All entries for September 2018
September 06, 2018
Before taking some time off I shall be reflecting on the given time period. It has certainly been a period of change for the research directions, research questions, research design and the thesis structure.
As I have said before, Ph.D. research goes through seasons of change in almost like a domino effect where changes to one aspect lead to changes in another. In the case of this research within this time period, slight alterations to research directions came as a result of what I was beginning to observe in the data. What I was observing in the data became incompatible with grounded theory and therefore, there was a need to alter the research design and, subsequently, the structure of the thesis. I do not need to talk about these changes in this post as they have been talked about extensively throughout the blog, so feel free to refer to blog posts from March to now to find methodological discussions.
On reflection, I had doubted grounded theory somewhat for a while but I thought that I might have been misunderstanding its use within the context of my research. However as I questioned the relationship between grounded theory and symbolic interactionism, the more I found symbolic interaction as a theoretical framework incompatible with my research.
I attempted to separate grounded theory from symbolic interactionism. Initially I thought it would work, but then I started to become aware of and interested in other data characteristics that I became interested in further but were realised to be incompatible with any version of grounded theory. Eventually I came to realise that the best way to approach the exploration of the phenomenon of interest in the context of the research questions and objectives is to merge various concepts and aspects of different analytical methods together. This shall obviously need careful examination, evaluation, critique and explanations in the thesis.
These academic challenges have led to what I believe shall be a stronger thesis in terms of its breadth, depth and scope of evidencing the need for the research and the need for the way in which I am carrying out this research. I am in a more comfortable and confident position now with the Ph.D. research, but never complacent. Although I have changed methodologies, methods and ideas several times through intellectual engagement with the literature and with the data (this shall be discussed in the thesis), I feel that my research is now in a stronger position.
After time away from the Ph.D., during the next few months up to Christmas I plan to return to the data analysis, whilst writing the research design chapter concurrently particularly the section on detailing comprehensively the process of developing the coding scheme and the themes. I really believe that it is beneficial to write sections of the methodology chapter and carry out data analysis concurrently. I feel that I can detail the process more at the time of going through the stages and phases of data analysis, instead of trying to remember what I did after the process is complete.
There is no doubt I shall be continuing to write about my data analysis experiences on here, and, of course, to a greater detail in the thesis!
‘till next time!
Within qualitative theses, more so than the research design chapter, the findings chapters are impossible to plan from the beginning because the chapters are derived from the data, and not from existing theoretical constructs. More appropriately perhaps it is best to say that the chapters are the products of well grounded, verified and validated interpretations of what is happening in the data relative to the research questions, and which eventually leads to the development of codes, categories and themes.
The findings chapters have obviously not been planned or structured yet, although I have written and continue to write extensive theoretical notes about what I observe in the data and the way in which different codes are being formed (in the tune of the where, how, when, where, and why questions). Eventually I shall be writing theoretical notes about the development of categories and themes, although in some sense I have begun writing about them because, due to the integrated nature of qualitative research, development of codes, categories and themes are not isolated phases. They are integrative, interconnected phases: as you code the data and observe similarities and differences between similarly coded data segments, you become aware of a potential category or theme. This awareness, therefore, leads to the production of notes about the potential category or theme. The production of these notes continues through every phase and stage of the data analysis through to writing the formal findings chapters.
I am using the plural expression here because it is expected that there shall be multiple chapters, with each chapter referring to a particular theme. Each chapter shall detail what the theme is, the way it has been constructed, its theoretical constructs, and the validation and verification process. This process involves comparing the construction and concepts of the theme to relative, published findings not only to verify and validate the theme but to also discover any possibilities of contributing to existing discussions relative to the theme e.g., through discussing the way that my theme differs from other similarly identified themes. Perhaps this could also present opportunities to merge themes, or to perhaps help towards building a united understanding between similarly defined themes. The creative opportunities are potentially limitless.
Each theme chapter shall also discuss relations with other themes found in the data, eventually leading to a thematic map of the phenomenon of interest, which could be given a separate chapter. I am guessing that either each theme chapter or the thematic map chapter shall additionally contain explanations about the way in which categories (which are a level down from themes) combined to form a theme, as well as the associated codes and data segments.
There are other chapters of the findings being considered and this includes a chapter referring to any quantitative findings and other chapters referring to other aspects of the phenomenon of interest. I am not able to decide for sure on the findings chapters until I have finished with qualitative data analysis (coding scheme, its validation, and the development of categories and themes). It is this aspect that shall drive any other need for further data analysis. I have plans in place, but not able to confirm till I have gone through the qualitative process.
I do aim, however, to have made further substantial process of data analysis and associated writings of the potential findings chapters by Christmas!
This is the chapter that shall describe, explain, evaluate and critique the development of my new approach (coding scheme) of exploring the phenomenon of interest. The chapter shall also describe and explain the development and application phases of the coding scheme and the way in which categorical and thematic development took place. Therefore, the chapter prior to this deals with a variety of research designs that were tested, whilst this research design chapter deals with the research design that was actually used in the Ph.D. project.
This chapter is a continuous, ongoing and progressive document because it is being written at the same time as data is being analysed. With a quantitative research project the typical process is to write the research design chapter first before carrying out data analysis, but with the qualitative analysis I am finding that I am writing the research design chapter and performing data analysis concurrently. It depends on preferences: some people might like to write their methodological chapters before carrying out the research whilst others might write their chapters afterwards. But with me, I’m writing the chapter as I progress through the phases and stages of data analysis. For me, it makes sense to write about each stage and phase as I encounter each of them because, as I would be engaging with that phase or stage at the time, I can fully elaborate and explain the processes I used within that particular phase or stage.
Because the chapter is work in progress, the structure of the chapter has not been finalised although I have a rough outline of the chapter in place. These include sections that discusses, evaluates, critiques and explores my philosophical beliefs and my personal background (interests, beliefs, experiences, knowledge prior to the Ph.D., etc.), and their possible impact on the development of the coding scheme and categorical and theme development (a process called ‘Researcher Reflexivity’). The outline also includes sections that discuss the methodology and the data collection and analysis methods.
I feel that I have made fair progress with this chapter. I have written lots and lots of notes about my beliefs, experiences, philosophies, my critiques and use of methodology, methods etc. and continue to do so. It’s becoming a matter soon to simply knit these sections together to form the chapter, and work out what I need to develop next. What I am focussing on currently, however, is comprehensively detailing and explaining how I am analysing the data; the phases and stages of data analysis that shall result in the new coding scheme and the identification and development of themes. The writing of this section, obviously, shall continue for as long as data analysis continues.
Lots of editing and rewriting to do, obviously, but I think on the whole I have wrote a considerable amount but shall need to knit the sections together after the data analysis process. That way, I can observe where I need to go next with the research design chapter. Writing the chapter especially the specific data analysis section at the same time as carrying out the data analysis has, however, helped tremendously with documenting with precision and accuracy exactly what I am doing, where, when, how, and why.
A Ph.D. is a continuous journey of exploration, critique, evaluation and questioning. It is a critical, reflective, evaluative, and analytical engagement with reality, with self-knowledge and understanding, and the knowledge that exists in published literature. If you take the Ph.D. and your research seriously enough, these intellectual investigations can extend beyond the Ph.D.
The key fact to remember is that a Ph.D. does not represent the conclusion of your research, but represents the beginning: it lays the groundwork of your publishing interests, and the disciplinary fields within which you desire to explore and contribute further. It involves the contribution or invention of something new, with potential opportunities to expand upon this contribution and invention through post-doctoral opportunities. Whatever is created during the Ph.D., for example a theory or model, can be situated within different philosophical, theoretical and technological contexts with a variety of different participants. This would lead to evidencing the authenticity, validity, verifiability, transportability, and usefulness of the theory or model. Subsequent explorations beyond the Ph.D. can even lead to amendments and adjustments to your theory or model, and even extensions and specific versions designed for particular contexts and circumstances. This existing journey of research and development is a nuanced experience and you cannot really, fully predict where it shall go with any sense of certainty and accuracy.
With qualitative research in particular, questions and research directions related to the phenomenon of interest can and do change, therefore it can take a long time before you are settled on a particular set of questions and directions. This could be misconceived or misinterpreted as you not knowing what you are doing or that you keep changing your mind flippantly. This is a complete misconception of qualitative research, because when a qualitative researcher changes direction they do so intellectually.
Change to directions and questions come not as a result of hunches or emotions, but as a result of an intellectual engagement with the data, with interpretations of this data, and literature. It takes time to really understand the “layered” existence of data and the many ways in which data could be observed and perceived, and should be observed and perceived in a way that aligns with your broader, general research interests and objectives.
The very essence of engaging with qualitative research is that directions and questions change over time, and if this is intellectually justified, elaborated and explained with each change then you are evidencing and tracking your learning and development. These changes can be justified through these reflections and observations in the thesis. Intellectual justifications, elaborations and explanations are constructed as you deepen your understanding and appreciation of the complexity of the reality that the data represents.
Deepening your understanding of the data arguably occurs if you are given the time to investigate various ways in which data can be analysed and not simply accept the first approach you come across as most suitable just because it has been used most often used in existing empirical literature. The most often used methodology, approach, etc. is not always the most suitable for your own research context. Invest your time in thinking about what is really correct, what isn’t correct, and if any sense of correctness could actually be achieved (without your research project collapsing in on itself and fall into relativism!).
It is through what has been discussed so far that eventually led to the construction of the methodological literature review.
Essentially, this chapter is the narrative of how my research has evolved over the four or five years of thinking about the research issues, experimenting with different analytical methods, experimenting with different philosophical theories, and contemplating and reflecting deeply upon different methodologies. Questions related to these issues are ongoing and will no doubt stretch beyond the Ph.D. (might be important to note unanswered questions in your thesis: that way you can address them at the VIVA examination and also show ambition and commitment to post-doctoral opportunities).
But as it is, this chapter begins to tell the narrative of the development of my approach, the way that my approach differs from others relative to the objectives of research explorations of the phenomenon of interest, and the way that my approach could possibly complement other approaches.
The approach that I am developing did not come to me immediately, nor was the approach based on the first set of ideas and answers that I had when attempting to align research design with research issues and initial research questions. It has taken years of reading existing literature, of comparing and evaluating existing theories and models, of understanding how and where these theories and models have been applied, and of understanding the general context of their application and of critiques that exist regarding their effectiveness and usefulness. Reading and evaluation of these theories are ongoing though more now with the aim of justifying and evidencing the need for the new approach to exploring the phenomenon of interest.
The feature of this chapter is the exploration, comparison, evaluation, and critiquing of the philosophies, methodologies and analytical methods that I have tested against the data, research issues and evolving research questions in order to find the most suitable approach to exploring the phenomenon of interest. Philosophies include realism, constructivism, relativism, interpretivism, and constructionism. Methodologies to be included are mixed methods and qualitative. Analytical methods include a variety of discourse analyses, grounded theory approaches, content analysis, and thematic analysis. From these evaluations and critiques, a picture begins to build that explains the way that my approach to exploring the phenomenon of interest has been constructed. Full elaboration of my approach shall take place in the Research Design chapter.
This is going to be a big chapter, and is a reason why the literature reviews had to be changed to make space!
September 05, 2018
A literature review chapter has been dropped whilst the other two planned literature reviews have been completely redesigned and have been given new purposes. I shall discuss the first literature chapter in this blog and in the second, I shall discuss the second literature review chapter.
The changes to the literature review chapters are as a result of greatly expanding the scope and purpose of the research design chapter. I shall discuss the research design chapter in a later blog post, but here it suffices to say that the research design chapter has changed in order to address the need for qualitative research theses to go into much greater detail of methodologies and methods and to explain the role of the researcher’s biography and background knowledge in constructing the interpretations and analysis of data. The process of explaining my role and the way in which my biography has influenced the research findings is known as ‘researcher reflexivity.’ I am currently planning this to be extensive and comprehensive, and, therefore, the literature reviews had to change.
As some of you longer term readers might know, at the beginning of the year I was going to delve into discussions about the relationship between society, culture and Education. These discussions would have paved the way for discussions about technology and their use in society and culture eventually getting round to their use in Education. Some of these discussions are being shifted to the Introduction section to give the research context a wider perspective and therefore have been dropped from the main literature reviews, whilst some of the other planned discussion points have been dropped completely to save space. The topics that were dropped were deemed to be the least relevant topics.
The first literature review, therefore, has been rewritten completely and leans now towards the idea of comparisons. The chapter offers critical evaluations and comparisons of explorations of the phenomenon of interest across different technological contexts. These comparisons are being used to justify the use and appropriateness of this research’s technological context relative to the phenomenon of interest, and the research’s aims, objectives, and outcome intentions. The use of tables is appropriate here, as each table contains details about the findings of relevant comparative, empirical literature. These findings from each table have been and continue to be compared across each table in order to identify patterns, similarities and differences. From these patterns, similarities and differences, comparisons and associated discussions can be made.
Tables are effective at presenting large amounts of empirical information, and efficient at being able to assist with a variety of comparisons and pattern identification within existing literature. The use of tables within the literature review process affords important and extensive learning opportunities including the development of analytical skills through comparing tables and forming observations of data patterns across the tables, and developing synthesis skills that enable the learner to synthesise large amounts of published findings.
Theory is an important topic of discussion in terms of its position and role not just in the research design but also in the position of theoretical discussions in the thesis. My main concern at the moment is, if I discussed, critiqued, evaluated and compared theories in the literature review I would be giving the impression of having a deductive approach. A deductive approach to understanding the phenomenon of interest means that an existing theory or model would be tested against the collected data, therefore requiring extensive examination of existing theories in the literature review. From my understanding, a qualitative approach typically does not use a deductive method and, therefore, testing theories is not an aim of qualitative research.
Instead, qualitative research aims to construct theories, models, schemes or frameworks from the data; or, arguably more precisely, derives from our verified and validated interpretations of what is happening in the data. This would be using an inductive approach, or a retroductive / abductive approach. The discussions of theories, other models etc. shall take place in later chapters, particularly in the findings chapters where a role of each chapter is to verify and validate themes.
The structure of the literature review is complete in terms of the sections and topics that I want to discuss, although the actual content is still work in progress. Where sections need further development, I have used footnotes to inform and remind myself of the direction of section development, for example in terms of developing ideas, developing arguments, and the way to increase section cohesion, consistency and coherence. A handy tip here, therefore, is to use footnotes to document any thoughts or ideas that you might have to push the development of a section further. If, for example, a particular sentence or paragraph captured a thought that I want to develop further, I would describe such development opportunities in the associated footnote. Using footnotes in this way makes the draft cleaner and more coherent, as well as making everything flow more logically and clearly, and helps to clearly indicate which idea is to be specifically improved or developed in a way that had been described in the footnote.
The content is still work in progress but I am happier with the structure and the way it is now panning out.
That’s the latest updates for the first literature review chapter!
I have altered the thesis structure several times relative to the research design. I have come to understand over the years that research design is not driven by the thesis: the thesis, its structure, its content and layout is guided by the research design. Quantitative, Mixed Methods and Qualitative research designs all influence the structure and ordering of the thesis in various ways.
I have thought about Mixed Methods and Qualitative theses given that I have been fascinated by both research designs. But now I am focussed on qualitative as the main component of the research, with quantitative analysis involved as deemed necessary, but as a smaller component that complements the qualitative.
It could almost be argued that in some way, quantitative data shall be embedded in a bigger qualitative project in order to provide a broader and more detailed picture of what is happening with the phenomenon of interest within the research context. I am not sure if this could be classed as mixed methods though. I would call it multi-method, because the collected data would serve both quantitative and qualitative and the quantitative analysis would be based on qualitative findings. Multi-method means multiple methods of, for example, data analysis used in the same methodological paradigm, in this case qualitative. It could still be a mixed methods approach but an embedded approach, but I shall have to think about this more. That said though, Mixed Methods is a continuously evolving methodological field with continuous potential for new contributions of creativity, innovation, possibility and lots of debates. Either way, the qualitative provides the framework within which the thesis is being developed, given that the qualitative side of the Ph.D. is considered the largest aspect.
Anyway, the the following thesis structure is now in place:
Introduction: this is going to be a chapter that shall be formally written last. This chapter shall simply introduce the research problem, research context, research issues, the need and value of the research, the research questions, research aims and objectives, research outcomes, and who the research is intending to benefit.
Literature Review, Setting The Scene: this chapter sets the scene and the key outcome of this chapter is to justify why a particular technological context is being used relative to the problems, questions etc. introduced in the introductory chapter. This involves evaluating and comparing each context relative to the phenomenon of interest. I am also attempting to engage with discussion and debate about terminology, and to provide my own definitions of different terms relative to the technological context, and attempt to address ambiguity and conflation.
Methodology Literature Review: this is a critical and analytical evaluation and comparison of different philosophies, theories, coding schemes, methodologies, and methods used to explore the phenomenon of interest within contexts very similar to the Ph.D. research. Additionally, the chapter shall report on the testing, evaluation, comparisons and critiques of different research methods in order to justify the most suitable approach to the research project. The actual approach used for the research project shall be described, explained, evaluated, critiqued and tested in the research design chapter.
Research Design: provides a full elaboration the research design phases including full details on the philosophies, methodology, methods and approaches that made up the design. The chapter shall also consist of design evaluations and shall comprehensively relate every part of the design to the research context, issues, problems, outcomes and questions. There shall also be a full discussion on the way in which the coding scheme and the themes were developed, tested, verified, clarified and validated.
Following the design there shall be chapters dedicated to discussing the coding scheme in more detail, as well as discussing identified categories and themes, and their interrelationships. Also as and where necessary there shall be chapters associated with thematic maps, and any quantitative analysis that takes place. It’s difficult to plan these chapters out though, because the chapter structure and content emerges from the data and not emerge from pre-existing theories and models. Hence, the structure and content of these later chapters are continuously emerging from the data analysis. There shall also be a chapter or a section of a chapter revolving around the application of theory in practice.
That’s the thesis at this time! Next are blog posts that cover a couple of the initial thesis chapters: the literature reviews.
Since writing the previous blog post back in early August, I have focussed on restructuring and rewriting the literature review sections, and have adjusted the scope of the literature as well as collected and analysed further literature. Thoughts and arguments within the literature review have been reconstructed and extended.
The literature review now has a beginning, middle and concluding structure, and this is the structure I intend to use for each chapter though written in a way that the introduction connects with the conclusion of the previous chapter, and the conclusion section leads into the introduction of the next chapter. All the sections in the literature review are interconnected: they might refer to different topics, but these topics are related in a way that logically, coherently, consistently and cohesively constructs thoughts, ideas, arguments and perspectives.
Unsurprisingly, as with everything at postgraduate level it is not quite black and white. With all Ph.D. theses, every chapter should also be referencing the first chapter: the introduction, where the research context, issues, problems and questions shall be presented and discussed. Referencing the first chapter gives each chapter situatedness, context, a framework for the chapter discussions, and a guide whilst allowing for open mindedness, flexibility, originality, creativity and innovation. Each chapter, therefore, needs to state the way in which it addresses research problems, context, purposes or questions, or a mixture if necessary.
With qualitative research where themes are to be developed, each chapter is related to each identified theme. The theme chapters are expected to adopt some sort of network structure where every chapter relates to and cross references each other. I shall probably discuss this more at a later time.
Effectively, the literature review has been completed for now! The next round of edits shall take place before Christmas or at some point early next year.
The thesis has been structured to an extent. I say to an extent because it is impossible to plan chapters related to findings within a qualitative research project because essentially the structure and content of these chapters are led by observations in the data and the framework and themes that emerge from the data. The structure leans toward the qualitative nature of thesis structure production, as shall be discussed more in a future blog post.
Unchanged at the philosophical level (essentially, moderate realism ontology with an interpretivist epistemology), though the methodology has changed from mixed methods, to grounded theory, and to now more general qualitative methodology with the potential for some quantitative data to be embedded within it. The quantitative data would be used to complement and support the qualitative and perhaps be used to further evidence some of the claims made from the qualitative observations and thematic development.
Regardless of the quantitative, it is the qualitative that drives and dictates the research and, therefore, drives and dictates the structure of the thesis.
Data analysis appears to be leaning towards a mixture of concepts and processes from thematic analysis (particularly the aspect on developing themes), grounded theory (such as constant comparisons, maximising variance, open coding features, and theoretical sampling), and retroductive / abductive reasoning. The relationship between these approaches and the way they have been and are going to be used shall be explained in the thesis and discussed on here when appropriate.