All entries for May 2018
May 25, 2018
I have lost count of the amount of times I have rewritten literature review sections and I am now completely rethinking the structure, layout, content and even the number of literature review chapters given the planned changes to the research design. I have quite frankly given up on all ideas of being settled on any kind of literature review format, layout etc. till the day I actually print out the thesis……..
I have a lot of thoughts about the literature reviews. I am now planning on going for at least two literature review chapters with the first engaging with the relationship between society, culture, education and other concepts that I have now come to know as relevant, and the second focussing on the concepts and characteristics of the phenomenon of interest and technologically enhanced learning. The third chapter was going to focus on the exploration and examination of the different theories and models used to explore the phenomenon of interest in different ways. I am not sure now though whether it is best to keep the planned third chapter the way it is, or to discuss and critique existing models and theories when I have developed my own model of what it is I am exploring. However because my research design is emergent, there is a requirement to save critiquing empirical literature most relevant to the phenomenon of interest till the later chapters where literature can be integrated with research findings in order to compare findings, and to authenticate and validate the emerging model or theory. As you can tell I’m not yet decided about the third chapter because of the complexity of the research design……….
Thoughts On The Research Design
The research design has changed because I have now come to fully realise the multi-dimensional and multi-layered nature of the phenomenon of interest. More importantly, I have come to realise or have become more aware of the characteristics of the data that I want to explore as a result of further rereads of the data and, therefore, the result of coming to realise that Grounded Theory simply isn’t going to capture these characteristics.
This realisation has led me to viewing the phenomenon of interest as multi-layered and, therefore, the need to carry out a multi-level approach to data analysis. There is care needed here with language: there is a difference between a multi-level approach and a multi-staged or multi-phased approach. I am saying that the phenomenon of interest can be explored using different levels; in the case of my research, three levels, but I need not go into any detailed explanations as to what they are on here at this time. Therefore I am saying that the phenomenon can be understood in three different ways, but combined they can provide potentially a powerful insight into the complexity and process of the particular learning phenomenon of interest. Whether or not the multi-level perspective of the phenomenon of interest shall lead to a multi-staged (e.g., Mixed Methods) research design remains to be determined. It is likely though to become mixed methods with the way I am currently thinking about the way I would like to investigate the phenomenon of interest.
What I can say is the first phase naturally aligns with the work I have already completed: Grounded Theory coding, or at least the first stage Open Coding. I am not, however, sure at this time if I need to fully develop the codes into grounded theory categories, or if they can simply be left as they are and not call it Open Coding but simply call it another coding process. Either way, I shall be rereading the data again and reread all the codes and theoretical notes that I have made, and the product of the rereading and reanalysis of the data should lead me to decide exactly what further analytical methods I shall be adopting in the further phases.
I do like the idea of using the graph / network analysis as previously discussed and I feel that there is a need for some sort of quantitative analysis of the data (which would make it mixed methods) but I need to ground this need in the data and the literature (though I’ve read enough to consider these approaches as possible).
Grounding the need to change or amend a research design within an emergent research context is an important point to make, because it is easy to think (as has been argued by some authors) of emergent research designs as ‘anything goes’ but this isn’t the case. Not every research project, particularly emergent designs, is fully planned at the beginning stages of the research project. It can take some time and several reanalysis of the data for the design to really emerge and this accompanies the way in which the researcher becomes sensitised or becomes aware of the extent and complexity of the phenomenon of interest, and the way in which is the best approach to understanding this complexity.
What’s important in my current thinking is not that you are able to perceive multi-level complexity or that you potentially or eventually come to the idea that you need to combine various methods in order to capture this complexity, but that you can fully and elaborately justify your choices and justify why you perceive the phenomenon of interest in the way that you do. Everything has to be grounded in data as well as in sound, authentic reasoning and logic that can stand up to scrutiny (which goes right up to your ontological and possibly meta-philosophical considerations), and of course in the literature.
The next step now is to move away from writing the literature review for a while and refocus on analysing the data and continuing to draft the methodology chapters, but I shall explain this further in the next blog post that shall be coming soon. The coming summer months shall be spent therefore mostly on data analysis!
‘till next time!
May 23, 2018
Thoughts About Definitions
There has been a plethora of definitions of discourse and many approaches to discourse analysis defined, and understanding them is going to take some time. Judith Baxter in her paper “Discourse-Analytic Approaches to Text and Talk” published in the book “Research Methods in Linguistics” brings some much-needed clarity in this early stage of deepening my understanding of discourse and language. As I had expected, different theoretical orientations, philosophical perspectives, and the disciplines that provide some of the contextual and situational characterisations have caused the emergence of differing definitions and perspectives of discourse and its analysis.
Baxter suggests three general definitions of discourse. Firstly, that discourse can be viewed as language above the sentence: any piece of text that consists of more than just a single sentence can be considered a discourse. Secondly, and is a definition that appeals most to me personally, is the, as Baxter puts it, “functional and sociolinguistic” definition that views language as language-in-use with a focus on the context and situational aspects of discourse. The third definition revolves around the existence of discourses and not just a single discourse, which when placed within a post modernist, post structuralist perspective refers to the emergence of social realities from these discourses, with a focus on power structures and authorities. The first two definitions from what I can currently understand aligns more with a realist ontology perspective of discourse, with Baxter later suggesting that Conversational Analysis is situated within a more realist perspective compared to discourse analysis.
I have some reservations about a post structuralist, post modernist view of discourse that leads to the construction of a social reality. That’s more than likely because I identify myself as an ontological realist or at least some flavour of realism where I believe that external objects exist and through discourse and language can be referred to by learners. I have difficulties in accepting that certain objects are simply constructed by learners, which is advocated by Parker who in 1992 suggested that objects and reality itself are constructed through discourse and language. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, evidence is an externally existing object that is not constructed by the learners at that time (although one could argue that ultimately evidence is a human constructionbut it’s not exactly black or white and quite frankly that’s another matter) but is externally referenced through discourse and language. What we have therefore is a mix of what is real (evidence exists; it is real independent of a participant knowing about it) and what is a construction (the relationship between evidence and another relatable object that needs evidencing, and the discourse surrounding the evidence, which might differ between different types, between different people, and different contexts).
It appears to me from the literature that I have read so far, different authors have different philosophical ideas about what discourse analysis is. There appears to be some sort of consensus that discourse analysis is commonly used within a post structuralist, post modernist, Foucauldian theoretical perspective (even though Michael Foucault actually rejected post structuralism and post modernism labels) as well as hermeneutic and interpretive perspectives. Conversation analysis is positioned typically within a more empiricist, realist perspective. Both deal with discourse and language in different ways and there is a huge amount of debate and discussion regarding both. For example, some authors have aligned discourse analysis with a social constructionist epistemology and therefore assume a relativist ontology; however, other social constructionist authors have argued that a social constructionist epistemology does not necessitate a relativist ontology. From what I have read about social constructionism previously and from the notes I have taken, I remember thinking about social constructionism as an epistemological concern and not an ontological concern.
Conversational analysis, meanwhile, according to Baxter works better within the empiricism and realism orientations. From what I can understand with my initial readings, the core attack against Conversational Analysis refers to its philosophical assumptions: some authors suggest that language and discourse cannot be analysed objectively or reveal truth about reality, because those authors believe that the truth of social reality is embedded within the discourse and thus revealing a relativist social reality. This is again something I have difficulties accepting when exploring the phenomenon of research interest because, as already mentioned, as already mentioned through the previous discussion of evidence.
I appear to be developing a philosophical understanding of Conversational Analysis and Discourse Analysis and therefore from the Philosophical level it could be argued that I am learning towards Conversational Analysis. However, as I think about the methodological application of both I am finding that things are not quite so black and white. And this is where I have a challenge now because it is coming clear that Grounded Theory is not able to capture the characteristics of the data that I am becoming more fascinated with and desire to explore more (and there is a need in literature to explore these characteristics). The question is, which methodology or method do I now use? Which is the most suitable and in what way shall I know which is the best to use? Will graph theory now be affected? Could I still go for a multi-method or mixed method approach to understanding the phenomenon of interest?
Those questions I shall begin to answer in the next post that shall be written soon!
May 22, 2018
Emergent research designs are shaped by what you observe in your qualitative data. This can include part of the design, perhaps such as the methods that you use to analyse your data or holistic reconfigurations which can include your research questions and even research directions. This is what I am finding with my research design at the moment. I am finding that I am being drawn to characteristics and aspects of the data that are not likely to be captured by grounded theory, but I previously thought they could. I was wondering which methodological direction I could turn or perhaps use in addition to Grounded Theory. I found usefulness in graph theory or network analysis but this still, as far as I can currently understand, is not able to capture the characteristics that I really want to study and explore the most in relation to the phenomenon of interest and characteristics of that phenomenon. After thinking about this further and in conversation with my supervisor I returned to reading about a method I had previously read about but did not think was relevant, till now (plenty of this happening recently!) and that method is Discourse analysis.
Discourse analysis is a complex, fluid, flexible and adaptable set of ideas, competencies, approaches and methods suitable for the analysis of discourse and language use that can be situated with a variety of different theoretical and philosophical theories and ideologies. Because I have only just begun rereading the relevant literature and contextualise the literature within my own philosophical and theoretical frameworks, this blog post briefly sets out some of my initial thoughts of the definitions and philosophies of Discourse Analysis.
Thoughts about definitions
Discourse analysis is, unsurprisingly, the analysis of discourse and language that occurs in a variety of different contexts and situations. Unsurprisingly therefore, many authors of papers and textbooks note the difficulty in creating a universal definition of discourse because different contexts and situations creates different emphasise, types, structures and formations of discourse. Educational discourse, for example, would be different to political discourse, which in turn would be different to scientific discourse, and so on, not to mention there are many internal differences e.g., Educational discourse differs depending on the its purpose and context e.g., teacher-learner discourse is different to, say, student-student discourse. Teacher-learner discourse could be based on power relationships and acknowledgement of authority whilst student-student discourses could emphasise learner empowerment and the impact of democratic classrooms.
I am beginning to align with the perspective of Julianne Cheek where in a paper titled, “At the margins? Discourse Analysis and Qualitative Research” the author argues that to understand discourse analysis is to effectively understand our own theoretical and philosophical positions because discourse analysis can effectively be placed within any theoretical or philosophical orientation. Julianna Cheek situates discourse analysis within Foucauldian Theory, Post Structualism, and Post Modernism; therefore, the author situates their discussions and applications of discourse analysis within those theoretical frameworks.
A while ago I came to the point where I do not consider myself a post structuralist or post modernist in relation to my own views of the phenomenon of interest and I have further acknowledged this through disagreeing with a quote by an author named Parker who in 1992 suggests that all objects of reality and perhaps reality itself is created by our own discourses and language. I find this a little difficult to accept within Educational circles because in a social learning situation where learners disagree, the person who disagrees with another’s claim needs to present an alternative claim and, ideally, some sort of evidence. Where has this evidence come from? If this evidence has come from an external source then it cannot be possibly suggested (from my current understanding) that evidence is constructed by our discourses and language because this evidence has a real, external existence and would exist independent of our own ideas and awareness of it. What might be more correct to suggest, possibly, is that it is not evidence that is constructed by the learners but the discourse and language that is contained within and surrounds the use of this particular piece of evidence in relation to a claim being made within the context of, for example, challenging another claim. Here you have important questions such as what is the relationship between evidence and claim? What is the nature of the evidence? What is the nature of the claim? What is the nature of the relationship? In what way is the other claim being opposed? What are the discourse and language structures being applied? In what way do these differ from person to person and from context to context? It’s a complex field and that’s just a basic example, from what I can currently understand!
It’s quite an idea to get your head around: to best understand discourse analysis is to best understand your own philosophical ideas, because it is your philosophical frameworks, both ontological and epistemological, that determines the way in which you frame your qualitative data and your framing of the way in which discourse can be and shall be analysed.
As I have discussed on this blog, I align more with a realist ontology than a relativist ontology (I’ve also hinted towards this in the previous section) and therefore I have difficulties in accepting definitions of discourse that suggest that reality itself is constructed by our discourses and language. I am developing my arguments and critiques of this but it suffices to say currently that perhaps in some cases it is not that the object itself is created by our discourses and language, but it is the meaning and interpretations that we apply to an object that is constructed by our language and discourse but that doesn’t mean that our discourse reflects the reality of it and that doesn’t mean that each account is equally true.
Another observation I have made in the literature is that some authors associate discourse analysis with Social Constructionism. I have talked about Social Constructionism briefly previously on this blog, and what I have found with the previous readings of Social Constructionism is that it does not necessarily align itself with a relativist ontology as some authors attempt to make out (remember though that papers and textbooks are usually written to align with an author’s conceptions of reality) but that it is ontologically neutral. I have to reread the literature on Social Constructionism again but from what I can remember and what I can remember writing about it, Social constructionism as an epistemology can work with varieties of realism as well as relativism. Whichever Social Constructionism is situated ontological depends on you and your conceptualisations of reality.
The philosophical concerns of discourse analysis appear to be very open for debate and therefore there does not appear to be any universally acceptable definition or philosophical positioning of Discourse Analysis. This very much depends on the understanding that you have of yourself and your own philosophical positioning.
This is all work in progress but I do feel that there is a place for Discourse Analysis in my research as it aligns now with the way I have been observing and exploring the data and my observations of Grounded Theory being able to capture what I have been observing. Whether or not I keep Grounded Theory and Graph Theory approach, and whether or not this research is going to be multi-method or mixed methods, depends entirely on the way that I can use discourse analysis, and the way in which it can complement other approaches. A blog post shall be written either soon or sometime in the future about my initial thoughts of the methodological thoughts of discourse analysis.
It’s a complex field!
‘till next time!
May 13, 2018
I was going to write a few blog posts this weekend to provide updates as to where I am, but then realised that I need to spend some time reflecting upon the recent changes that have happened since Easter to the research and to reflect upon the more immediate ideas that have come about during the past week.
Essentially, I am now making substantial changes to the function and content of the literature reviews. I feel that as I have thought and read further into the phenomenon of interest and the learning contexts within which it has been and can be situated, my previous ideas of the literature review have become disjointed. Whilst in the first chapter I have been able to discuss the link between society, culture, Education and specific technological contexts of social learning (ongoing task), I am starting to realise that some of these discussions could be better addressed in the second chapter. The first chapter is about that aforementioned relationship; therefore, what I can do is strengthen and extend existing discussions and debates about this relationship, whilst taking a lot of the specific technological learning context discussions and merge them with the technological discussions that have taken place in the second chapter, which revolves around concepts related specifically to the phenomenon of interest and the specific technological learning context of interest.
The problem with chapter two is that I think I am being too specific and perhaps should widen the discussions and therefore merge with sections of chapter one. I am not entirely fully sure in what way I shall be achieving this, and although I have some vision or plan this obviously needs to be further articulated. During the week I shall be planning out how I can merge sections of the two chapters together so I can properly form and define that distinctive nature, role and purpose of each chapter whilst making them relative to the research aims and objectives, and logically flow between each other. At the moment with my current approach I am not convinced I can fully elaborate and clearly relate the two chapters. As mentioned, I have a rough vision in my head but it’s going to take a while to work out the way in which this can be achieved. This is especially since I have come to realise that quite a large amount of literature and the different categories of literature that explores the phenomenon of interest in different ways that I thought were irrelevant are now actually relevant! The different sorts and kinds of literature that I have come to know as relevant now alters the layout and content of each chapter. I am also considering scrapping the third chapter that I have previously discussed on my blog, but I shall talk about this more in future blog posts.
As for the research design and the way I shall be exploring the phenomenon of interest, I feel this is going through a transition and as blog readers shall know, this started back at Easter but really, it’s been ongoing for a while. As I think about my data and the patterns I have been observing, and as I think about the purpose and function of my research and what I desire to achieve, my thinking about the research design is also changing. Grounded theory is still on the cards but I’m not sure the extent I can now use grounded theory to achieve what I want to achieve now compared to what I thought I wanted to achieve several months ago. Graph theory and sequence analysis are becoming more and more fascinating as they align with what I want to achieve, and other research methods I once thought were irrelevant have now become relevant to consider and critique either in conjunction with or even replace Grounded Theory completely.
Thinking about the research design more, I wonder if in the methodology chapter I should go all out and define the research design as emergent and therefore talk about how I have viewed and explored the data, and the way that my observations have led and is leading to a variety of different methods being considered and eventually adopted / adapted for context suitability. What I once thought was going to be understood through pure grounded theory approach many months ago is not turning out to be so; that what I am observing and investigating is more complex than I considered, but I have been cognitively and academically flexible enough to accept the possibility of this complexity and have been open enough to consider all possibilities. Now am I really at a point where I no longer believe that using just grounded theory is going to help me achieve what I really want to achieve and to best theorise about, provide a practical solution of, or both, the problem.
During the week I shall be reflecting on all of this, planning and visualising the way that I can merge certain sections of the literature reviews, and to begin to explore other methodological options. I shall also be coming out of the literature review phase soon and return to data analysis and the writing of the methodology chapters.
I shall be writing and reflecting on my blog during the week on all of this and possibly more, so blog readers might be interested in keeping a watch out for blog posts during the coming week!
May 06, 2018
Progress With The Literature Review
Since writing the previous blog post before Easter, most of the attention has been given to the second literature review chapter. This chapter has the purpose of documenting the exploration and critical analysis of the definitions, theoretical perspectives, philosophical and methodological considerations, and practical, empirical applications and findings of the specific social learning phenomenon of interest within various learning contexts. This is ongoing and continuous work.
Currently I am working on two sections of the literature review chapter. The first section refers specifically to the social learning phenomenon: the many definitions from various disciplines (sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.), its structure and its different kinds. Such discussions are then followed by discussions and critiques of its pedagogical uses and the way it has been applied and used within different learning contexts. This part of the section is currently being developed. The other section of the chapter discusses the many practical applications and methodological approaches of the phenomenon of interest within specific technologically enhanced learning contexts.
Both of these sections along with the third planned literature review chapter contain, and shall contain further developments of, extensive and intensive analytical critiques, discussions and engagements with the social learning phenomenon from both a general learning perspective outside of technological contexts, and from within technological learning contexts, with the critiques situated within various associated practical, pedagogical, methodological, theoretical and philosophical approaches.
A couple of things I have noticed with the second literature review chapter, which shall probably also be the case for the third, is that the structure is emerging as I write as opposed to following a strict pre-planned structure I previously constructed. This I am absolutely fine with because it is showing that I can identify and engage with constructs, ideas, empirical findings and theoretical discussions that I had not previously identified or thought of as relevant when I wrote the original plan. If I attempted to fit everything within the pre-planned structure I would severely limit myself as a reflective and critical reader, and would limit my ability to observe new ideas and connections between ideas. Writing a literature review should not render your ability to observe new ideas and new connections limited; writing a literature review really entails having an open mind because every time you read a new piece of literature or even reread a previous paper you are not only likely to make new observations, but are more than likely to make observations you had not previously made. Even recently, and something I am continuing to do, I have been returning to more literature that I thought was irrelevant. This is being driven by my continuous refinement of my conceptual understanding of the phenomenon of interest, and of the continuous refining of my contextual understanding of the phenomenon’s many applications and theoretical perspectives.
Secondly, I am starting to appreciate and value the use of tables within literature reviews to present a large volume of information that would arguably make my critiques and arguments of empirical literature and findings appear disjointed and difficult to read if presented as large reams of text and references. The tables consist of what could be classed as meta-information about the papers e.g., the author, the target discipline and population, pedagogical goals, research goals, etc. I am still constructing and completing the tables at this time, but I can visualise these tables as being useful reference points when I rewrite and further develop my critiques and arguments
Importantly and perhaps crucially, through creating these tables I am able to make further observations that I had not made before, and probably would not have made easily if I had not created these tables. Essentially, I can use these tables to store meta and contextual information of empirical literature without such information ‘getting in the way’ (so to speak) of the flow, logic, order and structure of my arguments and critiques. This should lead to a more complete analysis of the empirical findings, although the tables and information within shall be referenced in some way, and a way that does not disturb the logic and flow of argumentation that could otherwise have happened without the tables.
This is ongoing work and I am planning to spend most of the month continuing to refine, reread and rewrite the literature review sections (and perhaps move onto chapter three) before moving onto focussing more time on data analysis.
The new research design that I have been discussing recently has been approved, so as soon as I am happy with the literature review chapters (ha! Like that’ll happen!) I shall be moving onto reanalysing the data and analysing more data.
To recap, I have extended my grounded theory approach to include graph theory / network analysis. This shall involve converting or translating grounded theory findings into suitable graph form and then perform relevant numerical and possibly statistical analysis upon the graph where necessary. Although I have completed a series of diagrams that illustrate the way the design might work in theory, I won’t really know for sure till I go through each data analysis stage.
However, I do feel that this extended grounded theory approach is something that I feel is required and something that I feel addresses concerns that I have had over the past few months, based on what I have observed in the data in terms of the patterns that have been emerging. I feel that I can no longer simply limit myself to grounded theory to explain everything and provide a complete picture, because as mentioned previous blog posts I feel that grounded theory explains “what” is going on in the data, but from my current understanding does not properly or fully elaborate sequential or patterned observations. I might be wrong, but from all that I know, understand and have observed so far I feel that this is the correct approach, which I have been told is workable and justifiable.
There are other options that I am thinking about particularly case study methodology and mixed methods approach. In fact, I have just read a research paper prior to writing this post that explored a particular phenomenon of interest within a very similar technological learning context that adopted a case study approach, so that might be worth following up further. I am not sure if this is a mixed methods approach: it definitely contains a qualitative strand through grounded theory, but I am not sure if the inclusion of the graph theory / network analysis makes the project mixed methods or simply muilti-method. Mixed Methods is a very precise approach to research with its own methodological and theoretical approach to exploring, combining and explaining data in order to explore complex questions.
When I read through literature on mixed methods I can find that there are approaches and reasoning that are related to my project, but then I can also find some doubts that it is mixed methods. If anything, it might definitely not be mixed methods at the level of data collection methods (everything is coming from a single type of data) but is more likely to be mixed methods at the data analysis level.
I am not entirely sure at this time about the inclusion of case study and mixed methods but these are ideas I have been flirting about with for a couple of years or so. I am keeping a very open mind about the design: I have to be, since the research design is emergent in nature, as this design as emerged through making certain observations in the data. Therefore, when I come to analysing further data it might be identified that a case study approach is appropriate. It is challenging, yet fascinating!
Thanks for reading. Have a lovely bank holiday weekend UK readers!
‘till next time!