About Otter

So, I hear you ask. An otter? What’s this all about? And what does it have to with jungles and PhD’s and things? Let me explain…

Otter: Can you answer the question What animal am I? Well I can, and it is an otter. A lunchtime discussion about this very topic had me thinking. I love otters. I can watch them all day. I just see a cheekyness in them that I admire. I also love their industrious nature and sense of closeness to friends and family. So keeping that in mind I thought, maybe I would be an otter myself. Or maybe a beaver, given my engineering background. But I was pretty sold on an otter. So anyway, the internet is home to quizzes about everything so I found a What Animal Am I quiz and gave it a crack. Who would have thought. I was an otter, and pretty much for all the reasons I dig them. Oh, and if you put your hands too close to an otter they will bite a finger off. True. I admire that too.

Jungle: So what is this jungle business? Well, think about what a jungle can be. A dark, mysterious place, full of dangers and strange creatures. Sometimes you can wander aimlessly for what seems an eternity, and then you find your way out. That brings me to…

PhD: PhD? Yep. In the end, this is what this blog is all about. My PhD journey (as well as Lucie’s own trek up Everest). Well, not the whole journey… about the last 12 months. In late 2002 I started a Masters, which 12 months later I decided to upgrade to a part-time PhD. I undertook it for a couple reasons. First, it was kind of expected, being a full-time lecturer. But secondly, I wanted to. Even as an undergrad, I always thought one day I would be doing postgraduate study. And so it was a PhD.

My PhD is all about learning problems for novice programming students. Having taught introductory programming for 6 years now, I see some of the same problems year in, year out. In fact motivation came from a heated discussion with a student in my first year of teaching. Without boring you, I think there are some fundamental learning problems with conceptually high level programming concepts. These problems are made greater by a lack of feedback in the programming process for these elements. And I want to deal with these things. No, I am not curing cancer. But if we have been teaching programming fundamentals for decades now, why do these problems still exist? Hopefully not for much longer…

A Journey Through the PhD Jungle: So that is where we are. I guess the last question is why a blog? To answer that let me backtrack. In my third year project class I teach, I expect my students to keep a reflective diary of their projects. I suggest that reflecting on the process lets them discover what they are learning, what they are good at, how they deal with challenges, and ultimately give them a good diary of their experiences for later on. After 5 years I have finally taken my own advice. In the last month I have had some great successes with my PhD and have felt an urge to write them down. I am not sure why. Maybe for me to read back in a couple of years. Maybe to share with others. Maybe to get excited. Maybe to just stay excited. Which, in a part-time PhD, sometimes you need to do all you can to find the exit to the jungle.

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