Uploading a thesis is rather anti-climactic

Last night I uploaded my completed thesis to ProQuest’s ETD service. It marks the end (hopefully) of my graduate work aside from a few signatures here and there. It was a fairly straightforward process and when I finished, I was left with a somewhat confused and disappointed feeling. I guess I was hoping for a “you’ve won” style pop-up congratulating me. Or a party whistle.

I’d have loved to celebrate by cracking open one of the awesome celebratory beers that Scott and Stephanie sent me, but I was still in the throes of some stomach virus that I got from the girls and beer didn’t sound appealing in the slightest. Hopefully my body will sort that out and I can get on with it.

To sum things up

This is excerpted from the concluding remarks in my thesis:

Lastly, I postulate that if this research was repeated using a tool like Google Earth instead of a non-interactive web map that was specifically designed for children, the results would be different. The map and layers used in this test were designed to complement each other when combined. In a tool like Google Earth, the individual data layers come from a variety of sources and are not prepared with combinations in mind. I predict that maps in Google Earth would become more challenging to use, and response times would increase as layers were added. I suspect that this would be the case for adult map-users as well. Since there is currently no cartographer or designer curating the combination of layers, the haphazard symbology, changes in scale, differences in data quality, a poorly designed key, a mish-mash collection of data provider logos, and the scourge of auto-label placement would result in a map equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, not in a learning and exploration tool.

Yeah, i’m getting a little tired.

Early Results at Oregon Academy of Science

This past Saturday morning I presented the early findings of my thesis work at the Oregon Academy of Science annual meeting. Despite the 8am presentation, the whole thing went well. My advisor encouraged me to do the presentation, not because he’s the section chair, but to give me an opportunity to practice for my coming defense this Spring. Also, it forced me to prepare a consumable explanation of what I’ve been doing the last couple years.

The presentation was a quick 15 minutes, but I think I was able to distill the results so far in to something that made sense to the audience. I received a number of great followup questions, and was happily able to respond to all of them. My advisor later said he was impressed at the presentation which in some way could be taken as a jab, but he’s not seen my findings yet. The draft I have now (and should be working on) is rather crude. But I should get back to that.

Fieldwork, day 3

On Monday, I hit the road again back to McMinville for another data collection trip to another 5th grade class. Despite how attractive Yamhill County is, I am glad that I won’t be spending another 2 hours in the car for 20 minutes of fieldwork. I’m very appreciative of the teacher and her students though, and of the lab manager at both schools in McMinville for helping me overcome some of the IE-based problems with the testing apparatus (read; Blackboard)

Upon arriving at Columbus Elementary, I was momentarily mortified when the woman in the head office said the teacher wasn’t in today. I assumed she meant that the teacher was at one of the other 2 schools where she teaches. Luckily, she simply meant that the teacher had a sub who was informed of what we were doing.

The class piled in to the lab after I’d logged all the machines in, we did the intro, and they took off. There was a noticeable difference between the early and late finishers, time wise. The last two sessions didn’t have such a long span between the first and last student. I’ll be interested to see both the biographical and the times in the results.

Again, after thanking all the students, I rewarded them with giant pretzels (many of the students had never seen such a thing) and peppermint candies. Then I excused myself to drive back to work. In the car I enjoyed a few pretzels myself, but then realized I didn’t have any water to help wash them down. This is when I started getting calls from work. I frantically tried to swallow the crumbs and not sound like a buffoon.

Note to self – check out one of the alternate questions on question set 7. The map didn’t come up for everyone.

Day 2 of fieldwork

Wednesday I drove south to McMinville’s Newby Elementary School to have a class of 5th graders run through my maps. Overall, the experience went well, though there were a few hiccups when some students tried to save a few questions, and many of the screens were 15″ rather than the desired 17″, but 23 students were able to complete the test with only a few bumps. It was a lot of time in the car for about 30 minutes of testing, but such fieldwork (I suspect.)

First official field work

This morning I visited Tualatin Valley Academy where a class of 7th graders took my thesis maps for a spin. After the revisions I made following the pilot, I was curious to see how long the tests took, and if any other problems arose. I got to the school rather early, logged in to all the workstations, and set up an example on the projector. The students filed in after a period change and automatically separated themselves by gender (it was rather comical to see girls in one corner, boys in the other). The introduction was quick, organized, and done in about 3 minutes. Then, the students started, quickly and quietly moved through each of the questions, finishing in less than 13 minutes.

When I thanked them and said that I was astonished how quick it went, several said they’d be happy to hang out in the lab longer so they didn’t have to go back to class (classic teen). I pointed out that they’d probably be more eager to go back to their classroom since they couldn’t (pulling a box from underneath my coat) eat these donuts in the computer lab.

I have to admit, I was a little shocked at how quickly it went (and how positive and complete the results are). Whether the difference has to do with changes I made to the quiz, to the introduction, or if it was simply the age and understanding of the students will have to shake out over the next couple tests. The next is tomorrow in Newberg.

From all angles

My work life and school life are both reaching critical junctures at the same time. At work, we’re nearly to the halfway point on a project to replace the learning management system, and at school, I’m preparing to complete the fieldwork for my thesis research. And while work is incredibly busy lately, I’m still scheduling time to visit 5th through 7th grade classrooms in the Portland area to have students use the maps I’ve made. I’m hoping to have 6 classrooms worth of students complete the map use activity, and so far I have 4, though one is big enough to be worth 2 classrooms. Now I just need to find another 1 classroom to evaluate before June 15th or so and I’ll have my data collected.

One challenge I didn’t quite foresee is that many schools have replaced the computer lab paradigm with the netbook paradigm. So every student has a mini-laptop with a wireless network connection in their classroom rather than going to a separate lab facility to use the computers. On one hand, this is great, but it also has created some challenges. These laptops typically have a 9″, 10″ or maybe even 12″ screen and typically do not exceed a resolution of 1024×768 pixels. This has been problematic because the software I picked to do my thesis uses at least 150 of those pixels to display test status information that is actually extraneous to my work, but I can’t hide it. I can’t change to a testing platform very easily because I need to collect both the student’s answer choice when answering a question using the map I created, but I also need to record how long the student took to make the choice.

I suppose I should have learned some actionscript and written a flash-based quizzing interface, but I didn’t have much luck with that. Plus, it seemed silly to reinvent the wheel, when at work I use and support software that accomplishes most of that already.

So here I am with the two worlds colliding on many fronts, and so very close to both chapters closing. Here’s hoping the fieldwork goes well. I’m so thankful that I’ve found teachers who are willing to share their class and time.

Gearing up. Again

I’m well sick of my thesis by now, but seeing as it’s year 3 of the slog, I’ve got to wrap things up. Well, it’s year 5 of all of it, but the first 3 were awesome, so they don’t really count. I took the summer off from my thesis because I wasn’t able to accomplish anything useful while school was out and one of my committee members was on sabbatical. Summer is over, so I’m back to looking for a replacement committee member (sabbatical was extended) and trying to present my topic, get human subject approval from the graduate office, and get in to the field to try some layer maps on 5th graders.

Luckily, I still enjoy the topic.