All entries for December 2018

December 31, 2018

A Year In Reflection, Part A: Philosophical Changes

A key change enabled me to understand the data in ways that I had not previously considered. This new philosophical understanding paved the way for changes at the methodological level (my approach to coding and interpreting the data: discussed in the next blog post). These changes are as a result of carefully thinking about the nature, structure, source, and origin of the data. All of this shall be discussed in the thesis.


In a nutshell, several years ago initial thoughts about the social learning phenomenon led me to consider different kinds of texts that could represent the social learning process of interest. Putting the research questions and research issues central enabled me to decide which type of text best represented the possibility for a real understanding (reality, or as close to reality as possible) of the social learning process. Essentially, it came down to deciding between investigating the beliefs and experiences that participants had of the learning process, and the investigation of the learning process itself and bypass beliefs and experiences of the process. Because my research revolves around the search for what is real instead of what is perceived, I decided to investigate the process itself. Thinking back, I know I made the right choice. In order to better understand the process of learning you have to explore the process itself or so I shall argue in my thesis.


The problem I had at the time, even as recent as earlier this year, was this idea of what is “real,” what is “truth,” and the extent to which the particular body of text produced by the participants demonstrated a truthful representation of the process. In a nutshell, my observations during the year, so I came to realise, enabled the transition from a more realist (particularly subtle realist) perspective to a post-structuralist perspective of the data. In a nutshell, this closer, but not necessarily absolute, leaning towards post structuralism came about because I found myself beginning to interpret certain data segments and their relationships or logical connections with other data segments in different ways, and I had not previously expected this. My previous thinking was that I expected myself to perceive or interpret data segments and connections between data segments in a specific (I suppose I could say linear) way. I had previously thought that these patterns of occurrences would be quite common and, therefore, discovering (interpreting?) that “real” essence of a particular process of social learning. What I found, unexpectedly, was something different: I was able to perceive or interpret the same data segment, and the same pattern of segment interactions, in different ways. So, not only did my understanding of the data change in terms of seeking specific characteristics and structures relevant to my research project, but the way that I perceived and interpreted the data changed.


This is not the conclusion of the story, however, and I have a lot of issues, questions, and challenges at the philosophical level with regards to the data, and the phenomenon itself. Some papers suggest that post structuralism does not reduce itself to relativism. In other words, from what I can currently understand, a post structuralist perspective does not necessitate the idea of there being multiple realities. I suppose what could be suggested is that post structuralism acknowledges and enables the possibility of multiple interpretations and perspectives of the same data set. But what does this mean ontologically? What ontological claims could be made? Is there really a form of reality that does exist beyond the text, but it ultimately has to be accepted that we can never truly acquire absolute knowledge about this reality? Is it a case that we can only slowly progress towards the truth of reality without completely attaining it? Is post structuralism, at least as is relevant and appropriate for my research, an epistemological perspective? If post structuralism is an epistemological perspective, then I cannot make any absolute claims of knowledge or knowing about the process of social learning; that, therefore, the segments and patterns relevant to the social learning process of interest can be interpreted in different ways. In other words, different sets of understanding and different threads of knowing can be established from the same set of data. I have been able to identify and interpret different sets of understanding from the same data set, but I have to stick with a “single” set of interpretations that best suit the research questions and the general research agenda, whilst, of course, acknowledging the potential for multiple interpretations. This is where post structuralism, from my current understanding, comes into play. Additionally, all this is, of course, accompanied with the relevant concerns and ways in which interpretations, etc, can be validated, verified, made more accurate, credible, etc. as discussed in a recent blog post. This is quite a topic to get your head around!


Either way, these are some of the questions I am asking myself at the philosophical level. As can be understood and appreciated, this is a complex topic and my ideas and arguments are in continuous development. Indeed, I am coming to accept that there are questions that I simply will not be able to answer, but being unable to answer a particular question that I have should not mean that I cannot present the question and begin to formulate some relevant arguments and possibilities. After all, a Ph.D. is not only a completion of a particular research project but it should also represent the beginning of something exciting and the beginning of new discussion and analytical possibilities.


In general, some of the philosophical concerns expressed here (not an exhaustive list) are ongoing concerns and are a part of a wider ongoing debate in academia. As mentioned, I am not expecting or expected to provide any solid, definite answers to these philosophical questions, but I am expecting to be able to contribute appropriately to ongoing discussions and debate about these, and more, issues.


December 30, 2018

Ph.D Update: Up To Christmas 2018 Part B, The Literature Review

The other key task up to Christmas was the redrafting of the literature review. Whilst this redrafting is continuous, the literature review is really beginning to take shape where I believe that the structure and content of the chapter are aligning with the overall chapter goals and ambitions. I have increased discussions and expanded upon existing discussion directions in relation to social learning, relevant areas of technology enhanced learning, and concerns that are specific regarding the phenomenon of research interest. I am greatly expanding discussions to include not just formal learning pedagogies related to the phenomenon of interest, but also informal learning and informal learning approaches. I also continued, and continue, to check through to ensure that arguments and discussions flow logically, systematically, and are in an ordered fashion from general to more specific.


I think in all literature reviews it is important to discuss from the general to the more specific. This way, you can set the context layer by layer. Through this, you can help navigate your reader through the vast maze of concepts, characterisations, definitions, findings and perspectives in relation to your research project. Additionally, and further to the navigation of existing concepts, etc. you can introduce the reader to your critiques, leanings, characterisations and conceptualisations with reference to each layer, and integrate these across each layer to form a cohesive and coherent literature review.



The aim of the research itself is to create a new coding framework and to develop thematic understanding of the content and behaviour of the phenomena of interest. The literature review offers a context for the research; it offers a platform upon which I can explain what the current and relevant coding frames are, to offer critiques of these coding frames, and to explain why there is a need for a new coding framework to assist with the investigation and understanding of the phenomenon of interest. The literature review goes beyond the critiques and discussions of the coding frameworks, as the literature review shall explain, investigate, discuss and critique existing publications regarding the wider social learning and technological learning and communicative contexts within which the phenomenon of interest is being investigated. Further to all of this, I still have to explain why there is a need to further develop thematic understanding of relevant areas of the phenomenon. I still have to explain the aspects and characteristics of the phenomenon I am exploring, the context of this phenomenon, and why the aspects of the phenomena and its context of choice are valuable and important to explore.



I additionally have to explain the value and usefulness of the coding framework against other coding frameworks, and explain how and why it is different from other frameworks and to explain the way in which the coding framework can work with other frameworks. These discussions shall be left till later in the thesis.



At the moment, the word count of the literature review stands at over 10,000 words, though it is expected to have up to around 15.000 words by the time the final version is complete. Always remember though that quality is more important than quantity. With that, I aim to try to keep the first literature review chapter as short as I can whilst including all the meaningful arguments and discussions ordered in a logical fashion from the general to the specific.



In summary, the literature review work is ongoing but I am more confident in the direction that I am now taking the literature review, and the general plans that are in place to produce an engaging, cohesive and coherent chapter. At least, fingers crossed!


Ph.D Update: Up To Christmas 2018 Part A, Coding Framework and Thematic Analysis

Wishing my blog readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I apologise for not writing any blog updates since the middle of November. There were a few tasks I wanted to complete before Christmas so had no spare time to complete any blog posts. Now that the New Year is approaching, I’m now planning what to do between January and Easter and there is a lot to complete but I shall get to that in a while. In the meantime, this blog post is one of two posts that shall provide an update of my most recent work: this blog post covers the development of the coding framework, and the next part shall cover the progress of the literature review.


Themes, Sub Themes and Coding Framework


When I wrote about the continuous framework development back in mid November, the coding framework was, at least tentatively, complete. I was also in the middle of rechecking all previously coded data to ensure that I had been interpreting consistently and coding accurately. Since that time, the idea of interpreting consistently and coding accurately has become clearer along with understanding how interpretation consistency increases coding accuracy. This is especially an interesting point given that coding is subsequent to, and a reflection of, the act of interpreting.


Whether or not coding accuracy and interpretation consistency increased truth or progresses towards truth is highly debatable given the nature of qualitative research and the characteristics of inductive thematic analysis approach. I could argue for, and apply means to, increasing the validity, accuracy, consistency and credibility of my approach and the findings, but can I really argue that the findings represent truth and that my approach could lead people closer to the truth?


What I can argue in the thesis is for the importance of accurate coding and consistent interpretation leading to more valid and reliable findings, whilst at the same time accepting that different researchers shall interpret the data in different ways and, therefore, could view any data segment differently depending on various personal factors. Essentially, coding is an interpretation e.g., a code represents an interpretation of whatever action, event, etc. is appropriate and relevant to the research question. If you code a series of segments using the same code but the segments are not consistent then that code would represent an inaccurate or incorrect interpretation. I have some possible examples that I could think about in the thesis, but I have to give this some thought when I put the research design chapter together. I shall be going into a lot more detail in the thesis.


Just before Christmas, I had completed the rechecking of the previously coded data and can state that I am satisfied that my coding is accurate and that my interpretations are consistent at least in accordance with my own interests and research questions (again, I shall be talking about this more substantially in the thesis). What I had not expected to complete by Christmas is the categorisation and classification of codes into different sub themes and themes. Contrary to what appears to be the norm, I have been able to develop themes from codes that were not the most commonly occurring, but codes that represent what I consider to be important observations within the data. Important observations in reference to the research questions and the characteristics and aspects of the phenomenon of research interest that interests me the most. It has to be emphasised that the coding framework and the thematic development as currently stand do not represent the final product. The themes shall be developed and reformulated as time progresses. This shall be as a result of the processes of thematic validation and verification using a variety of different processes. These include a further examination of themes to identify similarities and possible opportunities to combine themes, as well as the possibility of identifying “super themes,” and conversations with other academics regarding the codes, sub themes and themes that I am using.


In all, I am pleased with the progress that has been made with the thematic analysis and development. The next stage of the analysis shall begin early next year and this shall involve not just the validation and verification of the themes, but also validation and verification of relationships between themes through both qualitative and quantitative means. The quantitative representation does not necessitate a mixed methods approach but does necessitate a multimodal design where the quantitative data simply supports and adds weight to what was identified and explained qualitatively. Working this out shall naturally take time!


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