All entries for Thursday 05 October 2017

October 05, 2017

Reflections Of The Past Academic Year Part B

Complexity of my Philosophical beliefs


I again have written extensively about philosophical beliefs, both ontologically and epistemologically related, particularly during the past year as I explored my ideas further and explored, and continue to explore, published philosophical literature. I found that my beliefs do not fit exactly within any particular and specific ontological framework or theory and therefore, have become consciously aware of the complexity of my ontological beliefs. For several months I have experimented with different ontological theories and frameworks and have found that I am drawing on authors and ideas related to mild forms of realism (namely Michael Hammersley’s “Subtle Realism”), Philosophical Phenomenology, and Complexity Theory. This realisation has come about through observations in the data collected so far, observations that have led me to form the belief that events and instances of concepts are perhaps not quite so straightforward in their existence and appearances that perhaps some analytical models would perhaps lead a person to believe that represents reality.


I also found this to be the case with my epistemological beliefs. I spent many months trying to fit my beliefs within a particular framework with the final attempt being with constructionism. With constructionism, I was convinced that I found a framework or theory that aligns with my own epistemological beliefs (the way that we can come to know reality). After reading further into constructionism, I came to realise that I was only agreeing with parts of the theory, and not all parts.


I am finding that I am beginning to draw on authors and concepts related to contextualism, relativism, constructivism and interpretivism.

Becoming aware of the complexity of my own beliefs has been a milestone, because this has altered my conceptions of the learning phenomenon as possessing a more complex existence than I had previously imagined. Additionally, coming to recognise the complexity of your own philosophical beliefs, and having a sound and comprehensive understanding of how you have come to recognise the nature of your own beliefs (meta-ontology and meta-epistemology, or meta-philosophy) begins to form the basis of your own identity. That is a positive step towards you becoming self-aware as a researcher, which enables you to begin to situate your identity within the complex world of academia.

It’s really important that you don’t fight against your self-awareness regardless of the extent to which your beliefs are complex. If you fight against what you have observed in yourself and you try to pigeon-hole your beliefs within a framework that really isn’t compatible, you start to develop a false identity based on your anxiety and unwillingness to explore further. If you fight against what you have observed in yourself and you don’t explore further, you would be lying to yourself, lying to your supervisor, lying to the thesis assessment panel, and lying to the academic community. Be real.

Multiple Literature Reviews


The fourth key milestone is the development of multiple literature reviews. I will talk more at length about this in the future, but at the moment it suffices to say that I have become aware of the possibilities of structuring and outlining the thesis in different ways. Through reading through more literature on constructing literature reviews, I have become more aware of my own aims and objectives with the literature review. And the complexity of these aims, the amount of different aims as well as the different types of literature that shall be used within the thesis has led me to believe that multiple literature reviews are required.


Each literature review deals with a set of particular aims and different types of literature, and each subsequent literature review builds on the ideas and concepts presented in the previous chapter. The first literature review chapter deals with the backdrop as discussed in a previous blog post. The second literature review chapter deals with specific debates and discussions regarding specific concepts related to the phenomenon of interest and relevant to the research. The third literature review chapter critically evaluates existing analytical models pertaining to identifying and assessing the learning phenomenon. Then following all these literature reviews shall be a summary section that provides a summary of my arguments regarding the need for the research.


I do feel better with developing three literature reviews as in my opinion, trying to write a single literature review chapter that serves to achieve multiple goals and objectives and utalises a variety of different types of literature would make the literature review appear disjointing. Patterns of thought and the development of argumentation would not be easy to follow through.


Developing three literature review style chapters entails a logical, progressive narrative of conceptual and argument development and progress where each chapter logically develops and progresses the concepts presented in the previous chapter(s). Idea and concept development shall be easier to follow therefore, and reading shall be more flowing and easier and comprehendible.


Summary:


I feel that it’s been a successful academic year with key milestones reached and achieved.

After the brief time off I can plan to move forwards and progress with developing the theory, and produce the best thesis that I can possibly write!


Reflections Of The Past Academic Year Part A

There are no formally set “terms” or “semesters” on a Ph.D. You are responsible for organising your holiday periods and this should be based on the status of your work. The nature of the Ph.D. entails difficulty in planning exactly when to organise time off (if you wanted to plan a while ahead) because you cannot tell what leads and possible directions that shall come about because of your reading, experimenting and analysis of the data. This is both exciting and challenging: challenging because some people cannot handle uncertainty and the relative academic freedom that a Ph.D. entails, but exciting because those who can handle uncertainty and relative academic freedom shall feel energised and determined.


It is usually around this time I have a short amount of time off from the Ph.D. to recharge my batteries. I try to keep it around August / September time but it has been a little late this year because I really wanted to complete the outlining, structuring and drafting of the literature reviews and the methodology chapter as much as can be achieved at this point in time. I also wanted to update the searching, selecting and sorting of literature as much as can be completed at this point in time. Evaluation of the literature shall take place following the short time off. Plenty of blog post material here!


Before I take some time off I usually enter a period of reflecting and planning. It has been quite a year between the previous September to this September (traditionally defined as the academic year) with various important milestones achieved:


Successfully Passed Upgrade Stage


When you first begin the Ph.D., you are not immediately placed on the Ph.D. course but are enrolled on the Master of Philosophy. Some people can get confused with the terminology here when referring to the term “Philosophy” in this context.


The term “Philosophy” in this context does not refer to you actually engaging with the academic discipline of Philosophy, but in my view (and many people will have other ideas) the philosophical aspects refer to the requirement of engaging your philosophical thinking. This engagement is at both the ontological and epistemological levels and such questions you might ask are: “what do I know?” “What can I know?” “How can I know?” “What are the limits to what I can know?” “How do I know what I know?” “What does it mean to know anything?” “Is knowing anything even possible?” “Can we acquire knowledge?” “How do we acquire knowledge?” “Does reality exist?” “How can we know reality?” The answer to these questions, and many others, form a part of the development of your research design, because how you answer these questions can determine the methodologies and methods that you can use in your research project. That being said, it’s not quite as straightforward and linear as what some introductory textbooks suggest as there is much fluidity depending on your discipline, your background, your research interests, and the problem context.


Transitioning from the Masters level to Ph.D. level involves writing what is known as an “upgrade paper” where you outline the background, provide some form of literature review, and be descriptive and explanatory of your research methodology and methods along with providing some initial research findings that you might have obtained through a trial study. I have talked much about this at significant length throughout the past year and a half on this blog, but it suffices to say that the upgrade paper eventually reached seven thousand words! And following changes that I knew I had to make, the University passed me through. I’ve been upgraded from Master of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy and this in my view is a defining moment. I was shocked and happy to receive the news. This does not mean, however, that I have or will actually receive a Ph.D., only that I am working at Ph.D. level.


Successful Conference Attendance and a subsequent Published Research Paper


These two are separate but related key achievements for me personally. Again I have written vastly on my conference experiences earlier this year on this blog, but it suffices to say that this really has been a milestone. Presenting at the conference has been beneficial for me personally as I feel more confident with presenting my own ideas and methodologies to a wider audience, and it has been beneficial academically as it has changed the structure of my thesis (shall discuss this more in part two), leading to what I think shall be a more detailed and comprehensive thesis. It really was an incredible experience and I am excited about any future conferences that I attend!


Relating to the conference is the publication of my second journal paper. This research paper was written as a critical review of my attendance and presentation experiences of the University of Warwick’s Centre of Educational Studies’ Fifth Annual Postgraduate Conference. Writing this paper was itself a beneficial experience for me personally and professionally. In the paper, I presented my ideas and arguments about the way in which attending conferences can be a positive experience in terms of thesis development and professional development. I also presented arguments about the existence of a relationship between our epistemological beliefs and the way that we perceive reality, and the way that we therefore engage with conferences. I am suggesting that our philosophical beliefs directly influence the way that we perceive and engage with conferences. I was pleased to have written this paper, and pleased that the editorial board accepted it for publication.

Part B is coming up!


The Difference Between Research Background and Research Backdrop

In the previous blog post I suggested that there is a difference between a research background and a research backdrop, and that it is my belief that both need to be treated separately though in relation to each other. What do I mean by this? Let’s take a look at each term for clarification.


The Research Background


The research background typically comes as a separate chapter in a Masters dissertation or a Ph.D. thesis. The chapter typically outlines and details the problem context of your research. By this, you are specifying the exact research problem; explain how you are exploring this problem, and why you are exploring this problem. When I say what you are exploring, you are describing the research problem: what is the research problem that you are exploring and what are its defining features and concepts. When I say how you are exploring the research problem, you are briefly explaining the methods and approaches that you are going to use in order to explore the problem and provide a possible solution. When I say why you are exploring the problem, I am suggesting that you explain your interest in the research problem, explain why you are carrying out your research, and why there is a need for your research and reasons for solving this problem.


The background therefore addresses the relationship between the research problem and your reasoning behind the research, but it does not address the relationship between the research problem and the general disciplinary context. This is where the backdrop plays a role.


The Research Backdrop


The research backdrop situates your research within the wider disciplinary context. The background is the explanation of the research problem and problem context, and the backdrop is the explanation of the wider disciplinary context therefore appropriately situating the research problem and research context and establishing the relationship between research problem context and the wider disciplinary context.


Using my research as an example, my research focuses on the description and explanation of a learning phenomenon, therefore my research can be classed as both descriptive and explanatory. It explores the learning phenomenon from, what I believe to be, a different philosophical perspective than most research projects. As for the research problem, briefly I am attempting to argue that this particular learning phenomenon has not been explored in a particular way, leading to fairly narrow assessment opportunities over a longer period of time or larger amount of instances. And, that there are benefits in moving away from a typical view of the learning phenomenon to another way that from what I can understand has not been properly or fully explored.


Because of my increasing interest in the Philosophy of Education, I am situating the learning phenomenon within the backdrop of Philosophical considerations of Education. Typical questions involved with the Philosophy of Education are: what is the goal of Education? What are the aims of Education? What is the nature of teaching and learning? What is the nature of the teacher and the learner? What are the contemporary characteristics of teachers and learners? What are the contemporary characteristics of learning environments? What is the relationship between Education and the wider society? What is the nature of society and what is the role of Education within contemporary society? What are the nature, role and function of classrooms? What is the nature of the relationship between teachers and learners?


When answering the questions relevant for my research, the focus is on the learning phenomenon. The learning phenomenon becomes the key guide in all of my questions and discussions that shall involve three different literature reviews that addresses different questions using a variety of different types of literature.


Summary:


Remember: the background addresses the characteristics and concepts of the problem context as well as your own interests in the problem. The backdrop situates your research problem and problem context within the wider, traditional and contemporary discussions and debates of the discipline within which the problem is based.


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