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Monthly Archives: September 2016


8-Track memories of my Dad & the Hag


I first heard Merle Haggard when I was 5 or 6 years old, riding with Dad in the “Lloyd’s Upholstery Shop” truck while he rotated between Buck Owens, Charley Pride, Fats Domino, Merle Haggard, and lots of other music on the eight-track tape player. Haggard’s death in April (also the month of Dad’s birthday) sent me back in time; I found Dad’s eight-track collection and case, with two Hag titles still in there. Dad taught me about life, and the Hag taught me how to reflect on it…


Book review: “Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice”

Originally written for NACADA Journal, July 6, 2016:

The melodramatic title of Nikhil Goyal’s new educational “manifesto” denotes that he will deliver a scathing piece of journalism, an exposé that will indict the American educational system. The sub-title then promises solutions for fixing this “malpractice,” in case readers missed the judicial metaphor of the main title. Unfortunately, what he provides are large passages of paraphrased or directly quoted documents and studies, interspersed with awkwardly written journalistic descriptions of modern-day people who are working hard to create the free, democratic, nontraditional schools that are the ostensible solutions to the schools on trial.

Every chapter follows a maddening pattern. The author will put forth a canned-feeling platitude or indictment: “[W]e should craft institutions that are grounded in the attributes we want to see in citizens in our society and designed to foster critical thinking and lifelong learning” (p. 134). Then, instead of providing a systematic and thoughtful plan as promised in the subititle, he will merely launch into a magazine-style description of an autonomous, project-based school and reports to us a “day in the life” of the school and its founder or creator. He almost always begins with a sentence like this: “A short-sleeved plaid or solid-colored shirt tucked into blue jeans held up by a belt is Simon Hauger’s classic garb” (p. 194).

Early on, the author broadens his central trial metaphor in favor of one depicting war crimes: “Schools have also committed systematic human rights abuses” (p. 21). In one four-page stretch in chapter one, he even “provides” (an action that in this book is synonymous with “over-quotes”) eight teachings from Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity and immediately lists no fewer than four articles from the Geneva Conventions. That’s right, American schools should be prosecuted according to “the rules concerning the treatment of captured or wounded soldiers in war” (p. 21).

All of these (non) structural tendencies leave the reader exhausted and unintentionally create a self-important and pious tone. Consider this proclamation from early in Chapter Six: “Thousands of years ago, in the opening to the Metaphysics, Aristotle stated, ‘All men by nature desire to know.’ He was right” (p.113). Goyal, writing as an extremely well-read undergraduate college student, sounds like he is bestowing his approval on one of history’s greatest thinkers and philosophers.

In fairness to the author, however, the book is not without merit. If readers can move beyond all the aforementioned shortcomings—and also have little to no knowledge of education-related history and basic theories—they will get a quick and reasonably detailed overview that would be a good starting point for further study. Aristotle notwithstanding, they’re all here to varying degrees: Dewey, Bloom Vygotsky, and even today’s Ken Robinson, whose Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative (2001) is a much more engaging read (and whose “Do schools kill creativity?” TED Talk is required viewing for anyone in education).

With regard to academic advising, the redeeming quality and best feature of the book is undoubtedly Chapter 8, “Enrolling in the Real World.” Thankfully, its thought, structure and tone are far superior to the other chapters. Here, Goyal discusses MOOCs (massive open online courses) and does a very good job of both describing their origins and of cautioning readers about how MOOCs can sometimes (often?) border on fads that have the real potential to “exacerbate inequality and sustain the most oppressive elements of education” (p. 217). The author also intelligently (and less radically) discusses alternatives to “traditional” liberal arts, including such models as fellowships, apprenticeships, and (computer) coding schools that may be of interest to more non-traditional students and their academic advisors.

Book Review: “Doing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Measuring Systematic Changes to Teaching and Improvements in Learning”

Originally written for NACADA Journal, September 8, 2014:

This particular volume focuses on “SoTL,” or, the scholarship of teaching and learning. If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard of SoTL over the years but never really had a good understanding of just what that means. (As far as that goes, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it, so I don’t know if it rhymes with “bottle” or “yodel.”) Pronunciation notwithstanding, the authors provide a succinct and helpful definition. They define SoTL as a process of “intentional, systematic reflections on teaching and learning resulting in peer-reviewed products made public” (p. 2). What truly defines SoTL is that it is a process that goes beyond isolated individual pedagogical reflection and assessment. This “shift” moves from a “researcher asking an independently derived pedagogical question for an isolated course to faculty collectively considering student learning within an academic program” (p. 11).

This volume, part Of Wiley’s “New Directions for Teaching and Learning” series, is intended as a “manual for the prospective SoTL scholar” (p. 3). The book is divided into nine short chapters that walk said scholars through the SoTL process: using assessment and SoTL to enhance student learning; designing SoTL studies, including chapters on validity, practicality, data analysis and statistical models, and “navigating” the IRB (Institutional Review Board) process; and tips and advice for writing and publishing SoTL studies after data collection and analysis.

As the book is designed for prospective SoTL scholars, it will have more value for tenure-track faculty members with research experience who are just beginning with or transitioning into SoTL research. These professors will probably be referred to the book by their faculty development center directors and mentors. Those who want more of an “introduction” to SoTL and its background and development would benefit by reviewing the tables of introductory literature: examples of successful teaching-scholars programs, and suggested books/articles for campus teaching scholars groups (p. 108).

The volume’s main drawback is its innate research and disciplinary bias. The middle chapters on research design and data analysis focus almost exclusively on quantitative research interests and designs. (Also, at least one contributor to each of the nine chapters has a background in psychology.) All that remains for individuals with qualitative research interests is the suggestion to “discuss their ideas with a campus expert in qualitative research” (p. 31). The second drawback also comes from these same middle chapters. If readers already have experience setting up research designs and conducting subsequent analyses, they will benefit from the overview (or re-view). Those newer to research and analysis will come to a halt in Chapter 5 when terms like “ANOVA,” “Pearson correlation,” “Cronbach’s alpha,” and “Cohen’s d” are mentioned in passing with no further follow-up. Finally, perhaps the last two chapters (writing/publishing advice, and the role of faculty development centers) could have been sacrificed in favor of earlier chapters devoted to more introductory and background SoTL material.

Paradoxically, the book’s middle chapters also demonstrate its strengths. Chapter two provides good, clear examples and accompanying diagrams of effective assessment efforts, processes and cycles. Chapter three describes many common strategies for improving the construct validity of an assessment, while chapter four discusses common practical problems, solutions, and common SoTL research designs. Especially useful are the tables and summaries of research design types and characteristics, and strengths and weaknesses of each type. These chapters would make great complements for doctoral-level research-design courses.

“Academic advising” is never once mentioned in the volume, even though in our profession “advising is teaching.” I find it fascinating that while making the case for SoTL research in the academy, the authors unknowingly unite academic advising and SoTL. Both are vital and necessary, yet both continue to battle the status quo. Replace “SoTL” with “academic advising” in the following sentence, and you’ll see what I mean: “[I]f SoTL is not deemed acceptable scholarship, most faculty members would not likely devote time out of their increasingly busy schedules to this type of scholarship. Rather, most would conduct research in the more traditional areas to fulfill the scholarship component evaluated for reappointment, tenure, and promotion” (p. 104). In the end, this book reminds us that we need a SoTL research guide for academic advising…and advice on how to pronounce “SoTL.”

Title video

I shot this video (and chose it for my blog) for a very specific reason:  it captures the spirit of bricolage and multimodality.

The hand you see is one of the wonderful teachers at Sound to Sea; I was a class chaperon for a field trip there.  What you see is the truly talented Miss Lauren writing (per my request) my blog title and name.  It’s not as simple and straightforward as it appears.  Look closer:

She is writing UPSIDE DOWN and from RIGHT to LEFT!  If that doesn’t sound very difficult, take a crack at it and you’ll see just how hard it is.  

I was so intrigued by how fluid and effortless it was for her, and I realized that she was truly creating meaning and communicating via multiple modes and bricolage.

Welcome to “Bricolage…by Doctor Don”

Ready or nobricolage-title-ideast, here I blog…

Welcome to the inaugural post of “Bricolage…by Doctor Don.”  I thought it would make sense for my first post to address the title and my process (so far) for trying to capture who I am and what you’ll find here. At the risk of turning into a dictionary, a few definitions are in order.  All come from my doctoral dissertation:
Bricolage: a nonlinear set of multimodal processes by which [students] adopt and “piece together” from multiple sources to construct meaning.

Multiple modes (modalities): Socially and culturally shaped resources that all of us use to create meaning(s).


I hope my my doctoral dissertation is more than just a one-off academic document.  I really tried to make it reflect who I am and where I come from, the same purpose I have for this blog.


Thinking about a title was an ongoing exercise in brainstorming, word choice, connotations and translation (see picture above).  I wanted “de todos modos” to capture “multiple modalities,” but the Spanish phrase doesn’t translate the English phrase literally and means something quite different.


I am a Virgo, but that went nowhere.  “Subjunctive” works well in several ways (mode, subjectivity) but still seemed a bit too “linguistic.”  I finally went with “bricolage,” which was a key part of my dissertation and really brings together multimodality, multiple interests, and how I (and you) construct knowledge and meaning(s).  (I know that sounds terribly academic; please forgive me.  This will not be an academic site!)


As for the main title, it works (for now, anyway).  Granted, if you say it aloud too  many times, it sounds perhaps a bit too much like a cologne commercial.  (Those at least as old as I am will be reminded of “Brut…by Fabergé.”)  At any rate, as I move forward with my blog and learn and shape its identity and look, that title could change.  We’ll see.
I tried to capture my main interests in the subtitle but had to add “everything” at the end as a catch-all 🙂  My first ideas for a blog title involved a fluctuating (flickering?) acronym:  FLAME.  Look at the subtitle; you’ll see the acronym still holds.  I just thought it a bit too obvious for the main title.


The Cervantes quote on my main page really says it all for me:  “El que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho.”  Here’s a page that will show what it means and possible translations.


“Doctor Don” is more than an affectation or assumed identity.  I earned my Ed.D. three years ago, and I can only assume that the ease of the “D” alliteration lends itself well to nicknames & monikers.  One person began calling me “Doctor Don”..then another, then another.  What can I say?  It caught on.  It was organic.  It works, it fits, I like it.  Así sea.


Looking forward to where this takes me (and you)…


Doctor Don


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