All entries for August 2018
August 10, 2018
My gosh, that was a manic week! Focussed on the rewriting and restructuring of the literature review and the thesis more generally. Through the chaos and deep thinking of the new role of the literature review, and dealing with the, at times, feelings of being overwhelmed (trust me, I’d rather be overwhelmed with ideas than be underwhelmed with no ideas), clarity has just started to come through.
I feel more confident and happier now with the new and continuously developing structure of the literature review and the thesis more generally. I feel that now I am beginning to structure the thesis that reflects the nature of a thematic research design, and my Ph.D. experience so far in general. I have discussed the thematic research design in some detail in previous blog posts.
If I were to offer a single word that characterises the new structure of the thesis, it would be: “comparisons.”
I have learnt that to attempt to write as a high calibre thesis as possible, it is not just about critiques, reflections, situating your own research, presenting and evaluating research design and presenting and discussing findings and their applications (in a nutshell) but it’s also about comparisons. By this, I mean, using my experiences of thinking about different philosophies, of using different methodologies and methods as a basis of writing reflective, reflexive and critical comparisons that build towards philosophical and methodological arguments for the research design.
Use the comparisons as a basis upon which critical and reflective thought can be developed, along with where you can clearly evidence, present, demonstrate and show progress in your understanding and deepening knowledge and skills as a researcher.
This is something that has struck me a while ago, particularly when I understood the value of comparing different methods and methodologies. The value lies in using the thesis as a means of charting, highlighting and documenting the development of how my understanding has developed over the years.
A thesis in this sense might, among its many roles, play the role of a historical document. It could be considered a document that guides the reader through how you have come to your philosophical, methodological, and methods selections, and the justifications and arguments that you present, through examining and analysing the comparisons that have taken place.
These comparisons could be at the philosophical level, methodological level, methods level, data source level, and also comparing different types of findings the same phenomena within different types of literature.
It is no wonder I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed……..
But that’s the way a Ph.D. is and that’s the way I like to progress!
What of the thesis now? I have now divided the thesis into two main parts. The first part deals with the introduction chapter and the literature review chapter and combined I am allocating around 30,000 words. My literature review, when all the notes I have dotted around are combined, comes to about 20,000 words but this is in the process of being completely rewritten and restructured with a new purpose and new functions for my research project. This is work in progress and I will probably talk a little more about this soon. It suffices to say that in order to make way for a lot of new ideas and inclusions I am dropping a fair number of planned discussions that I consider are no longer relevant or needed for understanding my research.
During the past week, and shall be continued for a while, I have been going through the literature review chapters and notes dotted around to decide what I am going to keep, to decided what is to be kept and amended, and to restructure in order to add in new, relevant discussion points.
Sometimes when writing the literature review it is just a case of trying out different presentation approaches e.g., tables, in order to save space. Tables are really useful because they can help to cut down on repeatable information and can help present information more concisely but with the same meaning; or even enhanced, depending on the way the table is constructed.
The other 50,000 words of the thesis represent the real meat and beast of the thesis. I have expanded this section by about 15,000 words in order to accommodate new chapter ideas. Working out the structure, and obviously the content, is work in progress. Currently though, the idea is to write: a methodology based literature review (this would involve the comparison and critique of different coding schemes and approaches the phenomenon of interest ); the comparisons between different approaches to analysing the same type of data at the philosophical, methodological and methods level; the Ph.D. research design itself, and then chapters and sections referring to different themes, the coding scheme itself, and its application in learning contexts. Not to mention the inclusion of more critiques of literature within certain parts in order to verify and validate the developing themes and to discuss the way that existing published themes can be developed further.
This big section of the thesis came about from many reasons, some of which occurred as I began to write about my methodology. These reason include: the need to be reflexive, the need to fully and elaborately document the way in which the new coding scheme is being developed, the way in which phenomenon data can be explored, and also the need to include methods of verifying and validating themes. There are many other reasons but these are the core reasons. I shall talk about each of them in time!
Everything is a work in progress. Sometimes you might feel completely overwhelmed but as I said earlier it is better to be overwhelmed with continuingly new, developing ideas than be underwhelmed with no ideas at all. Keep writing, keep experimenting, keep thinking, and keep going!
‘till next time!
August 03, 2018
The main output of my research shall now be a new coding scheme designed and developed to assist with the analysis of social learning processes, with the potential to move towards contributing thematic, conceptual and possible theoretical understanding of the phenomena of interest. The development process of this coding scheme (the data analysis process) has been inspired by writers of thematic analysis and grounded theory. The coding scheme’s development process (the actual development of the coding scheme) questions some aspects of existing ways in which to develop coding schemes. Sub stages of development are being proposed and shall possibly continue to be proposed as I go through the phases of analysis.
That, folks, is basically the nutshell take away conclusion of the past couple of weeks where I have completed another full round of coding the data and taking a break from coding in order to deeply reflect on my research purpose, objectives, direction, and research design. Phew! There is clarity in the world of organised chaos!
Reflecting on my journey of the Ph.D. so far, I have experimented with and thought about various types of analytical approaches related to exploring the phenomenon of interest, and have thought deeply about the type of data source from a philosophical perspective. E.g., what can I know about the phenomenon from this type of data source? In what way is this data source different to other data sources regarding what can be known? What knowledge can potentially be revealed about the phenomenon from this data source? What can I use to extract this knowledge from this data source? What are the differences between different methods of extracting knowledge both in general and related to the data source? What would different methodologies and methods tell me? What best fits the research questions, research problem, research objectives, and research context in general? In what way can my philosophical beliefs determine what I can know? What are the limits of my knowing? What limits are placed upon my knowing? Do I need to overcome these limits to know more? If so, in what way could this be achieved? And so on and so on.
All these questions have led to various different answers e.g., through comparing different methods and methodologies regarding the questions of what I can know, what can be known, and what can be known and revealed from the data source about the phenomenon of interest. And this I shall be explaining and exploring in great detail in the thesis!
When you are developing a coding scheme, establishing a time frame can be difficult. You might have identified the stages and sub stages of coding scheme development, but it’s fairly impossible to determine a time frame. This is because developing codes from the actual data, developing categories from the codes, developing themes from the categories (this is a broad, typical process of coding scheme development), and writing the methodology chapter are all performed pretty much concurrently.
As you are thinking about the codes that reflect different events and activities of your data, you are thinking about the ways in which similar coded data could be categorised. In turn, you begin to think more abstractly and more theoretically about the way in which categories can be related and placed defined into themes. Themes are the broadest, most abstract, and most theoretical constructions of the coding process, and they explain the data as a whole related to the phenomenon of interest and the way in which you want to explore the phenomenon of interest.
As you can therefore imagine, coding data with the intentions of developing categories and / or themes is not a linear process. Not to mention, every single stage involves writing lots of theoretical memos, which capture your thoughts, theories, assumptions, hypotheses, questions, queries and ponderings of the data, code, category, or theme (and relations within and between codes, categories, and themes).
As a result of all of what I have discussed, the focus of the thesis on the latter chapters (the methodology chapters and the subsequent chapters dealing with discussions of what has been found) is on the qualitative process of coding, category development, and thematic development. At a rough guess this might come anywhere between thirty thousand to forty thousand words of the thesis though perhaps more. I shall talk about the process of writing a qualitative thesis within the context of developing coding schemes in future blog posts.
The research, therefore, has moved away from generating a new theory (as was proposed originally via the use of Grounded Theory) towards developing a new coding scheme, with the intentions of developing and extending existing themes of understanding, and create where necessary new themes, regarding the phenomenon of interest.
The qualitative research field is additionally awash with limitless debates about the ontological, epistemological and methodological levels of interacting with qualitative methods and qualitative approaches. I am not kidding here: recently I have come across many different perspectives and arguments regarding a single approach to sampling for qualitative research, and have also come across many, many arguments for and against and perspectives on qualitative control criteria particularly around the terms “validity,” “reliability,” and, “generalisability.”
I intend on engaging with debates and discussions as every level and every stage of qualitative research.
And that, folks, is what happened in a nutshell during the past couple of weeks since the previous update!
‘till next time!