All entries for February 2018

February 25, 2018

MILESTONE: Completed The First Literature Review Chapter Draft; Commence Full Chapter Rewrite!

Achieved Milestone!

It’s been a while since I posted an update, but I am happy to say that recently I have completed the first draft of the first literature review chapter of the thesis! The structure of the chapter, as has been discussed throughout some of the postings this year so far, has faced challenges and changes particularly when addressing the concepts of society and culture and their relationship to Education. But I think I am now settled on a structure that emerged as I wrote the chapter, and the structure is not likely to change although the content probably shall do as the editing and rewriting continues. Currently, the word count is standing at around ten thousand words but this is due for strong edits and the shifting of blocks of texts to other thesis chapters or to be discarded.

Remember, when I say discarded I don’t mean literally thrown away but placed in another text file so that sections of text can be recalled as necessary if or when they are deemed relevant for a particular chapter.

The content of the chapter consists of explanations of my ever changing understanding and interpretations of the concepts Society, Culture, Education and Social Technology and their relation to each other. Additionally, the content also consists of critiques and evaluations of these relationships as a result of critically engaging with and critical analysis of published debates and discussions, and the continuously developing evaluative arguments based on these critical engagements. What we have then is a continuous grounding and, through rewriting and editing, regrounding of critical engagements and the developing arguments built from these critical engagements.

Through editing and rewriting, these debates and discussions are being extended upon with new directions and observations being made and grounded in existing discussions and debates. Everything being discussed is situated and bounded by the research context including research problem and research questions.

The aim of the first literature review chapter, as I have previous mentioned in a blog post, is to present a case or a justification for the use and exploration of specific social learning technologies, and the use and exploration of specific learning processes and patterns within these social learning technologies. And, therefore, to explain and argue what has given rise to their importance in recent decades. It is aimed to achieve this goal through not only exploring the relationship between society, culture and Education, but also through discussing relevant pedagogical approaches and different social learning theories that enable particular learning patterns and processes of research interest.

Current Thesis Writing Task

The current task is to strongly, comprehensively, substantially, and with great detail rewrite and reedit the content of the first literature review chapter. This process involves rechecking or revalidating claims and arguments I have made and are in development, and to ensure that they are grounded in the critiques of existing published discussions or relevant findings.

You cannot claim anything without fundamentally grounding the argument in existing published arguments and discussions because without such grounding, any existing arguments would lack philosophical and / or empirical basis and would not stand up to scrutiny in any VIVA assessment. Even in the literature review you must begin to develop arguments. A literature review is much more than just a review of literature: it’s a separate research project in its own right and therefore is its own project of argument and critique building. This demonstrates your understanding of current literature and current discussions, and demonstrates your ability to critically engage with existing literature and to build arguments and counter arguments, etc. from these critiques.

In order to reach a comprehensive level of editing and rewriting, I am adopting a line-by-line analysis method. This method enables me to go through each page on a line by line basis, scrutinising every sentence, every word, every thought, every idea, and every debate and discussion that I am developing and therefore reground in existing literature, and to verify and validate references that I am using to assist with argument building particularly in the context of new understanding and new thoughts that I have documented since I began originally writing the literature review.

This is an extensive and at times intensive exercise, but is something that I think is beneficial in the long term because since I started this reediting and rewriting process of the first draft, I have made observations in the literature that I had not previously observed, and have developed and continue to develop further thoughts and amendments to debates and discussions.

I come across some people in particular quarters who oppose the idea of what they consider to be an “over thinking” of reading and writing processes and the way in which we engage with the processes psychologically and mentally. But I argue that to class or to consider such as “over thinking” is an admittance of only having the desire to think at a level of convenience rather than the level of what is actually possible in reality. Trust me, when you are engaging with a Ph.D. and dealing with challenging concepts and their challenging relationships, there is no such thing as overthinking!

When you have taken your thinking and your mind to what you think is your limit, go beyond!

‘till next time!

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!

February 2018

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