Sunday, December 13, 2015

Weekly Due Dates are Good for Procrastinating Online Learners

In past posts, I've mentioned that I am completing my PhD online in Education with a specialization in e-learning. Well, I made it through all my regular classes and am now in my Comprehensive Exam aka Comps class. Rather than sitting in a room for many hours writing long responses to questions that determine whether I continue to the dissertation process or not, I am in a 10-week long class that accomplishes the same purpose. I've heard that many programs both online and face-to-face are moving toward this multiple week process instead of the high stakes exam. Anyway, this has presented unique challenges that I thought I'd reflect on here (as a somewhat legitimate way to procrastinate!).

A primary difficulty for me, as a huge procrastinator, is that nothing is due until 10 weeks, which is January 3rd, 2016. We had unseasonably warm weather in October which made it extremely difficult to work on an assignment not due until January, so I didn't. Submitting outlines for feedback is recommended, however, so I've submitted them every other week which has actually split up my work oddly because I start one question's outline before I've completed writing the previous one (I have to write responses to four questions). Although it has been somewhat helpful to start mulling over a question, it has been more difficult to move into a new topic and then try to get back into the previous one again later. I also work on school only on the weekends, so with five days off, the content gets shelved in the back of my mind and each weekend I have to dust it off again.

I also don't use outlines in my writing normally. I just write and things work themselves out. Of course, I have some sort of plan going into it, but not an organized outline. I know this is not how you are supposed to write, but it has worked for me so far. So it feels inefficient for me to write an outline, then next weekend start on another question and submit an outline, then have to go back and interpret a previous outline when I'm actually ready to write.

Another difficulty for me is that I am struggling to develop interest in the questions. They're about the research process and theories that I didn't study earlier and my dissertation idea does not tie in, so that's been tough. I'm hoping that the dissertation process will be less painful because I will be interested in researching my idea.

There is also a lot of anxiety associated with a course called an "exam" that is pass or fail when nothing is due until the end (especially when the cost of retaking it is almost $3000). In the past, I quickly whipped up a 5-7 page paper each weekend because there was a clear due date each Sunday night. I had lower stakes ways to test the waters and I got to know the expectations of the instructor. Each week I thought I could do better if I tried harder or had more time, but I did fine. Now, with 10 weeks to write 40-60 pages, I am nearly paralyzed with perfection. Must have the best primary sources! Must use the perfect words! Seriously, I have had days where I stared at pdfs, unable to comprehend the words, because I was working myself up about it. My previous plan of just writing something to get it out there isn't working.

So what would work better for me? I wish this course was five weeks long rather than 10: a question per week with a week to look it all over and DONE. I'd take a few days off of work and just immerse myself in it. 10 weeks is too long. I told myself that after last weekend's torture when I was finally being productive on Sunday afternoon, that I needed to start working on it during the week too. I did well with that on Monday and then...not so much the rest of the week. I had stuff to do after work and thinking is hard after working all day. By the time Thursday came around I actually forgot that was even my plan.

At this point, if I could go back in time to when I was contemplating a PhD, I'd tell myself to not do it. Really. It has taken so much time and money that I can't guarantee will benefit me. However, last weekend I had an epiphany and thought that (hopefully) future me will look back at current me and say, "That wasn't so bad! Aren't you glad you did it?" Let's hope so anyway! I am way too far in to quit now. Better get back to it!

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