3 Reflections from the Doctoral Colloquium at AHRD 2016

February 21, 2016

Last week, I attended the Doctoral Colloquium at the Association for Human Resource Development (AHRD) 2016 conference in the Americas in Jacksonville, FL. I will post more about the conference as a whole but first I wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting on the Doctoral Colloquium. The Doctoral Colloquium was a day and a half workshop for doctoral students in HRD or related fields to share our research ideas, explore our individual scholarly identities, and think about ways to chart a path for our academic careers. It was an interactive day and a half led by University of Maryland professor Toby Egan. Here are three reflections:

1. I was taken aback by the sheer warmth, care for relationship-building, connection, and compassion I experienced by the university faculty members present as well as by my fellow doctoral students. We spent a significant portion of time sharing and listening to one another in meaningful ways.

Toby Egan and Gary McLean

Toby Egan and Gary McLean

It was such a collaborative environment. Dr. Egan shared that the Doctoral Colloquium at AHRD has often been a place where longtime friendships have begun. This was exemplified in the fact that one of the faculty members assisting, Gary McLean, was once his teacher in the colloquium many years before. Two other faculty members in the room had gone through the colloquium together as well when they were students.

2. The faculty members were incredibly friendly and helpful throughout the colloquium. In addition to Gary McLean (a veritable giant in HRD), the faculty members who led the colloquium with Dr. Egan included Nisha Manikoth (GWU), Josh Collins (Minnesota), and Quincy Brown (University of Southern Mississippi). Then, in addition to those leaders, a group of other members came through at various times to contribute.

HRD Scholar Panel

HRD Scholar Panel

This included Jia Wang (Texas A&M) who led a workshop on writing, Jason Moats (Texas A&M) who talked about getting involved with Special Interest Groups (SIGs), and a panel that discussed developing a scholar identity, which included Jessica Li (University of Illinois Urbana Champagn), Seung Won Yoon (Texas A&M), and Jeff Allen (University of North Texas).

In addition to the panel, two journal editors came and talked about publishing and the importance of the peer-review process for generating high quality, original research. This included Julia Storberg Walker (GWU) who is the editor of Human Resource Development Review and Carole Elliot (Lancaster University), the editor of Human Resource Development International.

3. The third thing I would like to reflect on was the practical nature of the colloquium. Essentially, it was a day and a half of sitting down with a variety of impressive scholars in the field and learning skills and perspectives related to research, publishing, and meaningful life as an academic. For example, the research symposium allowed us to get into small groups with a faculty member and workshop our ideas.

Lunch in our small groups

Lunch in our small groups

There was a part where we each created a poster board to write out what we want to do in our careers, what steps we need to take to get there, what questions we have, and who can help us get there. Once we finished, the room flooded with other AHRD members who walked around our individual posters and gave us feedback. While many were helpful, Josh Collins–a young faculty member at Minnesota–was particularly supportive of me and offered some words of encouragement as I consider beginning my academic career.

Overall, the Doctoral Colloquium was an enjoyable time of focused, collaborative learning and relationship-building. I’m thankful to all those faculty members and fellow students who attended, and I look forward to seeing some of them at future colloquiums as faculty members.

Researching complex social issues? What’s your paradigm?

February 21, 2016

How would you solve a complex social issue like high school dropout? How would you study it? It turns out, it depends a lot on the assumptions you have about the nature of the world. Without too much jargon, we call this set of assumptions about the nature of reality a paradigm, worldview, or philosophical orientation.

I’m a doctoral student at The George Washington University in DC, so I thought I would share an example about paradigms from my coursework from Merriam and Tisdell (2015) to help us unpack this a little.

So, the question is about high school dropout. How do we approach this from a research standpoint? Without being too reductionist, here are four different perspectives that reveal a lot about the paradigms undergirding the following four people:

Person 1 looks at high school dropout and says, “Hey, this might be the result of low self-esteem. To test this hypothesis, let’s make an experimental design using a self-esteem boosting intervention with an experimental group while having a control group with no intervention. Then, let’s test to see if the intervention in the experimental group makes a difference in lowering the dropout rate. If people with the self-esteem boosting intervention have a lower dropout rate, then that’s something that can be applied to similar high school populations and is trusted to reduce overall dropout.” Person 1 is what Merriam and Tisdell call a Positivist.

Person 2 looks at the problem of high school dropout and says, “Let’s take a different approach. Instead of doing an experiment like Person 1, let’s interview a collection of students we think are at-risk of dropping out of school or recently just dropped out. Let’s also observe students in classes and even go to some of their homes and interview parents and neighbors. Let’s collect all of these interview transcripts and observations and see if we can separate it into themes that help to tell the story about why these students are dropping out.” Person 2 is an Interpretivist.

Person 3 looks at the problem of high school dropout and says, “Let’s look at how the social structures of the school are set up in a way that some people are more privileged than others. Let’s look at the school protocols, systems, and mechanisms in the school and see if they connect at all to patterns of behaviors and attitudes in the students.” Person 3 is a Critical Theorist.

Lastly, Person 4 looks at the “problem” of high school dropout and says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s step back here. Why are we thinking about school in terms of someone who completes school vs. someone who drops out? Why are using words like ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful’? We need to break down these dichotomies and look at multiple perspectives on what it means to drop out. Person 4 is a Postmodernist.

How do you fix a complex problem like high school dropout? It depends a lot on your assumptions about how the world works. Here you see four different perspectives based on different assumptions about the nature of reality. We all make assumptions about the nature of reality based on our experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds. Disagreements between colleagues on what the problems in our world are and how to solve them are often issues of differing paradigms and assumptions about how the world works. One of the great parts of life is learning about the assumptions in our lives. What are our values? What is our theory for change on a given topic?

Let the journey continue.

Motorcycle Trip Through Cambodia – Blog + Video

Cambodia Map

January 22, 2016

This post doesn’t relate exactly to human and organizational learning but I thought I would share this on my blog. I finally got around to editing the nearly five hours of video footage from my motorcycle trip through Cambodia in May 2014. My friend Davor and I went to Cambodia for two weeks to ride around the country in Honda 250 Baja dirt bikes. We started in Phnom Penh, traveled east to Mondulkiri, around the country to Siem Reap, down to Sihanoukville, and back to Phnom Penh. We ended our trip by playing with the Bangkok-based ultimate frisbee team (the Soidawgz) in the Mekong Cup.

Ankor Motorcycle Rental

At times, the trip felt like the greatest thing ever. Other times, all we could think about was finding food and a hostel. Riding a motorbike in an unknown place takes a lot of focus (especially off-road like on “the jungle road”). We used a GoPro camera with a chest mount and I think it would be cool to have a helmet mount.

I tried to incorporate as much speaking in the video as possible but I spent too much time filming the road and not enough time capturing the other aspects of the trip. And while I tried to keep the movie short, 13 minutes needed to be shared.

What do you think? Interested in coming on the next trip?

Check out the video:


7 Tips to Simple Urban Living in DC

January 2, 2016

If you’re a “normal” twenty-someone living in DC, you probably work for somewhere between $30,000-90,000, have a car payment, and have somewhere between $15,000-150,000 of student loan debt (and you probably have $2000-5000 of credit card debt… but hey, you’re “building credit” right?).

My first day in DC

My first day in DC in 2014

Just two weeks ago I heard someone in a doctoral program at GW nonchalantly remark that he had a quarter of a million dollars of student loan debt… The struggle is real. While I believe there are systemic problems in our society, I’m not waiting for a politician to fix things. At this point in my life, I’m working to dig myself out of “normal” by living a simple life.

What is simple urban living? For me, it’s living a meaningful, financially sustainable, and enjoyable life with the ultimate goal of serving others and the world. These tips won’t work for everyone but I thought I would share them with the hope of continuing the conversation and hopefully hearing what you do to live a simple life in DC. Like everything, take them with a grain of salt.

  1. Be radically aware of your finances. I check my bank account and student loan balances often. I have a budget on my phone and every time I make a transaction of any kind I document it into one of my preexisting categories. Awareness if the first step to simple urban living.
  2. Measure stuff. Whether it’s laundry soap, what you’re putting into you body, or how much time you spend doing a particular activity – try measuring it. Again, awareness is key. My housemates make fun of me because I make a plate of food that is carefully measured out (8 crackers, 10 almonds, etc.). Granted, it’s also because I stink at cooking… And yes, I bought my own sectioned plate.
  3. IMG_9791Drink less beer.  In many ways, urban life these days seems to center around happy hour. My “Restaurants” category in my budget is always busting at the seems. Try keeping track of how much you spend on beer in a month and you be the judge. Is that how much you want to spend on beer per month? Have a budget and a plan, then adjust accordingly. Simple urban life requires being proactive, not reactive.
  4. Be intensely responsible for everything you own. Whether it’s shoes, books, phone, jeans, car, mug, carpet, or computer. Know your things. Respect them. Take care of them. Use them as long as you can.
  5. Ride a bike. Hear me out. In most cases, riding a bike is cheaper (no pesky $2.15 metro rides, $8 for 2 hours of parking, $14.75 Ubers). Riding a bike is better for the environment. Riding a bike is better for your body. Riding a bike in DC is faster than riding a car or riding the metro to most places from most places. For me, getting to work from Park View (outside Columbia Heights) to Foggy Bottom (a 3.5-mile trip) is 20 minutes door to door. The only way to beat that is if you’re a faster biker (Landon…). The only disadvantages as I see it is you have to save a little money to buy a bike ($200 for a good used starter bike look on Craigslist), and it can be a little cold in the winter and a little hot in the summer. If you can pull it off, it’s totally worth it.Oliver Crocco
  6. Find bits of extra work. If you have too much month at the end of your money, look into getting a second (or third) job. I wouldn’t recommend working at a fast food place if you can avoid it, but find a way to make some extra cash. Walk dogs, cut grass, tutor, write, edit, bartend a couple nights a week (this would cut down on beer costs), start a small scale business based on your passions, etc.
  7. Discover the love of reading and learning. Cheap hobbies are important. For me, this means learning to love and read books of all kinds! Borrow a book from a friend or library, or buy a cheap used one. Learn to love words, stories, and characters. It’s wonderful! And in DC we have tons of free lectures, concerts, museums, and movies in parks! Even the gyms in DC are now free!

What about you? What are your simple living tips? Obviously I am immensely privileged in this society as an educated white man from a supportive family but my hope is to use my gifts to live a simple, meaningful, sustainable, and enjoyable life, and help others do the same!


Holiday Update

What a busy fall… Unfortunately, it’s become normal and perhaps even desirable to be busy in today’s world. Still, I resist. I relish free mornings and nothing to do on Friday nights. That being said, it’s hard to think of a better adjective than busy to describe my fall. Here are a few scattered updates:

I finally like D.C.

It took me a year and a half but I’ve settled in. I’m growing to appreciate the unique culture, people, and places of Washington, D.C. More importantly, I’ve connected with a group of misfits in the area. This patchwork community includes ultimate frisbee players, people I knew in Chiang Mai, grad student friends, colleagues, and housemates. If I’m honest, the largest category is people I knew in Chiang Mai – most notably of whom is Dan, a law student at GW, who lived in Chiang Mai for two years and left about the same time. He and I get together just about every week, go to various lectures together, and discuss books. It’s refreshing to have someone like Dan who knows my Chiang Mai and D.C. selves.

Ideas are the stuff of life.

It’s no coincidence that I’m back in university instead of working in a “real job.” There’s something in my core that thirsts for spaces where I’m constantly engaging with a host of ideas and perspectives. It’s likely that part of my subconscious believes a “real job” will strip me of being able to spend a couple hours a day reading various articles, books, and essays. At GW, I had a great semester of coursework in predictive designs, qualitative methods, and HRD along with my work as a graduate assistant. I also worked on a couple of academic projects in my free time. I am privileged and grateful.

At NIDA in Bangkok

At NIDA in Bangkok

Mid-semester break to Asia.

A cancelled conference in Macau turned into a fun mid-semester break to Asia. Since my tickets were purchased, I was able to go on the trip to Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand anyway. This allowed me to spend time with my girlfriend Khai and meet amazing scholars at the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) in Bangkok. This was my first trip back to Asia after leaving in August, 2014. I’m planning to return again in March.

With Khai in Macau

With Khai in Macau

What an exciting time to live.

Another sign that I’m embracing the life of D.C. is that I’ve become fully immersed in many of the issues of the times: race, police brutality, religion, political correctness, politics, and more! I’ve been reading with a voracious appetite and am having some awesome conversations. I love striking up conversations about current events! I’ve subscribed to a variety of news outlets, and I’ve read some amazing books. I can’t pick a favorite but I loved The Wayfinders by the anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis. See the tab “What I’m Reading” for a full list of books I read this fall. I’m also currently reading a novel called Revolutionary by Alex Meyers (thanks Aki S.) about a woman who dresses as a man and joins the revolutionary war. Meyers brings his unique perspective as a transgender man in a way that illuminates the lived experiences of the protagonist.

To live simply.

I live in a basement in an old row house 15 minutes from the metro in the Park View neighborhood. I ride my bike to work and enjoy the fresh air. I am in a relationship with a remarkable woman. I am filled with gratitude. Recently, I had the chance to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. I was reminded of the enduring struggle for civil rights and the vital necessity of movements like Black Lives Matter. As a straight, white, American, educated male, I am the beneficiary of immense privilege in this society and world. I choose not to ignore that reality and seek to learn more everyday how privilege affects my life and the lives of others. My hope for this new year is to use my life to serve others, live simply, keep growing, and work to make the world a place where all people are treated with respect and compassion.

National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN

National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN

With Love,


School Performance in Context

This month I had the chance to facilitate a discussion at GWU on the new report “School Performance in Context: Indicators of School Inputs and Outputs in Nine Similar Nations” put out by the Horace Mann League. The main author is Dr. James Harvey, Executive Director of The National Superintendents RoundtableJames Harvey

The report attempts to add complexity to international standardized test scores by viewing them in their broader contexts. The six dimensions in this report are Economic Equity (economic inequality, children’s poverty, infant mortality, intergenerational mobility), Social Stress (violent death, death from drugs, immigration, adolescent births), Support for Families (family benefits, benefits for young families, access to preschool, child neglect), Support for Schools (expenditures on schools, expenditure effort, class size, teacher workload), Student Outcomes (elementary school reading, secondary school reading, school completion) and System Outcomes (years of education completed, possession of secondary diploma, possession of bachelor’s degree, global share of high achieving science students).

The nine countries analyzed in this report are Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The United Kingdom, and the United States.

The report lacked clear justification as to why these dimensions and measurements were chosen except to say they were chosen with the help of an advisory panel. While it did not attempt to make any causal (or even correlation) between these dimensions and their educational outcomes, there was one key takeaway:

The process of education is complex and should be looked at within its broader historical, economic, political, and cultural context. Nothing happens in a vacuum. This report helps expand the conversation about education by looking at the education systems of these 9 countries not only by their PISA scores but with a few more added dimensions.

As an aside, Dr. Harvey is a delightful person, and a group of us who helped with the event had lunch afterwards courtesy of Dean Feuer. I am grateful to be be here at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at GWU.


A nice lesson from a somewhat arbitrary read

Sometimes the best books are the ones you end up reading somewhat arbitrarily. A book such as this for me has been The Life and Work of George Boole: Prelude to the Digital Age by Desmond MacHale. George Boole, as you may know, is the founder of Boolean Logic and Boolean Algebra. Perhaps one of those rings a bell. In short, the mathematics he worked to develop is noted as vital to the creation of digital technology today.

George Boole

I came across this book at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland where George Boole was a professor. UCC is celebrating the bicentennial of Boole’s birth this year and came out with a new edition of this book to celebrate. I was at UCC for the European Human Resource Development (HRD) conference and thought it would be a nice break from the deluge of HRD presentations. The book is written by a mathematics professor at UCC, which made me wary of its readability. I have been pleasantly surprised by the book’s prose and in-depth research. More than that, I have learned a valuable lesson about what it means to be a scholar.

Throughout his life, George Boole had a voracious appetite for reading and was a self-directed learner. Despite being known for his work in mathematics, he was quite the generalist. When he opened his own school at age 20, he wrote, “I believe that there are very few studies so remote from each other and so unconnected that they may not in some way be made to contribute to their common furtherance” (p. 27). At a young age he taught himself history, philosophy, ancient languages, and of course math. Here is a short timeline of his life by UCC:

The most fascinating thing about his life to me was the fact that his formal education ended at age 16 and he eventually became a professor in mathematics at UCC without any formal higher education. Instead of attending university he felt obligated to work to support his family. Ultimately, he became a professor through his merit as a mathematician. He was well-connected and respected in the mathematics community in Europe at the time and his colleagues gave him strong recommendations for a university post in the new Queen College in Cork. His story of perseverance, love of learning, and passion for service is inspiring. And here’s the big takeaway for me:

George Boole’s life reminds me that a scholar is not someone with fancy degrees. Rather, a scholar is someone who curiously and passionately delves into a subject with the hopes of making contributions to knowledge in the service of others.

Isn’t it funny in life how sometimes the things we read without any obvious reason to do so end up being the more inspiring than we could have imagined?


Beginning Year Two

It was a fantastic summer. Khai and I gallivanted around the US visiting friends and family, my brother was married in Portland to a wonderful woman, Emily, and I was able to work on some exciting academic projects. Alas, summer is ending and year two of my doctoral studies has begun.


Here I am with some of my classmates and friends at GW.

Photo Credit: Dollaya Hemmapattawe

As a Graduate Assistant (GA) in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at GW, I took part in our beginning of the year orientation. Those of us who have a year or more under our belts were asked to give advice to incoming GAs. One memorable piece of advice from my first year as a GA that came up again this year was to “Remember to put on pants.” A senior GA had told us the year before that just because GAs work flexible hours and might not need to leave the house, it is still important to wake up, get ready for the day, and put on pants.

We went around the room and each gave a few pieces of advice. There was a “saturation in the data” after about four people but I was able to share these tidbits of advice as a GA this past year:

  1. Be flexible. Depending on your adviser, things may not be clear cut. The tasks and responsibilities you’re asked to carry out may not fit neatly into your schedule, and they may require you to move some things around, especially when you have a journal/conference deadline. Personal boundaries are important but sometimes the job requires some extra flexibility.
  2. Be organized. We have to do year-end reports so have your template up and fill it out as you go. This way you won’t have to recall all the things you did this year when the time comes in the spring.
  3. Do things the way your adviser wants them done. If you’re a GA in a doctoral program you probably have figured out an effective system for getting things done. That’s great. Your adviser may have a different way of doing things. Regardless of how you think something should be done, if your adviser insists it’s done one way, do it that way.

I am so grateful for the wonderful year I had with Dr. Maria Cseh. Sadly, she’s on sabbatical this year. The flip side is I get to split my time with two new faculty members this year – Dr. Shaista Khilji and Dr. Neal Chalofsky. More on that later. Until then, here’s to marvelous beginnings!


6 Things Every Teacher Should Know

Recently, I was co-leading a workshop for high school students alongside three DC teachers. It was the first time I’ve co-taught something in a while, so it was enlightening. I’m no expert teacher but I’ve taught in diverse classrooms and have been trained by some expert teachers in my life. Most of these may be obvious but are too often underutilized. These apply mostly to my experience in high school and university teaching but I’ve used them with adults as well. Here are a few teaching ideas every teacher should have in their toolbox. Let me know what you think.

1. Don’t hand anything out to students while giving instructions. As soon as you start handing things out, students stop listening. Give your instructions first, then hand out whatever you need to.

2. Always stop fun games and activities BEFORE you reach the climax of fun and excitement. I know this is counterintuitive, but this will keep students interested, wanting, and anticipating the next activity. If you reach the climax (and go past it), students start getting bored and lose focus.

3. If you ask your students a question, don’t answer it yourself before your students have a chance to think about it. Silence is okay. Don’t rush to answer your own question. If no one is responding, wait in silence and/or repeat the question in a different way.

4. When students answer a question you’ve posed, don’t evaluate each response on the spot with stuff like, “That’s a good answer” or “That’s fascinating!” Doing so will make other students question themselves and lose confidence: “Is my answer good or fascinating??” It’s better to say things like “Thank you for your comment.” And if you think one is particularly interesting, point out what about the comment is noteworthy. “I appreciate how you brought in your personal experience in your response.”

5. Don’t use extrinsic motivators to get students to participate. For instance, “If you do this, I’ll give you…” or “the team that wins will get…” If you haven’t read Daniel Pink’s book Drive, do it. The thesis: extrinsic motivators displace intrinsic motivation. If you use extrinsic motivators to get students to learn, don’t expect students to care about the learning the moment the extrinsic motivators are gone.

6. Never do for a student what they can and should do for themselves. This is perhaps my golden rule of teaching. Teachers generally talk too much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in the role of the lecture but generally teachers do too much of the talking. In my experience, the more I am doing/talking, the less my students are engaged.

Here’s one way to solve the teacher-talking problem (this is called a Jigsaw activity): Say you have three case studies you want your students to know about. One way to teach those case studies would be to go through them, one by one, on the board. I don’t recommend that. Instead, why don’t you give one third of the class the text for Case Study A, one third of the class the text for Case Study B, and one third of the class the text for Case Study C. Have them individually read and make notes about the case study assigned to them and tell them that they will have to explain it to their classmates. Then break into small groups of three, one person from each case study and have the students teach each other about the case study they investigated. At the end, make sure every student has a copy of all three case studies to reference later, but don’t hand that out until after students have shared themselves. If at the end you desperately need to tweak something or summarize things, go ahead, but remember that if students anticipate you’re going to sum it all up at the end, they’ll be less motivated to learn the case study for themselves or listen to their fellow students in the future.

Do you agree?

What are some of your best teaching tips?

Oliver Crocco

A throwback from my teaching days at Payap University

Changing the Discourse in Human Resource Development

As a young scholar, I get hard copies of the academic journals I subscribe to. I like to read through the articles and get a better grasp of what’s going on in the literature. One of these journals is the Human Resource Development Review (HRDR), edited by Julia Storberg-Walker of George Washington University. My friend and fellow doctoral student is the managing editor. HRDR’s articles tend to be more conceptual and theoretical than empirical. The June 2015 issue focuses on Critical HRD, which challenges dominant ideas in our field such as the notion that HRD is primarily about supporting the bottom line.

Human Resource Development ReviewLaura Bierma of the University of Georgia (a veritable giant in HRD) wrote the guest editorial of this issue and highlights three themes of the issue, the second of which – “Changing the Discourse” – really stuck with me as I read. Here’s what she had to say:

“We talk HRD into being. How we speak about things is discourse. Perry (1992) suggested theories do not simply exist in the abstract until they happen to be scientifically discovered. Rather, theories are social constructions created between people as a means of making meaning about the world. Humans create shared interpretations that shape how they perceive, experience, and understand the world. People socially construct and share meaning through discourse.”

And to connect this to critical theory, she goes on to write, “Discourse is not a neutral, common understanding of social phenomena, but typically a byproduct of the assumptions and worldviews of the most privileged and dominant members of the society or social group.”

She gave the example of “work-life balance” (a phrase I often use). This is a phrase likely invented by Americans in the wake of the age of overworking. And Bierma argues it is no coincidence that “work” comes before “life” in that phrase. Instead, Bierma advocates the use of “life balance.” To most, this might seem like a petty detail with no significance. But then again, most people aren’t critical theorists.

For me, the takeaway is in the importance of mindful discourse. My program at GW chooses to use “Human and Organizational Learning” as the title of the program instead of Human Resource Development for this very reason. Should we regard human beings as “resources” that need to be “developed”? That’s a conversation for another time perhaps. In the meantime, I am seeking to be mindful of the messages that words and language convey.

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