A Point of View by Paul Montesino

The Teaching Lessons that Keep on Giving
A Point of View © 1996
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, ICCP.

As every September approaches, all I think are students and teachers. During the late nineteen nineties, as the formal classes of my doctoral work in computer technology in education were done, there was only one item that remained to be completed before graduation, the most important: my doctoral dissertation.

That was a requirement that took time and supervision by a required three-person dissertation committee which had to sign on its subject, its name, and the quality of the research. To give it credence, a committee is usually composed of experts in the research field.

The world is full of PhDs and EdDs, doctors who have completed that complicated work, and it is also full of ABDs, “All But Dissertation,” a term identifying those who are in the process of doing the research but are not doctor candidates yet because their dissertation work is not done. You have seen many PhDs, EdDs, and MDs after a name, but have you ever seen any names followed by ABDs? Some are frustrated ABDs for life. At that moment I was an ABD.

I had always been fascinated with the subject of motivation in education and wondered if exposure to computer technology could increase the motivation of young students to learn. I found that elementary students prepare portfolio assessments with samples of their work to present to their teachers and parents as evidence of their learning but was unaware of any electronic version.

And lo and behold, upon further researching the subject I discovered that there were Apple Macintosh computer programs available that gave students the opportunity to create their own computerized versions of those portfolios. The idea of using Electronic Portfolio Assessments in class and measuring the impact on the motivation of the students as a dissertation subject didn’t take too long to materialize in my mind. The rest was a matter of implementation.

I was an experienced University faculty member, but not an elementary school teacher. As luck would have it, I attended a party with a bunch of friends and shared my educational ambition with an elementary teacher from a local school. She liked the project and offered to share my plans with her supervisor, the School Superintendent, and get back to me.

I hit the bingo ball. The Super, already a Doctor in Education, had wondered if technology could be applied to her teachers and asked me to visit her to go over my plan. She liked it and offered to let me do my research work in one of the elementary schools in her system with conditions:  The parents had to accept it, the teachers had to accept it, and the town’s School Committee had to accept it. The individual students, of course, had the option of not being part of the study. It was quite a challenge, but I gave four Yeses. I could’ve produced my own “America’s Got Talent (AGT)” program. I also invited the Super to be one of my three dissertation committee members, still incomplete. Being my critic in the research assured her and her school system that my intentions were honorable. Not many communities are willing to open their children’s minds to research and investigation by a stranger and let that stranger write a qualitative report about those children. Keeping the name of the community anonymous in the final dissertation report assuaged those fears.

My first step was to meet with the School Committee and get their blessing. I attended one of their regularly televised meetings and presented my case. The School Superintendent had told them that she was part of my dissertation committee and would make sure everything went well. The parents were notified of my project in writing, who I was, and were given the option not to participate; none did. They actually welcomed the research.

Next, I attended a meeting with the teachers of the fourth and fifth-grade students who would be my subjects. At one point in the meeting, one of the teachers made an interesting suggestion. “Why don’t you measure also if the girls in your study increase their interest in computers?”

I had not thought about that possibility, but in the nineteen nineties, some folks were still unhappy with the level of women’s participation in computer careers. That sounded like a revolutionary construct for my project. It then became “The Effect of Electronic Portfolio Assessments on the Motivation and Computer Interest of Fourth and Fifth Grade Students in a Massachusetts Suburban School.”

The students took a motivation pre-test before exposure to their portfolios and the female students took an additional with computer interest. The post-tests on motivation did not show a significant change in their attitudes, probably a result of their high motivation before my research. These students were all middle-class or higher, had strong family lives and support for their activities even before they met me. All I did was confirm what and who they were.

As for the girls, their interest in computers, after they worked with computer-based electronic portfolio assessments, showed a significant increase. The teacher who had suggested the construct in my work had definitely found an empirical answer to the traditional anecdotal aversion of females to computer science. All they needed was practice.

And as for me, I was done. My Committee and my Graduate School approved my dissertation report and from that day on I was able to transform my ABD into a PhD.

But things didn’t stop there. My graduate school has a digital library of dissertations where researchers, corporate human resource directors, and doctoral students from all over the world can borrow or cite those dissertations.

Every month I get a report where they tell me how many of my dissertations have been downloaded and from where. The count these days is well over two hundred.

I see countries in the list that I have never visited or never will; Niger, Ukraine, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines for instance, in languages I don’t understand or never will learn, but it is satisfying to see that some children I don’t even know will benefit from my educational ideas. When I see researchers from Muslim countries interested in my research I wonder how many girls in those countries that discriminate against them will be helped by my work. I thought my readers, particularly the teachers, might want to know it. There is still hope. Oh, the actual dissertation is an e-book and a notebook for sale at Amazon as well.

And that is my Point of View Today and a gift to those who teach our new generations. So Long.

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