All entries for Wednesday 05 September 2018

September 05, 2018

Current State Of Play: First Literature Review Chapter

A literature review chapter has been dropped whilst the other two planned literature reviews have been completely redesigned and have been given new purposes. I shall discuss the first literature chapter in this blog and in the second, I shall discuss the second literature review chapter.


The changes to the literature review chapters are as a result of greatly expanding the scope and purpose of the research design chapter. I shall discuss the research design chapter in a later blog post, but here it suffices to say that the research design chapter has changed in order to address the need for qualitative research theses to go into much greater detail of methodologies and methods and to explain the role of the researcher’s biography and background knowledge in constructing the interpretations and analysis of data. The process of explaining my role and the way in which my biography has influenced the research findings is known as ‘researcher reflexivity.’ I am currently planning this to be extensive and comprehensive, and, therefore, the literature reviews had to change.


As some of you longer term readers might know, at the beginning of the year I was going to delve into discussions about the relationship between society, culture and Education. These discussions would have paved the way for discussions about technology and their use in society and culture eventually getting round to their use in Education. Some of these discussions are being shifted to the Introduction section to give the research context a wider perspective and therefore have been dropped from the main literature reviews, whilst some of the other planned discussion points have been dropped completely to save space. The topics that were dropped were deemed to be the least relevant topics.


The first literature review, therefore, has been rewritten completely and leans now towards the idea of comparisons. The chapter offers critical evaluations and comparisons of explorations of the phenomenon of interest across different technological contexts. These comparisons are being used to justify the use and appropriateness of this research’s technological context relative to the phenomenon of interest, and the research’s aims, objectives, and outcome intentions. The use of tables is appropriate here, as each table contains details about the findings of relevant comparative, empirical literature. These findings from each table have been and continue to be compared across each table in order to identify patterns, similarities and differences. From these patterns, similarities and differences, comparisons and associated discussions can be made.


Tables are effective at presenting large amounts of empirical information, and efficient at being able to assist with a variety of comparisons and pattern identification within existing literature. The use of tables within the literature review process affords important and extensive learning opportunities including the development of analytical skills through comparing tables and forming observations of data patterns across the tables, and developing synthesis skills that enable the learner to synthesise large amounts of published findings.


Theory is an important topic of discussion in terms of its position and role not just in the research design but also in the position of theoretical discussions in the thesis. My main concern at the moment is, if I discussed, critiqued, evaluated and compared theories in the literature review I would be giving the impression of having a deductive approach. A deductive approach to understanding the phenomenon of interest means that an existing theory or model would be tested against the collected data, therefore requiring extensive examination of existing theories in the literature review. From my understanding, a qualitative approach typically does not use a deductive method and, therefore, testing theories is not an aim of qualitative research.


Instead, qualitative research aims to construct theories, models, schemes or frameworks from the data; or, arguably more precisely, derives from our verified and validated interpretations of what is happening in the data. This would be using an inductive approach, or a retroductive / abductive approach. The discussions of theories, other models etc. shall take place in later chapters, particularly in the findings chapters where a role of each chapter is to verify and validate themes.


The structure of the literature review is complete in terms of the sections and topics that I want to discuss, although the actual content is still work in progress. Where sections need further development, I have used footnotes to inform and remind myself of the direction of section development, for example in terms of developing ideas, developing arguments, and the way to increase section cohesion, consistency and coherence. A handy tip here, therefore, is to use footnotes to document any thoughts or ideas that you might have to push the development of a section further. If, for example, a particular sentence or paragraph captured a thought that I want to develop further, I would describe such development opportunities in the associated footnote. Using footnotes in this way makes the draft cleaner and more coherent, as well as making everything flow more logically and clearly, and helps to clearly indicate which idea is to be specifically improved or developed in a way that had been described in the footnote.


The content is still work in progress but I am happier with the structure and the way it is now panning out.


That’s the latest updates for the first literature review chapter!


Current State Of Play: Thesis Structure

I have altered the thesis structure several times relative to the research design. I have come to understand over the years that research design is not driven by the thesis: the thesis, its structure, its content and layout is guided by the research design. Quantitative, Mixed Methods and Qualitative research designs all influence the structure and ordering of the thesis in various ways.


I have thought about Mixed Methods and Qualitative theses given that I have been fascinated by both research designs. But now I am focussed on qualitative as the main component of the research, with quantitative analysis involved as deemed necessary, but as a smaller component that complements the qualitative.


It could almost be argued that in some way, quantitative data shall be embedded in a bigger qualitative project in order to provide a broader and more detailed picture of what is happening with the phenomenon of interest within the research context. I am not sure if this could be classed as mixed methods though. I would call it multi-method, because the collected data would serve both quantitative and qualitative and the quantitative analysis would be based on qualitative findings. Multi-method means multiple methods of, for example, data analysis used in the same methodological paradigm, in this case qualitative. It could still be a mixed methods approach but an embedded approach, but I shall have to think about this more. That said though, Mixed Methods is a continuously evolving methodological field with continuous potential for new contributions of creativity, innovation, possibility and lots of debates. Either way, the qualitative provides the framework within which the thesis is being developed, given that the qualitative side of the Ph.D. is considered the largest aspect.


Anyway, the the following thesis structure is now in place:


Introduction: this is going to be a chapter that shall be formally written last. This chapter shall simply introduce the research problem, research context, research issues, the need and value of the research, the research questions, research aims and objectives, research outcomes, and who the research is intending to benefit.


Literature Review, Setting The Scene: this chapter sets the scene and the key outcome of this chapter is to justify why a particular technological context is being used relative to the problems, questions etc. introduced in the introductory chapter. This involves evaluating and comparing each context relative to the phenomenon of interest. I am also attempting to engage with discussion and debate about terminology, and to provide my own definitions of different terms relative to the technological context, and attempt to address ambiguity and conflation.


Methodology Literature Review: this is a critical and analytical evaluation and comparison of different philosophies, theories, coding schemes, methodologies, and methods used to explore the phenomenon of interest within contexts very similar to the Ph.D. research. Additionally, the chapter shall report on the testing, evaluation, comparisons and critiques of different research methods in order to justify the most suitable approach to the research project. The actual approach used for the research project shall be described, explained, evaluated, critiqued and tested in the research design chapter.


Research Design: provides a full elaboration the research design phases including full details on the philosophies, methodology, methods and approaches that made up the design. The chapter shall also consist of design evaluations and shall comprehensively relate every part of the design to the research context, issues, problems, outcomes and questions. There shall also be a full discussion on the way in which the coding scheme and the themes were developed, tested, verified, clarified and validated.


Following the design there shall be chapters dedicated to discussing the coding scheme in more detail, as well as discussing identified categories and themes, and their interrelationships. Also as and where necessary there shall be chapters associated with thematic maps, and any quantitative analysis that takes place. It’s difficult to plan these chapters out though, because the chapter structure and content emerges from the data and not emerge from pre-existing theories and models. Hence, the structure and content of these later chapters are continuously emerging from the data analysis. There shall also be a chapter or a section of a chapter revolving around the application of theory in practice.


That’s the thesis at this time! Next are blog posts that cover a couple of the initial thesis chapters: the literature reviews.


Current State Of Play: General Observations

Literature Review

Since writing the previous blog post back in early August, I have focussed on restructuring and rewriting the literature review sections, and have adjusted the scope of the literature as well as collected and analysed further literature. Thoughts and arguments within the literature review have been reconstructed and extended.


The literature review now has a beginning, middle and concluding structure, and this is the structure I intend to use for each chapter though written in a way that the introduction connects with the conclusion of the previous chapter, and the conclusion section leads into the introduction of the next chapter. All the sections in the literature review are interconnected: they might refer to different topics, but these topics are related in a way that logically, coherently, consistently and cohesively constructs thoughts, ideas, arguments and perspectives.


Unsurprisingly, as with everything at postgraduate level it is not quite black and white. With all Ph.D. theses, every chapter should also be referencing the first chapter: the introduction, where the research context, issues, problems and questions shall be presented and discussed. Referencing the first chapter gives each chapter situatedness, context, a framework for the chapter discussions, and a guide whilst allowing for open mindedness, flexibility, originality, creativity and innovation. Each chapter, therefore, needs to state the way in which it addresses research problems, context, purposes or questions, or a mixture if necessary.

With qualitative research where themes are to be developed, each chapter is related to each identified theme. The theme chapters are expected to adopt some sort of network structure where every chapter relates to and cross references each other. I shall probably discuss this more at a later time.

Effectively, the literature review has been completed for now! The next round of edits shall take place before Christmas or at some point early next year.

Thesis Structure

The thesis has been structured to an extent. I say to an extent because it is impossible to plan chapters related to findings within a qualitative research project because essentially the structure and content of these chapters are led by observations in the data and the framework and themes that emerge from the data. The structure leans toward the qualitative nature of thesis structure production, as shall be discussed more in a future blog post.

Research Design

Unchanged at the philosophical level (essentially, moderate realism ontology with an interpretivist epistemology), though the methodology has changed from mixed methods, to grounded theory, and to now more general qualitative methodology with the potential for some quantitative data to be embedded within it. The quantitative data would be used to complement and support the qualitative and perhaps be used to further evidence some of the claims made from the qualitative observations and thematic development.

Regardless of the quantitative, it is the qualitative that drives and dictates the research and, therefore, drives and dictates the structure of the thesis.


Data analysis appears to be leaning towards a mixture of concepts and processes from thematic analysis (particularly the aspect on developing themes), grounded theory (such as constant comparisons, maximising variance, open coding features, and theoretical sampling), and retroductive / abductive reasoning. The relationship between these approaches and the way they have been and are going to be used shall be explained in the thesis and discussed on here when appropriate.


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