All entries for March 2018

March 29, 2018

Reflections Of Ph.D. Work From January To Now!

Now that Easter (or whatever you choose to celebrate) is around the corner it’s time for some reflections of the year so far and what an interesting time it has been between January and now. It’s been one of those time periods where I had a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve, but as is the nature of research I achieved other things that I had not planned on achieving, and made observations that I had not originally anticipated!

That is a good thing or a bad thing depending on the way you perceive the events and the values of the observations you have made leading to the extent to which your ideas develop! There are two tasks that I have focussed on during the recent time frame and that’s the literature review chapters, and the rethinking of the use of Grounded Theory.

The Literature Review Chapters

The main focus of the year so far has been writing and drafting the first literature review chapter, which focusses on the relationship between society, culture, Higher Education and technology, and two sections of the second literature review chapter that focusses on different concepts related to the phenomenon of research interest. I have completed the first drafting of the first literature review chapter although obviously this needs revision and expansion, and also have made suitable progress with the writing of the two sections of the second literature review chapter.

Where I feel a little uneasy with the second chapter is the fact that it is related to the concepts of the phenomenon of interest. Given that my project is based on a grounded theory methodology, I am not entirely sure of the extent to which I should be giving attention to the concepts in the literature review and the extent to which I should give them attention in the findings and discussion sections, for example comparing and contrasting my data with published data in relation to those concepts. What I am thinking is it might be best to discuss the philosophical and theoretical concerns in the literature review chapters and then analyse the concepts empirically: published data in conjunction with my own data, and compare and contrast in order to validate findings or in some way find new ways in which those concepts could be interpreted, observed, measured, occur, and thought about.

Actually writing the chapters has taken and is taking longer than I had anticipated because I did not anticipate the fact that structure of a chapter can actually emerge from the act of writing. In a sense this is not a bad thing: it is a waste of time trying to stuff content in a pre-planned structure when the emerging content, the continuous development of ideas, the emerging debates you are engaging with and the development of your arguments are no longer compatible with the pre-planned structure. Remember that your ideas and arguments and the way you shape and engage with debates relative to your research questions and objectives are continuously developing and therefore, so is your thesis structure.

But overall though I am pleased with what I have been able to achieve in terms of my thesis chapter writing, and I do believe there is value in utilising the edit as you write approach as there is no point in fighting against ideas as they emerge from ideas that you are constructing, and which causes you to rewrite or rethink perhaps the way you present or interrelate previous ideas, or to change and individual ideas as you form new ideas and test their interrelation and compatibility. This is interesting, because not only does your structure emerge as you write, but more ideas and ideas for idea development, redevelopment, restructuring, and interrelation analysis also emerge.

Use of Grounded Theory

I was aiming to progress with theoretical development, but as has been discussed during the year so far on this blog I came across a few challenges referring to the nature of grounded theory e.g, its philosophical framework; the application of grounded theory in my research, and the way in which I was perceiving and exploring the phenomenon of interest. Essentially, I have come to the conclusion that the general approach I took to coding all the data was incorrect (I should not have been coding all the data, only what’s relevant to my specific research interest); that the phenomenon of interest, therefore, was being perceived slightly incorrectly, and that I came to the realisation that a particular theoretical framework best fits grounded theory within the research context, which better guides the use of grounded theory and therefore the way that I perceive and explore the phenomenon.

In a nutshell: the emerging codes, categories and theoretical framework were incorrectly constructed because I was coding every piece of code even those that were irrelevant, but I had not realised their irrelevancy till recently, and it took me a while to figure that out. To resolve this I now have to reread the data and reanalyse through adopting not just a segment by segment analysis, but a closer inspection of the data that clearly activates and signifies the presence of the learning phenomenon of interest. To assist with this process, I am now going to adopt a network analysis method where I can clearly and more appropriately identify trends and network trends of learning phenomenon occurrences and behaviour and I shall be working on developing this method sometime after Easter.

This brings me to the problem I had of perceiving the phenomenon of interest: it took me a long while to realise that I was incorrectly perceiving the behaviour or potential behaviour of the phenomenon of interest relative to the objectives of my research and the research questions I am exploring, as I think I have discussed in a recent blog post. Essentially I perceived the phenomenon of interest as a social entity only, and not cognitive or at least a combination of social and cognitive: sociocognitive. I have now rectified this problem through understanding the phenomenon of interest as both a social and cognitive occurrence, which shall further help with my understanding of the way in which grounded theory and network analysis should be applied in my research.

And therefore, I came to the conclusion that grounded theory was being used incorrectly because I was coding everything. In a sense it is not the case I was misunderstanding grounded theory methods, but I was misapplying them. Through the use of network analysis and through the leaning towards the sociocognitive area of understanding, the problems of misapplying grounded theory should reduce.

That’s that in a nutshell! I’ve sent my supervisor the drafts of my first literature review chapter, two sections of the second literature review chapter and currently engaged with an email discussion about our ideas and conceptions of the phenomenon of interest and I am finding this to be a very fruitful and productive discussion, and which has contributed more to building my arguments, confirming my ideas, and enabling me to question and present alternative ideas to what is being presented. This is what academia is all about, and this is a reason why I adore the discipline of academia that much!

I’m now on an Easter holiday! Thank you to all my blog readers for your continued reading and fingers crossed that you are benefiting in some way from reading my ramblings. Thank you again, and have a peaceful and happy Easter holiday or whatever celebration you choose to take part in!

March 18, 2018

A Possible Extra Method for the Grounded Theory Project

Soon after the submission of the original upgrade paper in November / December of 2016, I came up with the idea of analysing the data using network analysis as well as grounded theory. Because of the early stage of idea development regarding the use of network analysis, I had not included it in the original upgrade paper. During the early part of winter the previous year, I began to reanalyse the data using grounded theory and was able to think more about the possibility of including network analysis within a grounded theory methodology. Very recently I have been thinking about the theoretical framework of grounded theory in my attempts to possibly move it away from symbolic interactionism (the social) and try to think about ways in which grounded theory can analyse learning processes from a more social psychological perspective. I think I have now found a possible solution (shall talk about this more when I have confirmed with my supervisor of its potential and suitability) and has lead onto the idea now of using network analysis. Reading through the data collected so far indicates to me that there is a strong possibility of the value of using a network analysis, but I am currently developing these ideas and in a discussion with my supervisor about the possible directions of network analysis with grounded theory, and also of the theoretical framework.

Both Grounded Theory and Network Analysis would serve different but relational purposes in order to achieve a better understanding of the process and development of the learning phenomenon of interest.

With Grounded Theory, codes and categories emerge from the data and the categories are developed through identifying and interrelating their dimensions and properties. From what I can currently understand, the key aim of Grounded Theory is to enable the development of a substantive theory with a core essence (category) of a phenomenon defined, and then interrelating all other categories with this core category. Effectively, grounded theory identifies the essences of a phenomenon of interest and through a coding, analytical process that identifies a core category and its interrelation with other categories. A network analysis leading to a network could possibly accompany this theoretical development through providing a more objective stance to using grounded theory, by first identifying the activities and events of each category, translating these events and activities into nods, and represent their relationship in the diagram by using lines.

This network would explain the way that a phenomenon develops or manifests itself over a period of time, which is something I think might be lacking within Grounded Theory analysis. Grounded Theory, from what I can currently understand, explores the existence of and relationships between essences, and do not necessarily describe or explain the way in which these essences enable the progression of a phenomenon’s progress or development. I accept that learning these approaches are continuous and therefore I accept that I might not be fully correct with my current and developing understanding.

This research therefore could lead to three possible scenarios.

First Scenario: the exploration of pure essences of the phenomenon

This would be pure grounded theory: open, axial and selective methods of coding to establish a substantive theory of the phenomenon of research interest. This would be related to the identification and exploration of essences, and the identification of the core essence of the phenomenon of interest.

Second Scenario: identification and explanation of the development of phenomenon via its essences

This would involve using grounded theory to the extent that all activities and events, at least as many as can be observed to exist, of the learning phenomenon are identified, and then are translated or transformed into possible nodes of a network, with their relationships represented by lines on the network. A complete network would be able to describe the progress and manifestation of a phenomenon, and explain the way in which it progresses and is directed.

Third Scenario: Identification of the pure essence, and the development and progress of a phenomenon via its essences

Currently this might be the most likely scenario of my research, and is the combination of both previous scenarios. The aim of the research then would be to identify the essences of the phenomenon of interest and the core essence of the phenomenon as explained in the substantive theory, and describe and explain the progress and development of the phenomenon of interest via its essences, illustrated via a network.

I am continuing to work out the details and to experiment in each scenario. I shall unlikely know the path that I shall definitely be taking till the summertime and after a lot of discussions with the supervisor. But I feel that there might be worth in all three scenarios, and indeed it could be argued that the third scenario could lead to potentially more papers being published as a result of the Ph.D.!

I shall keep you updated with my progress!

March 10, 2018

Update Early March 2018 Part C: Considering the Theoretical Framework of Grounded Theory

What I have found in the data collected so far is what appears to be the presence of both social and cognitive interactions, with both arguably contributing considerably to the function, presence, formation, dynamism and the nuanced existence of the learning phenomenon of interest. But these observations along with the research context surely have important implications on the application and understanding of grounded theory. With that, those of you who have been following my research have noticed my critiques and observations of the incompatibility of the otherwise firmly established relationship between symbolic interactionism and grounded theory with my research.

Do note that these critiques and observations do not suggest anything directly wrong with symbolic interactionism and its relationship with grounded theory, but symbolic interactionism is not suitable as a theoretical framework for my research. This is because symbolic interactionism is a purely sociological theory used by sociologists in their research to investigate participants’ interactions with others through culturally mediated, socially constructed symbols, or objects. Participants interact with the world and constructed objects based on their interpretations and assumed meanings of objects or events of that world. In other words, they do not interact with the world directly, but interact with the world through their symbolic representations. This is effectively what symbolic interactionism is all about in, arguably crudely defined, nutshell. Symbolic interactionism is therefore assigned to grounded theory as the arguably ideal relationship for generating a theory from the data that explains social processes and social behaviour from the perspectives, meanings, understandings and interpretations of the research participants.

For various reasons therefore, and which has been suggested in various research papers, I am attempting to shift grounded theory away from symbolic interactionism, and of pure sociology in general.

But where do I take grounded theory? What are the disciplinary and theoretical foundations for the ideas that I have for grounded theory?

This has been a challenge for quite some time and it continues to be, with the origins of change going back to the pilot study. During the pilot study, I found that I have no direct contact with the research participants, therefore interviews and observations were out of the question. The research does not revolve around the way that research participants construct their world, but that does not necessarily suggest that all social possibilities have been discarded from the research. What I found during the pilot study, therefore, is I am not exploring the learning phenomenon based on the perceptions of that phenomenon, but through actual engagement in its development, production, progress and sustainability.

Following these realisations, they led me to conceptualise the learning phenomenon of interest as cognitive in nature, but pure cognitive theories and perspectives appear to focus on the individual and the way in which one’s cognition influences or frames one’s learning processes. Pure cognitive theories, from my current understanding, do not appear to address the way in which the cultural and social situation of one’s cognition impacts upon the development and sustainability of learning phenomena.

To summarise in a nutshell the differences between social and cognitive theories, the social theories arguably focus on the function, formation, characteristics, effectiveness and behaviour of groups in learning contexts and their interactions; cognitive theories, meanwhile, arguably focus on the characteristics, effectiveness, development, progress and achievements of one’s psyche and cognition. These definitions are arguably presented as a little simplistic, but viewing the theories in this way assists in my ever continuously developing understanding of the characteristics of different groups of theories.

For the past few weeks I have found difficulty in trying to think about the learning phenomenon of interest as a pure social process and a pure cognitive process. A fair percentage of cognitive activities have been observed in the data but I cannot help but to think that their occurrences have only come about due to social interaction processes. Therefore, and thanks to some of the papers I have been reading this past week, I am coming to the idea that the sociocognitive realm might be able to provide me with the most suitable theoretical framework, even if I have to merge or combine ideas from multiple different theoretical perspective as relevant to my wider philosophical beliefs. But understanding of the sociocognitive dimension and relevant theories and potential theoretical frameworks is a continuous and ongoing process.

What I am essentially attempting to achieve is a shift in grounded theory from a sociological perspective to a sociocognitive perspective. It’s a complex subject, but when you think about the process of learning within groups it might not be plausible to just thinking about the social or the cognitive, but to consider both dimensions.
Obviously, I am not going to be able to cover every social and cognitive detail related to all types and forms of the learning phenomenon of interest (this would be impossible: most Ph.D. projects focus on a small section of the social, cognitive, or sociocognitive). A key decision I need to make relatively soon is to decide for sure what processes in relation to the learning phenomenon of interest really interests me, that which I think would be more beneficial to explore (evidenced by the literature review chapters), and that which can be shown to be most relevant to answering my research questions and of the research context.

Again this shows the importance of referring back to your research context and research questions. Additional assistance in my decision making shall come from the data itself, as well as the directions and content of the first literature review chapter, which itself shall likely change in the future but that again is the nature of academic research, and of writing in general.

Thanks for reading. I shall keep you updated!

‘till next time remember: never hold an absolute thought absolutely!

Update Early March 2018 Part B: Differences between Form and Type of Phenomena

Learning phenomena comes in all different forms and types. The key categorical forms relevant to my research are social and cognitive. There are, for example, various types of cognitive forms of learning, including thinking, reasoning, arguing, critiquing, recollecting, perceiving, and believing, among others. Social types of learning phenomena mostly relate to the social form of ‘interaction’ and these include collaboration and negotiation; essentially, social types and forms of learning refer to some sort of construction or engagement with a social learning culture or social world.

A specific example from the cognitive dimension, thinking is a type of cognitive engagement that possesses a rationalistic approach to learning. Cognitive engagement, therefore, is characterised by a continuous, careful consideration of the issue at hand, leading to a well thought out proposition grounded in sense based data (empirical) or appropriately applied reason, beliefs, understanding and meaning (rationalism). Here we have in this definition an obvious relationship between thinking and reasoning; between thinking and belief formation; and between thinking and the construction of our understanding and meaning about the world. What I have just outlined here are simplistic relationships between different forms of cognitive based learning: the characteristics, philosophical and theoretical basis, practicalities and forms of relationships are extremely nuanced. The nuanced existence of both social and cognitive learning therefore suggests the existence of many factors that can make one’s thinking or thought production fallible, but that’s for another time.

The problem I was experiencing was attempting to conflate form and type of a particular phenomenon, and hence I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the middle of the week. It was initially, therefore, a challenge to deepen understanding of the nuances and different forms and types of a the phenomenon of interest, which is a continuous and ongoing process. Once I managed to understand the difference between forms and types of learning phenomenon I did begin to feel much clearer about what forms and types I should be addressing in the literature review chapter. A further assistance has been the collected data, as I have been able to identify different forms and types of the phenomenon of research interest; therefore, it was deemed impossible to reduce discussions of a learning phenomenon to just a single type or, perhaps, a single form. I have to, and willing to, discuss all types and forms relevant to observations in the data, and relevant to the research context.

In summary, there are different forms and types of learning phenomena and it’s difficult to reduce discussions down to particular forms and types unless you have some sort of prior knowledge of what forms and types are going to be most appropriate, such as information from your research questions and research context. Always go back to your questions and your context, as these will provide you with the information you need to guide or frame most of your literature review directions and discussions. Where there is an exception is with qualitative research projects based on grounded theory: sometimes, it’s the theory as it emerges from the data that best helps with the guiding and structuring of your literature reviews. Remember though, as has been mentioned previously and shall be mentioned again in future posts, literature reviews carry a different function in grounded theory projects than other types of research projects.

This, conveniently, now brings us to the third blog post of this series: my thoughts about the theoretical perspective of grounded theory.

Update Early March 2018 Part A: Overview Of Recent Tasks And Ongoing Challenges

The thesis writing schedule of the week started with a set of guiding questions that would help with determining the content of a particular section of the second literature review chapter. As the week progressed, these questions simply grew and branched out into multiple different directions regarding various aspects of the learning phenomenon of interest, the direction of the thesis chapter, and of grounded theory itself. As I was going through the literature, therefore, I found that I was beginning to address various different aspects of the research simultaneously, which led to moments of feeling overwhelmed during the middle part of the week.

Thankfully towards the end of the week, clarity and direction overcame feelings of being overwhelmed, resulting in generating many more questions than I had started with! Through these questions, more directions and more questions for the literature review chapter could emerge both in terms of its structure and its content. This again is the nature of academic research. If you come out of a reading, writing, or analysis session with more answers than questions then arguably you might not be thinking about things properly, particularly within social science based qualitative research. Some probably won’t agree with my assertions, and that’s fine.

The aim of the second literature review chapter is to define, explain, explore and critique existing conceptual, theoretical and empirical definitions of the main learning phenomenon of interest across a variety of learning contexts, and to explore its interconnection and interrelation with other learning phenomena. A goal of the current and ongoing reading session therefore is to decide the order in which each phenomenon is to be addressed, and to determine and explore the existing relationships as I go through subsequent phenomenon. I am attempting to present the order in a logical manner where the relationships between all concepts and phenomena are clearly illuminated and mapped.

As shall be discussed further in the next blog post, what was overwhelming for a short while was the diverse and complex being and existence of a particular learning phenomenon. The mistake I was making was conflating form and type of learning phenomenon: I was attempting to reduce discussions in the literature review based on the type, and not form, of learning phenomena. As I deepened my understanding of the different types, I realised in the data I have collected there exists multiple types of the learning phenomenon of interest (although more data has to be collected to confirm the importance and value of the existence of different types). This has had interesting implications on the way in which I shall continue to apply grounded theory.

In the next two blog posts I shall be exploring two particular issues I have had to contend with during the week: the first being the differences between form and type of learning phenomena, and in the final part I shall be documenting my thoughts regarding grounded theory from a theoretical perspective.

March 2018

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