First Educational Technology & Learning Design PhD Graduate Tackles Studying in BC and Descriptive Phenomenology

In 2008, Annique Boelryk had a tough choice to make: should she begin a PhD program at the University of British Columbia or Simon Fraser University? With acceptance letters from both institutions, Boelryk made the decision to launch her PhD journey in the Educational Technology & Learning Design program in the Faculty of Education at SFU. Six years later, Boelryk is the first successful graduate of that program boasting top marks on her descriptive phenomenology-based thesis.

Home for Boelryk is Ontario, as is her job at Georgian College as a Faculty Developer and Instructional Designer. When she began thinking about taking a PhD program, her husband, Bruce, requested that she pursue it “somewhere interesting. British Columbia met that requirement.”

Besides the ideal location, Education professor, Dr. Cheryl Amundsen was a strong influencing factor in the decision to attend SFU. Boelryk had read Dr. Amundsen's work on faculty development and met her in person. “When I met Cheryl for the first time,” says Boelryk, “I felt that our thinking around educational technology, learning design and faculty development aligned philosophically. I found her to be such a thoughtful, caring academic who treated me as a professional educator right from the start.” Additionally, the offer of two different entrance scholarships made financial sense.

Boelryk credits her husband for helping make her new living and study arrangements work. “He was incredibly supportive and took care of domestic details while we were in B.C.. He helped me with many things like finding articles, photocopying book chapters and chaperoning me to class.”

Later, when Boelryk returned to Ontario and her job, she kept in touch with her committee members using Skype and meeting up at conferences. She also flew back to B.C. many times since face-to-face connections were very important. One of these occasions was when she defended her thesis on July 22, 2014, entitled "Professional Learning and Post-Secondary Teaching: Investigating Faculty’s Lived Experiences of Development in Teaching Practice”.

“Throughout the process, I really tried to learn as much as I could about the complexity of development in teaching practice in post-secondary education as experienced by the teacher - from philosophical, theoretical, conceptual, and empirical points of view," Boelryk says.  Because she works in faculty development full time, it was important to Boelryk that her research actually help practice in that field. "I wanted to represent that complexity instead of focusing on just one piece of it. That took a lot of revising and refining of thinking because things I had in my head were not clear enough to be able to communicate clearly in writing. My committee members, Cheryl Amundsen and Alyssa Wise, helped me with the process of refining my thinking and writing without asking me to give up on the complexity I was trying to represent.”

Boelryk's thesis endured a great deal of scrutiny in her examination due to the fact that she chose to use a relatively uncommon methodology. “I used Descriptive Phenomenology in my study and that seems to be a unique aspect of this research. I think it is an exciting qualitative research approach that doesn't seem to be that common in education.”

"I think that, based on this study, we can say that development in teaching practice (aimed at deep learning) is a complex professional learning process that needs to be better understood from the perspective of the faculty themselves. Interrelationships between the individual, social, and contextual factors that emerged from this study could offer a lens for thinking about, deconstructing, and designing educational development practice that is based on these goals.” Boelryk hopes to pursue this area of research further.  “There are many different directions that could be researched, including looking at the various aspects of the learning process in more detail or investigating similarities and differences between college and university faculty experiences,” Boelryk explains.

Annique Boelryk's Examination Committee (left-right):

Internal Examiner: Dr. Michelle Nilson
Supervisor: Dr. Alysa Wise
Senior Supervisor: Dr. Cheryl Amundsen
External Examiner: Dr. Todd Zakrajsek, Associate professor, Family Medicine University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill