All entries for December 2015

December 11, 2015

Planning for the next few months!

Well this is about the final blog post for the year! Well that’s the plan anyway but given that I could come up with a potential blog post discussion at any time I will probably post up more anyway, I can’t really predict it and I shall not fight any opportunity to post up my ideas, but regardless at the moment I do not have any plans to post up anymore this year.

So then, all the scheduled formal plans and activities of the year have been completed and have gone further with things than I originally planned, and this is something that I am very pleased with because I can now move the project forward onto the next phase as has been discussed and confirmed by a conversation I had with my supervisor, sooner than I had expected. I have written a schedule for next year and have written a detailed schedule for the next few months up to Easter but as I have experienced in the past there is little point in making extensive long term plans because plans can change depending on the efficiency of completing particular tasks at particular times. But regardless, planning is important so that you can have a guide as to where you are going and place priorities on upcoming tasks and activities.

So, the next step really is to intensify Philosophical, Ontological and Methodological thinking. Now that I know what methodology shall be used along with the methods, I can now intensify thinking specific to them and their specific application within my own research. This will be an academic challenge as I will be going to levels of thinking that I have probably never reached before, but in order to progress and proceed and develop ourselves as individuals we need to take that leap of faith and go for it. This shall contribute towards the completion of the Literature Review and Methodological chapters of the thesis. This will obviously go beyond Easter but the important thing is to engage with this more intensified level of thinking as early as is possible.

The other next step is to think about the practical issues of the research and in this case: what is the specific context of the research or in other words what are the participants, what shall be their characteristics, what shall be their interests and in what way shall I engage with them and in what way shall I encourage them to take part in the research? Additionally, what technology shall be the focus, and in what way will they be used? Will they be used to compare certain learning processes between different groups of learners? Will they be used to compare different learning characteristics between different technologies? Some of this I have worked out and some of this I have not. Current ideas were presented to the supervisor and he was happy with them but obviously they need more elaboration. I have had more ideas about the context specifics following the discussion that I had with him earlier, so shall confirm these ideas with him at a later time!

The other key next step is basically develop a better understanding of the methodological issues surrounding the methods and methodology of the research: reliability, verifiability, validity, generalisability, and work out the ways in which each of these, and more, shall be mitigated and managed, along with, for example, the way that the issues identified in a particular method can be mitigated through using other methods that are proposed.

Another plan for up to next Easter is to begin thinking about the conference paper. Warwick University has a post graduate research conference yearly, and at the next conference I plan to present a conference paper with the intention of trying to turn it into a full on research paper at a later time. The conference paper shall be based on the questionnaire method that I am developing, which I have the belief of being quite unique and original but shall have to do some more literature searching and investigating before I can really say that my questionnaire is unique. Plus, I’ll be redesigning the questionnaire as well.

Those along with considering the structure of the Upgrade paper are the key tasks for the months leading up to Easter, and of course beyond but by Easter I’ll have a better idea of what I can complete up to the later summer months.

Lots to do but in the meantime I’m now on a Christmas holiday! I have literature to search for but there shall be no intensive thinking sessions or beginning of any new tasks till after Christmas. I might post up a couple more blog posts during the smaller literature search tasks if I feel inspired to do so, but I don’t formally plan to do so. But then, when has research and idea development ever followed a formal time frame?

Hoping you have all enjoyed my blog posts during the past few months and during the past year. If I do not post on here again till next year, hoping you all have a Merry Christmas / Solstice / Yule / Pancha Ganapati / Hanukkah / whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year, and have a wonderful New Year!

‘till next time, be good, else Santa won’t deliver you any presents!

Brief reflection of the past year

It’s that time of the year where I begin to wind down and begin to reflect upon what I have achieved, and I think I can safely say, in conjunction with the meeting I have just had with my supervisor, that the past year, indeed ever since I started the Ph.D. has been a success. Of course there will be many issues to tackle as I intensify thinking about the Philosophical, Ontological, and Methodological aspects and issues of the research, and there are issues that I have discussed on here and documented elsewhere, but it’s brilliant that these have been identified early in the research process.

Despite ongoing battles with Ontological and Philosophical thinking in terms of the way that qualitative and quantitative data can be properly integrated within a Grounded Theory context, the Methodological and Methods aspects have been sorted. The methodological context shall deal with both qualitative and quantitative data, with qualitative data being dealt with by Grounded Theory and its inherent coding analysis techniques (the use of some of which are debatable: need to explore this further next year), whilst the questionnaire shall deal with both qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative data within the questionnaire shall be analysed using coding analysis (possibly line by line coding as used within Constructivist Grounded Theory) and quantitative data shall be dealt with using descriptive statistical analysis and analytical methods that are used to explore correlations and links among various variables. The problem here at the moment is that it’s quite difficult to ascertain which analytical methods to use without viewing the actual data, according to a Professor that I spoke to a couple of years ago. The deciding of the specific context also depends on the context e.g., the use of ANOVA requires the comparison of multiple contexts within the research. It is unknown at this time precisely whether or not there is a need to compare any contexts, but ideas about this are forming and should be finalised before next Easter. But either way, I feel that my understanding of all this has definitely improved since beginning the Ph.D. and obviously there will always be room to learn more!

Having decided upon the methodology very recently the other key aspect has been developing the structure and ordering the content of the literature review. Back earlier this year I did decide upon a type of literature review approach known as a “Critical Interpretive Analysis,” but because I have decided to use Grounded Theory as the overall methodology this was no longer an option. This is because Critical Interpretive Analysis generates a theoretical model of investigation built from the literature and experimented with the data but this is something that is not really compatible with a Grounded Theory approach. Therefore I reverted to my original literature review structure and content ordering developed during the previous year, and placed it within the context of a Grounded Theory study. I think this will work: a lot of effort, but I think this will work.

The other key success this year has been the conference: a really enjoyable, fascinating experience presenting my research poster and discussing it, and to be told from people a couple of years into their Ph.Ds. that it actually inspired them. It’s moments like that that itself inspire you to continue with what you are doing, and to know that what you are doing is not a waste of time or effort. You wonder sometimes if anything you do really is worth all that effort, but it’s moments like at the conference that really inspire you into continuing and pursuing what it is you really want to do. That really was a key moment very early into the Ph.D. and it has encouraged me to present again at next year’s conference, but to push towards presenting a conference paper about a certain aspect of my methodology.

I could say so much more, but I don’t need to. The key successes of this past year have been the conference, the deciding upon the methodology, and the deciding upon the structure and content ordering of the literature review. Much still to do with regards to these aspects particularly fully developing an understanding of the methodology, the methods, compatibility issues, methodological issues and so on, but these will be dealt with and detailed appropriately in the thesis. It all takes time and the key thing to remember on any learning journey is if you do not understand something immediately then never give up. I never gave up understanding the purpose and role of the literature review within a Grounded Theory context and yes that was a challenge, but I did it.

And yes, it will be a challenge to understand and deal with the Philosophical and Methodological problems of combining or integrating qualitative and quantitative data, but I shall do it, and I will work it all out. It will just take time, and probably some head banging against the keyboard, but it will all be worked out.

‘till next time, try not to bang your head too hard on the keyboard!

December 09, 2015

Grounded Theory: possibly Relativist? Combination of various Philosophical perspectives?

I’ve been thinking further recently about Philosophical considerations of the Grounded Theory methodology and previously I mentioned about the possibility of combining or in some way integrating different Philosophical perspectives. Reality can be considered from a couple of main umbrella perspectives. There are perspectives that define reality as existing independent of the mind and the thoughts of the observer, and there are perspectives that define reality as dependent on the mind and the thoughts of the observer. What this means from a pure Philosophical or Ontological perspective is whether or not there really is an objective reality out there, or whether or not reality is simply something that we imagine and build for ourselves. From a methodological perspective, this has implications upon the choice of methodology and methods that are used to explore reality and to gain knowledge of that reality. Interpretivism, Constructivism and Relativism are Philosophical perspectives that describe reality as being dependent on the mind; of the thoughts that exist within the mind and the way in which these thoughts and other mental processes are used to develop a picture of the reality that the observer finds themselves in.

Grounded Theory enables the researcher to construct a theory or to theorise from the actual data itself and not from the data after it has been put through a level of, say, quantitative analysis. It is therefore apparent that whatever theory or theorisation occurs is dependent on the thoughts and the thinking of the researcher, and therefore it is a methodology that assumes that reality can be constructed, especially Charmaz’s Constructivist Grounded Theory, which is the flavour of Grounded Theory picked for my Ph.D. research.

What I have been thinking about is that perhaps Grounded Theory is a methodology that represents a combination of Interpretivism, Constructivism and Relativism. Because Grounded Theory enables each researcher to develop a theory following the development of codes and categories that explain their observations, it is an interpretivist methodology. Because it is an interpretation, each researcher would interpret the data differently and therefore develop different sets of codes and categories. The thoughts and the thinking of the researcher are therefore part of the Grounded Theory process and this is something that Positivist approaches (e.g., experimental designs) would not allow to happen.

Because the researcher is able to develop a theory or to theorise from the data they are therefore constructing a theory that explains their interpretation of that reality, and therefore Grounded Theory can be known as a Constructivist methodology. It is constructivist because reality or an aspect of reality is being constructed by the researcher through the development of that theory, through developing codes and categories as a result of data interpretation.

Relativism is something new that I have thought about. Relativism implies situational context; that the development of a theory therefore is relative only to the context within which the Grounded Theory research takes place. There are many debates about the generalisability (a characteristic that measures if whether or not a theory or findings can be generalised across multiple contexts) of the Grounded Theory methodology, so to suggest that Grounded Theory is a relative methodology might not be so clear cut as it is to suggest that Grounded Theory is both an Interpretivist and a Constructivist methodology. But it is interesting to think about it from the perspective as Grounded Theory enabling the researcher to construct a theory of some aspect of reality (hence Constructivism) through interpreting the data leading to developing codes and categories that explain what they observe in the data (hence Interpretivism) possibly because of the nature of interpretivism that this would be specific to the context of the Grounded Theory research (hence possibly Relativism). As mentioned however there are many debates surrounding the generalisability of Grounded Theory so I will not make any suggestion at this time as to whether or not Grounded Theory could be considered a Relativist methodology. But it will be interesting after the Christmas holiday to think about this more but in the meantime collect a fair amount of literature about this, and other Philosophical debates about Grounded Theory (and heck, more literature about Grounded Theory and everything else in general!)

So, lots of thinking to do next year!

‘till next time folks, remember: if Santa isn’t able to come down the chimney then use the front door!

December 07, 2015

Beginning of the reflecting, planning and wind down processes

Recently I have managed to complete the most challenging and most significant academic task that I set myself between late September up to Christmas and that is understanding Grounded Theory enough so that I can start laying out the outline and structure of the literature review and the positioning or ordering of the discussion of different sets of literature. Further, to also understand the way in which other sets of literature shall be used within the analysis of data, which shall be reported within the methodology chapter. I have completed and sent the first draft of the outline of the Grounded Theory literature review recently to the supervisor but since then, I have had more ideas about what should be in the literature review. Therefore during the past week or so I have been improving the layout and the structure of the literature review so shall send this to him at a later date before the Christmas holiday. I’ve also been working on ideas for magazine articles and identifying more magazines to contact but this is my research blog, not a business blog!

I would rather have completed the task earlier and be ahead on schedule than be struggling with it right before Christmas as that would not have been nice. It is always better to complete a task early and effectively if you can, because it does give you a nice feeling that you have completed a task that you set yourself. It also gives you a chance to bring forward certain plans so that you can start the next task early. I could have done that, but I have realised this time period to be better spent improving the layout and structure of the literature review so that I have a better understanding of what it is I am writing about. Because I’m taking a Christmas holiday it is better to do this as I can then remind myself of my progress after the holiday and be able to quickly move on with the reading and construction of the chapter without struggling to know where to start next.

So, the tasks that remain Ph.D wise up to the holiday is to complete improvements of the literature review structure and layout, to reflect on the past year, and to plan for the next year. Therefore the next post shall more than likely be a more reflective post discussing the main points of the past year and what I felt I have achieved, and then the post after that shall discuss planning and activities for the next year, and what I would like to achieve.

That’s about it! Christmas is on its way so whilst there shall be some reading taking place, any significant tasks shall now take place in the new year else if I do start any new and significant tasks I’ll just be thinking about them during Christmas. Quite frankly there shall be far too many mince pies, Christmas cake, turkey pasties and alcohol to consume to worry about anything to do with my work!

‘till next time folks, remember: Christmas is coming! Actually, I started listening to Christmas songs from the beginning of November!

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