techniques – but more on that another time.

Steve Joordens is one of the most engaging lecturers I have seen. I still cannot believe how drawn in you could get even though it was all by video. He is exceptionally adept at explaining things and managed to structure a course in a very approachable way. This is important in the MOOC world as it involves people from so many backgrounds. I would argue Steve is the definition of a ‘superstar professor’. The term was coined for fear that a single professor teaching on a MOOC engages with tens of thousands of students, portraying their views/arguments on the discipline coupled with the fame associated with such a large audience. Is it good in academia to have so few teaching so many? I am concerned by this idea of course but I believe Steve portrayed a very even viewpoint on current arguments. His distaste for eating meat and using animals did shine through however. I’m not sure that is such a bad thing :). The reason I define his as a superstar however is that he has an excellent teaching style, he is in a band (that he livestreamed to those on his MOOC), he has a string of teaching awards and he is conducting a lot of excellent research into pedagogy.

On reflection, this MOOC is one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Most importantly of all – it cost nothing. I am still in awe regarding that fact, especially as I am currently funding myself through study. Unlike my degree, this experience didn’t cost a penny and the teaching was just as good. The issue that the level was much lower aside, this experience means nothing as it doesn’t bare credit. Here lies the problem with all MOOCs. Until they’re recognised – it is difficult to see them as a path to career progress. Having said that – all MOOC providers are literally racing to provide MOOCs in a credit baring way. The first few courses that bare credits are launching now. Watch this space…



The examinations were taken through MTuner – an exceptional online examination tool that I believe is developed at University of Toronto as I’ve not see it elsewhere. Questions are multiple choice, but students are encouraged to type in their answer first. I found this very useful as when presented with a list of options, doubt always creeps into my mind. It also gave me confidence when submitting my answers as I have gone through the process of typing my answer and then seeing it as an option on the list. The most important aspect is what happens when you go wrong. If you answer incorrectly, you are given the opportunity to watch a video clip of the answer. You then get to choose your answer again and you will still receive marks for it – though less than if correct the first time. As Steve puts it:

When someone tunes a guitar they go one string at a time and see if it’s in tune. ¬†If it is, they leave it and move on. ¬†But if it isn’t they “tune it up” and then move on. ¬†When they are done they have all the strings in tune which is a beautiful thing! ¬†The mTuner Activities try to tune up your knowledge of what you learned while also assessing where you’re at

I like that idea. When you get a question wrong (or a string isn’t in tune) – you fix it before you move on. The couple of questions I got wrong, I remember because of this process. I doubt I would make those mistakes again!

The peer assessment activity was done through PeerScholar. Students submit their essays and then grade their own work. The following week, students are each given another six assignments to grade and comment on. After ¬†seeing the work of six others, students are encouraged to reflect on their own work and give it another score. The following week, students can review the comments from other students and the grades they have been assigned. The actual grade we received would be the average of the six marks. In a real course, you may get a tutor or ¬†teaching assistant (TA)¬†to review these. For a course with thousands of students – this is not so possible. Having said that, Steve has done extensive research in this area. Some of this research¬†suggests that the grading done by students is incredibly accurate. In one study, the average of the six grades given by peers matched exactly with the score given by a TA. I’ve seen a LOT of peer assessment activities – but I was incredibly impressed with how this online tool processed it. I am very keen to look into PeerScholar further…

MOOC elements

All my description so far describes this course a rather traditional Рall be it online. On reflection, you could pass through this entire course without truly engaging with any of the MOOC elements. Dave Cormier argues that a successful route through a MOOC requires five stages:

  1. Orient
    Simply orientate yourself. Find out what is due when, where things are, etc.
  2. Declare
    You need to declare yourself on the course. This can be through a twitter hashtag, through a course forum or personal blog
  3. Network
    Start to make connections through the above mechanisms. Get involved in the discussion.
  4. Cluster
    Cluster with people who have a similar interest. Focus on their blogs/posts/comments.
  5. Focus
    Focus on what you want to achieve. Why are you doing it? What do you want to achieve. Work with your cluster maybe?

Now all these opportunities were available in the MOOC, but on reflection,¬†I didn’t particularly network or cluster. I orientated myself and then declared myself on the forum and twitter. I didn’t really have the time to do more than that. I could have networked and clustered through the course forum or via social media but I just didn’t have time. It didn’t even have an adverse effect on my studying. It was perhaps a missed opportunity, but not something that damaged my progress. What I wanted was to learn some psychology and achieve my certificate of completion. That was my focus.

Would I do anything differently?

Definitely! For a start, I would have networked and clustered. While this had no impact on my learning, I think it was a great opportunity that I missed. While I am sad the course is over, had I networked I may have a group of people to still explore this subject with. Having said that, I just didn’t have the time because of when this course fell. Next up I would have kept myself a little more up-to-date. On reflection the course was too flexible and it gave me no motivation to keep myself in line with the course schedule. Having said that, had it been strict I probably would have been unable to do this.


The one thing I would state from this journey is that I am now convinced MOOCs can work. I was very dubious before but now I am not – I think they have their place in the world. This place however is not anywhere near replacing traditional study. I think people will always have the desire to go to University and have that experience. Humans are social beings and face:face interaction is still so much more than computer mediated communication can replicate. This is however my opinion. I sometimes wonder if the generations who are raised with this technology see it as a valid and equal means of communication. I digress. I think the huge volume of students on a MOOC make traditional HE difficult. At some point you need to get interaction with a TA/facilitator/Lecturer/Professor to really challenge and further your understanding. At the very least they are needed to assess work…

MEd 11: So what does this all mean?

Yesterday I finished my research interviews and took to looking at the data. In total, eight participants were interviewed and this has provided some good insight into our service. This blog post will review and reflect on my key findings. All participants were openly asked if they knew of our team and what we do before the interview began. This enabled me to provide those who needed it with an overview of the service remit to help contextualise the interview. None of the participants had used the service as intended. This allowed me to focus on issues surrounding why they have no used the service.

Mode of delivering study support

The overwhelming preference for study support seems to be on a personalised, contextualised 1:1 basis. The desired mode of this delivery heavily varied between participants. Some insisted that the content needed to be delivered face:face, though the majority did not care how the content was delivered (email, phone, skype etc.) as long as it was personalised to them. Though only one participant mentioned electronic/distance/internet appointments unprompted, all participants viewed them as a useful way to engage the team (more on this later).

What support?

The unfortunate thing that this research has highlighted is that the vast majority of what the students want – constitutes things we currently offer already. This was the hardest part of the research as I had to carefully control my facial expressions and body language to ensure I did not influence the participants. The worst part of this was to not reveal we’re doing this stuff mid-interview –¬†particularly¬†difficult when someone describes their need for a service in intricate detail and it is already something you offer. This information is useful however as it highlights the need to work on our team profile, developing our marketing to ensure students know what we do and where we are.

Why have you not used the service?

This was the most interesting question of them all. The surface issues indicated students had not used the service as they did not know of it or did not understand its full remit. On further investigation however, asking students if they would use the service led to some interesting discussions. The first issue that usually came up involved time or schedules. Participants felt they could probably utilize the help but would not be able to access it in a convenient way. Unprompted they were asked how they would like support Рmany would prefer additional times to those offered while some suggested but some suggested online services may be more useful. Once again however there was a focus on tutor support and personalisation.

The largest issue however was to do with the principle of asking for help itself. This was the most difficult issue to address with the participants. Asking them if there is stigma with asking for help. Some of them opened up and really demonstrated the¬†vulnerability¬†they feel when seeking help. How it makes the feel weak and ‘look weak’. There was a lot of reflection on how strength is revered in society so they feel like they must live up to that and not show weakness. Not in this¬†competitive¬†world. Some felt issues with looking stupid or feeling like they were bothering staff.

Underlying themes also included peer support and departmental support as a crucial way to develop skills. Those who spoke of this highlighted the strength of skills contextualised to their discipline or the comfort from receiving help from students who understood their disciplinary content too.

 So what?

My overwhelming feeling at this stage is that this I have only begun to scratch the surface. Speaking to only eight individuals has given a good foundation to the issues, but has not really given me the depth I need to draw out any themes. The good news in this is that there is definitely something interesting there that warrants further research. While not a groundbreaking piece of research, this has really given me a taste for research again and has provided some valuable points to reflect on for the future.


The scary thing now is finalising my 1,000 reflection on all of this before Friday. I am so happy I got the research together, but feel overwhelmed by how long this took for a non-assessed task. I just need to look forward now and plan my time effectively to get these two assignments finished.

MEd 10: Snooze

Finally home and with all my ‘research’ done. I am glad I used different approaches to the interviews as I have learned a lot from the¬†process. Online synchronous typed interviews have to be my biggest surprise – they were incredibly effective. Not only are they already transcribed due to their very form, but I found some participants really opened up in this from of conversation. Sadly, there is no body¬†language¬†or tone – no real way to tell if they mean what they say. The same could be said for conversations however.

Online interviews certainly helped make it convenient for both the participants and myself so I wanted to expand on this a little. This is where Skype comes in. I did a couple of video interviews as part of this process to try an keep the advantages of online interviews but bring back in some tone, expression and body language. While I liked the approach, I felt I would rather do it face:face than across the¬†internet¬†with webcams. It did not feel as connected as a face:face interview, but there was more relation than with the instant messaging interview outlined above. One thing that did interest me however was that participants tended to be more open with me as an interviewer when there was no spoken or visual element. Perhaps instant messaging interviews are a good way forward for controversial or personal topics – Is it easier to be honest and¬†vulnerable¬†when you’re just typing? or is it the distance from the interview? the lack of relations?

As you can see – I have more questions than answers due to the small sample. It has however enlightened me to the fact that 1:1 interviews don’t need to be face:face. More importantly – I have seen them working over digital mediums and there are some excellent advantages to this kind of interview. I did of course undertaken face:face, 1:1 interviews and these formed the majority of my ‘research’. ūüôā