Catching up with C&I Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship winner, Sarah North

Sarah North
Sarah North

This summer, we interviewed C&I Ph.D. candidate Sarah North (Learning Technologies) to learn more about her experiences and research. This past spring, Sarah was awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF). The DDF gives the University’s most accomplished Ph.D. candidates an opportunity to devote full-time effort to an outstanding research project by providing time to finalize and write a dissertation during the fellowship year. Sarah’s dissertation study, “Understanding Students’ Self-Regulation in Asynchronous Online Learning” will use a mixed methods design to understand the experience and actions of undergraduate students in an asynchronous, online course who possess varying levels of self-regulated learning. In doing so, Sarah’s goal is to shed light on whether instructional methods or the course environment influence the development of self-regulated learning practices. Read her answers below to learn more about her experiences as she prepares to complete her Ph.D.

What is most exciting about your work/research/studies?
I really enjoy being able to relate my research directly to what I do in the classroom. As I dive deeper into the field of motivation in teaching and learning, I am constantly finding more practical applications for my own instruction in online environments. It makes me feel like there is real, practical benefit to my research, and I hope that other teachers are able to benefit from it as well in the future.

How did your path lead to the University of Minnesota and to your particular C&I/LT focus?
My undergraduate and M.A. degrees are both in technical communication, and I honestly never thought I would end up in education! But when I made the decision to pursue a Ph.D., something about the field of education just felt like the “right fit”. I wanted my work and future career to have a positive impact on people’s lives, and I found that I really enjoy teaching and working towards improving the learning experience for others. I’ve always been drawn to new media technologies, so I was attracted to the Learning Technologies program here where they not only create new and innovative technologies for the classroom, but they also place emphasis on an engaging and effective experience for both learners and teachers. I knew that this was the best place for me to bridge my interests and work towards creating positive influences in higher education.

What have you most enjoyed about your experience in your program?
Definitely the people! I learned more than I ever thought I would from peers and faculty about different disciplines within education, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of interdisciplinary work there is within C&I. I’ve really enjoyed being involved on projects both in and outside of class with various groups of people across the C&I tracks. I actually never thought that I would connect as much as I did with others in different program areas. Even though on the surface our disciplines may seem very different, we actually have a lot of complementary interests and skills to bring to the table, and it creates a rich working and learning environment.

How do you think your educational experience has been typical or not?
The more I’ve talked with others in the program, the more I’ve discovered that it is fairly typical to be “atypical”! I don’t think that anyone feels that their journey is typical, because we’ve all had such unique experiences. I arrived here with no prior experience in K-12 education and my interests are in higher education, so I assumed that I would be quite isolated and not at all typical. However, I was able to make connections with others who have similar interests and backgrounds, and I think some of us bonded over the fact that we didn’t have that K-12 teaching background. But having said that, I found that because C&I is so diverse, it was easy to get involved in multi-disciplinary projects and learn from one another.

Do you have a motto or a set of words to live by?
A long time ago I read this quote from Baseball Hall-of-Famer Al Lopez:

“Do what you love to do and give it your very best. Whether it’s business or baseball, or the theater, or any field. If you don’t love what you’re doing and you can’t give it your best, get out of it. Life is too short.”

This is what always prompted me to go back to school, while also helping me remain focused throughout the journey. I love the academic environment and working to create positive and practical experiences in education. Life really is too short to not be doing what you love, and I feel very fortunate that I found a career path that I love.

To learn more about the Ph.D. program in Learning Technologies, please visit our Learning Technologies Ph.D. page