educational development

Should I get a PhD?

If you are an educational developer, you may be debating whether you want to go back to school and pursue doctoral studies. In this post, I share my perspective and experience on that issue in the hopes that doing so may help colleagues who are grappling with the question of “Should I get a PhD?”

Early thoughts about getting a PhD

I started working as an educational developer in 2003 as I was completing my Masters degree in Adult Education. I deeply enjoyed my work at the teaching and learning centre but because I was employed there only 1 to 2 days per week it took me a few years to “get” what this field was about. By 2006, my work at the centre was more regular and I recognized that educational development was a profession I felt committed to.

Knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in educational development, I began to ask myself whether I wanted to do doctoral studies. My sense was that I would have more varied and interesting opportunities with a PhD and that, overall, this would lead to greater career fulfillment. Specifically, I remember feeling that the PhD matters in the world of higher education and that ‘having one’ would allow me to collaborate meaningfully with others more often.

Other issues I considered in my decision-making process

Even if I felt fairly confident that pursuing a doctoral degree would be a good career decision, I had many other things to consider before I submitted my application. These are the main issues I thought about/stressed over as I made my decision:

  • Mothering. I had two young children (ages 2 and 6 at the time). Could I mother them in a way that I felt good about if I did my PhD? That is, could I give them the attention, love, and time I wanted to while pursuing doctoral studies?
    • It turns out I could but only because I became extremely good at setting boundaries around a whole number of other ‘opportunities’. During my studies, I said ‘no’ to a bunch of tempting offers (i.e., service work, side-research projects, volunteer opportunities, projects etc) so I could give more to my children and enjoy them as much as possible.
  • Relationship. I had heard that the rate of divorce was fairly high in graduate school. I was in a long-time relationship and did not want ours to end up in divorce.
    • It didn’t. We will have been together 22 years this fall (2017).
  • Work. I wanted to continue working part-part time. Since my reasons for starting doctoral studies were strongly related to my career, I wanted to keep working as an educational developer.
    • The teaching centre’s director at that time, Dr. Gary Poole, and my supervisor, Ms. Janice Johnson, were highly supportive of my professional growth and I was able to continue working at the teaching and learning centre part-time while going to school.

Support from my family

My father, mother, and spouse were supportive of me going back to school and this was an important aspect of my decision-making process. My retired father, I knew, would provide as much help as he could with childcare; he also offered to help me financially (I accepted).  Both my parents had had academic careers and my father was ecstatic that I was considering a PhD. I was confident I could count on my spouse for emotional support; he’s my biggest cheerleader.

Has it been ‘worth it’?

I began my PhD in Education (with a focus on teaching and learning in higher education) in 2007 and completed it in 2012. There were many aspects I enjoyed about doing a PhD and, at the same time, there was a lot of stress involved.

Am I glad I did it? Yes, for so many reasons.

Has it been worth it, career-wise? Yes.  I had predicted that completing a PhD would lead to more fulfilling work and I believe it has. Within the context of the large, research-intensive university within which I work, I have been involved in various research projects, collaborations, facilitative processes, and consultations that I don’t think would have been available to me if I did not have a PhD.

Did it help me grow as an educational developer? Yes, yes, and yes because I gained so much by way of knowledge, skills, and experience during my years of study.

If you have any questions, please contact me! If you’d like to consider the “Should I get a PhD?” question further, read the interviews at Should I Get a PhD?


Photo credits:

Finger face with a question: https: //

Questioned proposal: https: //


Documenting the impact of educational leadership in faculty member careers

Leadership quote

For just under a year, I have been involved in a collaborative project concerning educational leadership (EL) in faculty member careers.

This initiative involves (1) clarifying what EL is in the context of faculty member careers and (2) helping faculty members articulate the evidence and impact of their EL activities.The people with whom I am collaborating are Dr. Simon Bates (lead) and Dr. Simon Albon. Though my involvement is in the UBC context, this is part of a larger international Universitas 21 project.

One of the reasons that articulating evidence and impact of EL matters is because Educational Leadership Stream faculty must be able to do so to advance their careers (see note 1). However, since EL is a concept people are still trying to figure out, it is not yet ‘obvious’ what counts as evidence and how to communicate the impact.

We have begun to develop some resources to help with this and are workshopping them with faculty members and others to get their feedback.

The tool I wish to share about in this blog post is the Educational Leadership Mapping (ELM) tool.  The ELM tool is an organizing framework that can help instructors begin to categorize and make sense of their EL activities. This two-dimensional framework asks instructors to plot what they do related to teaching/learning and the forms of enactment. Learn more here.

Download the ELM tool here as a PowerPoint slide.

In our experience, faculty members have an easier time plotting along the horizontal axis than on the vertical; they can find it difficult to distinguish between “Manage” and “Lead” and may have a (negative) reaction to the word “manage”. The distinctions made on page 2 of The University of Glasgow’s Guidelines for Learning, Teaching & Scholarship Track may be helpful for distinguishing where to place an activity along the vertical (i.e., items in the Professorial list would match up best with “Lead”).

Our work is ongoing and we welcome your feedback. We will be presenting this work at the 2017 POD Conference in Montreal and I will be writing more posts on the topic as we prepare for that session.


Note 1: Though faculty members in the Educational Leadership stream MUST demonstrate EL, faculty members at all ranks and appointments may be engaging in EL.

Photocredit: https: //


Evaluating the Course Design Intensive

Rainy Days and Mondays

As do several other teaching and learning centres, ours offers a Course Design Intensive (CDI). During this 3-day course, participants make progress on the design or redesign a course for post-secondary students.

Since 2015, I have been leading a program evaluation of our CDI. The process and methodology have been messy and inconsistent…and have taught me a lot about program evaluation. In this blog post, I share on the retrospective pre-test (RPT), one of the approaches I have used as part of our multi-faceted evaluation [for a 2-page description of our program evaluation, see here].

Retrospective pre-test

The retrospective pre-test is a survey that is administered at the same time as the post-test. Learners are asked to answer questions about their level of understanding, confidence or skill after an intervention. They are then asked to think back to their understanding prior to the intervention and to answer the same questions, but from the perspective of the present moment. See here for more information, including a brief description of strengths and weaknesses of this approach.

What we used to do before

Prior to December 2016, we did the following:

Before the CDI

The survey asked participants to consider the learning outcomes for the CDI and, using a Likert Scale, rate: (1) how important is this skill in course design?; (2) how confident are you in your current skills in this area? [see here for pre-CDI program evaluation survey].

On day 3 of the CDI

On the last day of the CDI, participants would complete a survey that had the same questions as above (#1 and #2) and this question: (3) how helpful has the CDI been in learning this skill? [see here for post-CDI program evaluation survey]

What we do now: Retrospective pre-test and post-test

Instead of administering two surveys at two different times, we now administer the retrospective pre-test and post-test at the same time. After consulting different articles about the benefits and disadvantages of one method over another, I surmised that the main advantage, in the case of the CDI, was mostly practical: one survey vs two.  To access our survey, see here.

Additional resources on the retrospective pre-test

The Retrospective Pretest: An Imperfect but Useful Tool (Harvard Family Project, 2005)

The Retrospective Pretest Method for Evaluating Training (Evaluate Webinar, 2015)



  1. Thanks go to Dr. Chris Lovato for introducing me to retrospective pre-test.
  2. Photo credit: Bill Dickinson “Rainy Days and Mondays” https ://




Small Group Instructional Feedback

I conducted a small group instructional feedback (SGIF) session last week. In this post, I share on the process I used for the in-class portion.

Writing? Yeah.

SGIF is a formative, mid-course check-in process for gathering information from students on their learning experience. Like with all mid-course evaluations, the advantage is that the instructor can respond to the information gathered during the course (unlike with the end-of-course evaluations, for which the information gathered from students can only be applied to a future offering of a course). SGIF is initiated by the instructor and helps foster dialogue between the instructor and students.

If you were to search on the internet, you would find there are many ways to conduct a SGIF. Here is what I opted for once the instructor and I had met to discuss aspects of her teaching and pre-arranged a date/time for the SGIF.

1. Instructor introduces me and leaves the room (she had, the class before, told students this process would take place).

2. I thank the students and let them know a bit more about me and what this is about. Things I say include:

  • I work with faculty members across campus on enhancing teaching and learning.
  • Your instructor has requested this process, which will give her feedback on her teaching in this course.

3. I outline the overall process. Points covered include:

  • You are going to answer some questions individually, then in small groups. Within the next few days, I will share your comments with the instructor anonymously [she will not see your writing or original papers]. Your instructor will report back to you on your feedback and her reflections/decisions within the next week or so.
  • Unlike end-of-course student evaluations of teaching, this process allows the instructor to respond right away–so you (all) get to benefit directly from this.

4. I encourage students to be constructive in their feedback. I mention:

  • Inviting me to class to do this takes a lot of courage on your instructor’s part. As you’re answering these questions, please be constructive and specific. This is not an opportunity to lash out in frustration, but rather to be professional and helpful in giving feedback that will help make your experience in this course even better.

[all the above takes approximately 5 minutes]

5. Students individually respond to the following three questions, which I have copied onto a 1/2 page of paper and distributed to each student. [5 minutes]

  • In what ways has your instructor been supporting your learning in this course?Please give examples.
  • How could your instructor support your learning more effectively in this course? Please give examples.
  • Other comments you would like to make about the course and/or instructor that might strengthen your learning in this course.

6. Students get into groups of 3-5 and individually share their responses to the first question only. Then, they find at least 2 points on which they all agree (for the first question). They write these down on the group sheet. [5 minutes]

7. They repeat the above process for Question 2. [5 minutes]

8. As a whole class, each group shares out loud on one of their consensus points for Question 1.  They do the same for Question 2. [5 minutes]

9. If time allows, and in their small groups only, they find consensus points for Question 3.

10. I thank the class and gather all the papers.

I am done within 1/2 hour and the instructor returns.

The SGIF process involves several more steps, but this post looks only at the in-class portion.  If you’d like to find out more, I encourage you to visit:


Photo by Caleb Roenigk: https: //

Helpful coaching questions


I recently listened to an excellent conversation between Michael Bungay Stanier and David Stachowiak on the Coaching for Leaders podcast. The theme of the episode was “These coaching questions get results” and, at the end, Michael invited listeners to reflect on how they might use the information. I’m taking him up on the invitation.

As you might know from reading some of my previous posts, I am keenly interested in exploring the ‘helping role’ of educational developers.  Michael talked about coaching as helping people learn versus teaching them. I liked that distinction. I recognize, however, that as an educational developer, I do both; yet, when in ‘coaching’ mode, I need to remind myself where to focus.

Bungay Stanier also talked about the power of questions and the importance of asking good questions (remember to wait, he reminds us). These are some questions I especially liked and will use/continue using:

  • “what is on your mind?”
    • I like this one because it leaves the response open and doesn’t assume the conversation is going to be focussed on topic A/problem B.
  • “and what else?”
    • I like this question because it allows the conversation partners to go deeper, but doesn’t assume a particular direction

And I chuckled when Bungay Stanier said :

A statement that starts with “Have you considered….?” is really just ‘advice disguised as a question’!

Yikes! That is one change I’m going to make!

Finally, he suggested incorporating the following into a coaching conversation:

  • What was most valuable about our conversation?

I haven’t been using that question when I coach/help because I feel some discomfort about doing so (mainly around worrying that I’m looking for compliments). But others have used it ‘on me’ and I’ve typically appreciated the opportunity to reflect on–and solidify–what has been most useful. I’m going to try it out.