February 11, 2018

First Mini Milestone Achieved: The First Section of the First Literature Review Chapter!

All research projects consist of a series of major and mini milestones. Major milestones represent the formal completion of academic tasks such as successfully demonstrating progress per year, the completion of the Upgrade paper, the completion and passing of the first year research training assignments, and the completion of the thesis. Mini milestones are smaller, but nevertheless equally significant achievements that are personal to you and what you have set yourself to accomplish.

Most recently I have accomplished my first mini milestone of the thesis writing process: the completion of the first draft of the first section of the first literature review chapter! I am going to call each completed draft section a milestone; each time a section is drafted it’s going to be a milestone because each iteration shall demonstrate continuous progression of understanding, knowledge, awareness and comprehension of the subject matter, and further development of arguments and discussions. Each draft iteration, therefore, shall experience transitions, developments, progress and transformations in various ways. These mini milestones that you set yourself are important, because they are your means of observing and measuring progress and development as a writer, thinker, academic and researcher.

The word “completion” should not be taken in its literal sense, however, because any section that you complete for your thesis at any time in draft form will change. Completion in this sense therefore means that enough has been written so that you can progress onto writing the next section. Remember to relate each section in some way as you write them, as each section should build upon the previous section’s ideas, discussions, debates and arguments. Even in the early drafting stage you should be able to find connections and opportunities to build upon across each section.

The key idea of the first section drafts is to document your ideas and points of debates and discussions as quickly but as detailed as you can based on what you know at the time. Sometimes you might have to use some creativity and imagination when you are thinking about links between different ideas within the paragraphs (remembering to note that you have to explore these ideas further and reference accordingly) and that’s fine. Don’t discard anything out of your mind, just get things down on paper or on the computer.

Forming some sort of logical order and structure to your thoughts during the first draft is not too important. If you can form some logical order and structure as you progress (as I write I can visualise connections between ideas so I try to sort the order and structure out there and then relative to what I currently know, but that’s just a personal preference) that’s fine, but don’t be too worried about that at this time. What is important here is to get your points of debates, discussions, critiques and analysis down, and these shall guide you as you search to develop them further with each draft.

This is not to say, however, that no new points of debates, discussions, critiques and analysis shall emerge from further readings and thinking because they will emerge. As I was reading material for the second section of the chapter, I actually discovered ways that I might be able to develop existing arguments, etc. further and identified new potential points of discussions for the first section. These have been noted and I will come back to them as I write the second draft of the first section. In the meantime my attention is fixed on the next section of the chapter.

Additionally, not only do those arguments, critiques, etc. act as a guide for further reading, but can also inspire and encourage further insights and observations that you had not taken notice of before within the literature. Be creative and imaginative here and think carefully about everything that you read, and carefully relate to your previous discussions. But remember to always, therefore, ground your creative thoughts and imaginative ideas in existing, published debates and discussions or have very sound and logical reasons why your ideas logically build upon existing ideas.

Remember that the key idea of drafting is to continuously strengthen your arguments, debates, discussions, and analysis through engaging with existing literature, and to, as mentioned, think carefully about the literature and the formation and grounding of your further thoughts. As you write each section remember the key rule of building them up on what has been previously discussed. Each idea builds on a previous idea; each paragraph builds upon a previous paragraph in some way, and each section contributes to the overall picture or objective of a chapter.

A milestone is a milestone. Each of them in some way recognises a development in your work and your journey as a researcher and writer. Acknowledge them, reflect upon them, learn, and continue to progress!

February 04, 2018

From a Structured Plan to an Emergent Design: the Pause–Reflect Process

A complete change of Structure!

Furthering the developments noted in the previous blog post, I have now thrown out the original structure plan and have come to realise that the structure is a product of an emergent process. To recap, the original plan was for discussions of society, culture and education to be defined, characterised and discussed separately before discussing their relationship leading onto discussions specific to my research. After tangling with the likes of Macrosocieties, different types of societies and realising that society and education are embedded within cultural definitions, separation of discussions of society, culture and Education proved to be impossible.

This experience illuminates the proposition that whilst structuring, designing, organising and laying out a chapter is beneficial for guidance, sometimes a structure can only come about through an emergent process. Simply getting down to the task of writing and placing the process of writing above the need to structure can be more beneficial. With that, the structure of the first literature review chapter is still emerging; therefore, I cannot determine exactly the way the chapter shall be structured, although I do have general ideas of the topics I want to cover in that chapter.

It is through the process of reading more material, of writing and thinking about what I am writing that has enabled the structure to be viewed as emergent. This is a continuous and cyclical process, swapping between writing and reading, reading and thinking, and writing and thinking; therefore, the way the structure is now might not be the same in the future. There are no absolutes here: the structure, and the content, are adaptable and changeable through the process of reading and writing, in accordance with the chapter’s objectives and intended outcomes. I have even found this weekend, and as I was writing the first draft of this blog post, the possible ways that the chapter could change.

It has been challenging at first: the moving away from the idea of needing to structure a chapter to the idea of letting a structure emerge. But, I have a strategy that frames the way in which these changes take place so that it’s not ad hoc or on the spot emotional moment of needing to include something. It’s a strategy that emphasises the importance of pausing and reflecting.

The Pause-Reflect Process

I found a gap between what I thought I understood, the structure of the chapter, and observations and abstractions I was making from reading the literature. Identifying this gap caused a change in my conceptual understanding of the social and cultural. It’s a cognitive, mental process that requires an objective approach and an open mind, guided and framed by the research context, research problems, and research questions. An open mind is important here, because the impact of a closed mind is spending so much time trying to fit reality within your own conceptions that you miss what is really going on. Subjective biases, emotionally driven responses and personal frameworks would be placed above the truth of reality, or any sense of trying to understand what this truth is. That’s not what doing a Ph.D. is about; that’s not what writing is all about; that’s not the way our mental and psychological processes should be applied.

What did I do exactly to overcome the gap identified, and to therefore change the structure? Writing was paused, and existing knowledge of the concepts and emerging conceptual knowledge from the writing process were reflected upon. These reflections were then compared with, and further reflected upon, the research context, problem, questions, aims, goals, objectives and intended outcomes.

Essentially, it is the research context and its defined problems and questions that provide a general framework for the early literature reviews and the methodology chapter. Whatever you write, always keep the context in focus and try not to go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the research context. It is through the reflective process that discussions within a chapter can be appropriately managed and reframed and, therefore, enables you accurately and effectively judge and measure the validity of your current understanding, knowledge and meaning. And, additionally, it is through this reflective process that you can make decisions on the path that you are on. Remember: writing is never a set, absolute process; it’s not a long, linear path. There are many twists and turns and forks that you shall come across. But using some sort of reflective, framing process, for me, is helping me to guide the directions of the discussions. It is therefore through this reflective, comparative process that I found that the chapter structure, at least with this chapter, is an emergent feature. It all started because of that element of doubt that I had with regards to the way I was trying to separate the discussions of society, culture and Education.

In general

Every word, sentence and paragraph has an interrelated existence. Every word or series of words should illuminate a subject-object relationship (though this is not always the case); every sentence must contribute towards the overall context and message of the paragraph; every paragraph must contribute towards the aims and purposes of the chapter or section in an interrelated way. Every paragraph deals with a different topic referring to the section of the chapter, and builds upon what has been said previously.

It's not a case of adding a sentence or a paragraph and not giving it any further sound, logical thought. Adding a sentence is easy: it’s the act of logically, critically reflecting upon the purpose of every word, sentence and paragraph and comparing against the context of research and the goals and purposes of a section or wider chapter that offers the challenge. But it is these challenges that shape and develop you as a thinker and as a writer.

Where am I now with the chapter?

I’m at the stage in the draft process where I have gone beyond society and culture and now onto discussing Education and learning theories; however, because of the now emergent nature of the chapter, the structure and layout will more than likely change. Therefore, because I say I have gone beyond the discussions of society and culture I do not mean this in an absolute way, never to be returned to. What I mean by this is, I have written enough to be able to progress onto the next section in draft form, with the motivation and willingness to return to the previous sections as and when is deemed necessary. I might have written enough based on my understanding and knowledge of the concepts in relation to the purpose of the chapter within the context of the research, but this does not mean that at any time what I have written reflects the totality of what I might know and understand at any time in the future.

In my more general views, you cannot write what you think you know and understand and pretend that this is the totality of all that you could know about the subject. If you start to think in an absolute way, you begin to miss the point. The point is to continuously challenge and question what you think you know and understand, and have the mind to seek answers to questions, hypotheses, thoughts and ideas that you develop as you progress with your investigations and explorations. As indicated therefore, I accept that what I have currently written about society and culture and what I am currently writing and shall write in the future shall be a continuously changing, emerging set of discussions and debates relevant to the purpose of the chapter, and the context of the research.

It’s an ongoing journey that continues…….and continues…………..and continues………….and continues…………..and continues…………..and continues…………….and continues…………

But that’s the fun of it all!

Further Reflections on the Importance of Discussing Society, Culture and Education

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have not had the time to write this post till now; therefore, consider this post to contain valid thoughts on the subject up to W/C 28th January 2018. I have decided to post this anyway at this time simply for me to track and share my own thinking*

Exploring the importance of Macrosociety in my Research:

In the previous blog post, I discussed the view of Education from a couple of possible general sociological perspectives: the Macro and Micro. I indicated that the Macro perspective could be used to study Education in a variety of ways: impact of social and cultural contexts upon the individual learner; or from a structural perspective that explores the impact of social institutions (Education, law, finance, politics, etc.) on each other. I also talked about and focussed on the Micro perspective, which focusses analysis and explorations on the smaller scale interactions between humans either on a one to one or small group basis, and defines the individuals as having agency that can change institutions.

I suggested the relevance of Macrosociology for the first chapter of the literature review, in terms of explaining what Macrosociological research is, what it entails, what are its characteristics and therefore explain why I am not adopting a Macrosociological perspective. As I began to write about this however I quickly realised that I would have had a problem: pages and pages written about a perspective that has nothing to do with the actual research context, research questions and research problems. It wouldn’t make any sense to include discussions about Macrosociology because although my research is in Education, it is not looking at Education from an institutional level. If I were looking at Education from a Macro perspective it would have made more sense to talk about it, and to talk about which theoretical perspective of Macrosociology I would adopt relative to the context and in comparison with other theoretical approaches.

Exploring the importance of discussing the relationship between society, culture and Education

After battling with the way in which I should present discussions on society and culture, I arrived at the point where I identified the importance of carrying on with relevant discussions. Not in terms of macro or micro perspectives, but in terms of how society has changed, and the way in which these changes, challenges and opportunities have given rise to the importance of types and modes of learning, and therefore, the relevance of the Ph.D.’s research contexts and explorations.

Another cause of change to the way I am structuring the sections and content of the chapter is the definitions of culture. There are many definitions of culture from anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and Educationalists, but essentially all define culture as a set of knowledge, beliefs, values and skills that are transmitted and acquired from one generation to another, but are changeable over time. I had to be mindful of language here, because the words “transmitted,” “acquired,” and “changed” illuminate processes of learning. Culture, however, does not define the actual process of learning, but it can shape and frame the process. This identification of commonality across different cultural definitions made me question my approach of attempting to separate discussions between society, culture, and Education. I’ve now concluded that it is impossible to do, because at the level of definition, society and Education are embedded within the definitions of culture; therefore, there appears to be a strong interrelation between society, culture and Education. They cannot be discussed independently and separately from each other. Society cannot exist without culture, culture cannot exist without society, and discussions about Education simply cannot take place, therefore, without placing it into some sort of social and cultural context

Personal Thoughts and Summary

I am happier with what I have come to realise recently, and have begun to alter the thesis chapter accordingly through merging the discussions of society and culture, and reduce the word count that was over seven thousand words mostly talking about society and culture, but little at that point about Education. Another concern, therefore, that caused a change in approach was that the VIVA assessment panel might have questioned why I wrote so much on society and culture and not Education till after a certain point, especially given I’m doing a Ph.D. in Education and not Sociology or some branch of Cultural Study.

It’s a fascinating journey, and I’m pleased that I have come to realise that acknowledge that the structure isn’t working and therefore change tactics. Do not fight this: it’s important that you are adaptable enough to change, and enable a mindset open enough to be guided by the writing and the reading, rather than religiously adhere to a structure that perhaps did not reflect what you could have known at the time.

Keep reading, and keep writing!

January 21, 2018

Conceptions of the Relationship between Society and Education: Problem Solved (Apparently!)

To Recap

In the previous blog post I talked about the way I was approaching the discussion of society, culture and the relationship between society and culture in the first chapter of the literature review. I began to talk about certain definitions of society that caught my attention and I was beginning to offer initial evaluations and critiques of them. I then offered initial discussions of the characteristics of society, of the definitions and characteristics of culture, and of the relationship between society and culture.

This was progressing fine until I started to discuss the relationship between Society and Education. Two aspects observed in the literature began to puzzle me. Firstly, I was finding that authors would talk about the relationship between a specific type of Education and a specific type of society (e.g., Higher Education in the context of a ‘Learning Society’ and other papers would focus on Higher Education in the context of a ‘Post Modernist Society’). Going into the idea of a ‘Learning Society’ further, I half expected conversations to be based on the promoting of particular learning processes and learning contexts and pedagogies. What I found was different: a ‘Learning Society,’ at least from the papers I was reading, revolves around a complete change in social structures and social institutions and their interactions in order to bring into existence the principles of LifeLong learning. But whilst this perspective has some role in my research, it’s not a complete whole. Why was the Learning Society being viewed as some huge transformation of social structures and social institutions, and not based on the activities within a particular classroom? There appeared to have been little talk of this and I was beginning to wonder if I was viewing Society from an incorrect perspective, or simply reading the wrong papers.

It turned out I was doing both………

Shaping the Views of Society

A particular paper that I have unfortunately misplaced (if I find it I again somewhere on my computer or favourites folder I shall amend this as necessary) clearly defined and made clear to me that the relationship between Society and Education can be viewed from two different perspectives: the Macro and the Micro. This is where, along with other literature I read through as follow ups, I realised that I was actually viewing the relationship from an incorrect perspective: the Macro perspective. The Macro perspective or Macro analysis deals with society at the level of the institution and high level social events, such as social change. The Macro perspective deals with the role of and relationships between institutions, analyses the impact of institutions on each other, analyses the way that changes to an institution affects others, and investigates the way in which institutions have power over and change individuals. Institutions, therefore, have power value and those who carry out Macro based analysis believe that institutions have real power over individuals and that individuals have no agency and therefore have no influence over the construct and function of institutions.

In the example of Education, a Macro perspective would deny that learners have any power-enacting agencies and therefore have no ability to change their institution because they are powered and controlled by institutions. A Macro perspective would also look at the impact that other institutions have on Education and the role and function of Educational institutions (e.g., employment institutions impacting policy and curricular at schools, colleges etc., and University based research) and, therefore, the way that changes to an institution impacts Education.

A Macro perspective for my first literature review chapter is fine insofar as it is useful for describing changes to society, the economy etc. over the decades that gave rise to the need for a change to occur in classrooms, tutor-learner relationship etc. and for the need of and to explore a particular learning phenomenon. However, the Macro does not deal with what happens within classrooms, online learning groups, tutor-student relationship, student-student interaction and other social interactions and processes. For that, a Micro perspective is required.

The Micro perspective, as you have probably guessed, focusses on an individual, interaction between a couple of people, or interactions within a group of people within an institution. The Micro perspective does not necessarily deny that institutions and other large social structures have an impact on individuals, but argues that individuals are power-enacting agents and therefore do have a force and power to change institutions and society. But on the whole, the Micro perspective is interested in the smaller units of society instead of large, giant social structures.

The relationship between society and Education through the Micro perspective is quite diverse, from what I can currently understand, and can be taken in various directions. You can focus on the interactions between the teacher or tutor and the learner, interactions between a teaching assistant or specialised SEN tutor and the learner, the interactions between a specialised SEN tutor and the teacher, or the interactions between students carrying out groupwork in a classroom. Interaction itself is a complex process which can involve sociological and / or psychological processes and can take place within a range of classroom environments, pedagogies, different types of social technologies, different task designs, and different learning goals and purposes. The key characteristic of micro analysis, from what I can currently understand, is that it focusses on interactions, and that it views individuals as power-enacting agents who can bring change to their institutions and social structures.

Where am I going with all this?

That is a wonderful question………

Ok, the research questions, the research context, the fact that the focus is on a social learning phenomenon, and the nature of the problem all necessitates a micro perspective. This, therefore, impacts the research design and the methodology that is used because I am using the methodology from a micro analysis perspective (something that my supervisor briefly mentioned in an email ages ago, which I happened to have just remembered!).
The Macro perspective, however, is useful for the first literature review chapter because it is here I building a platform upon which I can discuss, evaluate, analyse and critique literature related to the learning phenomenon of interest in subsequent literature review chapters. In the first literature review chapter I shall be talking about the relationship between society and Education from that macro level, before progressing towards the changes to society that invoked changes to the Education system, and the way that society is still changing now that, in my belief, invokes the need for, the investigation of, and new thinking of the learning phenomenon. This chapter is yet to be fully restructured and quite frankly the structure might change anyway as I rewrite the chapter, as is the nature of research!

In summary: the Macro and Micro perspective offer completely different views of society, and I was getting myself into a muddle because I was trying to understand the relationship between society and Education from a Macro perspective instead of also thinking about the Micro perspective. Both perspectives now make much more sense to me, and I can now associate each perspective with different parts of the thesis. As I explore the relationship between society and Education further, I might be able to think about more Macro level discussions in further chapters e.g., possibly showing the way that the particular learning phenomenon can provide power-enacting abilities within learners, who can challenge authorities and perhaps bring changes to their environment.


January 19, 2018

Update on the First Literature Review Chapter: The Function of Education in Society

Society and Culture

Returned to the writing of the thesis, concentrating at the moment on the first literature review chapter with the tentative title of “Function of Education within Society.” The chapter is providing an example of the importance of conceptual definitions, detailed clarity of concepts, and the importance of building a contextual basis early so that people will be able to grasp early on what it is you are specifically talking about.

Currently, I have discussed and gave initial critiques and evaluations of some of the broader definitions and characteristics of society and culture stemming from the disciplines of anthropology and sociology. I have also discussed briefly the relationship between society and culture. All discussions shall be expanded upon in the future with further definitions, arguments, explanations and critiques as necessary therefore all current discussions and critiques are tentative and changeable. All discussions shall assist with contextualising my discussions and critiques of Education later in the same chapter and in subsequent literature review chapters.

I am finding, however, that I am being drawn to a certain category of definitions, and I believe this attraction could be explained by my own philosophies of the social. My own developing philosophical framework from which I view and understand the world is therefore shaping the way I value different definitions and classifications of definitions of society and culture. This is an interesting observation, because it shows again the importance and value of our philosophical beliefs and the role they play in our research beyond the methodologies and methods used. Your own philosophical beliefs could provide the valuable platform upon which your entire construction of the thesis sits upon. Therefore, I might have to explain in the thesis not just the way that my Philosophical beliefs influence the research design, but also the way that they draw me to certain classifications of society and culture. The research context and phenomena of interest in themselves also might necessitate the drawing towards of certain classifications of definition, but even then the context and the way that we view the phenomena of interest might be influenced also by our philosophical beliefs.

Society, Culture and Education

My current task in the literature review is to discuss Education and its relationship with society and culture although, as I have just been finding out, this is where I am finding various forks in the road leading me into possible directions that I had not previously thought fully about

Generally, sociological literature define society from a broad perspective. However, as I explore educational literature that investigates the relationship between society and Education I find that both society and Education are defined in very specific ways, which differ across the literature. Such conceptualisations of society include: “Post-Industrialised Society”, “Post-Modernist Society,” “Open Society,” “Democratic Society,” “Digital Society,” “Information Society,” “Learning Society” and so on and so on. Specific types of Education include: “Distance Education, “Primary Education,” “Secondary Education,” “Higher Education,” “LifeLong Learning,” and so on.

Obviously, I have encountered these Educational conceptions before, but conceptualisations of society are relatively newer encounters. I know the Education sector I am working on, but the challenge now and the forks in the road refer to questions about whether I should subscribe to a specific type of pre-defined society, or critically evaluate, analyse, and synthesis current definitions of society to develop a new social conception or reconceptualise an existing social conception.

I am asking these questions because I doubt the legitimacy and validity of using an existing, pre-defined type of society to hold my conceptions and discussions of Education. Using a pre-defined concept of society could negate the value, importance, worth and usefulness of the learning phenomenon of research interest. I do not actually know this to be true as I have not tested the ideas yet, but it is possible due to my experiences of trying to fit my philosophical beliefs within an existing philosophical classification: it just doesn’t work. Plus, there are characteristics from, say, a democratic society and a digital society that aligns with my thinking about what society is or should be in order to accommodate the phenomenon of interest.

My key question here is, what are the characteristics of society that give rise (in part) to the existence of the phenomenon of interest that is being explored?


I have been thinking about the concept of society more since writing the previous discussion yesterday. Have I really been thinking about all of this correctly? I have been thinking more about the concept of society during the day and all I have been reading about it, and it does involve every aspect of human interaction and collaboration: law, business, Government, industry, commerce, health care, Educational institutions, and more besides. But I’m only exploring Education institutions, and even then, a specific type institution; a specific level of Education. However, the development and application of Education systems are influenced by the social and cultural constructs and values of the time, which can be plainly observed when learning about the Industrialised Education system. Here, the relationship between student and teacher mimicked that of employer and employee: students were not necessarily allowed to challenge anyone or asked questions, and collaborative learning was an unheard of concept that would have strongly contested the authoritarian philosophies that existed at the time, and would have been strongly opposed. Strong Conservative social order and authoritative hierarchies were preferred in Victorian society over conceptualising learning as a natural, progressive concept that should not be controlled and regimented. I cannot remove the fact that characteristics of a society along with its culture enables the existence of certain Educational systems, and certain learning patterns and activities within that Educational system. In some respects, therefore, society as a concept simply has to be considered and defined, but to what extent?

I have just been reading a paper by Paul Armstrong that evaluates and critiques the term “Learning Society.” In this paper a part of the critique is that the term “Learning Society” has been politicised by Governments in order to push their own political agendas. Whilst this blog remains apolitical, what the author suggested with the way in which “Learning Society” has been used as a means to promote marketisation, choice, and competition restates the fact that society is a social construction that can be reused in different contexts to mean different things. It could be argued here therefore that perhaps it’s not a case that looking at society itself is incorrect, but I’m perhaps trying to understand society from an incorrect perspective. E.g., instead of looking at society from the political lens, I need to look at society purely from the basis of Education and forget about perceiving society from the lens of politics, economics, etc. unless I find any reason to view society further from those lenses.

What can society do for Education, and what can Education do for society? And, what are the conditions and characteristics of society that give rise to Education systems that accommodate the learning phenomenon of interest?

This is an ongoing issue, and I will update on my progress with another blog post during the next week or so.

The journey continues…………


Armstrong, P. (n.d): Rhetoric and Reification: Disconnecting Research, Teaching and Learning in the 'learning society.' Available At: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/000000706.htm

January 07, 2018

Some Thoughts and Reflections on the ideas of Time and Planning

After a period of festivities (including eating far too much) it’s time to get back to the Ph.D. beginning with a short period of initial planning of what I would like to achieve this coming year. During the planning and strategy development, I have been rethinking questions about what time is, and the importance and value of time when it comes to planning. What is time? In what way can time hinder or assist? It’s important to remember from the beginning not to view your planning and strategizing as something that has to be set in stone and followed in an absolute, unchanging way. Give yourself room to be flexible and manoeuvrable and try not to set it into your head that you must complete a particular task by a particular time, but obviously do your best to achieve as much as you can within any given time frame. Time is a man made creation. Time itself has little control over us, but we can use time as a psychological guide or frame of referencing that assists with our task identification, task ordering, and task structuring, with the order based on the way in which we perceive the need to complete the tasks. The act of structuring and ordering the tasks therefore is time independent, although time itself can be a useful framework if approached in a flexible way.

Several times during the previous year I found that a certain task took longer than I had originally planned, but the task led me to ideas and directions I never considered before. This resulted in the strengthening of my ideas, of my directions, and substantial understanding. I completed some tasks way outside of their original time frame, but I find this as perfectly acceptable because of the way in which the task contributed towards the further development of my ideas and research directions. If you do not complete a task outside of whatever time frame you categorised it, don't panic! If you complete a few tasks then that is fine, but don't beat yourself up if you do not complete every task. Simply replan, and always, always, try to monitor your progress so that you can adjust accordingly.

When you are writing your plans, you cannot at all predict this sort of event or occurrence, and if you are absolute and regimented in your approach then these potentially useful events might not occur at all. Why? Because you would be so focussed on completing a particular task within a particular time that you would not be able to view the task beyond what you have conditioned yourself to observe. Do not allow yourself to be trapped like this. The best you can do is allow these events and occurrences to happen, deal with them accordingly, and readjust your plans as necessary. Do not fight these potentially enlightening, creative, inspiring, developmental yet challenging moments. Let them happen; let them develop you and let them develop your ideas. Dynamism and flexibility are keys here.

The possible time and task independence does not negate the importance of good, appropriate planning at least so you have some sort of guide to direct you to the next important task in the ordering or structure of your plans. Do not rush, and do not be so regimented and strict with the planning process that you enable the process itself to suppress your creativity and originality.

A Brief Look At My Planning As An Example:

My two, long term, main goals of this year are:
· Continue to draft the thesis
· Continue to develop the theoretical framework

I am telling myself here that focus of the year needs to be placed on drafting the thesis, and to continue development of the theoretical framework. Would I be able to complete, for example, the construction of the theoretical framework? It is possible, but I am not going to commit myself to that because I do not want to view the definition of time as more important than the creative, innovative process that come with developing a theoretical framework. If I were to commit myself to completing the theoretical framework, I would be in danger of missing out on moments of creativity and innovation. I really cannot predict if I will complete the theoretical framework this year, but at the same time I am not saying this is impossible.

In my planning, I have broken the rather abstractly stated main goals down into a series of medium term goals and tasks, and short term goals and tasks. I have used a time frame (blocks of time: now and Easter; Easter to summer holidays; summer holidays to Christmas holidays) to categorise and order the goals and tasks, but I am not using time in a regimented and dogmatic way: I am using time as a rough guide to assist with ordering the completion of the identified tasks.

What is most important to me is not to use time in a regimented way; a way that forces me to complete a task at a particular time, but to use time as a rough guide with more focus and emphasis on the importance and value of ordering and structuring task completion, irrespective of time. But, that does not mean I would not be able to complete a task within a specific time period; however, I do not want to restrict whatever creativity the methodology affords me, and whatever unexpected insights within the data that come about that inspire me to return to literature exploration, or to collect more data to further develop conceptual or practical insights. I do not want to get into a position where I am so focussed on completing a task within a particular time frame, that the quality, insights, observations and careful thinking reduces. Be flexible! This is important for Grounded Theory projects. Don’t let your use of time restrict your creativity and your ability to innovate. Plan and think very carefully and use time as a resource, and not the be all of everything.


Do not use time in a way that enables time to restrict your creativity, your ability to view new insights, to develop existing insights, and to observe and critique new events and ideas that you develop and identify. Breaking down your abstract long term goals into more observable, measurable medium and shorter term goals, and understanding the importance, value and order of the tasks you want to carry out is more important than the time you give yourself to complete them. Obviously, do the best that you can and strive to achieve, but don’t ever rush yourself and don’t ever restrict and suppress your creativity in the name of completing within a time you set yourself. I think this is more relevant to grounded theory projects, simply because with grounded theory you simply cannot predict what you are going to find within the data. I might be able to develop some sort of anticipation of what to find as I reread and code more data, but ultimately those anticipations could also act as restrictions.

Be open minded, be flexible, be dynamic, and don’t restrict yourself. Remember that time is a man made construct that should not be used to control and suppress you, but to be used as a guide.

‘till next time! And that was a timely pun!

December 15, 2017

Reflections Of The Year!

It has now come to that time of year where I begin to wind down for Christmas and begin reflecting on what has occurred during the year: the changes to my thesis, philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest, and what I can carry forward into the next year with significant strides and potential. And, what a year it has been! It has been a year of realisations, progress, doubt, and changes.

Reflecting on this time a year ago, I had just been assessed by the Upgrade panel and was in the middle of transitioning between philosophical and methodological directions. Because of the doubts I had of my own research methodology, which occurred after submitting the first upgrade paper but before the upgrade presentation, and the issues raised during the upgrade process, I had to resubmit the upgrade process with my new thoughts and new directions that I had been thinking about (and some which came about through discussion with the panel and my supervisor). I was forming an ontological battle in my mind. Methodologically speaking this was clear: I dropped the mixed methods approach as I had doubts about this approach, which were confirmed by the assessment panel, and kept the Grounded Theory method, but upgraded it from a method to a methodology. Grounded Theory plays a much more important role in my research now than it had previously, only I had not realised the significance of its role till just before the upgrade presentation. But ontologically it was a battle between realism and relativism: was I viewing reality as independent of my own thoughts? Is there a reality independent of my own thoughts? Or is reality simply constructed in my mind? Is reality relative and contextual, and therefore consist of no objective qualities? I eventually came to the realisation in late summertime that I am simply unable to pigeon-hole the beliefs that I have about reality, given the context of the research and of the phenomena of interest. From this realisation of the complexity of my beliefs I am now coming to the belief that my ontology is a mixture of moderate realism, along with aspects of pragmatism, complexity theory and phenomenology. Epistemologically, it appears that my beliefs about knowledge is a mixture of interpretivism and contextualism. The finer details of both sets of beliefs, such as the relationship between aspects of ontological beliefs, between aspects of epistemological beliefs and the wider relationships between ontology and epistemology (eventually working into the methodological justifications) need to be worked out more clearly and comprehensively. However, the fact that I have come to realise this diversity of my beliefs is what I could consider to be a key highlight of the year, and a key stepping point in the research progress. I am continuously questioning my own beliefs, however, and continuously reading more about ontological and epistemological theories.

The upgrade process was a really interesting experience. What was originally meant to have been a three thousand word paper eventually turned into a near seven thousand word mini dissertation! But I did enjoy this, and I felt that it really helped me to set the foundations for the eventual realisation that my philosophical beliefs are more complex than I had ever previously realised, and really helped me to focus on aspects of the phenomena I wanted to explore. But even then, things have changed or altered slightly since submitting the second upgrade paper, but that is the nature of research. It never stands still and you can never really say that what you think currently really is or will be the case in the future. I’m viewing things in the data that I had not realised before, and I’m viewing my own beliefs and questioning my own beliefs in ways that I had not originally thought of. This is a part of what I call ‘Meta Philosophy’ and during the year, especially during the summertime where I found myself becoming more consciously aware of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs, I have found this to be an increasingly important aspect of describing the foundations and roots of my research design. I have talked a fair bit about Meta Philosophy during the summertime on this blog, though I shall have much more to say about this subject in the future especially in the thesis.

As for the thesis, I feel much more focussed and settled in my mind about the directions I want to take. Even at the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel I had a lot of clarity because of the philosophical and methodological transitions that were taking place even up to late summertime. Now, whilst there are finer details to work out and explore, as there shall always be, I do feel much clearer now and have greater levels of clarity in general when it comes to my thesis, my identity as a researcher, my research design and therefore the way that I view and want to explore the phenomena of interest. I feel much clearer with the role and function of literature in my grounded theory project though I appreciate that different people will have slightly different approaches, but I feel more confident with my own approach. I will know for sure during the next year however if this approach I have in mind shall work. I feel confident that the three literature review chapters I have planned will work and will be well written and will achieve all the goals and aims that I have for each chapter. I feel that I have progressed well with drafting aspects of some of the chapters of the thesis during the year: the first literature review chapter (which I am now tentatively calling the Function of Education within a Contemporary Society), the third literature review chapter where I critique various relative learning models and theories, and the methodology chapter particularly the beginning sections where I detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs, and their impact on the selection and use of the methodology and method. Obviously this and all other chapters are work in progress, but I do feel better that after months of doubt, of questioning, of experimenting, of restructuring and rewriting the outline and exploring lots of research papers that I have a workable structure.

I just have my fingers crossed that I have what it takes to deliver a sound, comprehensive, well written, original thesis.

What are the root causes of the changes that have taken place as outlined? Along with the upgrade paper I’ve also sourced inspiration and influence from the CES Conference and the process of publishing my second research paper. I have talked much about the CES Conference during the year, but here it suffices to simply say that I am really pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to present some of my findings at the time at the conference, and the feedback I received from the audience and subsequent discussions that took place at other conference presentations were invaluable. They were invaluable because they made me realise the importance of describing and explaining some aspects of the phenomena in ways that I had previously valued but had not realised their importance to include in the thesis. Secondly, the feedback and the general conference experience enabled me to realise who I am becoming as a researcher and therefore assisted in developing my identity, which I strongly emphasised in the subsequent published reflection of the conference.

The CES experience therefore was a major highlight, as was being able to have a second research paper published based on critically reflecting upon my experience as a conference presenter and attendee. The paper included ideas I am working on regarding the impact that our epistemological beliefs have on our identity, identity development and experiences of academic conferences. Secondly, the paper contained other ideas that I have regarding the way in which conferences play a role in our professional development and thesis development. Attempts were made at identifying a relationship between the two ideas. The experience of writing and editing the paper and working with the reviewers was again invaluable to the development of thesis directions, and of who I am as a researcher.

In summary: the key highlights of the year were successfully passing of the upgrade process from MPhil (Master of Philosophy) to DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy), the successful CES conference experience, and the publication of my second paper. Also, I feel much clearer now with my thesis, with my philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest. Whilst much more work needs to be carried out, the foundations that I have laid during the year should lead to much greater and more significant strides throughout the next year. I will, of course, be keeping you all up to date via this blog!

But for now, thank you very much for the kind comments that I’ve had during the year from blog readers. It’s fascinating to know that people I’ve never met before can become so interested in what I am writing. It’s nice to think about this blog and my writings having some sort of influence on others and inspiring others in that way. That is, of course, should be a reason why we become Ph.D. students and want to be involved in the world of academia.

Thanks again for reading, and as this is the final post of the year on this blog I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and I look forward to writing much more on here during the next year!

December 14, 2017

Reflection of Applying Initial Stage of Grounded Theory, Part B: Application of Grounded Theory

The three key tasks that I have been engaged with as part of the early stage of grounded theory application (besides continuously developing the relationship between my philosophical beliefs and grounded theory, as explained in the previous blog post) are engaging with the literature, using open or initial coding, and writing memos.

Engagement with Literature

I have adopted a two-fold approach. As can be imagined, there is much debate among all key authors regarding the role of literature and the position of the literature review within the thesis. This shall be discussed more during the upcoming blog series on Grounded Theory, but at the moment it suffices to state that Strauss and Corbin along with Charmaz and Bryant provide the foundations upon which my approaches have been constructed.

The first function of the literature is to provide the grounding, critiques, focus, background and basis of the investigation. I am situating my ideas and approaches within existing literature, which is establishing the social and economic justifications of the need for my research and the philosophical, pedagogical and methodological need for further explorations of the phenomena of interest. As has been discussed in a previous blog post, these discussions, justifications, debates, critiques, analysis etc. of literature are being constructed across three related literature review chapters placed at the beginning of the thesis.
The second function of the literature is to act as a means of validating and verifying the emerging theory. Specifically, the theory’s content (categories, dimensions, properties, and relationships between categories, dimensions and properties) can not only be verified and validated by continuous comparisons with the data, but also comparisons with findings of existing literature relevant to the substantive area.

I am aiming to integrate the literature findings within sections of the discussion chapter related to each category and the constructs of each category, and the relationships that exist between categories and constructs. This way, I can classify literature in relation to each of the theory’s category although bearing in mind that some literature might refer to more than a single category. Either way, I think integrating findings within the discussion chapter within the relevant category section is the common sense way to manage extant literature.

Open or Initial Coding

My approach to open coding appears to have a strong pragmatic base and therefore, appears to be influenced more by Bryant’s pragmatism grounded theory than Charmaz’s constructivist grounded theory, Glaser’s apparent positivist grounded theory and Strauss’ symbolic interactionist grounded theory. Again there is much debate about the way in which the researcher should work with the data, and shall be a topic I shall cover in next year’s blog series on grounded theory.

There are, therefore, various approaches that can be used to analyse the data using grounded theory, but I have adopted what I shall term segment by segment analysis. What determines an individual segment is the meaning that it holds, or the meaning that I perceive it to hold. A data segment can be a whole line, a sentence, or half a line or half a sentence. A segment therefore holds some sort of complete meaning, which could be an idea, a stand-alone part of an argument, a justification, a reason, or anything that I can identify as having some meaningful existence. This meaning or meaningful existence must be naturally occurring (if you want, you could call it a natural relationship between researcher and the data), and therefore a criticism I have of line by line and sentence by sentence analysis is the possibility of forcing meaning and therefore identify concepts that do not actually exist. Segment by segment analysis enables you, in my opinion, to openly detect what the data is saying. If you find or perceive meaning within a whole sentence, then give that sentence a label that represents that meaning. If you find half a sentence represents a full meaning, then give that half a sentence a label. I used these labels, therefore, to describe or summarise the meaning that I had perceived to exist within that segment. As I was coding the data, I became consciously aware of similar data segments. These similar data segments share similar characteristics or roles within the context of their existence. Similar data segments were compared with each other, and if considered similar enough they were coded with the same label. What was occurring therefore was a series of data segments that shared the same characteristics, but were presenting themselves differently (e.g., negative and positive reasons).

Multiple similar data segments and related codes shall eventually combine to create abstract classes or groupings known as categories, which enable theoretical development. What is important to remember here from my current understanding is that codes derive from our interpretation of what is happening in the data, and categories form from similar codes that can be grouped. Categories are considered abstract exactly because they are not derived from the data. Each category consists of properties and dimensions, and these are discovered through significant and comprehensive comparative analysis of coded data segments that belong to that category. It is the variation among all data segments that contribute towards a category’s properties and dimensions, and it is this variation that shall be playing a major part of theoretical sampling when I develop criteria for the next set of data to collect in the new year. Some category development has taken place, in fact more development that I had expected, but there is much more to be done. The groundwork has been laid for further development through the writing of memos, which shall be described a bit later.

In thinking about the segment by segment approach, it appears that I have adopted the wider analytical approach known as micro analysis. My current understanding tells me that, at least within sociological terms, macro level analysis addresses wider arguably post-modern issues such as social stability, social injustices, social change and power authorities. Micro analysis explores deeply and comprehensively social and collaborative structures such as learning, interaction, group construction and group dynamics. The logical approach of this grounded theory research is abductive reasoning, which has been strongly advocated by Bryant’s Pragmatist views of grounded theory.

Briefly, this form of logic uses a mixture of deduction and induction where concepts and codes are inductively derived from the data, and deductively derived from any hypotheses and further abstract interpretations and predictions tested against further collected data. There is more to abductive reasoning than this rather basic definition, but that’s beyond the purpose of this blog post. I shall write more about abductive reasoning in the blog post series of Grounded Theory, and as I progress through the grounded theory coding stages.

Writing of Memos

Memos have been advocated by all grounded theory authors as a significant part of the grounded theory process and of theoretical development. In general, memos capture your thoughts, hypotheses, ideas, predictions, conceptions, perspectives, reasons, explanations and anything else related to the codes that you use and the categories you are developing, and the eventual wider theory. Memos, therefore, carry many functions, features, aims and objectives throughout a grounded theory process. Memos are therefore versatile and can be written in any grounded theory context, and therefore you are in control of the structure and content of memos, and why you need to write them.

I have been writing two different types of memos that are contributing towards theoretical development: phenomena memos, and code memos.

The phenomena memos relate to the ways in which learning takes place in relation to the specific phenomena of interest. These memos refer to my discussions, thoughts, observations, propositions, predictions, hypotheses and critiques of the events, happenings, consequences, conditions, situations, contexts and causes of the phenomena. Various phenomena memos have been written, with each memo exploring each instance of the phenomena, and where necessary and appropriate comparisons have been made between each memo in order to identify similarities and differences, which can lead to hypotheses development as part of abductive logic. Comparisons of memos can actually lead to more memos that document these comparisons.

The code memos are related to the created codes and categories. Many memos have been written, with each memo relating to each code. Each code memo explains each data segment associated with that particular code, with the explanation involving the segment’s context, function, purpose within the context, and its interpreted or observed meaning.

Each data segment is included within the memo in accordance with its uniqueness. E.g., if the data segment can be observed to be different or similar in some way, or consists of some characteristic or property that warrants explanation and discussion, or in any way adds to any existing explanation. Each relevant data segment is then included and explained, and where necessary compared and contrasted with other data segments within the memo. This is a method also of assisting with categorical development, and categories and categorical development also comes with their own sets of memos. Few categorical and categorical development memos have been written at this time however, but is set to progress forward significantly in the new year.


The first set of data has been coded, and now ready to further the development of categories. However, upon advice from the supervisor and from my schedule I’m taking a break from grounded theory but shall return with recharged batteries and reread every memo and the coded transcript in the new year!

December 13, 2017

Reflection of Applying Initial Stage of Grounded Theory, Part A: Philosophical Stance

My experiences of engaging with grounded theory at a practical level from the late summer till just a couple of weeks or so ago illuminate the importance and role of philosophical beliefs. I have confirmed to myself since the summertime that the philosophical stance of a researcher not only gives rise to the need of grounded theory, but also determines philosophy-data-source compatibility. I have come to realise over the past few months that different types of text documents hold differing existence properties, different knowledge characteristics, and different properties that enable access to this knowledge. Although, access to the knowledge held within text based documents are arguably realised more through the methodology and methods that are selected, rather than our philosophical beliefs. Researchers, regardless of access to held knowledge within text documents, need to think about the way in which their philosophical beliefs not only impact their engagement with reality, but also act as a lens through which different text documents are perceived and analysed. The researcher needs to be mindful of the characteristics and values held by the text documents, and the meanings, interpretations and assumptions that are placed upon each document.

As an example, an interview transcript arguably holds a constructivist or relativist existence where the document portrays or represents a single voice (relativist) and knowledge that can be a co-construction between researcher and participant (constructivist) depending on the nature, structure and purposes of the interview. A discussion transcript is more difficult to define, in my opinion, because a discussion transcript represents multiple voices and can change context and knowledge content over time. I am finding, however, that context of learning is having a profound impact on what I perceive and hypothesise what is occurring within the data. This context is not just the environment within which the research is taking place, but also the context of the learning content, which is altering and shaping the course of the learning that takes place, and the knowledge that occurs.

As has been documented on this blog, during the summertime I came to the realisation that my ontological and epistemological beliefs are more complex than I had previously been consciously aware of, hence I was not able to align my beliefs with a single pre-existing ontological or epistemological perspective or theory. What I have arrived at now is the realisation and awareness of my ontological beliefs being a mixture of realism, pragmatism and complexity theory, and my epistemological beliefs leaning towards interpretivism and contextualism. This, I feel, at least in part, lies at the intersection between the philosophical grounding of Glaser, Strauss, Charmaz and Bryant.

What does that mean in the actual practice of using grounded theory? I am still working through my ideas (I have no doubt that this shall also be the case beyond the Ph.D. but that is the nature of research), but currently the impact that my ontological and epistemological beliefs on my use and understanding of grounded theory are briefly described as follows:

Ontological beliefs:

Realism: my belief that there is a reality independent of our minds implies that I perceive certain text documents as being capable of capturing the events and instances of learning processes, and that these events and instances occur regardless of whether or not participants are consciously aware of their existence. I suppose more generally it could be argued that learning can happen whether or not the learner is consciously aware of the fact that they are learning, or are engaged with some sort of learning activity. Since I am not a hard-line realist (I consider myself more of a moderate: subtle realism, influenced by the writings of Michael Hammersley) I do not believe that what I observe in the data fully or accurately mirrors reality itself. What I perceive to happen in the data needs further testing and exploration.

Pragmatism: it is argued that pragmatism is well suited for research that aims to change practice in some way. My issue with pragmatism however is that it does not concern itself with ontological and epistemological issues therefore it is not concerned with truth, but with usefulness. If something can be usefully applied within a practical context and if it offers real value to whoever is applying that something, then it would be considered adequate. There are aspects of Pragmatism that I do agree with regarding its use with grounded theory, such as the idea of fallibilism, with Bryant leading the way for such discussions. Fallibilism suggests that knowledge is always fallible and never represents the truth of reality, therefore, as mentioned earlier, I always accept the possibility of my emerging theory, whilst progressing towards truth, can never fully represent truth. I need to be careful here though, because whilst a theory can arguably never represent truth there cannot be two assessment systems that represent truth equally: one must be able to represent truth over the other.

Complexity Theory: learning processes, as previously described, have a complex existence. They have a complex existence because characteristics and events related a learning process could either be perceived to occur, or actually occurs, at any given point. Question: can a learning event that is actually occurring at any given point, or could probably occur, be perceived to be occurring? Another question: just because an event is perceived to be occurring, does it mean that it is actually occurring? Here we have a battle between perceptual occurrence and actual occurrence, along with the possibility or probability of occurrence. I’m dealing with phenomena here so the way that I perceive and interact with phenomena might not be in complete alignment with the intentions and beliefs of the learning participants. With this, I can also observe elements of Phenomenology in my ideas here, but these ideas are as yet incomplete and are continuing to be worked on and developed further. Another interesting aspect to the existence and occurrence of events is that context can influence what can be perceived to or can actually exist (e.g., technological environments might alter significantly what can be perceived or actualised compared to face to face learning environments).

As for my epistemological beliefs:

Interpretivism: There is an element of interpretation because coding data segments is based on my perceptions of what is occurring or happening within the data: the events, patterns, happenings, relationships, objects, instances etc. The knowledge that I gain from the transcripts that I analyse using grounded theory is really an interpretation: I interpret data segments to mean something and I label each data segment with a relevant code to represent the meaning I place upon that data segment. Here, however, is where my realist ontological beliefs come into play: because I view reality as being independent of my beliefs and that truth is a progressive journey, I have the belief that my knowledge and interpretations do not mirror reality itself. Therefore, my interpretations, hypotheses etc that are products of the data analysis are tested against further data, several times before being confirmed as part of the emerging theory.

Contextualism: what I am coming to realise is that subtle changes to the context within which the learning process occurs can mould and shape the direction and formation of that learning process and therefore, what I can perceive happening within the data. I think my ideas of contextualism is probably a little different to what other philosophers and authors define as contextualism, but I’m still working on these thoughts.

That’s Part A completed! The next blog post shall briefly cover the application of Grounded Theory, where I discuss the way in which I applied the initial coding stage: open coding, and the writing of memos.

November 27, 2017

A Grounded Theory Update: Coding and Memos

Initial Stage of Grounded Theory Coding

Coding the data using the initial stage of the Grounded Theory process, known as Open Coding or Initial Coding, has progressed substantially since the previous update. In fact, I’ve actually completed the task of coding through the first set of data during the previous week, which I had not expected but has put me ahead of schedule!

Just as a brief reminder, Open Coding or Initial Coding refers to identifying concepts within the data and the use of codes that summaries or describes the meaning or characteristics of that particular data segment, and therefore identifies these concepts. You could say that coding gives data segments an identity that you can refer to time and time again as you progress through your coding, depending on the characteristics that you identify and interpret within each data segment. You are essentially making practical, empirical observations of the data, and interpreting that data to mean something that is of value or in some way contributes towards characterising the phenomenon of interest that you are exploring. Whilst all your codes and code-data segment matching is an interpretive process, it is also objective as all codes are grounded in the data, particularly with the process of comparisons between data segments for similarities of characteristics. I shall be talking more about this in my future short blog series of Grounded Theory from next week.

At the time of writing this blog post, I think I have about twenty or more different codes that I have used across the whole data set, and this is actually a reduction on the amount produced during previous coding sessions. What I am increasingly discovering within the grounded theory approach is the influential impact and role of context on my interpretations, and perhaps the way that I should be interpreting and coding the data, and identifying the appropriateness of code-data segment matching. What is assigned a particular type of code in one context would be coded as something completely different in another context. This appears to be the nature of exploring learning processes and phenomena using grounded theory: the understanding and acquirement of knowledge regarding the development and process of learning differs between contexts. With collaborative learning for example, the collaborative activities, processes and communication shifts and moulds what is happening within the data as time progresses, and can illuminate different patterns at different times depending on the context; depending on what is being dealt with at the time. It is simply not a case of observing a particular process and thinking that it’s always universally understood because learning processes and phenomena have a nuanced existence that is shaped and moulded by events, happenings, actions and others within collaborative situations.

Therefore, as a grounded theory researcher, when you are exploring learning phenomena, the context that envelopes or provides the basis for the learning process is able to mould and shape this learning process over time, yet grounded theory enables you to identify the nuanced existence and subtle differences between the characteristics of similar concepts. Beyond reading the textbooks on grounded theory, the biggest learning curve and learning experience of my application of grounded theory has been trying to understand the importance of context and the way in which this really impacts my interpretations and observations of the data. I’m still learning now. I’m still wondering and questioning if I have really coded everything correctly even though I have checked through things several times during the past week and have altered the coding where I feel necessary.

Writing Memos

Along with coding, I’ve also been writing plenty of memos. Memos is a technique of grounded theory that helps you to build your theory by capturing all of your thoughts about the development of your codes, what you have observed, the similarities and differences that you find between coded segments, and the comparisons between different coded segments e.g., their characteristics and contrasts between similar and different concepts and what makes those data segments really what they are.

Additionally, all this information contributes valuable insights and input into your theoretical sensitivity and theoretical awareness of the data, as well as developing theoretical sampling. Theoretical sampling is a qualitative sampling method that determines what to sample next (e.g., what information or data you need next) based on the emerging theory: the observations and questions derived from the data and the codes all guiding and directing the next set of data to pick up and analyse. I shall be talking about this more either during the short blog series of grounded theory or at some point early next year.

What Next?

Focussing on rewriting the memos shall be the focus of the rest of the week in an attempt to communicate my ideas more clearly, to tidy them up a bit, and to reduce their number and organise them into something that makes a bit more sense. The set of memo writing sessions just completed involved writing a memo page (in some cases several pages) per code, within which each data segment coded with that respective code was explained and compared to previous segments in order to identify and locate subtle differences between each segment, leading in some cases to identification of potential categories (which are basically a combination of various codes and provides the core of the theory) and categorical properties and dimensions.

Writing a memo per code worked fine for a while, and the potential categories identified so far are suitable although these obviously need to be re-examined continuously (shall talk more about categories next month) but what I have realised is I have been taking these data segments out of their context and trying to explain them as standalone entities. As I went deeper into the data I began to realise that data segments can be logically connected, therefore trying to explain them independently of each other was becoming an increasingly difficult task. I found myself referring to these logically connected data segments in order to provide a contextual explanation for the data segments and their difference between other similarly coded data segments.

What I shall do next is rewrite the memos and add more details about the context. Instead of writing about each data segment as stand alone entities, I shall now write about complete units of logically connected data segments. This way, I can break the unit down into constituent segments and attempt to explain them individually and then discuss their relationship to each other as part of that unit. Doing it this way, I think I can then explain the meaning of individual segments without losing its contextual meaning and relationship with other segments. And, I can compare data segment to data segment, and data unit (a series of logically connected data segments) to data unit. It makes sense, um, well, currently in theory……..

What’s The Aim Then?

At the conclusion of the week I aim to have a complete coded first set of data (shall be rechecking again), a full set of rewritten memos and an updated theoretical framework. This will then, as far as I am currently aware of, bring grounded theory work to a conclusion for the year. I shall send everything off to the supervisor for feedback and guidance, and up to the Christmas holiday I shall work on the first literature review chapter, and write the blog series on Grounded Theory!

Plenty to come; watch this space (or just read the blog!)

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