All entries for January 2016

January 29, 2016

Thoughts On The Research Design

The previous week I had mentioned that the decisions made at a certain level of the research design can influence other decisions at other levels, so now I shall explain more about what I mean by that, with future blog posts delving into this further.

The research design is the description and documentation of the processes, and their interrelations, involved with the collection, analysis and use of data within a particular study. The design of a study is determined by the research problem that has been identified and the research questions that have been developed.

The first level that needs to be engaged with is the Philosophical level, and by this I mean the researcher, including the Ph.D. candidate, needs to establish their perspectives of reality (ontology) and the way that knowledge of this reality should be attained (epistemology). There is a large variety of different Philosophical perspectives from Absolutism to Relativist therefore it can take a while to establish understanding and even then this might actually change. As has been documented throughout previous blog posts, I had considered myself an Interpretivist and a Constructivist therefore holding a Relativist Philosophical position of reality and therefore of research. However as I further critically analysed the methodology that I had selected at the time the more I subconsciously began to align with a Pragmatist perspective of research. Subconsciously because I was developing a methodology that I thought aligned more with a Relativist position; briefly, I was trying to be a Pragmatist within a Qualitative methodology, and for this research that simply was not working. I realised that my research design was following a Pragmatist route when I discovered that a particular model of Mixed Methods methodology suited the problem and the questions. Everything then started to make more sense.

Have I always been a Pragmatist when it comes to research? Perhaps I always have and never really realised it till I had the opportunity to really think about my own views about reality, to select initially what I thought was the appropriate methodology and then to critically analyse this methodology within the context of research. What’s interesting about Pragmatism is that whilst some authors suggest that Pragmatism attempts to locate the middle ground between Absolutism and Relativism, it can be argued that being pragmatic about research can lead to a person being a relativist about research. This is because since Pragmatism allows the researcher to select the methodologies and methods that work best, those methodologies and methods would be selected relative to the research problem and research questions.

So after all that Philosophical thinking, is the rest of the research design easier? In theory yes; in practice, sort of! It is important to remember that a methodology and the subsequent methods cannot be selected without careful thought and consideration of not only the context of the research but also in the context of other methodologies and methods and their appropriateness. Remember as a Ph.D. candidate it is important to be able to learn about a variety of methodologies and methods so that it is possible to justify why certain methodological and method selections have been made, and to explain the inappropriateness of others. This is something that is ongoing with my own work, and I need to decide to what extent do I really engage with methodological debates and discussions and contribute to them.

There is a wide variety of different methodologies, methods, and approaches to using these methods, available to select and integrate into the research design but again what is selected must be the most appropriate to deal with the research problems and handle the research questions. A methodology therefore describes and analyses a variety of characteristics of the design including the general approach used to handle the problems and the questions, along with the methods used, the order in which they are used, and the importance of each method in providing the required data.

My methodology of my Ph.D. is Mixed Methods, with the specific model of the methodology being Convergent and Triangulated, referred also as the Convergent Parallel model, and the selection was determined by identifying methodological problems of existing research and the development of the research questions, along with understanding to the suitable level which methodology would best address the research problem and research questions. Briefly, the Mixed Methods methodology defines the use, ordering, importance and value of the methods in many different ways than other methodologies, such as a case study, and remember that each model of the Mixed Methods methodology differ from each other slightly in these respects.

So, when the methodology has been decided upon it’s time to choose the methods. Whatever methods are suitable for the methodology is endless as there is no right way and depending on their structure a method can be used with multiple methodologies. As an example, the case study methodology can be either quantitative based, or qualitative based. If the case study is to be quantitative then methods that generate figures and numbers would be used, such as closed questions on a questionnaire; qualitative based case study methodology would need methods that generate data that expressed the perspectives and experiences of the individual, such as an Interview technique. With Mixed Methods methodology this is even more complex, because it can’t be either quantitative or qualitative: both strands have to be used and therefore there is wide variety of methods that can be used and several ways in which these strands can be converged or combined appropriately.

Developing the research design is a complex task and goes way beyond what has been described in this blog post. I’ve simply presented a general overview of some of the ideas that I have about research design and some of the key points that need to be considered carefully when designing research. I’m still learning; I’m still learning about my own research design and still adjusting the design in accordance to what I am reading not only from research methodological textbooks but also the way that other researchers have implemented methodologies and methods and designed their research in general, particularly those relevant to the Mixed Methods designs. I have decided fully on the methodology as Mixed Methods, the model of Mixed Methods as Convergent Parallel, and decided on the data collection and most of the analysis methods that shall be used. The key areas of the design are now in place with the finer details of the design continuing to be thought about.

The sheer amount of Philosophical perspectives, methodologies and methods that can be thought about and used is diverse and complex, with much overlapping, but must be something that the new researcher including Ph.D. candidates much engage with. It simply is not the case where a Ph.D. candidate can jump into a research project with any random methodology and methods because this might go against the Philosophical stances that the researcher is claiming. Apparently in several Ph.D. theses a researcher would claim to follow a relativist position when they use methods that subscribe more to the positivist position. So this needs to be carefully thought about. Additionally therefore there is a need to be fully aware of all the methodologies and methods that can be used, select that or those which best fit, and develop argumentation as to why those methodologies and methods are most appropriate. In my opinion, the argumentation that develops to justify and defend methodological and method selections, and the overall design of the research, is just as important as the selection itself.

Till next time: keep thinking!


January 24, 2016

Research design, Research Conference, Conference Paper and Upgrade Paper!


Research Design: getting there!


When exploring learning processes there is a need to develop activities for the participants of the research so that the data can be generated for analysis. These activities need to be appropriate for the participants, relevant to their interests and have the design that encourages participation and therefore generate lots of data. The design of these activities therefore must be grounded in existing empirical literature. Thinking about and designing these activities have begun this past week, starting with a rough outline and what I want to achieve with them. I have thought about the topics, now what I need to do is explore these topics further so that I can create interesting scenarios within which learning processes can be assessed in ways that have not really happened before. These activities therefore are in their early stages of development and they need to be experimented with and amended as necessarily. What exactly shall be measured and assessed shall be partly presented in a conference paper at the next Post Graduate Warwick University conference, along with the Upgrade Paper and Upgrade Presentation, and also a full elaboration, justification, and critique of existing relevant assessment processes in the Thesis and future research papers.


This has led to an interesting observation in that there appears to be quite an interesting approach taken to designing a Ph.D. project in the sense that there appears to be some sort of ordering to the decisions that are made, and that each decision that is made influences the next decision or in some way guides the next step in the design making process of a Ph.D. research design. I have indicated something like this in previous blog posts where I discussed the relationship between Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology but my ideas of this are developing and I think I will come back to this in a future blog post.


Research Conference and Upgrade Paper


Had an email the other day saying that planning and organising of this year’s Post Graduate conference at Warwick University shall begin soon, which means that I shall be starting to write the conference paper from the day that planning begins. Well, I say write but it’s more like planning the outline and structure of the paper first before actually writing it. As I have mentioned before, the conference paper shall be in part based on ideas that were presented in the second ARM assignment and relevant ideas were appreciated by the supervisor therefore these shall be more fully explored in the conference paper. The conference paper and the presentation at the conference shall relate at this time more or less exclusively to the questionnaire, and there are plans to transform it into a research paper but this is something that I shall have to investigate further soon.


Construction of the conference paper shall occur along with the construction of the Upgrade paper and work has continued on this during the week. Even though it is due in September, it is such an important document that it is best to start planning the paper early along with writing rough drafts of various sections of the paper just to get ideas down of what is going to be explained in which section, and therefore setting down quite early some of the directions of the paper. The word requirement is around four thousand words and there is a fair bit to do in preparation of writing some sections of the paper so an early start is fine. The paper is important because it is part of the Upgrade process, the result of which shall consider the suitability and feasibility of my research and therefore whether or not the research project is worthy of being upgrading from working towards Master of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy.


That’s it for this post so ‘till next time: Easter eggs are starting to roll out!


January 17, 2016

Engagement at the Philosophical level

The Ph.D. is not just about generating new knowledge about a phenomenon: it is also about being engaged at the Methodological and Philosophical levels. Being engaged at the Methodological level means really thinking about the methodologies and methods that have been used to explore and develop new knowledge about the phenomenon of investigation. The uniqueness of a Ph.D. therefore lies not just in thinking about it in terms of developing new knowledge but about the way in which this new knowledge is developed and understood. Being engaged at the Philosophical level means to think about your own perspectives of reality, the way that knowledge of this reality is collected, and understanding a variety of different Philosophical perspectives of reality and their relevance towards the research project along with understanding the way in which your perspectives of reality influences research design. This post shall deal with being involved at the Philosophical level.


Previous Thinking

Previously I thought of myself as a constructivist, an interpretivist, a relativist and a contextualist. I began to reject the notion of an objective reality and therefore had the idea that we create or construct our own reality, that therefore reality is a little different for each of us and that the way we come to understand and attain knowledge within this reality is different for all and our perceptions of the usefulness of related processes also differ.

This view was initially reflected in my own research design through favouring a qualitative methodology and using qualitative based methods to explore the phenomenon of interest. As time progressed however and a more significant understanding of the research problem and research methodologies was attained, I began to grow an appreciation for quantitative methodologies and methods. Philosophical and Methodological battles therefore began to occur as I attempted to understand the way that quantitative data could be included in a qualitative methodology. These battles were a reflection of the fact that what was occurring was going against the way that I perceived the relationship between reality and research exploration with Social Science disciplines: that you cannot define behaviour and generalise behaviour of phenomena through using statistical analysis and relationship between variables. But the more I thought about this (and the more that I continue to think about this) the more that exploring particular aspects of the phenomenon using quantitative analysis made more sense. Using a methodology where quantitative and qualitative approaches complement rather than compete with each other made more sense when an aim is to attain a substantial understanding of the phenomenon.


Current Thinking

There appears to be a group of researchers who subscribe exclusively to quantitative methodologies and methods and therefore perceive reality as absolute; that reality exists independent of our thoughts and behaviour of the mind and therefore can be understood through deconstructing or reducing reality down to a series of variables and exploring relationships between them. There is another group of researchers at the other side of the Philosophical and Methodological Spectrum who are exclusively qualitative; that they perceive reality as being relative and contextual, and that therefore each person develops their own reality within the context they are within. Then there are those in the middle who believe that reality can be understood through the complementation of both perspectives. Remember however that within Mixed Methods there can be no “mixing” or combining of these perspectives, only that they are used to deal with separate but related research questions and problem areas.

So where do I stand with all of this at the moment? I still consider myself as a constructivist: I perceive reality as being subjective, that each of us develop our own realities and that this construction of reality and reality itself is relative only to the context that we are within. But, I do and am beginning to value the quantitative relative to my own research problem and research question therefore I would place my own perspectives and research itself now towards the middle.


General Thoughts

Note that I am not suggesting that all Ph.D. candidates should immediately start considering the middle as the answer to everything. Which side you place your research is influenced by your own stances and understanding of its Philosophy and Methodology, and a sound grasp, understanding, and critical analysis of the relevant, current literature. The research questions, the research problems, the research purposes, the methodology that you select, and methods that you adopt should be led not by your own agendas and Philosophical perspectives, but by the needs identified in the literature.

What are you really investigating? What do you want to investigate? What are the constructs of your research? What are your Philosophical views? What way do you perceive reality? What methodology are you adopting? What methods are you going to use?

All these questions, and more, should be led by that understanding of the literature, and your own biases and assumptions need to be placed aside as much as possible. But this is not always achieved, as even the most objective person has even the smallest amount of bias and favourability towards particular research methodologies and methods. Researcher bias therefore is a big topic of debate within academia and the way in which researcher bias influences the results and therefore questions are asked as to what influences researcher bias to occur in the first place.

It is challenging when you really start questioning your own perspectives because some can go into a complete denial about the complementary aspects of differing methodologies and methods, but this is a challenge that all Ph.D. candidates should tackle. Again, don’t feel that you should subscribe to a particular methodology or method just because it appears fashionable, but go with what is right for your own research questions and problem areas. Once you feel authentic, you begin to produce authentic work, and therefore raise the respect and authenticity levels of research work as a whole.

‘till next time: question yourself and your views of reality, and do what is right for the context you are in!


Methodology now in place: the convergent flavour of the Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology!


The methodology has been set in place and that is the Mixed Methods methodology; specifically, Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology (triangulation simply means to collect and analyse data from multiple sources using multiple methods in order to increase validity and reliability of the research findings: more about this shall be discussed in time). There are various flavours of Triangulated Mixed Methods each of which having a specific, clear, concise and contextually defined set of objectives therefore each flavour is suitable for a particular purpose. Out of all of these flavours I have decided to select the convergent flavour of the triangulated mixed methods methodologies.


Triangulated Mixed Methods Methodology: the Convergent flavour.

This convergence design has been termed in various ways in existing literature including “convergent parallel” design, but regardless the aim of this flavour is to converge quantitative and qualitative findings at the interpretation level. This shall enable the findings to be compared, contrasted, corroborated and related (hence convergence) in order to discover similarities and differences in order to increase validity and reliability of research findings (hence triangulation). But there are other interesting potential uses for this converged (or mixed) results such as developing further research methods to explore further aspects of the phenomenon that were not been previously considered.


Other varieties of Mixed Methods and indeed other flavours of the Triangulated mixed methods differ in the order of which quantitative and qualitative data should be collected and analysed, whether or not the quantitative or qualitative data should be independently collected and analysed or integrated at various stages, and the importance or weighting of both types of data. The Convergence model encourages the separate, independent collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, but converge at the interpretation stage. The model also promotes a concurrent (where both quantitative and qualitative can be collected simultaneously within the same time phase of the research) approach to collecting data instead of sequential (quantitative then qualitative or qualitative then quantitative). This means that the findings of the quantitative does not influence the findings of the qualitative, and vice versa. Basically they are both collected at the same time, but do not influence each other or data collected using other methods. What this can do however is influence the design of any further methods that might be used throughout the duration of the research. Further to this, the model also encourages an equal weighting of quantitative and qualitative data in answering research questions and dealing with aspects of the research problem.


More questions!

The key decisions have been made with each decision bringing about more questions and challenges that need to be addressed, but this is the case with all decisions made about research design. If you are not generating any questions about your research design as you go along then your inquiry into your own thinking, perspectives about reality, purposes and uses of your own design and a complete and full understanding of the underlying problems and questions and the relationship between these and the design shall be unguided and chaotic. Questions bring order and a sense of direction to any research project, that their development and refinement are continuous, and is something that each Ph.D. candidate should be engaged with at all levels and stages of their Ph.D. research.

Therefore, the selection of the Mixed Methods methodology, the selection of the type Triangulated Mixed Methods, and the selection of the Convergent flavour, along with the previous selections of specific methods that shall collect quantitative and qualitative data and the ongoing decision making regarding data analytical methods, introduces many more challenges and questions than answers! There simply does not appear to be any right or wrong answer or approach to deal with any of these challenges or questions: what therefore needs to be done is attain a full understanding of each challenge and question, carefully read and analyse relevant literature, and develop a solution or answer with suitable argumentation.

Key questions are: could mixing of the data occur at both the analysis and interpretation stages? Would this approach to mixing be appropriate for my research? What could the potential findings be? What implications could this have on any aspect of the research design? What implications could this have on the rigour, validity, reliability, generalisability, completeness and comprehensiveness of the findings, discussions, and research design overall?

I am not in a position to answer these questions yet, but they along with all other questions and challenges, and every other question that shall occur in the future, shall be answered in time!

‘till next time: let your research design be guided not by your answers but by your questions!


January 15, 2016

Revisiting Philosophical and Methodological problems, and solving them!


During the past few blog posts I have been discussing the various Philosophical and Methodological problems that have occurred even before the time that Constructivist Grounded Theory was initially considered as an overall methodology. It was realised that this really was not going to work and therefore scrapped plans to use Constructivist Grounded Theory as a methodology and instead decided to use Mixed Methods methodology; more specifically, Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology, whilst using Constructivist Grounded Theory as a method along with other methods to collect and analyse data. It did not take long to realise that this form of Mixed Methods would practically answer those questions that I have been asking for a while.


Philosophical Problems


The central problem I had was reconciling differing Philosophical perspectives: Positivism and Interpretivism. Even when Constructivist Grounded Theory was replaced with Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology the reconciliation between widely differing Philosophical perspectives was not apparent straight away.


Whilst reading through the Philosophical literature of Mixed Methods methodology it became apparent that merging or combining these perspectives is impossible and not desirable in Mixed Methods methodology. This is because the differing Philosophical perspectives entail particular methodologies which themselves entail the development of particular methods that address different but related questions, sub questions and problem areas of a wider research project. In my Ph.D. research for example the research problem and research questions have been designed in a way that entails the need for differing Philosophical perspectives and therefore differing methodologies and methods to properly investigate the phenomenon of investigation.


From this, Mixed Methods methodology makes sense to use because it enables the mode of inquiry to encompass two related but separate Philosophical perspectives that deals with different questions and problems of the same phenomenon. But what of the Philosophical perspective of Mixed Methods? There is a general consensus in the literature that the Philosophical perspective of Mixed Methods is Pragmatism, which is a Philosophical orientation of reality that defines research design in terms of its usefulness and that it works to an acceptable level. What this basically suggests is regardless of the Methodological perspectives that are a part of a research design, as long as it is purposeful and explores the phenomenon of investigation as required, then it’s an acceptable research design. In addition to Pragmatism some papers reference methodological relativism as the key perspective but this shall need further exploration. Some initial thinking suggests that Pragmatism and Relativism along with Contextualism and Interpretivism could be all related in some way but this needs further exploration. There appears to be plenty of debate and discussion of Philosophical perspectives of Mixed Methods methodology and these shall be explored in time.


In all however, Pragmatism appears to be the overarching Philosophical perspective and has therefore answered my question about Philosophical reconciliation, but shall be reading further into Pragmatism as a research design Philosophy. So, what of the methodological problems?



Methodological problems


Any Philosophical problem of a research design introduces a Methodological problem because they are related. The Methodological problem that was encountered at the time therefore was the merging or combining of quantitative data and qualitative data in order to correlate, combine, merge, and corroborate data as fully as possible in order to present a holistic analysis of the phenomenon of investigation. Just like the Philosophical problem, it was realised that the Methodological problems would be resolved simply through introducing Mixed Methods methodology.


Mixed Methods methodology offers a number of different solutions to the problems of mixing quantitative and qualitative data and I have decided to go for mixing at the interpretation stage. What this means is both quantitative and qualitative data shall be analysed separately using their respective sets of analysis methods, but the discussion shall corroborate, compare, contrast, and relate quantitative findings and qualitative findings. This obviously has been noted in academic literature as being challenging and I shall talk about this another time, but in the meantime I think this approach to dealing with the methodological problem works. Additionally, mixing could take place at the analysis level therefore qualifying the quantitative data and quantifying the qualitative data although I am not sure at this time if this would be really relevant. This shall need further investigation and thinking.


So in summary: the previous Philosophical and Methodological problems have been resolved simply through changing the methodology itself, but this has introduced pages of new questions that need exploration, and the answers to those questions shall produce more questions but that is the way research works!


‘till next time: you won’t learn unless you ask, but be prepared to ask more questions from the answers!


January 09, 2016

Methodological Breakthrough, Part B: Introducing The New Methodology!


Introducing Triangulated Mixed Methods Methodology


Ta da! This has come as a breakthrough for my research as I have now identified what I believe to be the research methodology that is most suitable for my research. Triangulated Mixed Methods is a research methodology that applies Triangulation approaches within the context of Mixed Methods research, which essentially according to some writers enable higher levels of validity and reliability through comparisons and corroborations of differing types of data from different sources, which exactly matches my vision of my research project.


From the initial rereading, Cresswell provided the clearest and most useful definitions of this type of Mixed Methods methodology that convinced me of its suitability. Cresswell describes Triangulated Mixed Methods Methodology as suitable for research projects involving comparisons, validations and expanding discussions between quantitative and qualitative findings. This is suitable for my project because it will involve comparing quantitative data with qualitative data and using these further analytical comparisons and discussions to expand on separate analyses and discussions that shall be made with each data set in the thesis.


There are other reasons, but that was the major, influential definition of Mixed Methods that has encouraged the favoured methodological view to Triangulated Mixed Methods.



What does all this mean now for my research Methodology and research Philosophy?


In brief: Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology is now the research methodology for my Ph.D. with Constructivist Grounded Theory now being used as a research method along with questionnaires. Interview and focus groups shall be used in addition at a later stage as and when deemed necessary. This obvious impact on my methodology will have an impact on my research Philosophy, although the Philosophical assumptions and perspectives of Triangulated Mixed Methods, and Mixed Methods in general, appears to be highly discussed and debated by a lot of authors and Philosophers (oh fun!)


So will this methodology make reality any easier to understand?


Er, no, well, it will, eventually! Basically, even years before starting the Ph.D. I had an idea that my research would be quite complex because what I am doing is exploring perceived learning (quantitative data, qualitative data) and actual learning processes that take place (qualitative data, mostly). This direction has not changed; it has only became more specified and detailed but I am not going to discuss the specifics on here: I shall leave them to my future published research papers and thesis. The methodology now selected makes a lot more sense to me because it allows me to investigate the phenomenon in exactly the way that I envisioned.


What next?


Loads. Sheer absolute loads to do, which is fine because it gives me plenty of blog material! Methodologically speaking, I need to select the most appropriate variant of the Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology to use, as there are several variants that have been designed and debated, although I already have a fair idea but need to do more reading and experimenting into this. Also, I need to identify Philosophical assumptions and develop Philosophical arguments for using Mixed Methods methodology and this shall take a little while given the amount of debates from various authors. Following this, I then need to carefully plan the way that Constructivist Grounded Theory and Questionnaires shall work effectively within a Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology, and carefully think about the practical assumptions and considerations that Triangulation makes upon the data analysis. Not only this, but I also need to carefully consider the Philosophical assumptions, arguments, practical applications and so on of both Constructivist Grounded Theory and Questionnaires and the way that a Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology actually bring these Philosophical and Methodological differences together in the way that research objectives are achieved.


Additionally I need to carefully consider the way in which the methodology and methods all come together to deal with issues of data validation, integrity, reliability, consistency, coherence, authenticity, and so on, and also develop ways in which challenges that each method and the methodology provides shall be carefully managed, maintained and dealt with so that any data errors are avoided as best as possible.


All this and much more shall be considered within the thesis and various research papers that shall be published from the research. Now that the methodology and methods are set, I can begin to think about, within the context of my research, all these Philosophical, Methodological and practical issues and much more than has been discussed here as I think I have wrote enough about the subject for the time being!


‘till next time: is there really such a thing as objective reality?


Methodological Breakthrough, Part A: Background To The Problem!


Explaining the Background


Regular readers will have probably come to know that Constructivist Grounded Theory became the selected research methodology (framework of understanding overall research design of exploring phenomenon of interest) and that the following problems were fairly immediately obvious:


  • Considering the integration of quantitative and qualitative data was proving to be problematic within a Constructivist Grounded Theory methodology

  • Compatibility issues therefore between Philosophically different approaches to understanding reality


The initial decision to use Constructivist Grounded Theory as an overall methodology led to Philosophical and Methodological problems. Philosophical problems in that Positivism and Interpretivism differ widely in that Positivism suggests a social reality independent of human perceiving and thinking therefore reality is absolute whilst Interpretivism suggests a social reality dependent on human perceiving and thinking therefore reality is relative. Positivism suggests that reality can be explored through reducing reality to a series of variables and the exploration of relationships between them; Interpretivism along with Constructivism suggests social reality as an interpretation therefore each person constructs their own perspective of reality and is therefore more complex to understand than a simple reduction to a series of variables and their relationships.


In what way could research be designed so that differing Philosophical perspectives increase in compatibility within a single research project? Could the phenomenon of interest be explored and explained using methodologies and methods that adopt either of these Philosophical definitions and then integrated to explain the phenomenon?


Methodological problems came about because Constructivist Grounded Theory as a methodology for this research entailed compatibility issues between quantitative and qualitative data that were not so easily resolved, as it was realised that Constructivist Grounded Theory unlike other flavours of Grounded Theory did not work with quantitative data. Even if I persevered with this, I envisioned having difficulty with figuring out and explaining the way that quantitative data from questionnaires could integrate with qualitative data from Constructivist Grounded Theory techniques as there was no guidance in textbooks available.  This obviously led me to knowing that as a methodology, Constructivist Grounded Theory was no longer applicable


To briefly explain my logic behind that (shall be exploring more about this in the thesis) Constructivist Grounded Theory as a methodology makes most sense in contexts that are exclusively qualitative; where all research methods are based on collecting and analysing qualitative data. With my research, this is simply not the case because the phenomenon of interest needs both quantitative and qualitative data to provide the basis of substantial and detailed theorising therefore I was not willing to alter any methods unless absolutely necessary in order to stay within the Ph.D. time frame. So, to find answers, I had to revisit previous research methodological ideas.


Returning to previous ideas


So, I had a problem to solve. Constructivist Grounded Theory was no longer making much sense as an overall methodology and given the phenomenon of interest I was not willing to drastically redesign any of the methods that are in development. Therefore I had to find a more appropriate methodology that assumed compatibility between differing Philosophical perspectives, and therefore allowed for the differing data types to be more effectively explored, compared or integrated within a single research project, leading to more effective and sound theorising of the phenomenon of interest.


Thinking back to earlier in the Ph.D. before initially deciding on Constructivist Grounded Theory as the most appropriate research methodology, I had thought for a while about Mixed Methods methodologies as well as Triangulation methods. Triangulation I had in the back of my mind to work with along the way, but Mixed Methods at the time unfortunately was considered unsuitable as the types I had learned about I considered inappropriate due to incompatibility between sequence orderings and timings of methods along with mixing approaches, and the vision I had of the research.


After a short stint into rereading mixed methods methodologies I thankfully came across a methodology that appears to be extremely appropriate for my research and for whatever reason I had not noticed it the first time I read a set of Mixed Methods literature.


That methodology is Triangulated Mixed Methods methodology!


January 05, 2016

Setting Aims And Objectives

It’s traditional for people to set themselves New Year Resolutions in the rather limited hoping that they’ll be able to stick to it but usually break it within a short time of making them! I don’t go for that sort of thing but instead I go for setting aims and objectives of the year, which contributes towards achieving the overall vision that I have for where I want to be with what I do.

Having just started getting back to my work I have been thinking about the aims of the year and the objectives that shall contribute towards achieving those aims, and the tasks that need to be carried out in order for those objectives to contribute to those aims, and the resources that are needed to assist with the completion of each task. Setting aims and objectives is important because aims and objectives provide directions and enable you to attain a realistic and measurable positioning in your research and put in place some sort of focus for the year, or whatever time frame you choose to define. It is an activity that I recommend every Ph.D. candidate involve themselves with so that they can give themselves not only a focus but a means of ordering the objectives, activities and tasks that they need to carry out during that particular time frame, and therefore to reduce confusion and misdirection.

Setting an aim means that you set yourself a fairly abstract, none specific goal to achieve during that particular time frame. For example, an aim that I have set for my research this year is “Pass the Upgrade Process.” Fairly abstract and doesn’t contain any ideas of any resources or activities that are required: it is simply an aim to achieve; it gives a direction. Setting an objective, or a series of objectives, entails a more specific description of what task needs to be completed in order to achieve a particular aim. I write aims using fairly abstract language; I write objectives using specific and clear adjective and noun relationships. For example, an objective to achieve the aim “Pass the Upgrade Process” is “Write the Upgrade Paper by September,” which tells me that there is a report that needs to be written by a certain time: it gives an adjective – noun relationship within the context of time.

These objectives can be listed as long term, medium term and short term although simply using these titles is quite ambiguous so it is always best to give some sort of a time structure to these objectives. For example, a shorter term objective to the objective “Complete the Upgrade Paper by September” is “define research practicalities” giving much more of a specific task to achieve in the shorter term and I have placed it in the time frame of between now and Easter.

From then on, you can begin to list the tasks that are going to be carried out to achieve each objective and the resources that are going to be required to complete each task, if you want to go that far. It might be an idea to detail as much as you can, when you can, and use this as evidence for project management.

So, setting aims, objectives, tasks and resources is an extremely useful skill and process to carry out whilst going through your Ph.D. as this can offer you a direction, a focus, and helps you to not steer off course and become confused because it is really easy to steer off course whilst doing your Ph.D. research. This is because there are so many, limitless, avenues of research and debate but obviously to cover all of this in a thesis even of eighty thousand words would not be sufficient.

I would love to delve into the debates and perspectives of Grounded Theory and what many authors have said about it and debate with what they have said, but I simply do not have the room to cover absolutely everything and there would be a danger that I would be so focussed on arguing and debating Grounded Theory perspectives that I would lose track completely of where I should be actually going at a particular time. Setting these aims, objectives, tasks and resources set the grounding for suitable and appropriate direction, but that doesn’t mean that the Ph.D. becomes extremely structured or rigid. You must be able to follow a path but be flexible enough to join that path to different paths if you discover something relevant.

So to summarise, setting aims and objectives enables your progress to become:

  • Feasible

  • Workable

  • Realistic

  • Maintainable

  • Flexible where appropriate

  • Sustainable

  • Well defined

  • Clear

  • More clarified

  • Assessable


January 03, 2016

Entering Planning and developing Strategy Phase!


Welcome to the first post of the New Year and what an academically exciting and challenging year this shall be! Hoping you all have had a lovely Christmas and New Year where Santa spoiled you, the turkey was so big that it couldn’t fit in the oven, that the jumper you had from your Aunt Nelly wasn’t itchy, and that you didn’t drink more than you really should have! Celebrations are now out the way with so it’s time to get back to my work and, obviously, get back to blog writing!


So now I am entering the phase of planning and developing strategies that shall contribute towards achieving the goals and objectives of the year and indeed of the Upgrade Process. There two main goals of the year, academic wise, between now and the end of the year but especially between now and September where the Upgrade paper is due to be sent in. Yes, I now have a time frame within which to complete the Upgrade paper whereas before I did not, hence the need to spend this coming week replanning and redeveloping strategies. The two main goals are as follows:


Publish, or be in the process of publishing, my second research paper


Although this shall be a challenge to achieve and I am not completely confident in being able to achieve my second published research paper during this year, I do have the belief that I might have something worth publishing this early in the Ph.D. as long as I can identify and contact the correct research journal publishers.


The research paper shall begin as a conference paper that shall be written during the next few months and presented at a Post Graduate conference in the early summer at Warwick University. The focus of the conference paper, and the eventual research paper, shall be the continually developing survey method therefore the central focus of the paper shall be the discussion of the way in which, and why, the survey explores learner perspectives and beliefs of an aspect of the phenomenon being investigated. The discussion shall additionally include the possibility of discovering new correlations and relationships between certain variables of interest, as well as discussing and evaluating the surrounding literature that has contributed towards the identification of the need for exploring particular variables and identification of correlations and relationships. Not quite sure to what extent I shall be discussing all this, but the foundations were laid with the second ARM assignment to which I had positive feedback about, which has encouraged and motivated me to push this further.  


Following the conference and if the conference paper has been received well by the audience and the organisers of the conference, then I can start exploring avenues of transforming it into a research paper and publish it in a relevant research journal although alternatively I could begin exploring these avenues before the conference depending on any advice that is received. There is no doubt that the construction of a conference paper will be an academic challenge but a natural progressive step in my academic and Ph.D. journey. Most importantly, this is something that I want to do not just to increase the chances of passing the Upgrade assessment but having the wanting to engage with the wider academic community about my methods, methodologies, and research in general. Publishing a research paper gives that opportunity for meaningful and appropriate engagement, and whilst challenging no doubt it will be an exciting endeavour of personal and professional development.


Complete the Upgrade Process


The upgrade process is the central, focussed phase of the Ph.D. research for the coming year and does involve the process of publishing a research paper because if it can be shown that the Ph.D. can produce publishable material already, it would stand the Ph.D. in an excellent position to pass the Upgrade process. It’s not an essential part of the process, but it is a desirable because the potential for a published research paper at this point demonstrates to a higher level the research’s authenticity, validity, reliability, and originality. I can’t say at this time if I feel confident in drawing out a research paper from the conference paper, but I do feel fairly confident about producing a conference paper as long as I balance the workload enough to give myself time to write the paper and use it as a platform to fully elaborate ideas up to this point on that particular survey methodology.


The other activities of the Upgrade Process are the Upgrade Report and the Upgrade Presentation. The Upgrade Report is the core feature of the Upgrade Process as this effectively communicates the proposed research: a full elaboration, within four thousand words, of the research methodology, a mention of key authors, the techniques used to identify key authors and other literature and the research methods. Essentially, the Upgrade Paper is going to elaborate fully the phenomenon of investigation, the key surrounding literature, what the methodology is and what methods shall be used to explore this phenomenon, explain why this phenomenon shall be explored and why using particular methods, why there is a need for this research, what shall be the time frame of this research, and results of any trials. There are probably more things to think about but shall have to revisit the Upgrade information on the University website and form the structure of the Upgrade paper from that.

Keeping a long story short: if the Ph.D. passes the Upgrade Process then my research shall be upgraded from Master of Philosophy level (MPhil) to Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil or Ph.D) and I have every intention for my research to be successfully upgraded!


Keep writing this blog!


Obviously, you could say, that I would want to maintain writing of this blog! The blog shall continue to focus on discussions of Philosophical perspectives of research, Methodological perspectives of research, Theoretical discussions, all in the context of Educational Research although I shall provide insights and discussions from a more general perspective when I feel the need.

All this on top of the continuous reading and writing activities for the literature review and the methodology chapters of the thesis and experimenting with different formats of the way in which the phenomenon could be investigated before settling on a set format that shall be put in place next year. As ever, I shall keep you all update with all things Philosophical and Methodological!


‘till next time, remember: Easter is on the way!


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