All entries for Thursday 24 March 2016

March 24, 2016

Reflection period: January to March

Thoughts and condolences to all the families of the victims of recent terrorist attacks

First of all, I offer my condolences to the families of all the victims of the recent terrorist attacks since I wrote my previous blog post: Brussels, Belgium; Istanbul, Turkey; Ankara, Turkey, and Maiduguri, Nigeria. Regardless of who they are, what God or Gods they believe in, wherever they are in the world, whatever their culture and whatever their race, all the families deserve to have a sense of peace in the face of tragedy and extreme hostile conditions. Terrorism has no religion.

Anyway, whilst I do have my thoughts and opinions on the issue this is not the place for them. This is not political, theological or a news blog except in relation to Education and Educational research at my own choosing. Despite that, I felt compelled not to ignore the recent tragedies. Now, on with the rest of the blog post!

Time for some reflection!

Heading towards the celebrations that occur at this time of year (again not going into it on here: this is not a theological blog) it is also the time of year for reflection and planning: I reflect on where I have come during the past few months and the plan for the next few months.

The past week or so has observed a culmination in what has been about six months of careful consideration and planning of the research design, and I can state that is has been a successful culmination because I have now settled on the direction of the research design. This includes the philosophical approach, the methodological approach, and the methods of data collection and analysis that shall be adopted. In a general sense I should say: when it comes to some of the methods I need to complete the task of developing them (e.g., complete the development work of the questionnaire technique and the grounded theory technique), but in a general sense the design is now in place.

Looking back to the blog posts in January I wrote about the excitement that I had about settling on a convergence parallel (triangulated) mixed methods approach after rather quickly identifying a problem with the previous approach that I had settled on: constructivist grounded theory. The problems were based on converging or in some way adopting multiple perspectives of data within a constructivist grounded theory approach, as it only works well with a constructivist or an interpretivist perspective and is not compatible with other perspectives such as post positivism. Using mixed methods methodology did resolve the questions I had in the later part of the previous year regarding in what way could I reconcile multiple perspectives of reality but this introduced another question: which Philosophical perspective would best guide Mixed Methods itself?

For the past couple of months I have been considering several of what I call middle ground philosophies, which guides the management of philosophical perspectives at either side of the philosophical spectrum with a mixed methods approach. These middle ground Philosophies were: post positivism, complexity theory, pragmatism and critical realism. After much deliberation and general readings of each perspective, it was decided that critical realism was the most preferred and most suitable philosophical guide. That is not to discredit all the other approaches, indeed various research papers describe a mixing of these approaches, but they simply would not work for my research. I should point out that I in no way claim that I know everything about these approaches: my approach to understanding them involved reading general literature about each perspective and then applying them in theory to the problem area that the Ph.D. is exploring. You could say that I have adopted the belief that problem area defines the Philosophical perspective for that area, because a clearly identified and defined problem area can inform a Philosophical approach. However, you then could start asking questions about what drives the development of the problem area in the first place and whether or not we already have a set of preferences of the way we view reality and therefore subconsciously develop the problem area with this perspective in mind before we even realise. So essentially, I can class this current reflection period as a success in terms of deciding on the philosophical approach of the Mixed Methods research.

Another aspect of the Ph.D. that has now been resolved is at the practical level: the designing of the tasks and the questions that shall lead discussions that shall generate the data needed to answer the research questions. I have planned out the practical context for both the trial for the Upgrade paper and the full implementation for the thesis. This is now a success: just a matter of actually implementing and carrying out the trial and reporting on it in the upgrade paper.

Engaging with the philosophical level of mixed methods was actually not expected and was therefore unplanned, because at the beginning of the year I had not realise that extent of the middle ground philosophies so I had to put time aside to understand them enough to determine the suitability. I realised there was a problem, but at that time I had not actually considered fully the idea of mixed methods having a philosophy in its own right when I came to the previous set of planning activities. But it is an area that has unexpectedly fascinated me.

Because of the unplanned time that it took I have not written as much to the upgrade paper as I had originally planned to be completed by this time; however, this can be turned round to an opportunity and a bonus because since I have engaged with the philosophical level of mixed methods I can now write a more comprehensive and complete upgrade paper. My research design feels more complete now than it did at the beginning of the year, and that will lead to a more effective upgrade paper.

The other change that has happened during the past few months is the direction of the planned research paper to be written this year. I was initially considering writing a research paper on the questionnaire that I am developing for the research as I think that this is unique enough to warrant a paper, but I have changed my mind on this for now. Following a conversation with my supervisor earlier this year I am planning to write a research paper on critical realism. There are various unresolved problems and ongoing debates with critical realism independent of any research methodology, and when in use with mixed methods. Therefore, if I can identify all of these problems and present a solution to any identified problem, either an existing problem in the context of mixed methods or a problem that has not been previously dealt with in the context of mixed methods, I could be in line to write and publish a research paper on the subject, which is quite exciting!


In all, I think it has been a successful period between January and March. I had formed the practical aspects of the research and I have decided on the middle ground Philosophy that shall guide the Mixed Methods research. There has not been as much work done to the upgrade paper as was originally planned because of the unexpected yet interesting and useful engagement with mixed methods at the Philosophical level, but this has proven to be an opportunity to write a more complete and comprehensive upgrade paper, and that is not a bad thing. Opportunities have opened up in terms of potential research paper publication, and also writing a more complete and comprehensive thesis!

‘till next time, happy Easter or whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year!

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