Disappointed With Walden University

I’ve often sung Walden’s praises here on this blog, so it wouldn’t be right not to speak out when I am disappointed by the University. In short, though I have tried to remain patient (in action and in mind), I have been extremely frustrated with how long it has taken (and thus how expensive it has been) to gain approval to begin my dissertation study. I understand that many of these steps are necessary and that I would have had at least as frustrating an experience at a traditional university (if not more so), but it seems that in a few specific cases I could have experienced better service – and that in general there must be a better way, especially for a new generation of universities like Walden.

Here is a brief rundown of the timeline behind the approval of my study:

September 15 – This was the second week of the quarter. I completed a major rewrite of my proposal. This was the last week I completed significant work on my dissertation. I waited patiently two weeks for the committee to read the new version and nearly another two weeks until the Oral Conference was scheduled on October 10th.

October 13 – I completed a few minor revisions (which took only a few hours) following approval from the Committee during the oral conference. My advisor sent this version of the proposal to the Research Office on October 15th. Unfortunately the file he sent was infected with a virus (from his computer, not mine) and was thus not received. I waited patiently presuming I needed to wait two weeks to hear back. Sadly, the error was not discovered until I followed up and heard back from my advisor on October 29.

October 30 – The virus issue was finally resolved between my advisor and the Research Office. I was notified that the materials were due back from the reviewer on or before 11/12. My appeal for an expedited review due to the virus issue was denied because “other proposals were received before mine.”

November 14 – After following up with them myself on the 12th (following another two weeks of waiting patiently), I finally receive feedback from the research office… two days late. Contact your advisor is all they say. My advisor is out of the office for the week. I get a response back from him anyway, but without the reviewers’ comments. Luckily, the next day I convince the research office to forward me the comments. I finish the requested revisions (which contradicted recommendations from my committee) that night and returned the proposal to my advisor (again, this only took a few hours). The following day (now the 16th) my advisor informed me he’d look it over and pass it back to the Research Office… on Monday (the 19th). Though the reviewer promised a speedy response with the resubmission, I am not optimistic about getting it back before the Thanksgiving break. :(

November 17th – Today. The quarter ends on November 25. I don’t expect to have approval by then. It’s been exactly TEN WEEKS since I completed the major rewrite of my proposal. Of this, about six weeks of waiting would’ve been understandable. Two weeks were lost to the virus issue and another one due to this week’s difficulty getting the reviewer’s responses from the Research Office. Since September 15th I’ve worked all of 8 hours on my paper – and I’ve paid full tuition.

Waiting on the university is always painful, but the unnecessary delays make it worse, especially since I am racing the clock to finish my study before my first baby is due in February. My study is only eight weeks long, but with the holidays at this point I am not even optimistic about being able to complete my write up to get my final dissertation submitted (and started jumping through hoops) by March 1st, the deadline to graduate May 25th! If I miss March 1st, I won’t be graduating until August, which means another quarter of tuition. This is made all the more painful by the fact that I’ve now reached the lifetime limit of student loans from the federal government and am now paying for each quarter, which is a serious impact on my finances. Note that Walden stopped offering a reduced dissertation rate to students who are ABD just before I completed the last of my other requirements – so we now pay full price. :(

I always heard that the waiting was the worst part of Walden University, but I never understood that. My instructors and my advisor had always been responsive. Now I see, though, that dealing with the larger institution is the issue.

Also, Walden did away with the 4th “blind” reviewer on the dissertation committee about the time I started. This apparently cut down on the amount of miscommunication, conflicting advice/requirements, and general bad feelings associated with the dissertation process. Dissertation proposals, of course, still required review by the IRB for ethical reasons, but I noticed that this review by the Research Office is now called an “Academic Review” and more or less amounts to the 4th “blind” reviewer. The intent of the review (at least in part) is to ensure academic rigor throughout the organization regardless of the committee or committee chair. I think it is counter productive, though, (and not the intent of the review) for students to receive conflicting advice from the committee and the Research Office. The committee chair is in place for this very reason – to resolve conflicts between committee members who disagree, however the chair has very limited power to resolve a conflict with the research office.

Ultimately, there is no ONE BIG ISSUE for me to address here, but clearly this system does not serve the student well. I should not spend 10 weeks of a 12 week quarter waiting on the University bureaucracy while I pay full tuition. When I was taking classes I could understand how I was drawing on university resources. However, I have been a VERY minimal drain on university resources over the past two years of independent researching, writing KAMs, and preparing my dissertation. It is disappointing and frustrating that when I do need university employees to work for me the system performs so poorly.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this… Walden students, Ph.D. students in other schools, prospective students, people who sympathize, and people who think I’m acting entitled. It’s why I’m sharing. ;)

UPDATE 04/23/08: It turns out I didn’t actually want to bring people out of the woodwork who have had troubles with Walden. I know the issues you’ll read about in the comments below can happen at any University. Also, though this was a frustrating time for me, I know I might have been as frustrated or more in a traditional Ph.D. program. Since that time my committee has been heroic in their efforts to push my submissions through the system – and just last night I had my dissertation approved with minor edits following my oral defense. If I can complete all the form and style revisions quickly enough I expect to graduate next month and to walk this summer. I’m thrilled. And I say again unequivocally that Walden was an excellent learning experience for me over five years, despite this one quarter of frustration. I know other individual’s experiences may very, but I can whole heartedly recommend the school and the Educational Technology Ph.D. program. In keeping with good blogging ethics, though, I won’t be removing this post or the comments below. I’ll let this update set the story straight.

UPDATE 04/29/09: It’s been over a year since I wrote anything on this post, and it’s still attracting comments from people having their own negative experiences at Walden. While I’m sure these things happen at Walden as they do at any school, I’m no longer interested in this post, or my blog, being a magnet for them and I’m no longer interested in reading them. I consider the frustrations I had to deal with a challenging part of the process, and as I’ve said many times now, I fully expect they would’ve been worse (and more expensive) at a traditional institution. My frustration was at least in part due to my desire to hold Walden to a higher standard. And as I’ve said many times here and elsewhere, my doctoral experience at Walden was of a rigorous academic program – heavy on research and writing – and lead by amazing faculty from all over the world. Like any school I’ve attended, I know the individuals are more important than the institution and I understand that this therefor might not reflect everyone’s experience. I tend to believe the best a student can do is take responsibility for that, deal the best they can with professors and staff they’re having trouble with, and then do their best to control who they choose to work with more closely – it does no good to point the finger elsewhere. So for the record, I think I was acting entitled when I wrote this, and I’m not proud to have hung this dirty laundry out in public. But I’ll stick to the blogger’s ethic of not deleting a post. As a compromise, this will now be the first post on which I’ve turned off comments. Please email me if you think I can help with your problem… but if you want to vent publicly about your own frustrations, please do so elsewhere – maybe on your own blog. I just hope you don’t wind up regretting it too. ;)

Massively Multiplayer Schools (NECC Submission)

Finally, here is the fifth of five submissions I made for NECC 2008. This is also a presentation I’ve never done, though I’ve submitted it once already… it’s the second time I’ve submitted to present my dissertation, which I hope to complete by the time my baby is born in February. (I also submitted this for the 2008 CUE Conference, though it seems I didn’t post about it here.) This one for NECC will really mean something, though, if I get it. I submitted it as an academic paper and it will undergo double blind peer review. :)

I hope I’ll get to give the talk, and I hope some of you will get to join me. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this approach to sharing it.

Title:

Massively Multiplayer Schools: Do MMORPGs Have a Future in Education?

Description:

Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games are engaging and motivating. Can they also support context-embedded, inquiry-driven, and socially negotiated learning – while encouraging reflection and metacognition?

Abstract:

Formal K12 education remains much as it did a century ago, but in the era of the Internet, cell phones, and videogames, students have changed. Videogames and simulations show potential as engaging and motivating learning environments. MMORPGs in particular have social and cooperative elements that might be valuable for educational purposes. However, despite a breadth of research about videogames and learning in general, the potential uses of MMORPGs in formal education are poorly understood. Therefore, this study aims to inquire into potential applications for MMORPGs as constructivist learning environments in formal K12 education , and to understand related benefits and drawbacks. Two pillars of theory support this study: constructivist learning theory and digital game-based learning theory. The study will employ a grounded theory paradigm of qualitative research and the Delphi method of inquiry. The expert panel will consist of 12 to 24 adult experts drawn from the field of videogames and learning. Both industry professionals and academics will be represented in the population. The concensus of the panel’s predictions, and any outlying or dissenting perspectives, will be reported in the final paper.

There isn’t really an outline for this type of session, and I don’t want to post the entire length of the submission here, so please check out the complete archive of the submission if you are interested:

Massively Multiplayer Schools (NECC 2008 Submission)

As always, I’d be thrilled to receive any feedback on this. Please leave a comment.

Videogames in Education: New Reading

Since I wrapped up my literature review a few months ago, I’ve been collecting (and putting off reading) new books related to my study. There are at least three I’m dying to read (two of them sit on my shelf, and the third – the Gibson, Aldrich, Prensky book – I’m having trouble getting a hold of):

Also, I’m dying to read these two game design books, especially the first one (and both sit on my shelf):

And this is to say nothing of the steady stream (well, trickle still) of videogames and learning articles that have been released, including one in ISTE’s most recent Journal of Research on Technology in Education: Digital Games in Education: The Design of Games-Based Learning Environments by Begoña Gros.

With any luck, I’ll be able to dig into some of these at times like this when I’m waiting for my committee to get back to me… or when I’m waiting on data from the participants. Who knows, these things might make a (brief) appearance in the final dissertation. :)

If anyone has read any of these and has some thoughts or opinions on the books, I’d love to hear them, too. It’s always good to have some context going in… and it’s always more fun to read something your friends or colleagues are reading, too.

Dissertation Proposal Draft #2

On Friday night I drove up to the Walden residency in Los Angeles to meet with my dissertation committee chair, Dr. Joe Nolan. I finished my residency units in the summer of 2005, but I’d been using this particular event as a self imposed deadline for finishing the second draft of my proposal (chapters 1-3 of the dissertation, including the literature review).

In my case, this second draft was a lot of work. I turned in a 423 page first draft. My committee really tore into it and left me a lot of good feedback and suggestions for tightening it up. (Dr. Jose Quiles highlighted every paragraph to indicate whether it should be kept, severly shortened, or cut altogether… and Dr. MaryFriend Shepard inserted comments throughout, catching far more APA errors than I thought possible.) In the end, I managed to get it down to a much more reasonable 89 pages. I cut half my research questions (sub-questions actually) to make this possible, so the study is now strictly focused on how games can support constructivist learning. There is also a section on social change, of course. I cut all the game design and organizational change sections. I also cut every single block quote (except for one), and cut most direct quotes in favor of very succinct paraphrasing. Some whole subsections were casualties as well.

As usual, I’m interested in any feedback anyone can offer on this draft. Not that I’ll be making any more changes (if I can help it), but all of this will be rewritten again for the final dissertation – and of course, I’m passionate about the topic, so I want to get it right… and hear dissenting opinions. So, here is the new proposal:

WagnerProposal2.pdf

I’ve also updated my IRB docs:

WagnerIRB2.zip

Dissertation Proposal and IRB Documents (DRAFT)

I just realized that I sent Chapter Three off to my advisor almost a week ago and didn’t post it here to the blog. So, with no further ado, here is the monster. It’s 421 pages, but my advisor has already read chapters 1 and 2 and hasn’t cut very much. This draft already includes his chagnes. He’s got chapter 3, which is only about 60 pages, right now. We’ll see how much, though, gets past the rest of the committee… and into the final dissertation.

Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games as Constructivist Learning Environments: A Delphi Study (Proposal) – 1.0 MB Word Doc

I’ve also finished a draft of my initial IRB documents: The consent form, the confidentiality agreement, the data collection documents, and the IRB application:

WagnerIRB.zip – 68 KB, four word docs

Now these documents, though just drafts, are “out there” for anyone else to benefit from in whatever way possible. Like everything else here they are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Also, if anyone can offer any feedback at this point, I always appreciate that. Thanks, as always, for reading – even if it’s just this post. ;)

Dissertation Chapters 1 and 2 (DRAFT)

Here is an abridged version of the email I just sent my committee chair:

Dr. Nolan,

I’ve attached my Chapters 1 and 2. These are incorporated into my working template for the proposal including the references, so this is basically my proposal sans Chapter 3.

As I said at the end of my previous message, I feel fairly good about the quality of this draft now. My main concern is the (potentially obnoxious) length of Chapter 2. When I skim through it, I’m happy each part contributes something meaningful (and is reasonably well assembled), so for now I’m leaving it all in. As I mentioned, there are whole sections I can cut or collapse if necessary. I’ll wait for your initial feedback though.

Incidentally, I expect Chapter 3 to be more reasonable in length – more like Chapter 1 than Chapter 2.

Also, there are some stylistic things I want to change in these first two chapters when it comes to the actual dissertation, but right now I’m in “get it done” mode. I hope there are some things that you might want changed that can wait for the dissertation, too.

In the meantime, let me know right away if you have any immediate concerns. I look forward to your feedback. :)

-Mark

Because it is almost 1 MB, I’m sending a link to the file instead of an attachment:

WagnerChapters1and2.doc

PS. If my lengthy and quote heavy style does not demonstrate that I can succinctly synthesize the material, please see my series of blog posts in which I summarized each section “in a nutshell” of about one page in length (Note: These blog posts appear in reverse chronological order): http://edtechlife.com/?s=nutshell

I’m very excited that I was able to reach this milestone (however temporary) before heading out to NECC. I am worried about the length of Chapter 2 (at 232 pages I think), and I don’t expect any of you will want to read it, but as usual, here it is for inspection and posterity… and a safe backup. :)

Organizational Change (LONG)

Back on April 24th (my birthday), I posted a “one page” overview of organizational change (with respect to implementing video games in education). Despite considering cutting this section (and despite Christy’s encouragement to do so), I’ve gone ahead and included this section in the first (very long) draft of my literature review. This wouldn’t have been the case if the content wasn’t so closely related to the final KAM I wrote before starting the dissertation.* I was able to cut and paste (with some editing) about 75% of the KAM into this section, which makes this the longest of any in the lit review so far. I’m sure some of it (or perhaps all of it) will be a casualty of the committee’s first read. In any case, here it is:

Organizational Change (LONG) – 169.5 KB Word Doc
References – 149.5 KB Word Doc

* Incidentally, it turns out as I search my blog archives that I never posted KAM III in it’s entirety, so I’m happy to say that as far as blog readers are concerned this is new content from me… well, as “new” as a quote-heavy literature review can be. ;)

Role Playing (LONG)

Back on April 23rd I posted a “one page” overview of Role Playing games (with respect to video games in education). I was an avid role-player myself (when I used to make the time for it) and I believe that the table-top, paper-and-pencil, dice-based role-playing game can serve as a powerful model for the sort of video game I hope to see in education, particularly when it comes to educational MMORPGs. This section of my lit review may not be as well organized as the others, but I think I have more original thoughts connecting the dots in here… and like the last section, it’s still a manageable length.

Role Playing (LONG) – 39.5 KB Word Doc
References – 149.5 KB Word Doc

Please leave comments if you are interested in these ideas.

Emotion in Games (LONG)

Back on April 20th I posted a “one-page” overview of Designing Games with Emotion For Education. This weekend I finished the fleshed out version. I ended up incorporating some of the storytelling notes I’ve collected into this section. Also, I really tried to limit how much I went on about Freeman’s emotioneering mateial. In the end it’s not a great section – and parts of it may later be moved around (or moved elsewhere entirely), but it’s serviceable and it’s a reasonable length. In any case, here’s the word version of this section, and – as usual – the updated reference list. If you download these, please leave me a comment with your reactions.

Emotion in Games (LONG) – 40k Word File
References – 150k Word File

I can tell the end of the lit review is in sight. I aim to finish a complete draft of it before I leave for NECC on Friday. Wish me luck (and few interruptions… aside from the CUE conference planning committee meeting in Oakland on Wednesday of course).

Inclusive Game Design (LONG)

I finished a draft of another section from my literature review. Here is the fleshed out version of the “Inclusive Game Design” overview I posted back on April 19th. This is once again both longer than I hoped and lacking in sections. As I mentioned before, I am also far from an expert on this subject, on account of being neither a game designer nor a woman (the bulk of the discussion focuses on gender inclusive design). In any case, I believe this is an important topic to be included in any discussion of using video games in education.

Game Design (LONG) – 55.5 KB Word Doc

References – 149.5 KB Word Doc

I’d love to hear your feedback if you check it out this section, so please leave a comment. I’d be particularly interested in hearing back from female readers… and female gamers doubly so.