Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Hack or “just” #remixthediss ?


Reading Time: 3 minutes

This post is inspired by two live events scheduled today Oct 10: a #digped chat at 3pm EST and a live discussion between Cathy Davidson and a few others at 4pm EST – I probably can’t make either one but look fwd to reading/watching later.

It’s been one year and 2 days exactly since I defended my PhD thesis at the U of Sheffield. (It should have been a day of celebration, and it is/was,but it is also 2 years since we lost my uncle, so that’s a different occasion for my family).

So isn’t it really cool to find out that there is a #remixthediss movement going on? I found out about it through the article introducing this month’s #digped discussion on Hybrid Pedagogy entitled: Dissertations, Theses, and Other Pedagogical Monstrosities. In it, Jesse Stommel reminds me how there is “nothing like scrambling out of bed to write at 3:30 in the morning as though your life depends on it”. Oh yeah, I remember THAT!

Like Jesse, I’ve had these following thoughts: “how little the dissertation actually prepared me for the work I’d ultimately do.” And also: “I’ve wondered increasingly about its pedagogical value”.

So I rushed to look at the open and public google doc for #remixthediss, which contains examples of awesomely remixed dissertations using multimedia, such as Nick Sousanis’ comic dissertation and Jade E. Davis’ dissertation that includes visuals of representations of African/Black women different from those usually/historically found in the West.

But here I am thinking… It’s great that people are remixing dissertations with multimedia, and it’s a kind of rebellion and dissent, but is it enough? I don’t know enough about each person’s thesis, but here are some thoughts that had occurred to me while I was doing my thesis, that I thought maybe someday someone would consider:

Years of work, thousands of words, one short thesis defense in front of a small number of people?
I still don’t get how my work of 7 years and something like 120,000 words could get judged on ONE DAY OF THE YEAR by only TWO PEOPLE over like ONE HOUR, who had never met me before!!! In the UK, the thesis defense is a tiny, private event. You and the internal examiner and the external examiner. I elected not to have my supervisor attend (he’s not allowed to speak or look at me anyway) – so that was it. Of course, the reality of the formative assessment of a PhD is that your supervisor(s) give you feedback all the time, and that most people find other critical peers or mentors to support them and read chapters and brainstorm ideas throughout the thesis-writing process. It seems rather impressionistic to have it this way. That in one hour two experts in your field will judge your worthiness to become “one of them”. Mine went really well, fortunately, despite my daughter’s lack of sleep the night before. Sure, my “conclusion” chapter reflected on my journey, what I had learned, what I wish I had done differently, what I’d like to do next… But is that enough?

Sure, some of the people using multimedia shared parts of their thesis as they went along; there are also theses that are comprised of journal articles, so they get judged by the peer reviewers of those articles, too, a more “authentic” audience in the real world of academic research (flawed though it may be).

I had lots of other thoughts (e.g. related to adherence to disciplinary culture; and non-Western modes of thought n expression) but my kid awoke from her nap so I have to wrap up…

Among the #digped chat questions i am interested in are:

1. How is the dissertation pedagogical? What are the intrinsic and instrumental values of the form?

2. What shapes can (or should) a dissertation take? What institutional structures must change in order to make way for a proliferation of unique forms? How can we collectively manage anxieties about the dissertation that often get in the way of the kind of experimentation that pedagogy demands?

(Not so interested in q 3&4

5. How can we make way for more collaborative dissertations, especially in fields where dissertation-writing is traditionally a very isolated endeavor? What are the benefits of making this work increasingly collaborative?

I look fwd to the storify


  1. @Bali_Maha agree. but ppl need to know that will be legible to committees and faculties.


  2. @bonstewart yeah, of course. Legibility gets in the way 😉 it was soooo hard to make that JPD article out of our interview w @davecormier


  3. I know not directly of the world of dissertations, but I have heard from many doctoral folks about the oppressiveness of the process and the lack of forward-thinking in relation to the format. I love this possibility – “a proliferation of unique forms.” I am afraid that the powers that be may be too unfamiliar with the possibilities for this to happen much faster than the evolution of humankind.

  4. Pingback: Katina Rogers

  5. Pingback: #remixthediss: Resources and Reflections | The Futures Initiative

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