Author Note: This interview was conducted on October 16, 2014 as part of an assignment in EDG6226: Foundations of Research in Curriculum & Instruction. Dr. Antonenko is an Associate Professor in the Educational Technology Program at the University of Florida.

Abstract

Dr. Antonenko describes his educational journey from his undergraduate work in the Ukraine, through his doctoral work at Iowa State University. He gives advice for PhD students on managing research interests, collaboration and developing networking connections, managing the process of preparing for your dissertation and recommendations for keeping current in the field of educational research.

Keywords: PhD preparation, Dissertation, Research Agenda

Interview with Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, Associate Professor, Educational Technology, University of Florida

Dr. Antonenko began his undergraduate education in the Ukraine where he grew up. As a child, he was interested in both languages and computers. When he entered university, he studied linguistics and maintained his interest in computers as a hobby. He continued his education with a master’s degree in linguistics. Then by chance, he found himself in the United States, at the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITTE) serving as an interpreter for two Ukrainian informatics professors. It was this opportunity that allowed him to network with faculty from Iowa State University and begin his journey to the United States and a PhD in Educational Technology (Lines 9–60).

In this interview, Dr. Antonenko discusses his own journey to a PhD in Educational Technology and to his current position as an Associate Professor in Educational Technology at the University of Florida. In addition, he discusses his research interests and his recommendations for PhD students. He has some good insights on managing workload, focusing research and in developing a strong network of colleagues and experiences to support both dissertation research and ultimately your research and teaching career.

Research Interests

Dr. Antonenko has two strands to his research interests. His first is building and studying technologies to support collaborative problem solving. As part of this research, he has developed ECLIPSE, a collaborative learning environment for problem solving. The second area of research interest is in applying the methods and findings from cognitive neuroscience to educational research. This research is an extension of his dissertation research at Iowa State University. (Lines 76-92)

Collaborative Problem Solving and ECLIPSE

ECLIPSE, Environment for Collaborative Learning Integrating Problem Solving Experiences, is an online system designed to provide students and instructors with the tools to support collaborative learning. This is Dr. Antonenko’s primary research project. He began with conceptualizing the system and the design of the scaffolds, and figuring out what affordances are needed to support collaboration and problem solving online. When he received a NASA grant he was able to actually build and begin testing the environment. It is now a functioning system with learning analytic tools, student scaffolding tools, and instructor scaffolding tools designed to support teachers in the problem solving instructional design process. He currently has a grant pending which will support further development of the ECLIPSE system and testing it in a large scale Biology course at the University of Florida. (Lines 94-158)

Recommendations for PhD students

Advice for successful completion of PhD program. Dr. Antonenko cautioned not to get too focused on one primary research interest or methodology. He recommended getting a good “understanding of the different methods and context for which they should be applied and when they are appropriate, and when they are not… because as a faculty member you will be advising other students who will come to you for their ideas, with topics that you are not necessarily familiar with, with methods that you are not familiar with and so it is important to have the breadth of knowledge” to be able to provide good advice (Line 189-193). He also recommended being careful of getting too narrowly focused on lab based research and not to forget to connect your research to practice. What he called “socially responsible research” (Line 203).

Advice for starting an academic career. Dr. Antonenko’s recommendations include: Engage in research projects with your committee members, your advisor, and other students (Line 234); Get involved in the student groups (SAGE) that are promoting research and professional practices (Line 236); Write a book review and find a journal that accepts book reviews and submit it (Line 225); Work with faculty and students in a research group, you will gain a better understanding of how the process works (Line 242); Don’t wait until you finish your courses to think about your research. By working in collaborative projects you will gain the experience you need to understand where to start with your own research (Line 245).

Recommended readings or journals. “Start with the AERA, American Educational Research Association, journals. There is a student membership available and you get a journal subscription with that.” (Line 252). “I suggest reading Educational Researcher or American Educational Researcher Journal, Review of Educational Research is also an excellent journal because it publishes rigorous reviews of research” (Line 255).

“I’d recommend one particular book, it’s called Reason and Rigor, by Sharon Ravitch and Matthew Riggan of the University of Pennsylvania” (Line 261). “The book is short, but it’s excellent in the sense that it really dispels a lot of myths about literature reviews, about what theory is, what a concept is, what a conceptual framework is, what a concept framework map is, more than that is the individual representation of some concepts” (Line 263).

Recommended dissertation. “I would probably look at somebody distinguished in our field and read their dissertation. I would maybe even look at a dissertation that was done a couple of decades ago” (Line 273). Dr. Antonenko’s rationale for this recommendation is that by looking at a dissertation from someone who is distinguished in the field, but a topic that has been well researched, you can focus more on the process, and less on the content. He recommended looking at how they justify the importance of the problem they are addressing, how they organize their literature review, how they articulate the research question(s), how they align the question(s) to methods, and then how they use their literature and the information from their literature in the discussion section.

Discussion

Dr. Antonenko has had an interesting journey from beginning his academic career in the Ukraine, moving to the U.S. system of doctoral education, and then beginning a career in the United States. In this interview, he provided a lot of valuable information on how to succeed as a PhD student and how to prepare for a beginning academic research career. He also raised some interesting questions. I think two of those questions are worth considering in further depth.

The first is the question of depth vs. breadth. The challenge of managing a research agenda that has sufficient depth as compared to getting a broad based understanding of educational theories and research methodologies. Dr. Antonenko’s recommendation was not to neglect the needs for breadth of understanding so you will be prepared to adequately mentor future PhD students. This dilemma seems to me to very much parody the research vs. teaching agenda of our academic faculty. How do we maintain an active research agenda without losing the quality in mentoring and teaching?

The second question is about lab based research vs. contextually based research. Which is more important or relevant? Or maybe we need to focus on a balance between the two. Often lab based research does not seem to have a grounding in real practice, is too specific, or does too isolated to have ecological validity. But contextually placed research, or practice based research may be more difficult to conduct. These are questions that beginning PhD students (as well as more advanced researchers) have to consider as we decide how to manage our time, our efforts, our focus and our agenda.