Reflections On My Time as a Graduate Student

Image used under Pixabay license
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

As a new teacher you lack confidence and can sometimes feel intimidated by those with more experience, more education, or a more powerful position.  When I began teaching I looked up to my administrators or those teachers that had graduate degrees. I was not sure that I could ever meet them at equals, but then again I was still new and “green”.  It took me time to feel comfortable with what I was doing. I remember after I had been teaching for about three and a half years things began to change. An administrator called me a “Technology Guru” and another called me in for technology advice for a new school program.  I have always felt that I want to feel that I have a deep and functional understanding of teaching and learning in order to make sure that I am fully aware of what I am doing as I teach. My previous course work gave me a very practical and functional skill set, but I felt that there were areas that I did not have the knowledge that I wanted, thus it was natural for me to pursue further education. I looked at graduate programs, and found that the best fit appeared to be the Master’s of Education in Educational Technology and Design at the University of Saskatchewan.

In this post I am going to attempt to explore my journey towards my M.Ed degree as a linear narrative that remembers the ups and downs, while exploring three streams of my life which are the personal, academic, and professional.  This is not the be all and end all of my work but rather a series of summaries and reflections on my experiences both positive and challenging from the past three years.

Fall/Winter 2016-2017

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Image by Valentin Sabau from Pixabay

I began my studies in the Fall of 2016, I was both anxious and nervous to get started.  It was a point of transition in my life, as we had only recently moved into a new house, my son had just turned two, and we had a new baby on the way.  I remember having a 30 minute phone conversation with my first graduate professor as I wanted to get an idea of what was expected of me, as I had always looked up at graduate course work and felt intimidated by it.  The conversation eased my nerves, and I was ready to go.

Unfortunately in early September, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage at 19 weeks pregnant.  It was a difficult time, as our family was excited and it was the start of a new school year. When something like this happens, it is difficult to face people and explain what has happened, as it feels like you are reliving it each time that you have to do so.  You grieve, you feel frustrated, and you ask questions that you do not always get the answers to. Eventually you start to look forwards and have to move on. In many ways it is difficult to write about this experience, but I feel like I need to include this experience in this narrative to accurately represent my experiences over the past three years.

ETAD 802 Historical and Theoretical Foundations of Educational Technology

This was my very first course in my graduate program.  It took me a few weeks to get a solid grounding but eventually I found my footing and began to feel confident in reading research and citing it online in graduate course discussions.  The expectations were higher and the work was more rigorous compared to courses I had taken before. There were a variety of new topics and subjects that I had not been introduced to in my undergrad. Ones that stand out are connectivism, the works of Marshall McLuhan, situated learning theory, and instructional design.  I took on a major research paper on video games in education, and found that I challenged myself and wrote a lengthy assignment that I was proud of. As video games have been a passion of mine since I was a child, this was an engaging learning experience.  It really put me in a position that I can talk to students about video games and really be able to draw upon not just my own experiences but recent research as well. I used the basis of my research here to implement a video game club with a fellow teacher at my school.

Spring/Summer 2017

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Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

ETAD 877 Video Design for Learning

Having come from a film production background, I had an immediate level of comfort in this subject area.  Already having a solid base using cameras, microphones, and video editing software, I put my focus on looking at theories behind producing videos for learning.  A great author that I came across was Richard Mayer who has written extensively on how different elements of video production affect learning in a variety of ways.

In this class I also produced what I would call an educationally aimed documentary film about video games that drew upon the research that I had done in ETAD 802.  What was different about this film compared to others that I had produced previously, was that I was the narrator/host as well as the producer/director/writer. I had never had this experience before, but I decided to use it to plan a new narrative documentary project that I would have my students do during the next school year.  I took the basic idea from my project in this class and adapted it to serve as a project outline for my middle years multimedia class.

Visiting Scotland and Ireland

After the experience that our family endured in the Fall of 2016, my wife and I decided to go to Scotland and Ireland for a two week trip.  It was difficult leaving our son with his grandparents for that amount of time, but we felt that we needed to do this as it had been a trip that we had been interested in for some time, but due to having a young family we were hesitant.  We took the opportunity to go on this trip for our five year wedding anniversary and had a wonderful experience.

Fall/Winter 2017-2018

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Image by Ina Hoekstra from Pixabay

Starting a new school year, I had decided to become an executive member of my local teachers’ association and was continuing to take my ETAD courses.  I was enrolled in ETAD 873 Instructional Design and ERES 800 Research Methods. With additional professional commitments this was a busy time. I was fortunate to access some release time through an educational leave benefit that we have in my school division.  

The courses that I was taking were relatively new areas for me that did not directly connect to my teaching practice as other courses had.  However, as I progressed, I found that the ERES class was extremely valuable to me professionally and academically as it gave me a clear idea of what specific research findings could and could not mean.  The instructional design class provided me an opportunity to look at education through the perspective of an instructional designer rather than a teacher. In this class I produced some media literacy resources for my wife who was a grade 6 teacher and had been assigned a literacy with technology class as part of her teaching load.

Spring/Summer 2018

I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.  At the end of the winter term I was officially halfway done my program.  I was coaching my son’s soccer team, my wife was pregnant again, and it appeared that things were progressing well.  I decided that I would take nine credit hours of classes over the summer months to make sure that I was on track to graduate in 2019.

Unfortunately at the end of June, my wife and I received some devastating news.  We had lost our baby again at 19 weeks to a miscarriage. We were stunned. For this to happen once is a rare occurrence, for it to happen twice, you have better odds of winning the lottery.  We looked for answers and unfortunately did not get any. This was a difficult time, but we were able to draw upon our previous experience to make it through. We have a healthy four year old son who is full of energy and we have many other positive elements in our lives.

EFDT 837 Ed Philosophies and Curriculum, ECUR 805 Trends and Research in Curriculum Development, and ECUR 809 Methods and Models of Program Evaluation

While taking these courses I found that I was driven and had focus.  It became easy to go to Starbucks, get a coffee, put on some headphones while writing and doing research.  I usually did this for about two hours each day. In my curriculum and philosophy course, I found that my professor challenged and confirmed some of my notions on curriculum building upon my own notions that curriculum was far more than just a series of outcomes in a government produced text.  In ECUR 805, I delved into theories and research on Project-Based Learning, and used them to revise my narrative documentary student project. ECUR 809 was an eye opening experience as it made me aware of the vast array of different approaches that can be used to evaluate a program, each with their own specific purposes and ideologies.

Disneyland

When my summer courses were finished, my wife and I thought that it was important to have a positive family experience, so we decided that we would take our son to Disneyland.  We had a great family trip and ended the summer on a great note.

Fall 2018 ETAD 804 Designing for Distance Learning

For my last regular course I was taking ETAD 804 .  This was a challenging course as the assignments were very extensive drawing upon a variety of theories and frameworks.  I felt that I produced a well done project that was a plan for a distance video production course for working teachers at the university level.  My big takeaway here was that designing a distance class is much more complex process than I originally thought. It requires careful planning, budgeting, and execution and should not be thrown together on a whim.

Winter 2019 ETAD 991:  Who am I as a scholarly professional?

So, that brings me to the here and now.  Working through my capstone/portfolio course, where am I at the end of my program?  How do the three streams of my life, professional, academic, and personal intertwine and converge into who I am now?

Over the past three years I have had both positive and challenging experiences.  I refuse to let things hold me down trying to keep my head up going forwards. You need to remember where you came from but cannot hold your history as baggage that drags you down.  

Website Project

For my final project, I decided to create a website which is online right now at www.niallmcfadyen.ca.  This site features highlights and resources that I have produced in my academic and professional work, while featuring blog posts and other pieces of writing that blend together my personal life with the other streams.  This site is not the be all and end all of each stream, but rather selected work, ideas, and experiences from each. There are certain topics and experience that I have chosen not to expand on, more so from the personal and professional than the academic.  This site is also designed to be the start of something rather than the summation of the last three years. This goes hand in hand with my desire to continue to learn academically and grow my professional footprint and practice. For me the website represents my evolution and transition, rather than a reflective account.  It is designed to grow as I continue to as well.

Some key elements from the site

  • An academic portfolio section that features selections from my graduate studies.
  • A blog that features original work based on my current interests and revised/reworked parts of my graduate work.
  • A selection of videos that I have produced recently for my teaching practice.

What’s Next?

With changes to the Manitoba Public Education system looming in the Legislature, I have to say I am unsure.  At times I have considered different routes whether it is in academics, administration, or educational consultation, but with uncertainty in my professional world I cannot say in which direction I will head.  My focus is on the personal stream with my website representing a forum that I can continue to explore opportunities and interests as they arise. It is important to make sure that you keep looking forward. You can remember challenges, struggles, and difficult situations. Making it through them makes you stronger. The future can always be a positive place if you make it so.

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