August 10, 2017

Ph.D Update: Multiple Changes Are Happening!

As part of our Ph.D. research and training, we must try to avoid polarising our beliefs and, therefore, subscribe to a stance, position, approach or method just because it appears to be the most convenient and approachable. What might be convenient and approachable might not be appropriate and relevant for the research problem and nature of the research context. It is part of our emerging identities as researchers to think very carefully about who we are and what we do, to take a critical stance towards every decision that we make, reflect on our decision making to ensure that there are no gaps that could cause methodological or practical problems, and to therefore ensure that every element of our research design connects reasonably and logically.


Earlier this week as part of the qualitative section of the methodology chapter, I began to describe the characteristics and features of qualitative research. As I began to relate characteristics and features to the research setting and context, phenomena of interest and the position of myself as the researcher (research positionality: I shall discuss this more in the future), I noticed that I was beginning to discuss the idea of complexity. Qualitative research, I was saying, is useful for exploring the nuanced, complex existence of social phenomena and the complexity of the setting of the phenomena of interest. It struck me there and then that this complexity of the existence of the phenomena of interest and the way that we come to know this complex existence was not mirrored by my awareness and discussions of my epistemological beliefs. What was going on here? Was I beginning to doubt my own epistemological beliefs? Or did I simply become immediately aware of the possible inadequate way in which I was perceiving and labelling my epistemological beliefs? This begs the question: can our epistemological beliefs shift as we progress through our research projects, or are our epistemological beliefs always in a constant state but that our awareness of their states continuously changes? Are epistemological beliefs therefore a construction in our minds, or do they pre-exist and we simply become more aware of them through various experiences?


Whilst I was tackling these complex questions (which are still being tackled), I completed the rough first draft of the qualitative section and began to tackle the grounded theory section. As I was writing this section I began reading through Birks and Mills (2015) publication “Grounded Theory, a Practical Guide.” Based on their comprehensive discussions of the philosophical and methodological developments of grounded theory, situated within the controversies and movements of the time, the authors advised students to be mindful of the possibility of what I call grounded theory methodological fluidity. I’ve talked about the idea of fluidity before and shall talk about this more in the thesis, but essentially the authors suggest that Ph.D. candidates should not simply subscribe to a specific grounded theory variety but to explore and experiment. Ph.D. candidates are therefore advised by the authors to draw upon and build upon the ideas and approaches of the multiple varieties and writers of grounded theory. This would lead to the development of a grounded theory approach that best matches the research problem, the nature of the research setting and context, the data collection method, and the position of yourself as the researcher. This overwhelmed me, because not only was I grappling with my own increased awareness of the complexity of my epistemological beliefs, I was also now beginning to grapple with the possibility of needing to draw from multiple varieties of grounded theory, and to build upon procedures and techniques presented in different varieties as necessary. I have the belief that there has to be a connection between the two: that a change in my awareness of my epistemological beliefs has led to a change in using grounded theory to analyse the phenomenon of interest.



Where am I with all of this now? Ontologically I’m still a realist: I still believe that there is a social reality that exists outside of our conceptualisations and perspectives of social reality and therefore there are social elements of social reality that do exist. The revelation here is that perhaps I have limited myself in the way in which I can come to understand these objective social elements or phenomena. Perhaps constructionism alone cannot fully capture everything that I am and everything that my epistemological beliefs have led me and are leading me in terms of my research design. But how can I at any time suggest that any particular epistemological stance really reflects how I can attain knowledge and understand phenomena of interest if my epistemological beliefs are continuously evolving? Or, more likely, that I am becoming more aware of what pre-exists in my mind? The simple fact is: I can’t! From the many months of reading and thinking about different epistemological stances, nothing really fits completely within my realm of coming to know about the phenomena of interest. This has to be because all of these difference stances: positivism, post-positivism, constructivism, constructionism etc follow set assumptions about the way that we as researchers come to know reality, the nature of our research problems, and our positionality. How we might come to understand and know about the phenomena of interest might follow a more post-positivist line, but my positioning of myself as the researcher and the way I engage with the data reflects a more dynamic approach. The best way I can really “label” my beliefs is to reread in more detail literature on different epistemologies and draw upon ideas and approaches from various authors and approaches, and develop strong argumentation for why I perceive the research setting and phenomena of interest the way that I do.


Methodologically, grounded theory is the only approach, situated in a qualitative methodology, that makes any sense to me. But what flavour now? Because of my increased awareness of my epistemological beliefs and the way in which I position myself in the research, and of the nature of the research setting, I cannot fully subscribe to the techniques and ideas of Strauss and Corbin’s version of grounded theory. I shall explore these issues and reasoning as the research progresses, but at this time it suffices to suggest that I will have to follow the advice of Birks and Mills (2015) and other authors. Their advice is to carefully, thoughtfully, reflectively, progressively, and critically draw on approaches and ideas from various key grounded theory authors (Glaser, Strauss, Corbin, Charmaz, Clarke and Bryant) that are most relevant and appropriate for my overall research design and research context. And, where necessary, to reformulate or build on existing grounded theory techniques.


Summary


To try to summarise all this: becoming more aware of the complexity of the research setting has caused me to become more aware of the complex nature of my epistemological beliefs. But a key question that I might like to tackle in the thesis is whether my epistemological beliefs have changed to become more complex, or if my epistemological beliefs have always been complex and I’ve only just become aware of this complexity. Can they change? Or is it simply the case that we become more aware of their complexity? Or is it a bit of both depending on what we experience and the way that we come to understand and build on this experience? This has to be reflected in my now new position on Grounded Theory: I cannot possibly capture the complexity of the research phenomena using just the procedures and ideas described by Strauss and Corbin. There has to be some sort of way that I can draw upon and build on the procedures and techniques from multiple authors that are most appropriate for my research design and research setting. But this I can only find out as I progress with my reading and testing of different techniques.


As for rereading the literature on epistemological theories and grounded theory approaches, as many authors state it’s not a matter of which array of writers you draw from and build upon, but it’s the way in which you can strongly defend and justify your positioning. What this means is there really are no right or wrong answers, but there is such a thing as a justifiable, defendable answer. And this, ultimately, forms the core of your thesis chapters and what you need to present at your viva. Overwhelming perhaps, and a little scary, but at the same time challenging, thrilling, motivating and exciting!


Reference / Bibliography


Birks, M., Mills, J (2015): Grounded Theory, A Practical Guide (2nd Ed). SAGE Publications


Urquhart, C (2013): Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide. SAGE Publications.


I have included Urquhart because she was the other author who influenced my now changing approach to grounded theory, though haven’t mentioned the author in the blog post as Birks and Mills publication was the first to really confirm the need for a change. That being said, both books are worth a read through if only to find out more about the idea of researcher leading the methodology and not methodology leading the researcher!


August 04, 2017

Ph.D Update: Critical Review Paper and the Methodology Chapter

Critical Paper on the University of Warwick Interdisciplinary Conference 2017 experience

The edited version as requested by the journal’s reviewers has been sent in for a further round of peer reviewing for any further editing before the final copy of the paper is due in October.

It has been such a useful experience writing this paper because it has encouraged me to explore my thinking as a postgraduate; consider the very being of a postgraduate researcher; and reflect on my thoughts of the way our identities as postgraduates, and the research that we engage with, are formed, shaped and altered due to our conference experiences.

The paper is a critical review and the first time I wrote the paper I had not considered that it would be appropriate to situate my thoughts within existing conference literature. Essentially, I found out that I could use the critical review to engage, reflect upon, and critique existing literature on conferences based on my experiences. Writing the paper has not only enabled me to become accustomed to a previously unfamiliar body of literature, but also helped me to define further who I am as a researcher. The experience of writing the paper has enabled me to reflect upon the conference experiences as building blocks of becoming more aware of my identity as a postgraduate researcher and, fingers crossed, an emerging social scientist.


The core of the critical review, and therefore the basis of my perspectives of conference experiences, revolves around my epistemological beliefs. As I was writing the paper, I found that the way I perceive conferences epistemologically is the same as I perceive epistemological aspects of my research design. Essentially, I perceive knowledge as being dynamic, changeable, uncertain and never fixed and therefore, our perspectives that reflect what we know, how we know, and what can be possibly known are forever changing. For the research design, I hold that whilst there are elements of social reality that exist independently of our mental activity (ontology), our knowledge and perspectives of these elements are continuously changing based on our experiencing these elements in, for example, different contexts. With conferences, because of my epistemological beliefs, I perceive conferences as being useful means by which we can alter our conceptions and knowledge about reality or about the phenomenon of research interest through engaging with the social and cognitive opportunities that a conference provides. These social and cognitive opportunities enable us as researchers to think critically and reflectively on our work, on the work of others, and who we are as postgraduates and eventual researchers. This, it is not only our knowledge of reality and phenomena of interest that can alter because of our conference experience, but also our identity as researchers.


There is obviously much more to this than what I express here (the paper is about three thousand words!) but the above presents my thinking in a nutshell.


Methodology Chapter


This is coming along fine, as previously mentioned I have written a draft form of the ontological and epistemological sections, and shall be working on the next drafts at some point in the future where I build on the concepts, arguments and ideas that I have begun to develop. Currently however, I’m writing about general characteristics and nature of qualitative research, and writing brief notes about various aspects of the research design that is directly influenced by the fact of the research being qualitative. Details include the role, features and characteristics of qualitative research; type of investigation; use of theory; form of logic; role of the researcher, the idea of sensitised concepts, and some notes of methodological justifications and the role of technology as a qualitative research facilitator, among others.


I’ve written over four thousand words of rough notes and I think I shall be ready within the next week to write the first draft of the qualitative section of the methodology chapter, consisting mostly of discussions of the way in which qualitative research is characterised in my research. Because I have been reading through and still going through specific qualitative research methodology books, I find writing a full draft a little pointless till after the relevant sections of relevant books have been read. This way, as I read through the sections I am simply writing down initial conceptions, thoughts, notes, useful terminology, critiques of published ideas, and details and reflections of my own research design. I have approached this using categories to separate ideas, thoughts and so on using separate headings so that when it comes to writing the full draft I have a rough idea of the order in which I am to write the section and relate each idea to each other. Therefore, when it comes to writing out the full draft of the qualitative section I will be able to analyse, synthesise and organise my existing ideas, thoughts, reflections and critiques and situate them as necessary within existing published literature.

Bibliography:


I obviously cannot do what I do without books and research papers, and before writing this blog post I came across a couple of qualitative books (the first couple of books listed) that proved their weight in gold as they confirmed ideas that I have been considering, and assisted with intense idea development. If you are thinking about engaging with qualitative research in any fashion, I recommend the following books:


Cresswell, J (2007): Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. SAGE Publications: USA


Flick, U., Kardoff, E.V., Steinke, I (2004): A Companion to Qualitative Research. SAGE Publications: UK


Flick, U (2007): Designing Qualitative Research. SAGE Publications: UK


Lapan, S.D., Quartaroli, M.T., Riemer, F.J. (2012): Qualitative Research: An Introduction to Methods and Designs. John Wiley and Sons: USA

I have other qualitative books lined up to read through, but so far these four books have been helpful with the first two being especially useful!


July 21, 2017

Ph.D Update: Submitted Initial Drafts for Feedback; Research Journal Article Editing

The children leave school on this day with an extra hop and a skip gliding along the pavements like an aeroplane celebrating the beginning of their summer holidays! Do not run in the middle of the road, children, as it’s not advisable! College students and many undergraduates are also venturing off on their holidays, leaving us postgrad researchers to work on our projects during the summer. And you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way!


The Methodology Chapter


The key aim of the current draft writing is to lay the foundations of my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and begin to outline the relationship between those beliefs. Because of the ongoing analysis of literature, and critical and reflective engagement with my ideas, a full elaboration of my beliefs is not possible with the first draft. What I am attempting to achieve therefore is a build-up of the chapter in “layers,” where each layer builds upon descriptions and conceptions of the earlier layer. It might be useful to think about a layered approach to developing the methodological and literature review chapters. With the case of the ontological and epistemological sections, this first draft or “layering” of ideas involves developing the foundations (describing my beliefs and show some initial critical engagement with literature) through descriptive writing. These descriptions can later be built into explanations and reasoning as a mode of providing justifications and well elaborated argumentation for the beliefs that I described. These descriptions could also be used as the basis for deeper, reflective and critical comparative analysis of other perspectives as part of justifying and explaining my beliefs and their impact on the research design. Descriptive writing is therefore the key focus of this round of draft writing. In the next round of drafting the ontological and epistemological sections I shall build on these descriptions and convert discussions into explanations, deeper reasoning, argumentation development, and deeper critical and reflective analysis and engagement with literature. I have just recently started writing the section on describing the research as a qualitative approach, and although not a huge lot has been written yet it will follow the same layered approach.


I think beginning with descriptions, even if you know your arguments and reasoning, and so on, shall help guide your further discussions. Each paragraph or even sentence shall be scrutinised for clarity, concepts, points of views and basis of potential argumentative points so that they can be explored further and expanded upon. This way, as a qualitative researcher, you are getting even more intimate with your own ideas as you think deeply about what is being described in each sentence. This does take some time, but it’s important to be able to carry this out and connect each sentence, each idea, each paragraph, each page and each chapter from the wider macro (chapter) perspective and the microscopic (sentence) perspective. Using this approach, it might be possible to identify more concepts to explore in the literature review, or include in the emerging theory and discuss in the results or discussions chapters.


The descriptive drafts of the ontological and epistemological sections have now been sent for feedback, and whilst they are only descriptive accounts they should be able to show where the ideas are going and where they could possibly influence methodological choices.


Research Journal Article:


The other major writing task of the moment is editing a three-thousand-word journal paper that has been accepted recently by a research journal. I think the editing is coming along well enough. The paper is a critical account of my recent conference experiences, where I critically reflect on these experiences and link these critical reflections with thesis development, professional development, and the general doctoral experience.


The reviewers were welcoming of the paper and said that it’s well written, but have suggested edits. The core edits revolve around further, specific elaborations of the relationship between conference experiences and professional development and to give specific, detailed examples of the way in which aspects of the conference have impacted on my thesis development and my identity as a social scientist. The reviewers also advise on engaging critically with existing literature regarding the topics covered in my critical review including attending conferences, and the relationship between attending conferences and research development, professional development and the general graduate academic experience. This was unexpected, as I had not previously realised that critical reviews can include extant literature.


This is the first time I’ve written a publishable critically reflective account, so it is a learning curve but the experience is beneficial as it’s helping me to think more about what happened at the conference. And, it's helping me to refine my critical and reflective analytical skills on a broader level, which can only be benficial for the thesis! Additionally, it’s helping me to focus and classify my ideas about the conference within a particular approach, and the approach used to guide my critical reflections is the knowledge building perspective. Essentially, I am reflecting upon conferences as a knowledge building activity, which in the case of my thesis can lead to change. Thus it could be recategorized as a critical knowledge building activity where critical approaches, as described in various methodological textbooks, are used to promote a change. I’ll have to work on this a bit more before handing the paper in.


The editing process is therefore ongoing, and during the week I’ve managed to increase the paper to over five thousand words! Thankfully, I managed to reduce it back down to under the word limit of three thousand words. I sometimes have the attitude of getting everything down on paper first and worry about sorting it out at a later stage, and so I did!


Summary:


Draft writing sessions are in full swing, with recent focus placed on the journal article, though now I feel more confident with the paper in its current state, though obviously needs further editing, I can balance the work between the journal paper and the methodology chapter. I am finding the writing and editing of the journal paper a fascinating learning journey, particularly as I realised that I can engage with extant literature when writing critical reviews!


July 07, 2017

Update On The Methodology Chapter

Draft chapters of the thesis are now currently being written! I started a section of the literature review before Easter focussing on analysing and critiquing some of the learning models of interest, to which I shall return at a later point, but for now focus is on drafting the methodology chapter.


It might appear a little unconventional to write the methodology chapter before writing a full literature review, but this makes sense to me given that I am utilising a grounded theory methodology. However, I am thinking about the literature review whilst writing the methodology chapter, as there are concepts and ideas that I have thought about that are suitable for the literature review but had not been previously considered, therefore demonstrating that a thesis is designed and should be written as a logical, interrelated narrative about the research project. Each chapter can be written in whatever order you feel is right for you, but to write each chapter without thinking about its influence on the next chapter or, where necessary, the way it has been influenced by the previous chapter places the thesis in a position where everything feels disjointed and unconnected.


At the moment, the main focus is on the methodology chapter as I really want to lay out, structure, argue, justify and really think more about the components of my research design before commencing with a scheduled long period of data analysis and theoretical development. Others might differ in their beliefs, but it is my belief that if I engaged with data analysis and theoretical development without a comprehensive, fully elaborated and detailed documentation of the research design I will be in danger of using grounded theory with either incorrect or unacknowledged assumptions. Remember: there is a general use and purpose of grounded theory as a methodology but at the higher level, grounded theory methodology, and any other methodological approach you choose to adopt, is guided and shaped by your ontological and epistemological beliefs.


Reading through other theses makes the approach to writing about ontological and epistemological beliefs somewhat of a mystery. Some I have read have made no mention of any such beliefs and therefore you are left wondering what the underlying assumptions of their research design are. Other theses have discussed such ontological and epistemological beliefs but have treated them like an afterthought, intended or not, in a sub section of a major chapter section. Many methodological authors have stated that there is a lack of philosophical discussion in many theses and some have emphasised a huge need for more Ph.D. candidates to engage with such discussions, but yet surely treating such discussions as a sub section of a bigger chapter section is a sign that philosophy is not being treated with any serious thought?


A reason that could explain the disengagement with philosophical discussions is that philosophical concepts particularly concepts within the social sciences are abstract concepts. Ontological concepts of the social sciences are not physical in their nature and appearance: you cannot physically “grasp” a mind, or processes and objects of learning, as they exist at an abstract level. Some people have difficulties with philosophising what they cannot grasp or that which is not viewable, but I wonder if this is because their individual minds cannot really grasp such abstract concepts; that their cognitive and psychological behaviours in some way do not allow them to grasp such concepts. Or, that they have been socially or culturally conditioned in some way to think that what you can grasp and feel (sense experiences) is all that you can theorise about, or philosophise.


I don’t necessarily agree with the view that sense experiences represent everything about “the real” of reality; I think it is possible to philosophise about social processes and objects, but further discussion really is beyond the purpose of this blog post. I am, however, developing my own ideas about this and currently detailing this in the draft chapter of the methodological chapter.


With that, debating ontological and epistemological perspectives, discussing and justifying my own ontological and epistemological beliefs, relating and interconnecting ontological and epistemological beliefs, and linking these beliefs with the research context, phenomena of interest, research questions and with other aspects of the research design (not to mention making references to the literature review) is where I am currently at!


In response to calls in the literature, and because I want to, I am devoting a fair amount of space to ontological and epistemological discussions as these are important. Some books have suggested that these discussions can take up anything from just a few paragraphs to several pages, but I think due to the complexity of learning and collaborative social process I can tentatively suggest that I am justified in writing several pages on the subject. My plan for the methodology chapter is to detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs first in separate but connected sections (e.g., the epistemological section references the ontological section as and when necessary), followed by a discussion of the qualitative approach, followed by a discussion of the grounded theory methodology, and then the data collection and analysis methods.


The methodology chapter is planned to be written in that order because it makes absolute sense to me to write about and detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs first, as these shape and guide the way in which the qualitative approach is considered and the way in which grounded theory is used and for what purpose. But reading through other theses, this is not the structure that some of them follow, so I have to make sure that the structure is right. Either way, I have no problem changing the structure as long as I can keep my detailed accounts of my ontological and epistemological beliefs. I will be providing an initial overview section of the research design first, to introduce the reader (the supervisor and thesis assessors) to the research design, its components, and the layout of the methodology chapter: they appreciate that sort of approach!


I will be sending draft sections to the supervisor soon with these questions! But either way I do think it is important that due to the nature of the phenomena of interest and the research context that I do detail my ontological and epistemological beliefs, because they do shape and form the methodology and the way in which the methods are used. Omission of such discussions would lead the reader, I feel, to perceive that there is something missing and wonder why I had not provided any sort of philosophical justification.


Planning on sending in a draft of the chapter as it stands to my supervisor near the end of the month, but till that time I shall keep on reading, writing, and thinking!


June 23, 2017

Methodology Chapter: The Beginning!

With thirty eight pages of rough drafted notes on paper consisting of ideas, quotes, paraphrases, references, elaborations of thoughts along with goodness knows what amount of loose notes and ramblings on the hard drive all pertaining to the methodology chapter, the plan was laid out: to transform this mess into something that resembled at least the foundations of a draft of the initial parts of the methodological chapter! Well, that was the plan to begin the day but my inquiring mind had other plans……


“Where do I start?” “From what point do I begin?” “What on Earth did I write there?” “What on Earth did I say there?” “Was I high on Easter eggs when I wrote this?” “What is the meaning of what I wrote here?” “Why is my handwriting so shoddy here?” “Wait! If I get a magnifying glass I’ll be able to read this!” And other relevant statements started to ring out as I began to make sense and classify the unordered pages. After managing to make sense of the mess to some extent without wanting to throw the computer out of the window (even though I had not actually typed anything at this time) I began to stare at the blank page. The friendly black cursor thing flashed again and again, as if it was calling me to place my hands on the keyboard and write pages and pages of draft notes that in the future could be classed as meaningless dribble but that wouldn’t matter! What would matter is I would get raw ideas down and sort everything else out at a later point! Thankfully as I began reading through a couple of pages to remind myself of what I said when I originally wrote the notes, I was inspired to write, and throughout the day the following words echoed in my ears: Continuity! Consistency! Cohesion! Coherence! Honestly I felt like I was being invaded by a party political broadcast on behalf of the Let’s Have Another Coherent Thesis Written Party.


As draft formation began, my thinking became channelled. I reflected on what I was writing more intensely, reflectively, and critically than when I was jotting down lots of notes on paper during reading sessions of literature. I was scrutinising every word, sentence, reference and paragraph. I really questioned the purpose, meaning, positioning and context of each sentence. Is there something missing from I had previously written on paper? Can I say this better? Can I improve this in anyway? What ideas should come before this paragraph? What else should be included in this paragraph? Are there any alternative ways I can express these ideas? Have I correctly analysed the references?


All these questions and more ran through my head as I became more critical and reflective of my ideas, style of writing, style of using language to express my ideas and thoughts, the content and semantics of the ideas and thoughts, and the interpretations and representations of references. Perhaps some people might argue that at draft phase, my thinking and general approach might be too involving and too intense for the purpose of writing draft form chapters, but I disagree. In my opinion it’s important to practice self-criticism and self-reflection during academic writing not to the point where you go completely insane, but to the point where you can come away from whatever amount of words, sentences and paragraphs produced feeling satisfied. I am finding that I am much more critical of my thesis writing and any other academic writing than my blog writing. That doesn’t negate the importance of constructing informative, and (somewhat) entertaining blog posts that is as grammatically as solid as possible, but for me personally a blog environment is a bit more relaxed. In other words, I can write a blog post at about nine or ten in the evening when I am in a more relaxed mode: I cannot do this for the thesis.


As can probably be understood, my mind cannot fixate on the main purpose of a draft form: to simply get ideas down on paper and sort everything out at a later time. I like to edit as I write. I like to write a few sentences or even a few paragraphs at a time if possible, and then stop and reread, and edit. It’s quite surprising what you can observe as you reflect upon your own writing and the meaning of the content being produced. In a sense you are engaged with the simultaneous activities of writing and self-reflecting.


When I wrote the first initial paragraph, and without reading the rough notes any further, I started to form ideas of what I could discuss next, and began forming conceptions of what I could say before the paragraph. This initial paragraph discussed briefly as a starting point about human existence and the essence of existence in enabling the existence of social processes. Having reread the paragraph I realised that I should be talking about the context and placement of human existence; to transcend discussions of human existence from its impact on social processes to the concept of human existence itself, and what it means to exist: social ontology!


I wrote a paragraph on social ontology with suitable references, but I was being drawn into talking more about social ontology before even contemplating further discussions on the way that human existence impacts social processes, and what processes would be investigated to what extent and in what way from an ontological sense. This then lead to rereading papers on social ontology and I was picking up ideas and definitions of aspects of social ontology that I had not previously observed or interpreted before. As I was picking up different interpretations and definitions I was rewriting this same paragraph and I must have reedited it over ten times, perhaps even up to twenty times I actually cannot remember. This is the result of reflecting upon existing ideas, thinking about the new interpretations and definitions, and integrating these new ideas with existing ideas and trying to be as concise about these ideas when writing about them.


By the time I completed rereading the small set of closely relevant social ontological papers I had three pages of notes written as part of the draft, but the only piece of this I am actually happy about at this time is the very first paragraph! All the other sentences and paragraphs across the rest of the draft are ready to be linked together, edited, or discarded in some way in time. Even though I do feel happy with the first paragraph, due to the nature of research and editing there is no guarantee that this paragraph will be relevant in future drafts of the chapter, as ideas and directions do change. But, as it is, it’s the most “complete” part of the chapter. I could have easily wrote ten pages from the notes that I have written on paper without carrying out any further thinking, reflecting, critical analysis of the language used and meaning of the content, and reading, but that’s not the way my mind works.


Whilst I would have been able to say “I wrote ten pages wooooo hoooo what a productive time” that would actually be a meaningless statement. Simply because, it’s more important and beneficial in the long term in my opinion to craft a most cohesive, correct, logical and easily flowing paragraph that best represents current ideas and references whilst acknowledging that the paragraph could very well change drastically or even be dropped in the future, than to produce ten pages of what could effectively be meaningless ramblings most of which would be thrown away.


That’s the way my mind works and when I think about it, my writing sessions will not be based on the number of words or the number of pages I can muster in a single writing sessions: I want to make sure that every word, every sentence and every paragraph is as carefully constructed, is as meaningful, and is as grammatically, syntactically and semantically correct as is possible at the current time of writing. That, to me, is most important.


My advice? Don’t focus too much on quantity and go for quality. Even in just draft form, it is still worth taking the time needed to construct well-crafted paragraphs that expresses what you want to say as effectively as possible. Academic language is not easy to master, but pausing and reflecting on your writing, identifying knowledge and language gaps and really questioning everything that you write and the way you write shall benefit you more in the long run!


June 18, 2017

Ph.D. Update: Successfully Passed The Upgrade Process; Onward With The Thesis!

Confirmation arrived by email earlier the previous week, confirming that my research work has been successfully upgraded to Ph.D. level! The successful confirmation has been met with surprise and feelings of relief, as the confirmation is the result of a reassessment of my work following the upgrade presentation that took place a few months ago, where my work at the time nearly matched Ph.D. level but had to make a few alterations to the research design. These alterations initially came about as doubts that I had about the suitability of my own research design subsequent to first submission of the upgrade paper, but before the upgrade presentation and these doubts were confirmed during the presentation.


As has been detailed and heavily documented in my previous blog posts, the Mixed Methods approach was dropped in favour of a Case Study Grounded Theory research design and the rewritten upgrade paper, which increased in word count from three thousand words to between six to seven thousand words, was based around this research design. The literature review, methodology, trial study and discussion chapters were significantly revamped to reflect updated readings, changes in methodological directions, thoughts about the phenomena of interest, initial data findings, hypotheses and thoughts about the data.


Eventually I was happy to send it in for reassessment, and led to my research upgraded to Ph.D. level!


Current Status Of Research


But even now I’m debating my research design as I am beginning to feel that a case study design is no longer appropriate, as a characteristic of a case study design is its suitability for research where the boundaries of the context and phenomena of interest are not clearly defined.


What this means is, a case study design is most suitable in situations where the boundary definitions of the phenomena of interest (I am taking this to mean contextual, research environment and situational boundaries) are not clearly understood or are clear. However, as I come to know and understand my own philosophical beliefs and read intensely about them, along with analysing and thinking about the data relating to the phenomena, the more I am beginning to realise that there are situational and contextual boundaries and that I am able to clearly define these boundaries. Therefore, the case study option might be dropped. I shall explore this more though and write a blog post in the future when I am fully convinced this is the case, and no pun intended!


Doubts are also beginning to come about regarding the possible use of interviews in the research. The idea of using interviews came about when I followed a more constructivist epistemological approach, but having really analysed the situational context of my research a few months ago I shifted away from constructivist epistemology to constructionist epistemology. Basically, the type of interviews I wanted to carry out are known as semi-structured interviews, which enable co-construction of meaning and knowledge about concepts of reality to take place between the interviewer and the interviewee; also, the research interviews could be taken into different directions depending on the answers given by the interviewee in order to enable myself as the researcher to explore specific thoughts further. This is a sign of a constructivist approach therefore I am not entirely convinced this is achievable with a constructionist epistemology. This is something I need to look at further in the future.
Apart from those two concerns, everything else is more or less decided upon: an ontological realist approach, a social constructionist epistemology, and the possibility of dropping the case study methodology and upgrade grounded theory to a full methodological approach therefore in a sense the grounded theory shall be situated within a realist-constructionist paradigm.



What is the current focus? Where to next?


I have made tentative plans up to around the middle to the end of August where I am planning to take my annual summer time off before the long autumn and winter stretch towards Christmas. The plans, put in place about a month or so ago following the successful Warwick University conference, revolve around developing philosophical justifications for my research design, and to attempt to argue the case for a realist-constructionist paradigm as most suitable for exploring the phenomena of interest, as opposed to a positivist paradigm or a relativist paradigm.


Essentially, the main current focus is to begin drafting the initial sections of the methodological chapter of the thesis. The initial sections of the methodology chapter aim to explain and explore my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and therefore reflexivity, reflectively, and critically analyse and acknowledge any personal biases and the way that these biases might have affected the implementation of the research design, and the development of the theory. Obviously I will have to edit the methodology chapter to include such reflexivity, reflections and critical analysis in the future as I have not fully applied the research design.


However, the main focus at the moment is to develop philosophical justifications of the research design: I need to explain what my ontological and epistemological beliefs are; justify and explain why the phenomenon of interest is being explored from a realist, constructionist perspective; compare to other perspectives that other researchers have considered in the past; and to explain in detail the relationship between ontology (realism), epistemology (social constructionism) and methodology (grounded theory).


Some might consider this as a little odd because I am writing the early chapters of the thesis in somewhat of a reverse order, as I am writing the methodological chapter, or at least the beginning of it, before fully drafting the literature review. But this approach makes sense to me. I’m leaning more heavily towards philosophy compared to a couple of years ago, and I feel that a full understanding of the philosophical aspects of my research design shall put me in a better position to fully critique and analysis the ways in which the phenomenon of interest has been explored, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives.


There are various ways in which a thesis can be completed and a qualitative, grounded theory thesis does not have to be completed in a set order of literature review – methodology – results – discussion chapters and so on (I’m simplifying the structure of a thesis here) but it can be completed in whatever way a researcher feels the need to complete it. The key is not the order in which the chapters are written, but that throughout the thesis there is a clear, identifiable, observable, and engaging narrative and relationship between the chapters.


Summary


Being upgraded to Ph.D. level is half a surprising outcome but definitely a relief! The current work leading up to around the middle to end of August, possibly, is the drafting of the initial sections of the methodology chapter that refers specifically to documenting and exploring my ontological and epistemological beliefs, argue their relevance to the research phenomena and context, and explain the relationship between my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and the methodological approach.


May 21, 2017

The Conceptual Confusions and Ontological Fluidity of Social Constructionism

In the previous blog post I discussed the interchangeability problems referring specifically to social constructivism and social constructionism. Convenience and ease of understanding are possible reasons why writers choose to use constructionism and constructivism interchangeably under a single subjectivist umbrella. Whilst it is a pragmatic approach for beginning researchers as they begin to understand the diversity, variability, complexity and intricacy of the field of research philosophy and methodology, it is strongly advisable for Ph.D. candidates (I am currently doing this myself) to approach each theory separately whilst acknowledging their subjectivist, epistemological position. A key separation, among several that I shall be exploring in future blog posts, is their disciplinary origins: constructivism originated in psychology from the likes of Paiget and Vygotsky as key authors, whilst Constructionism developed from sociologists such as Burr, Gergen, Berger and Luckmann among many others. Therefore, constructivism focusses on the cognition both in individual and social contexts, whilst constructionism from my current understanding focusses more on the historical, cultural and social contexts of the participants and social concepts such as language and discourse.


Conceptual differences


As I navigated my way around the literature, initial confusion set in as I attempted to understand the way that different writers conceived of the social world and therefore the way that social constructionism has been used with respect to constructs of the social world, which includes reality, knowledge, truth, meaning and understanding. As I continued to navigate through the literature, I came to observe a group of writers classifying reality as existing independently of the mind, whilst classifying reality’s constituent concepts (knowledge, truth, understanding and meaning) as constructions of the mind; another group was observed to have classified both reality and its constituents as constructions of the mind.


Previous understanding of ontology led me to perceive the difference between the writers’ positioning of reality within their thinking, and led me therefore to perceive each group as advocating an ontological stance. The group of writers who treated reality as a mind-dependent concept were relativists, whilst the group of writers who treated reality as mind-independent concept were considered realists. But here I had the interesting thought that unlike social constructivism, which has a relativist ontology, social constructionism is ontologically neutral.


Ontological Neutrality And Fluidity


Now I had the idea that social constructionism could be situated within a realist or relativist ontology, which to me makes sense because, as I have covered in earlier blog posts (and what I shall be continuing to explore and write about in the future), the selection of a particular ontological position does not necessarily influence the epistemological stance. We as human beings are far too diverse in our thinking and interactions with reality to place ourselves within linear ontological-epistemological relationships as commonly presented in textbooks, but I accept that this might not be a universally accepted claim.


Guided by my new assumption of social constructionism as being ontologically neutral, I came across a journal paper written by John Cromby and David Nightingale called “What’s Wrong With Social Constructionism?” The authors partway through the paper draw on the wider literature to come to the same conclusion: that social constructionism can be situated within either a realist or relativist ontology. Social Constructionism therefore has a subjectivist epistemology but can be placed within a realist or relativist ontology, and this perfectly reflects my beliefs that, as mentioned, we as humans are cognitively and psychologically diverse: we all think of reality and of our coming to know and understand reality differently; therefore, it might not be suitable or accurate to simply assume that a particular ontological position naturally leads to a particular epistemological position. This might be in contrast to the typical linear presentation of the ontological and epistemological relationships in literature: that a realist ontology necessitates an objectivist epistemology whilst a relativist position necessitates a subjectivist epistemology. Again this might be due to authors attempting to simplify associations for ease of understanding and to encourage the early researcher to understand that there are distinct differences between philosophical positions, but this oversimplification could undermine the potential worth and value of perceiving philosophical positions as flexible and fluid instead of strictly regimented.


What does this mean for my research specifically?


This could actually cover another blog post, which is at the time of writing this blog post is currently in the making. But here it suffices to say that my beliefs in the diversity of human thinking, understanding, exploration and contemplation of the world, reality and the entire universe is complex and should not be encapsulated in some pre-defined linear ontological-epistemological relationship. That said, I do have the belief that there is a single reality out there and that there are aspects of the social world that exists independently of our thinking, knowing or perceiving of these aspects. But, I do not have the belief that we can access this social reality easily: our thinking, theories, thoughts and frameworks that we have about reality should always be considered fallible and held with an element of scepticism and be subjected to constant reanalysis and refining. It is therefore right that I consider my research within the context of a realist ontology and a subjectivist epistemology; more specifically at this time as I currently understand the field of research Philosophy, a subtle realist ontology and a constructionist epistemology.


I shall be writing more about this subject as my understanding of subtle realism and constructionism improves, along with the relationship between them, and the methodologies and methods.


May 20, 2017

Overcoming the interchangeable nature of Social Constructivism and Social Constructionism

As Ph.D. candidates, we can become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of literature that is read through to orientate ourselves with our field of interest from the philosophical and methodological levels, and the phenomena of interest from different disciplinary and theoretical perspectives. During the navigation of literature so far, I have encountered numerous cases where several terms have been used interchangeably to refer to the same concept or principle, and this has and can cause much confusion among Ph.D. candidates about the exact meaning of a concept.


Social constructivism and social constructionism are two subjectivist epistemological theories that have been used interchangeably within papers and textbooks to refer to the same principle: that we come to understand reality through constructing knowledge, meaning, truth and understanding within a social context. Whilst they share this principle, their application and process of social construction of concepts differ greatly as both theories focus on different aspects of interaction within the social world, and therefore focus on different attributes and concepts of the social world. It is worth noting that there is no single version of either constructivism or constructionism: there are various types of both theories developed ranging from “weaker” versions to “stronger” versions, the variety which, whilst adding to the initial confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed, corresponds to the diversity of human thought and the way in which we interact with reality.

Interchangeability


Since there are varying forms of constructivism and constructionism and given the sheer volume of literature published regarded both, it is not a major surprise to find out that there is a trend to simplify terminology and represent, in arguably a simplistic fashion, different points across the epistemological spectrum using simplistic conventions. The points typically range from positivism / post positivism (objectivism), followed by pragmatism and critical realism (middle range), and then constructionism / constructivism (subjectivism). Sometimes the subjectivism section goes a step further and include interpretivism, which again is different to both constructionism and constructivism in terms of its purpose and the concepts it deals with, but for matters of convenience these writers appear to categorise them as the same. A classic example I have recently come across that explains why some writers prefer to lump conceptually similar theories together is to try to explain (I assume for the benefit of the Ph.D. candidate or other beginning researchers) a clear distinction between objectivism and subjectivism epistemologies. There is some discussion that suggests that Charmaz termed her version of Grounded Theory as Constructivist Grounded Theory to attempt to separate it from the more positivist (Glaser and Strauss version) and pragmatist / symbolic interactionist (Strauss and Corbin) versions of the time. There is some debate therefore in Constructionist circles about whether her conceptualisation of Grounded Theory is Constructionist rather than Constructivist. This is an area of debate that I shall be exploring further and shall write any further thoughts about this in a follow up blog post.


As can be observed, subjectivist theories particularly constructionist and constructivist have been used interchangeably to refer to the same concept even though there are significant differences between them. The question is therefore, in what way can we overcome a potential barrier to clarity?

Overcoming The Barrier Of Interchangeability


The best way I find to overcome the barrier of progress caused by the confusing interchangeability is to hold a sense of scepticism and level of questioning. I asked myself why constructivism and constructionism were being used interchangeably and was therefore sceptical of their representation in the literature as if they were the same. Essentially, I refused to take at face value the possibility of constructivism and constructionism being the same, and explored each of these further to find out what they meant as a research Philosophy. It was an open, inquiring mind, my own nature you could say, that motivated and inspired me to ask relevant questions.
An additional help was that for quite a while prior to starting a Ph.D. I had a lot of interest in the theory of social constructivism and I originally intended on exploring social constructivism in some way on the Ph.D. (gosh haven’t times changed since then!), therefore the reading that had occurred did assist in my immediate suspicion and scepticism about both terms meaning exactly the same concept. A reason for this immediate suspicion and scepticism was that I had read constructivism, as well as constructionism, within the context of a learning theory, which is quite different from reading both as research philosophies. Even so, constructivism and constructionism both differ significantly as learning theories; therefore, I had the impression from this difference that they would be different as research philosophies.


Translating this into more practical academic tasks, the best way to begin is to either use a search engine or an academic database to explore constructionism and constructivism separately. Google Books is usually an excellent way to find introductory research textbooks that explain what each of these terms are, or your own University library digital databases. Slideshare and other presentation sites are excellent applications to help assist with what these are in bullet point terms and some presentations have some excellent visuals to help assist with your learning of these terms. Once you have mastered the definitions and differences between each of these theories, use Google Scholar and your University library databases to explore specific implementations and applications of these theories as well as the wider debate and discussions for and against various aspects of these theories.


The introductory materials, followed by papers that cover the implementations and applications of these theories, then followed by exploring the wider literature regarding the interpretations, debates and discussions about various aspects of these theories shall give you a firm basis and understanding of the differences between these theories. As well as, what I found, giving you a firm basis to decide whether constructionism or constructivism are relevant for your research (or even aspects of each), or if something completely different is required.


Concluding Thoughts


I still wonder why some writers are motivated to categorise similar yet widely differing theories as the same. I suspect that it is because of convenience and simplicity of understanding to assist beginning researchers on their quest to understanding the vast array of different epistemological theories, debates, discussions and applications. The Ph.D. candidate therefore must be aware that whilst such convenient categorisations are useful for introducing the fact that there is a vast distinction between objectivism and subjectivism, they need to question further and explore each point along the epistemological spectrum in order to fully grasp and understand the variety of theories, and variation within these theories, in order to identify, select, and justify their epistemological stance, which in turn acts as an input to forming a philosophical justification of the research design.


I’m still learning, I’m still exploring, I’m still experimenting, and I still ponder and analyse the significance of my now settled philosophical perspective and the role it plays in my research design!


May 10, 2017

CES PG Conference 2017: Self–Reflection and Self–Criticism

Self-Criticism is not as harsh as it sounds, but regardless some people run away at the thought of being self-critical whilst others for whatever reason take self-criticism and use it as a form of self-destruction. The origin of this perspective involves a complex variety of social and psychological factors, leading to diverse conceptualisations of self-criticism, and of being self-critical. Being self-reflective and self-critical are important components of being an effective, reflexive researcher and therefore a part of professional development. I shall discuss the process of self-reflection and self-criticism in other blog posts but it suffices to say that they are key skills that enable the Ph.D. candidate, or anyone else, to analyse and think about a previous experience and its context, and to critically evaluate the experience and outcomes in order to identify current skills and knowledge gaps, and to plan effectively and appropriately.

Conferences offer excellent opportunities for self-reflection and self-criticism activities to take place through, for example, observations made and feedback given, and these activities can take place at both philosophical and methodological levels. There is much flexibility and adaptability in the approach to self-reflection and self-criticism therefore it’s up to you to decide what you think represents appropriate reflective and critical engagement.


Evaluation Of My Presentation Performance


The topic of the presentation related to the assessment of debates within a post-truth context where I provided the audience with my working definitions of post-truth within a general context, and within the specific context of social processes, followed by claims made by certain philosophers against the usefulness and effectiveness of debates, followed by the initial findings and thoughts of debates that I have observed. Given that this was the first ever time of presenting at a conference I am happy with the performance that I gave. I didn’t feel that nervous before or during the presentation although beforehand I was wondering if I could actually do this, which was completely irrational because I have presented before but not in front of a wider audience. The audience genuinely enjoyed the presentation and some came up to me for brief chats about the presentation, and importantly I was given important feedback which is being used as a focus for future planning and skills development all of which shall act as evidence for professional development.


From the feedback and from observing other presentations that took place I have come to know the way in which I can improve the presentation in terms of more engaging content, such as explaining more the context and the need for the research so that the audience is able to situate the research and the findings within a particular context. Thinking about the construction of the presentation I did actually begin to include information about the context of the research but I didn’t think this was important given that I wasn’t presenting a complete scenario or complete findings, as I emphasised at the beginning of the presentation, but I’ve now come to know that it is important to really elaborate further on definitions and contextual understandings regardless of the stage of research.


Evaluation of the Conference


It was a wonderful, engaging, thrilling and satisfying experience where I have not only been able to present but also been able to engage with other presenters and their presentations reflectively and critically, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives. Conservations with other Ph.D. candidates and the supervisor has led to new ideas and confirmed some ideas that I had but was not sure of, and these are currently being elaborated upon and therefore shall be discussed at some stage in future blog posts. The new and confirmed ideas are as follows:


· Increase scope of contextualisation in the thesis: explain the context within which learning processes are being explored, and argue why a particular context is of more interest than other contexts. This was going to be included in the first place, but its importance has been hinted to be of a substantial level especially in the social sciences and when substantive theories through grounded theory are being developed, as these theories appear to be relative and contextualised. Such explanations also need to be present in future presentations
· Provide a section relating to the theory-practice relationship. I knew this would be included, but it’s interesting to gather different opinions. The theory or model that I am creating will be useful in practice so I will need to fully elaborate in the thesis exactly the way in which the theory can change or assist practice, and vice versa
· Reconsider research methodology: philosophical approaches are fine I have no problem with my own philosophical perspectives as I think I can argue this in the thesis and in the viva examination (fingers crossed!) it’s just a matter of fully developing argumentation and elaboration of the way in which philosophical perspectives influence the research design and play a part in uniting the components. Grounded Theory is also fine: I do have the belief that a substantive theory that grounded theory enables to be developed is required. The only alteration is likely to be the dropping of the label “case study” and replace it with “case based.” The more I think about the way that I am exploring the phenomena of interest the more I’m realising that it’s not a full blown case study.
· Potentially increase the size and scope of the methodology chapter: a presenter made an important point that theses vary considerably in their chapter lengths from researcher to researcher. I am beginning to form extensive interest in Philosophy and Methodology and their relationship with each other; therefore, I have extensive interest in the way in which different components of the research design fit together. I have just about as much interest in research design itself as I do with the phenomena of interest, therefore I am thinking about extending the scope and size of the methodology chapter considerably.
· Consider further the role of emotional intelligence in social learning processes: an excellent presentation along with my own observations of the data has inspired me to think more about the role of emotional intelligence when analysing social learning processes. This is all part of exploring and thinking about social learning processes from as a wide, diverse amount of perspectives as possible

Summary


The conference provided an excellent platform of self-reflection and self-criticism, and therefore assisted with identifying new directions that were not previously considered important to the research, and assisted with developing solutions to any concerns that I had. I am happy with the performance that I gave and I realise where improvements can be made, and happy with engaging with other presenters and presentations allowing me to reflect and critique my own research; therefore, identifying possible directions to take the research. An excellent conference in general!


CES PG Conference 2017: Education in a Changing World Theme

The political, theological, social, economic, cultural and technological landscapes of the world continue to ride the consistent, constant wave of change, which over the past few decades have led to globalisation and much diverse societies, identities and cultural integration.


Globalisation and the European Union

Globalisation was a buzzword back when I first started college in the late 90s / early 2000s and I remember reading reams of papers about this concept in relation to businesses, business computing, the European Union and the European Union agenda that focussed on technological changes within EU member states, the potential negative and positive influence of these changes on business processes (production, marketing, etc) within EU member states, and the integration of processes across EU member states. Much like the concept of the European Union however, Globalisation has its benefits and also its criticisms. Many questions have been asked to what extent wildly differing cultures, economies and societies can really fully integrate and function, and to what extent integration should occur. Even with our neighbouring European countries: whilst we might be geographically neighbours, we differ so widely socially, politically and economically that it’s arguably fair to ask these questions. As I intend on avoiding political engagement with this blog (admittedly given the context of the theme of the conference this has been difficult to avoid when writing this post), it suffices to say that there is no assumption being made that integration is wrong, but questions have to be asked regarding the extent to which integration should be defined, and the limit of which integration should take place. Questions especially have to be asked about globalised economies and the integration of economies: as we have observed with the financial crisis of America and of the EU (yes, it was a global economic crisis, folks), too much integration can bring as many dangers and negatives as there are positives; additionally, the more integration takes place the more that a country is at the mercy of the actions of other countries regardless of what an individual Government does to safeguard a country’s economy. Whether or not globalisation, the EU and so on are viewed as either positive or negative is up to you to decide.


Globalisation, Education, and the Changing World

The theme of this conference therefore, as you can probably imagine, was about Education in a Changing World. The presentations I attended focussed on teacher perceptions of their role and identity; about teaching British values; about theory-practice relationships; about the role of Education in a changing world; and Grounded Theory. All these presentations were extremely interesting and focussed on different aspects of the way in which Education is attempting to deal with an ever changing world, and the way in which individual researchers are engaging with relevant, challenging issues. The presentations enabled reflective and critical engagement not only with their work, but with my work from both Philosophical and Methodological perspectives.


To focus in on a single thread of discussion (far too much can be said for a single blog post!), a function of any Education system is to maintain pace with a continuous evolving world through equipping and enabling citizens with the skills and processes suitable to take an active part in this changing world relative to their ability and capability. The extent to which Education is able to maintain pace with a changing world, the approaches that are used to ensure this pace is kept, and the way in which a changing world is realised and reflected within an Education system is a matter of much debate and, hence, much research and questioning.


As a specific example in relation to a particular presentation, it can be argued that education systems need to be designed for flexibility, adaptability and fluidity and therefore responsive to change, but it’s arguable as to the extent to which this actually happens in the UK. An extremely interesting presentation revolving around the teaching of fundamental British values noted that the term “fundamental” was debatable because it suggests a set of values that should not be questioned. Given that we are a democratic society, should anything be considered fundamental? Does the very definition of fundamentalism go against the definition of a democratic society, in terms of its freedom and choices that it proclaims? Can you really have pure democracy when fundamental principles exist? Is there really such a thing as a pure democracy? Does the fact that we are a democratic society encourage the existence of diversity and integration? Additionally, the idea of a British value or holding what is perceived to be a British value is also debatable, nevermind defining them as being exclusively British. Democracy, for example, is considered a British value but yet there are other democratic societies. Why define it as exclusively British? Another interesting point made in the same presentation, and other presentations referring to teacher identity, was the use of teachers as applications of surveillance: should teachers play a role of observing children and surveying those at risk of being exposed to or expressing terrorist-like characteristics? Who defines what a terrorist-like characteristic is? In what way can these definitions be separated from normal childhood games and behaviour? Would cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers be perceived as terrorist-like characteristics?

Teachers, according to the research presented, generally reject this role because it goes against their perceptions of themselves as teachers and the general identity of being a teacher, which in turn brings about questions regarding what are perceived to be social norms, trends, and psychological mindsets linked to a particular identity. If a teacher perceives their role and identity as a teacher and not some terrorist surveyor they will not accept the idea of observing children for potential terrorist based characteristics. Further, adopting such a role brings about questions of ethics, obligations and morals. Researchers, as an example, have the moral and ethical duty to inform relevant authorities, parents and, in some cases, the children themselves that they are being observed in some way for a research project. Is it therefore moral and ethically correct that teachers might be able to observe without permission? Might it become a definition of the job of teaching? Would you want YOUR child to be observed in such a way without you knowing, in an attempt to ensure that the child observed British values? Where did these British values come from anyway? Who defines them and why? Who is anybody to dictate what defines a British identity, when British countries themselves cannot agree if whether or not they want to be part of a British union?


Considerations of the Research Context


Just writing this blog post from the top of my head (and following a reedit) it’s already reached over a thousand words and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the conference, as for the purpose of this post I’m thinking about a single aspect: the influence of Globalisation on our Education system in a changing world although this actually wasn’t the focus of my presentation but regardless of that, it is an important concept for Ph.D. candidates in Education and researchers in general to consider. When we are thinking about psychological and social processes within the specific contexts of our research practice and designs it is important to think about the wider society outside of our research contexts and the impact politics, society, economy and so on have had on the phenomena of research interest. This is particularly important when engaging with the relationship between theory and practice, and in the way that our developing theories can integrate with practice and provide it with benefits, and in turn the way that observations of practice can integrate with theory (told you integration can be beneficial!)


Summaries


In summary then, the conference itself was absolutely fascinating and has presented me, as you can imagine, with opportunities to reflect and critically engage. It has most certainly been a worthwhile experience attending the conference and every presenter both orally and poster wise made an important contribution and every discussion has been highly valued and is being reflectively and critically engaged with.


In summary of the general theme of this blog post, Globalisation as part of this changing world has introduced benefits, but it is also playing havoc with the Education system in terms of safeguarding and protecting values, norms and customs that are perceived to be British, and in the identity of a teacher. However, it should be asked if there really can be a set of agreed upon British values and customs and the way in which this should be introduced and taught (e.g., criticisms are raised against extreme Islamic teaching: can the same be raised about extreme nationalist teachings? In what way should this be monitored and approved by official standards, and who would define and develop these standards in the first place?). Additionally, it has to be questioned to what extent the benefits and negative aspects of globalisation are actually perceived or actualised, and the extent to which the media and Governments are using globalisation as a cover up for any mishaps that they refuse to take responsibility of.


Regardless, it’s the role of the Education system to keep up with all changes that occur nationally and internationally, but whether or not it is doing this effectively, ethically, and morally and whether or not it’s based more on ideological assumptions rather than practical realities is a matter of continuous debate and much research.


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