All posts by M.E. O’Neill

Making Plans for My (Still Super Busy) Break

As the semester comes to a close, it’s time to start making some long-term thesis goals and specific plans to keep up my momentum between semesters. After talking with Dr. Zamora about my schedule, I’ve actually decided to postpone the second half of this thesis course until summer, when I’ll be able to work on it during the Writer’s Retreat. I’m definitely going to have to set some strict goals for myself, because otherwise I have a feeling it’ll be tough to keep a steady pace when I have such a long break.

Of course, for me, it’s not really going to be a break, since I have a full time job as a high school teacher. That’s actually the main reason I’m taking a step back from my thesis work; taking two graduate courses on top of teaching full time (all while fully in-person) was really difficult for me, and I don’t think I’d be able to handle such a workload again in the spring. 

Instead, I’m planning to register for just one course on writing creative nonfiction. My hope is that I’ll be able to use this course to somewhat continue working on my thesis, as I would like my final product to be a detailed narrative about teaching during the pandemic. I also think this class will be useful to explore creating more vignette-style pieces of memoir like the one I shared during my presentation. I’m still toying with how much creativity to include in my final product, so a course on writing creative nonfiction will be the perfect avenue for me to explore these types of questions. 

In the time between the fall and spring semesters, I’d like to finish transcribing my interviews. Having the full text of all interviews available will be useful because I hope to draw inspiration from them during my spring class. My goal is to continue doing some light analysis/coding throughout the spring semester—things like highlighting significant words or phrases and making note of patterns that arise between the interviews—so that by the time summer rolls around, I can jump right into the writing process without too much difficulty.

Of course, as this semester’s blog posts have proven, I’m an incurably chronic procrastinator, so I’m a little (read: extremely) concerned that I’ll totally abandon my thesis until June, especially since next semester at work is going to be a busy one (in spring, I’ll be teaching three classes instead of the two I have now). Hopefully, though, taking a class that’s tangentially related to my thesis will help me stay on track!

Back from Break and Ready to Procrastinate

Once again, I haven’t gotten as much done as I’d have liked this week. Thanksgiving break went by way too quickly; despite my grand plans to work on my literature review and transcriptions on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I didn’t actually get any work done for either of my classes. I think I needed a day to just relax and recharge. 

Saturday and Sunday were spent in Milford, PA, after my husband planned a surprise trip for my birthday (which is today, so I’m going to keep this blog short!), but I did get a little bit of work done on Sunday night. I went through my literature review and started making some of the changes that my classmates suggested to me on the day I presented. Specifically, I cited specific government mandates regarding education in the pandemic, expanded on the importance of studying foreign language teachers, and found some sources that explore the drawbacks of fully remote learning. 

As I continue to expand my literature review, I’d like to find additional sources detailing the benefits of remote learning, as well as cite research about fully in-person learning. As Dr. Zamora mentioned, there are a lot of assumptions about the different types of instruction, so I want to make sure that my thesis contains only evidence-based information. 

Finally, I want to continue the transcription process. I’ve allowed it to fall by the wayside lately, so I want to get back into it with the goal of having all of my interviews transcribed before we return to classes in spring. I’ve been procrastinating a bit because the interviews I have left to transcribe are some of the longer ones, so I know it’s going to be a lengthy process to get everything typed out accurately and fully. 

Hopefully by this time next week, I’ll have a bit more progress to report!

Back to Procrastinating

This week’s post is going to be pretty short, because I haven’t made a ton of progress since my last update. As the end of the semester creeps up, I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed by all of the final papers and projects I have to do, and when I’m stressed, I have the very healthy coping mechanism of just ignoring all my problems until the last possible second. So, after a few weeks of steady progress, I’m back to procrastinating. 

I did manage to catch my coworker after school on Friday and sit down for an interview. That brings my total number of interviews up to seven, so now I can just focus on getting everything transcribed. Unfortunately, I haven’t done any more transcribing or analysis since last week. Hopefully, I can get myself back in gear before the end of the semester and get at least one more interview transcribed. 

I’d also like to make a few more edits on my literature review before I submit it. The feedback I received in class last week during my presentation was really helpful, so thanks to everyone who listened and gave me advice! I took lots of notes on what I should improve, add, and edit, so my goals for next week are to review those notes again and incorporate them into my literature review and research proposal. 

The upcoming holiday break will hopefully give me some time to reach those goals. I’ll be spending Thursday with family, but on Friday I want to buckle down and get to work on my literature review. So, if all goes well, by next week I should have a much longer progress report to share. 

Interviewing (Again) and Getting Organized

I’m back in the swing of things this week. Yesterday, I stayed after school to interview the teacher who’d been my mentor during my first year. She gave some really excellent answers to my questions, so I’m looking forward to transcribing and then analyzing that interview to discover patterns and connections with my previous data. (It was also nice to just catch up with her; we have completely opposite schedules this year, and being back in-person full time has been pretty busy for everyone.) 

With that interview under my belt, I now have a total of six interviews, four of which are at least partially transcribed. There’s at least one more teacher in my department that I’d like to interview before the semester is over, but she’s got a lot going on in both her personal and professional life that’s making it hard to schedule a time to meet. Part of me thinks that six interviews is plenty, as phenomenology requires anywhere from one to ten interviews, but I still want to at least try to sit down with this seventh interviewee before the end of the semester.

Although I’ve hit that roadblock in the interview process, I used our writing time last class to get to work on transcription, and now I just need to comb through that Google Doc in order to correct typos and add proper punctuation. During last class, I also went through the literature review I started last year in Dr. Nelson’s class. I’m adding all of the new sources I’m finding in bold, which Dr. Zamora mentioned is a great way to visually understand how the pandemic has progressed in the past year. 

Outside of class, I’ve been working on my presentation (which you’ll all get to see tomorrow!). Collecting all of the work I’ve done so far in preparation for presenting has been pretty useful in helping me get organized and start making more long-term plans for my thesis. I’ve been focusing heavily on just getting interviews done this fall, but I’ve dedicated less time to beefing up my literature review and outlining where all of my sources will fit into my final product. This presentation has forced me to look at what I’ve done, which in turn has forced me to think about where I’ll go from here. 

I’ve realized that in the literature review I wrote in Dr. Nelson’s class, I focused pretty heavily on hybrid instruction. However, the interviews I’m currently conducting ask about remote, hybrid, and in-person instruction, so I’m wondering whether I should cut some of my hybrid-related content from the lit review and add some info about remote and in-person learning. I’ve also realized that I need to find some more current sources—probably from newspaper articles or teacher blogs and/or podcasts—that address our current situation. Even though I wrote this literature review just last spring, so much has changed so fast in regards to COVID that much of what I wrote then is outdated and incomplete. 

I have a lot more thoughts and questions about where I can take this thesis, but I’ll save them for tomorrow’s presentation! 

Slow (and Not So Steady) Progress

Unfortunately, my thesis progress has been pretty slow this week. I didn’t get as much transcribed as I’d have liked to over fall break, when I had a full week off from work. Because I wasn’t in school last week, I also haven’t gotten any more interviews conducted. Work resumed on Monday, but between running the book club, attending faculty meetings, catching up on all the grading I ignored over the break, and wrapping up the first marking period, I haven’t had much time during the school day to sit down with my colleagues and discuss their pandemic-related teaching experiences. 

I’m going to try to get at least one interview conducted this week, but I’m also not going to beat myself up if it doesn’t happen (especially since the two coworkers I’m planning to interview are even busier than I am). Instead, I’m going to make a concrete goal to get at least one more interview transcribed. I have Thursday off in observance of Veteran’s Day, so I’d like to use that time to buckle down and get to work on my thesis. 

I’m also going to take full advantage of the weekly writing time that’s set aside during our thesis class. Last week, I used that hour to search through Kean’s databases for more sources to add to my annotated bibliography. I’ve decided to focus just on foreign language teachers’ experiences with remote and hybrid instruction during the pandemic, so last Wednesday I collected a few articles on the language learning process to support some of what my interviewees have been saying about the obstacles the pandemic has presented. In addition, I went back to the literature review I wrote in Dr. Nelson’s class and made some minor revisions to reflect the most current information on teaching during COVID. 

Finally, I started working on my thesis presentation. Although this doesn’t really feel like true “progress” (since it’s just me talking about doing work rather than actually doing it), I still found it helpful to collect my thoughts and reflect on how much I’ve accomplished. In thinking about how to present my thesis work, I’ve also begun thinking about what my final project might look like—e.g., how I’ll format my literature review, whether the final work will be a traditional paper or include multimedia components, how (if at all) to incorporate creative elements, etc. These are all questions I’m keeping in the back of my mind each week as I continue to make slow progress toward my overall thesis goals. 

Still Interviewing and Transcribing

I’m making steady progress with my interviews. I conducted another one last week, and I know of at least two other candidates who are willing to speak with me. It’s a little tough to find time in each of our busy schedules to sit down and talk, but I have confidence we’ll be able to figure it out before the end of the semester. I’m currently on a week-long fall break, so I won’t be able to meet with my coworkers for more interviews until after I return next Monday. 

Instead, I’ve been using this time to work on the transcription process. I downloaded an app that allows me to slow audio to half speed, which has made typing out the interview go much more smoothly. I’m no longer struggling to keep up with my interviewees speaking, so I can focus on recording things right the first time instead of having to stop, start, and rewind countless times as I make typos. I obviously still have to go back through each interview once the transcription is complete so I can check for mistakes, add proper punctuation, and fix the formatting, but overall the process has become much more streamlined.

As I review the transcriptions of each interview, I’m noticing that specific patterns, common words and phrases, and overarching themes are emerging. I’ve started a rudimentary coding/analysis of my data by highlighting each of these phrases and topics in different colors. I’m sure that as I actually start my “official” analysis, I’ll refine my coding system and delve a lot deeper into each interview’s transcription, but for now, I’m just making some preliminary connections among the data. 

As the end of the semester creeps up on me, I’m also trying to plan for my long term thesis goals. Once I’ve interviewed all of the coworkers in my department, I’m debating whether I should expand my interviewee pool into other academic departments, as well. Part of me wants to keep my thesis just to foreign language teachers. Sticking with teachers who know me and who I see on a daily basis feels more doable than trying to track down teachers I don’t interact with. In addition, the pandemic was (and still is) a difficult time for everyone, so I’m not sure how willing others might be to talk about such a sensitive topic with someone they don’t know.

I also am trying to be practical about the timeline of my thesis. Taking two classes on top of teaching full time is already a lot to handle, and I worry that adding even more interviews with teachers of different subject matters will make the entire research process more challenging. Depending on whether my interviewees share subject-specific comments (as many of the foreign language teachers already have), I might have to expand my literature review to include articles on those topics. Keeping it to just one subject will likely make finding relevant sources more manageable.

My goals for next week are to conduct those last two interviews with foreign language teachers; after that, I’ll decide for sure whether to expand my studies. I also hope to get at least one more interview transcribed while I have the time off work (and hopefully I’ll find some time to relax, too!)

Unexpected Inspiration

I don’t have too much to report this week unless I want to start sounding incredibly repetitive; I’m still just conducting and scheduling interviews with my colleagues. After each interview, I’ve been writing a short paragraph to remind myself of the interview’s setting (including details about the location’s set up or decorations) and context (such as how myself and my interviewee were positioned, if we chatted before and/or after the interview, etc.) just in case I decide to include a more creative narrative portion in my thesis. 

So far, I’m up to four interviews, and I’ve talked to two more coworkers who said they’d be interested in participating, as well. My goal is to get at least one (but ideally, both) of those interviews conducted this week. Next Monday starts a week-long fall break from work, so I’m hoping that time off will allow me to continue the transcription process. 

I haven’t made any more progress on that front, but since tomorrow’s class is canceled, I might use that unexpected free-time to try to finish transcribing the rest of my first interview (which is currently only about two-thirds finished). I honestly haven’t had much time to go back to the transcription process between work and my other class, Language of Racial and Ethnic Identity. I’m presenting in that class this week, so I’ve been putting most of my energy toward that presentation.

Surprisingly, working on my assignment for that class gave me some more ideas for my thesis. The article I was assigned to present is called “Nonsovereign Racecraft: How Colonialism, Debt, and Disaster are Transforming Puerto Rican Racial Subjectivities” by Isar Godreau and Yarimar Bonilla. It has absolutely nothing to do with my thesis topic, but the article’s structure is giving me some ideas for my final project. 

The authors write in a clear, concise, and logical manner; their introduction provides sufficient context for readers outside of the discipline; and there’s no confusing academic jargon. I hope to emulate this comprehensible style in my own thesis. In addition, Godreau and Yarimar analyze participants’ answers to an open-ended survey question much like I hope to analyze my open-ended interview questions. The researchers include tables and graphs representing the data they collected (something I’m now considering adding to my thesis), and they explain how they analyzed certain phrases, pauses, or even physical gestures. 

I’ve strictly been paying attention to my participants’ verbal responses, but after reading “Nonsovereign Racecraft,” I might start taking note of interviewees’ physical responses, as well. My only concern with this is whether scrutinizing my colleague’s facial expressions or hand gestures might lead me into a biased analysis. I don’t want to read too much into anything, and it’s much easier to accurately analyze the meaning of words than gestures. For now, I’ll start taking note of any physical aspects of the interview that stand out to me and worry about whether I should analyze them later; my main goal for the moment is just to keep conducting those interviews.

Making Progress

I’m finally making progress. Since my last blog, I’ve conducted three interviews with my colleagues, asking them about their experiences with hybrid, remote, and in-person learning during the pandemic. I’m still not sure how many more interviews I want to conduct, or whether I want to expand my study by interviewing teachers from other disciplines, but I hope that as I start analyzing the data, I’ll begin drawing out important threads that will guide my future processes. 

For now, I’m feeling pretty productive, and I hope I can keep this energy up throughout the semester. The interview process has affirmed some of my prior beliefs about teaching during COVID, but a lot of what my coworkers have shared has surprised me as well, so I’m looking forward to continuing this data collection to see what other useful information I can glean. I hope to get another interview conducted this week, and maybe one or two next week before our school’s week-long fall break. I’ll be able to use that time off of work to transcribe the interviews and perhaps even start some preliminary analysis of the data.

Speaking of transcription, I’ve transcribed about three-quarters of my first interview. I think I’ll continue doing my own transcription rather than hiring someone to do it for me, because I find it useful to re-listen to the interview and then comb through it line-by-line to edit the spelling, punctuation, and grammar. It’s almost like a “pre-analysis” stage in which I’m familiarizing myself with the data and refreshing my memories of the original interview. 

Since I’m going to do the bulk of transcribing interviews myself, I need to figure out a better system. Notability—the app I’ve been using to record—is convenient because I can take notes in the app with my stylus, and when the audio plays back, the notes I took are highlighted in real time so I can see exactly what I was thinking as my interviewee was speaking. However, the app can only slow the audio down to 0.7x speed. I’m a fast typer, so if I really wanted to, I could manage to keep up, but the faster I type, the more errors appear, and the more errors appear, the more I get flustered and stop typing to go back and fix any mistakes. So, to speed up the process, I’m going to need to slow down the audio. 

My main goals for this week are going to be to get some more interviews and figure out a streamlined way to convert the audio from Notability into another format, but I’ve also started thinking about what else I can add to my thesis. The numerous news stories about workers striking and resigning in response to poor working conditions has me wondering how many educators are following suit. I’m toying with the idea of researching whether the pandemic caused teachers to leave the profession, but that might be too far out of the scope of my project because none of the teachers I’ve interviewed so far have indicated that they plan to resign or retire. 

Like many of my thesis-related ideas, I’m going to put this one on the back-burner; maybe it’ll be relevant to add to my introduction or conclusion to demonstrate that asking for teacher’s input—i.e., the entire premise of my thesis—is an important part of keeping our education system functioning.

Upended Plans and the Search for Sources

I was all ready to conduct my first interview today. I fully charged my iPad; recorded some test voice memos on Notability, my note-taking app, to make sure I’d have no tech issues; made a digital copy of my participant consent form for my interviewee to sign; and added my eight interview questions to a blank page in the app so I could take notes in real time during the interview. 

I planned out what I would say in my head, how I’d let my coworker know that—while I would be actively listening and taking notes—in an effort to remain impartial and keep the interview completely free of bias, I’d be keeping mostly quiet aside from the occasional request for additional details. In the morning, I checked in with my coworker to make sure she was still good to meet after school—and that’s when I learned she had to cancel.

So, long story short, I still haven’t conducted any interviews. I do have another interview scheduled for tomorrow, and I rescheduled that first one to next week, but I’m still left with this uncomfortable feeling that I haven’t really done anything to make progress on my thesis. The only concrete step I’ve taken is sneaking a quick picture of one of the social distancing signs in the stairwell during my morning duty in the hopes that I might use it as a multimodal component of my final product. Other than that single photograph, though, I don’t have much to show for myself.

So, in an effort to make myself feel somewhat productive, I browsed through Kean’s databases for some more sources to add to my annotated bibliography/literature review. Although I already have a decent list of references built up from Dr. Nelson’s class last semester, the topic I’m researching is one that’s happening right now, so I’m sure a lot more has been discovered about teaching during COVID since I last looked. 

As I searched for more sources, I started thinking about the research project I assigned to my students this week. They had to make a presentation about a current popular Hispanic musician, so I told them that while normally, they’d be using library databases to find reliable sources, for this project, they could just use a simple Google search to find up-to-date news articles or wiki pages. For a topic so current, I explained, it’s best to have the most recent information. 

I started to wonder if maybe I should take my own advice and branch out my search for sources: Instead of just the traditional peer-reviewed journal articles, could I also include news reports, think pieces, or blog posts by and about educators experiencing the pandemic? I’m going to keep this question in the back of my mind, but first, I’m hoping to get some interviews conducted because I think once I’ve analyzed them and pulled out some common themes and threads, they’ll help guide my research and lead me to the right sources.

Scheduling Interviews and Pondering Lit Reviews

In a shocking turn of events, I continued procrastinating my thesis work this week. Despite my high hopes for a productive week, I still haven’t conducted any interviews. To be fair, things have been crazy busy at my school, with spirit week, faculty meetings, testing, and observations all making it difficult for me to sit down with my colleagues. However, I did manage to set some dates and times for interviews next week, so my next blog should have a little more to offer than this one in terms of progress.

Since I haven’t been able to sit down and start the interview process, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my final product might look like. Specifically, after reviewing the slides from last week’s class, I’m trying to decide the best way to go about crafting a strong literature review. From what Dr. Zamora has mentioned in class, it seems like the requirements for that document are less strict than the ones Dr. Nelson imposed. Although I think I’m in the minority here, I actually like the idea of writing a more “traditional” literature review like the one I made in our research and methods class. I was happy with the density and flow of that final paper, so I’m wondering if I can continue building on that same document. 

I realize that even if it’s possible for me to create this type of literature review, I might come to regret that choice later when everyone else is writing more annotated bibliography-esque lit reviews, and I’m attempting to organize my sources into a structured, cohesive research paper. But for now, I’m thinking that I want my thesis to feel as much like “real” research as it possibly can. (I’m putting “real” in quotes because of course research is still valuable and worthwhile even if it doesn’t have a “traditional” literature review).

I’ve also been thinking about what I want my final product to look like. Although a common theme of my blogs has been wanting to stick with traditional research methods, I don’t know if I’d be happy with a final product that’s just plain text on paper. I’m toying with the idea of adding some multimedia components, like pictures of the social distancing signs in our school, screenshots of Google Classroom setups, audio of teacher interviews, or hyperlinks to relevant articles/videos. 

However, I’m a little wary of including these types of media because I want all portions of the study to remain anonymous. Although I think it would really enhance my project to include those elements, I don’t want to risk revealing the identity of my school, students, or coworkers. I’m going to put this idea on the back-burner for now, and in the meantime, I might take a few pictures of some of the COVID-related changes to my school, knowing that I might have to scrap them later. It does feel a little premature to be thinking of my final presentation of the thesis when I haven’t even started writing it, but—to steal a term from last week’s TRIZ activity—I’ve always been pretty good at “productive procrastination.”