Persona non grata in the United States of America

I’m just trying to come to terms with what can only be described as one of the single largest fusterclucks I have ever experienced in my 45 years on this planet. Even with a day to digest what happened, I really can’t get my head around the magnitude of the absurdity, nor just how significant the long-term impacts may end up being. Upon a little reading and thinking back 27 years, it’s entirely possible that bad luck, a mispoken word or two, and complete honesty on my part, has rendered me inadmissible to the U.S. I should note at the outset that I have traveled to the U.S. several times a year throughout most of my life without so much as a sideways look.

I have provided a couple pieces of information below from a paralegal business web site that assists inadmissibles to obtain waivers. It’s a comprehensive page that essentially agrees with and summarizes information I’ve found in various locations.

An expensive shopping trip

Saturday morning we headed down to the Seattle outlets to do a day of shopping. We were planning to save the big shopping for our time in Hawaii, which was to start two weeks today, but is now going to be canceled thanks to Saturday’s events. After two hours in the lineup at the border, our turn came to answer the obligatory questions regarding our reason for traveling to the US, where we were from and whatever else the border guard felt like asking.

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Getting to the thesis research

Here I am, about a third of the way through my thesis year and I’m finally getting to the fun stuff, in that I’m actually doing research interviews as we hit the Christmas season. I’ll admit that, from the end of summer when I was really beginning to finalize my thesis proposal until now, I’ve felt disconnected from most things while doing this. I chose this road, so I’m not complaining, but it was a disconcerting change from year one.

In the Royal Roads University (RRU) MALAT program you bang through six courses in your first year, two of which happen during a six week pressure cooker that includes a two week residency. This is followed by four more courses over roughly another forty weeks, which include a lot of collaborative group work and enough discussion forum posts to choke a horse. While groups will use a variety of tools of mostly their own choosing to get through it, the lifeblood of the coursework are the Moodle discussion forums. Due to the schedule and pacing, you don’t have much time to think in year one and there’s always some assignment or activity coming up, which forces you to stay focused.

Contrast that with a year two thesis route, which is really all about how well you can determine what you need to do and when. While I always felt the thesis route would probably give me a more useful artefact after it was over, and I felt that doing a thesis would help me get better at research (my big goal for doing an MA in the first place), fatigue with what I view as an over-dependence on coursework discussion forums was the tipping point for me – I’m kind of self-directed and very much an autonomous learner. However, back to the disconnect.

Read moreGetting to the thesis research

Grokking the literature review

I have to admit that I’m liking the literature review process, the more I understand the right approach. Having said that, I’ve not really done what could be classified as a real literature review yet. I did a very surface one (which could only really be called a minor literature summary) when I did my preliminary thesis proposal a couple months ago to get my topic approved. I am presently starting with that version to flesh out a better one for my official thesis proposal in the last of my cohort classes. When I launch into my full thesis phase in July, I’ll build on the version I’m doing now yet again.

I realize now that I had been thinking wrongly when I approached the literature review as a general reading of related literature, tying it together so as to quote things I thought were relevant, but without what I would really consider any kind of critical analysis. As I’ve been reading journal articles and relevant chapters of a couple research texts, it’s becoming much clearer to me how to read more effectively and how to understand why the process is so important to situating and contextualizing the research I will be performing myself. In fact, I’m now understanding how I’ll be able to finalize my topic and questions ONLY if I do a decent literature review.

Boote and Beile (2005, p.4) state that the literature review should:

set the broad context of the study, clearly demarcate what is and is not within the scope of the investigation, and justify those decisions.

They go on to say that it should also:

report the claims made in the existing literature and examine critically the research methods used to better understand whether the claims are warranted.

Similarly, Knopf (2006, p.127) suggests that, when determining whether a particular approach to some problem has been successful, one can:

focus on the ‘lessons learned’ from a previous effort to deal with a certain problem (and those lessons learned might have been proposed by outside scholars or by practitioners themselves).

Read moreGrokking the literature review

Defining thesis research questions

Getting down to the right research topic and asking the right questions to address it is a pretty challenging process. About the only thing I can say for certain is that I’ll be looking at blogs at BCIT. My preliminary proposal sought to understand the institute’s experience with blogs and wikis for learning and teaching in the more than five years since they were introduced as part of the Technology Enabled Knowledge (TEK) initiative.

We’re in the early stages of the last first-year course of our MA, which deals with developing a detailed research proposal. What I’ve got to do is focus on a detailed enough topic that it will be worthy of a thesis. It has to be something that is a significant problem, the answer to which will add to the body of knowledge on the topic. The literature seems pretty weak on evaluating blogs as teaching tools and I’m pretty sure this is what got the topic in principle approved.

Through a number of discussions and feedback, it’s become clear to me that researching on only blogs, as opposed to blogs and wikis, will allow me a tighter focus. The fact that very little evaluation of these tools specifically at BCIT has been done also makes it a good topic. Beyond that, though, I’m finding that it’s difficult to decide whether I can hypothesize that adoption of blogs has been weak and attempt to answer why, or that the research be totally inductive and descriptive. There are problems with either approach in terms of framing the research and designing the research vehicle, particularly if I go the survey route.

What follows is probably the second iteration of what will undoubtedly still change somewhat. If you have any thoughts about the this I would welcome comments below.

Web 2.0 is a term encompassing Internet technologies that allow users to collaboratively create and share intellectual property online. Weblogs, or blogs, are writing or journalling web sites that have a number of features for interaction, sharing of content and solicitation of comments/feedback.

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Pondering the thesis

So, now that I know I’m going to do a thesis for the second year of my Masters degree instead of more coursework and a smaller project, I’m facing a plethora of decisions. I’ve got a very basic concept of what I want to research, but over the course of the next twelve weeks I’ll turn a basic idea into a detailed project proposal. As I’m diving into the research issue it’s becoming clear I have a big year ahead of me.

After the first two weeks of our research course, we’re just getting introduced to the mindset of researching. Is that a verb? Well, we did a brief introduction to research last summer, but this course will actually see us produce the detailed research proposal we will use moving forward. For the rest of my cohort, this will be a roadmap for a six credit paper to come later next year, but for me (as I was deluded enough to actually want to do a thesis) this is what I will use to guide me after July, as I am cut loose from my cohort after this. At this stage it’s mostly about the structure of good research and the pitfalls of what to avoid. We’ve discussed what goes into a thesis or dissertation, read a couple theses and done a rudimentary critique comparing them.

Even in just doing that, I was struck by just how much difference there was in the scope, style and quality between the two. I guess what I really thought about was how they both were accepted by different committees in different institutions, and bare little similarity to each other. While their structure and length were roughly the same, everything else was quite different. A thesis is so unique for so many reasons – topic, institute, supervisor, committee, external readers, researcher – that I guess it’s bound to be different from any other. However, I was thinking that the language and approach would need to be the same to meet core competencies at the Masters level, such as:

  • communication
  • leadership and teamwork
  • critical thinking
  • analysis
  • knowledge

Read morePondering the thesis