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December 15, 2017

Reflections Of The Year!

It has now come to that time of year where I begin to wind down for Christmas and begin reflecting on what has occurred during the year: the changes to my thesis, philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest, and what I can carry forward into the next year with significant strides and potential. And, what a year it has been! It has been a year of realisations, progress, doubt, and changes.


Reflecting on this time a year ago, I had just been assessed by the Upgrade panel and was in the middle of transitioning between philosophical and methodological directions. Because of the doubts I had of my own research methodology, which occurred after submitting the first upgrade paper but before the upgrade presentation, and the issues raised during the upgrade process, I had to resubmit the upgrade process with my new thoughts and new directions that I had been thinking about (and some which came about through discussion with the panel and my supervisor). I was forming an ontological battle in my mind. Methodologically speaking this was clear: I dropped the mixed methods approach as I had doubts about this approach, which were confirmed by the assessment panel, and kept the Grounded Theory method, but upgraded it from a method to a methodology. Grounded Theory plays a much more important role in my research now than it had previously, only I had not realised the significance of its role till just before the upgrade presentation. But ontologically it was a battle between realism and relativism: was I viewing reality as independent of my own thoughts? Is there a reality independent of my own thoughts? Or is reality simply constructed in my mind? Is reality relative and contextual, and therefore consist of no objective qualities? I eventually came to the realisation in late summertime that I am simply unable to pigeon-hole the beliefs that I have about reality, given the context of the research and of the phenomena of interest. From this realisation of the complexity of my beliefs I am now coming to the belief that my ontology is a mixture of moderate realism, along with aspects of pragmatism, complexity theory and phenomenology. Epistemologically, it appears that my beliefs about knowledge is a mixture of interpretivism and contextualism. The finer details of both sets of beliefs, such as the relationship between aspects of ontological beliefs, between aspects of epistemological beliefs and the wider relationships between ontology and epistemology (eventually working into the methodological justifications) need to be worked out more clearly and comprehensively. However, the fact that I have come to realise this diversity of my beliefs is what I could consider to be a key highlight of the year, and a key stepping point in the research progress. I am continuously questioning my own beliefs, however, and continuously reading more about ontological and epistemological theories.


The upgrade process was a really interesting experience. What was originally meant to have been a three thousand word paper eventually turned into a near seven thousand word mini dissertation! But I did enjoy this, and I felt that it really helped me to set the foundations for the eventual realisation that my philosophical beliefs are more complex than I had ever previously realised, and really helped me to focus on aspects of the phenomena I wanted to explore. But even then, things have changed or altered slightly since submitting the second upgrade paper, but that is the nature of research. It never stands still and you can never really say that what you think currently really is or will be the case in the future. I’m viewing things in the data that I had not realised before, and I’m viewing my own beliefs and questioning my own beliefs in ways that I had not originally thought of. This is a part of what I call ‘Meta Philosophy’ and during the year, especially during the summertime where I found myself becoming more consciously aware of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs, I have found this to be an increasingly important aspect of describing the foundations and roots of my research design. I have talked a fair bit about Meta Philosophy during the summertime on this blog, though I shall have much more to say about this subject in the future especially in the thesis.


As for the thesis, I feel much more focussed and settled in my mind about the directions I want to take. Even at the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel I had a lot of clarity because of the philosophical and methodological transitions that were taking place even up to late summertime. Now, whilst there are finer details to work out and explore, as there shall always be, I do feel much clearer now and have greater levels of clarity in general when it comes to my thesis, my identity as a researcher, my research design and therefore the way that I view and want to explore the phenomena of interest. I feel much clearer with the role and function of literature in my grounded theory project though I appreciate that different people will have slightly different approaches, but I feel more confident with my own approach. I will know for sure during the next year however if this approach I have in mind shall work. I feel confident that the three literature review chapters I have planned will work and will be well written and will achieve all the goals and aims that I have for each chapter. I feel that I have progressed well with drafting aspects of some of the chapters of the thesis during the year: the first literature review chapter (which I am now tentatively calling the Function of Education within a Contemporary Society), the third literature review chapter where I critique various relative learning models and theories, and the methodology chapter particularly the beginning sections where I detail the ontological and epistemological beliefs, and their impact on the selection and use of the methodology and method. Obviously this and all other chapters are work in progress, but I do feel better that after months of doubt, of questioning, of experimenting, of restructuring and rewriting the outline and exploring lots of research papers that I have a workable structure.


I just have my fingers crossed that I have what it takes to deliver a sound, comprehensive, well written, original thesis.


What are the root causes of the changes that have taken place as outlined? Along with the upgrade paper I’ve also sourced inspiration and influence from the CES Conference and the process of publishing my second research paper. I have talked much about the CES Conference during the year, but here it suffices to simply say that I am really pleased to have been afforded the opportunity to present some of my findings at the time at the conference, and the feedback I received from the audience and subsequent discussions that took place at other conference presentations were invaluable. They were invaluable because they made me realise the importance of describing and explaining some aspects of the phenomena in ways that I had previously valued but had not realised their importance to include in the thesis. Secondly, the feedback and the general conference experience enabled me to realise who I am becoming as a researcher and therefore assisted in developing my identity, which I strongly emphasised in the subsequent published reflection of the conference.


The CES experience therefore was a major highlight, as was being able to have a second research paper published based on critically reflecting upon my experience as a conference presenter and attendee. The paper included ideas I am working on regarding the impact that our epistemological beliefs have on our identity, identity development and experiences of academic conferences. Secondly, the paper contained other ideas that I have regarding the way in which conferences play a role in our professional development and thesis development. Attempts were made at identifying a relationship between the two ideas. The experience of writing and editing the paper and working with the reviewers was again invaluable to the development of thesis directions, and of who I am as a researcher.


In summary: the key highlights of the year were successfully passing of the upgrade process from MPhil (Master of Philosophy) to DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy), the successful CES conference experience, and the publication of my second paper. Also, I feel much clearer now with my thesis, with my philosophical beliefs, methodological directions and understanding of the phenomena of interest. Whilst much more work needs to be carried out, the foundations that I have laid during the year should lead to much greater and more significant strides throughout the next year. I will, of course, be keeping you all up to date via this blog!


But for now, thank you very much for the kind comments that I’ve had during the year from blog readers. It’s fascinating to know that people I’ve never met before can become so interested in what I am writing. It’s nice to think about this blog and my writings having some sort of influence on others and inspiring others in that way. That is, of course, should be a reason why we become Ph.D. students and want to be involved in the world of academia.


Thanks again for reading, and as this is the final post of the year on this blog I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year, and I look forward to writing much more on here during the next year!
 


October 05, 2017

Reflections Of The Past Academic Year Part A

There are no formally set “terms” or “semesters” on a Ph.D. You are responsible for organising your holiday periods and this should be based on the status of your work. The nature of the Ph.D. entails difficulty in planning exactly when to organise time off (if you wanted to plan a while ahead) because you cannot tell what leads and possible directions that shall come about because of your reading, experimenting and analysis of the data. This is both exciting and challenging: challenging because some people cannot handle uncertainty and the relative academic freedom that a Ph.D. entails, but exciting because those who can handle uncertainty and relative academic freedom shall feel energised and determined.


It is usually around this time I have a short amount of time off from the Ph.D. to recharge my batteries. I try to keep it around August / September time but it has been a little late this year because I really wanted to complete the outlining, structuring and drafting of the literature reviews and the methodology chapter as much as can be achieved at this point in time. I also wanted to update the searching, selecting and sorting of literature as much as can be completed at this point in time. Evaluation of the literature shall take place following the short time off. Plenty of blog post material here!


Before I take some time off I usually enter a period of reflecting and planning. It has been quite a year between the previous September to this September (traditionally defined as the academic year) with various important milestones achieved:


Successfully Passed Upgrade Stage


When you first begin the Ph.D., you are not immediately placed on the Ph.D. course but are enrolled on the Master of Philosophy. Some people can get confused with the terminology here when referring to the term “Philosophy” in this context.


The term “Philosophy” in this context does not refer to you actually engaging with the academic discipline of Philosophy, but in my view (and many people will have other ideas) the philosophical aspects refer to the requirement of engaging your philosophical thinking. This engagement is at both the ontological and epistemological levels and such questions you might ask are: “what do I know?” “What can I know?” “How can I know?” “What are the limits to what I can know?” “How do I know what I know?” “What does it mean to know anything?” “Is knowing anything even possible?” “Can we acquire knowledge?” “How do we acquire knowledge?” “Does reality exist?” “How can we know reality?” The answer to these questions, and many others, form a part of the development of your research design, because how you answer these questions can determine the methodologies and methods that you can use in your research project. That being said, it’s not quite as straightforward and linear as what some introductory textbooks suggest as there is much fluidity depending on your discipline, your background, your research interests, and the problem context.


Transitioning from the Masters level to Ph.D. level involves writing what is known as an “upgrade paper” where you outline the background, provide some form of literature review, and be descriptive and explanatory of your research methodology and methods along with providing some initial research findings that you might have obtained through a trial study. I have talked much about this at significant length throughout the past year and a half on this blog, but it suffices to say that the upgrade paper eventually reached seven thousand words! And following changes that I knew I had to make, the University passed me through. I’ve been upgraded from Master of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy and this in my view is a defining moment. I was shocked and happy to receive the news. This does not mean, however, that I have or will actually receive a Ph.D., only that I am working at Ph.D. level.


Successful Conference Attendance and a subsequent Published Research Paper


These two are separate but related key achievements for me personally. Again I have written vastly on my conference experiences earlier this year on this blog, but it suffices to say that this really has been a milestone. Presenting at the conference has been beneficial for me personally as I feel more confident with presenting my own ideas and methodologies to a wider audience, and it has been beneficial academically as it has changed the structure of my thesis (shall discuss this more in part two), leading to what I think shall be a more detailed and comprehensive thesis. It really was an incredible experience and I am excited about any future conferences that I attend!


Relating to the conference is the publication of my second journal paper. This research paper was written as a critical review of my attendance and presentation experiences of the University of Warwick’s Centre of Educational Studies’ Fifth Annual Postgraduate Conference. Writing this paper was itself a beneficial experience for me personally and professionally. In the paper, I presented my ideas and arguments about the way in which attending conferences can be a positive experience in terms of thesis development and professional development. I also presented arguments about the existence of a relationship between our epistemological beliefs and the way that we perceive reality, and the way that we therefore engage with conferences. I am suggesting that our philosophical beliefs directly influence the way that we perceive and engage with conferences. I was pleased to have written this paper, and pleased that the editorial board accepted it for publication.

Part B is coming up!


August 04, 2017

Ph.D Update: Critical Review Paper and the Methodology Chapter

Critical Paper on the University of Warwick Interdisciplinary Conference 2017 experience

The edited version as requested by the journal’s reviewers has been sent in for a further round of peer reviewing for any further editing before the final copy of the paper is due in October.

It has been such a useful experience writing this paper because it has encouraged me to explore my thinking as a postgraduate; consider the very being of a postgraduate researcher; and reflect on my thoughts of the way our identities as postgraduates, and the research that we engage with, are formed, shaped and altered due to our conference experiences.

The paper is a critical review and the first time I wrote the paper I had not considered that it would be appropriate to situate my thoughts within existing conference literature. Essentially, I found out that I could use the critical review to engage, reflect upon, and critique existing literature on conferences based on my experiences. Writing the paper has not only enabled me to become accustomed to a previously unfamiliar body of literature, but also helped me to define further who I am as a researcher. The experience of writing the paper has enabled me to reflect upon the conference experiences as building blocks of becoming more aware of my identity as a postgraduate researcher and, fingers crossed, an emerging social scientist.


The core of the critical review, and therefore the basis of my perspectives of conference experiences, revolves around my epistemological beliefs. As I was writing the paper, I found that the way I perceive conferences epistemologically is the same as I perceive epistemological aspects of my research design. Essentially, I perceive knowledge as being dynamic, changeable, uncertain and never fixed and therefore, our perspectives that reflect what we know, how we know, and what can be possibly known are forever changing. For the research design, I hold that whilst there are elements of social reality that exist independently of our mental activity (ontology), our knowledge and perspectives of these elements are continuously changing based on our experiencing these elements in, for example, different contexts. With conferences, because of my epistemological beliefs, I perceive conferences as being useful means by which we can alter our conceptions and knowledge about reality or about the phenomenon of research interest through engaging with the social and cognitive opportunities that a conference provides. These social and cognitive opportunities enable us as researchers to think critically and reflectively on our work, on the work of others, and who we are as postgraduates and eventual researchers. This, it is not only our knowledge of reality and phenomena of interest that can alter because of our conference experience, but also our identity as researchers.


There is obviously much more to this than what I express here (the paper is about three thousand words!) but the above presents my thinking in a nutshell.


Methodology Chapter


This is coming along fine, as previously mentioned I have written a draft form of the ontological and epistemological sections, and shall be working on the next drafts at some point in the future where I build on the concepts, arguments and ideas that I have begun to develop. Currently however, I’m writing about general characteristics and nature of qualitative research, and writing brief notes about various aspects of the research design that is directly influenced by the fact of the research being qualitative. Details include the role, features and characteristics of qualitative research; type of investigation; use of theory; form of logic; role of the researcher, the idea of sensitised concepts, and some notes of methodological justifications and the role of technology as a qualitative research facilitator, among others.


I’ve written over four thousand words of rough notes and I think I shall be ready within the next week to write the first draft of the qualitative section of the methodology chapter, consisting mostly of discussions of the way in which qualitative research is characterised in my research. Because I have been reading through and still going through specific qualitative research methodology books, I find writing a full draft a little pointless till after the relevant sections of relevant books have been read. This way, as I read through the sections I am simply writing down initial conceptions, thoughts, notes, useful terminology, critiques of published ideas, and details and reflections of my own research design. I have approached this using categories to separate ideas, thoughts and so on using separate headings so that when it comes to writing the full draft I have a rough idea of the order in which I am to write the section and relate each idea to each other. Therefore, when it comes to writing out the full draft of the qualitative section I will be able to analyse, synthesise and organise my existing ideas, thoughts, reflections and critiques and situate them as necessary within existing published literature.

Bibliography:


I obviously cannot do what I do without books and research papers, and before writing this blog post I came across a couple of qualitative books (the first couple of books listed) that proved their weight in gold as they confirmed ideas that I have been considering, and assisted with intense idea development. If you are thinking about engaging with qualitative research in any fashion, I recommend the following books:


Cresswell, J (2007): Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. SAGE Publications: USA


Flick, U., Kardoff, E.V., Steinke, I (2004): A Companion to Qualitative Research. SAGE Publications: UK


Flick, U (2007): Designing Qualitative Research. SAGE Publications: UK


Lapan, S.D., Quartaroli, M.T., Riemer, F.J. (2012): Qualitative Research: An Introduction to Methods and Designs. John Wiley and Sons: USA

I have other qualitative books lined up to read through, but so far these four books have been helpful with the first two being especially useful!


July 21, 2017

Ph.D Update: Submitted Initial Drafts for Feedback; Research Journal Article Editing

The children leave school on this day with an extra hop and a skip gliding along the pavements like an aeroplane celebrating the beginning of their summer holidays! Do not run in the middle of the road, children, as it’s not advisable! College students and many undergraduates are also venturing off on their holidays, leaving us postgrad researchers to work on our projects during the summer. And you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way!


The Methodology Chapter


The key aim of the current draft writing is to lay the foundations of my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and begin to outline the relationship between those beliefs. Because of the ongoing analysis of literature, and critical and reflective engagement with my ideas, a full elaboration of my beliefs is not possible with the first draft. What I am attempting to achieve therefore is a build-up of the chapter in “layers,” where each layer builds upon descriptions and conceptions of the earlier layer. It might be useful to think about a layered approach to developing the methodological and literature review chapters. With the case of the ontological and epistemological sections, this first draft or “layering” of ideas involves developing the foundations (describing my beliefs and show some initial critical engagement with literature) through descriptive writing. These descriptions can later be built into explanations and reasoning as a mode of providing justifications and well elaborated argumentation for the beliefs that I described. These descriptions could also be used as the basis for deeper, reflective and critical comparative analysis of other perspectives as part of justifying and explaining my beliefs and their impact on the research design. Descriptive writing is therefore the key focus of this round of draft writing. In the next round of drafting the ontological and epistemological sections I shall build on these descriptions and convert discussions into explanations, deeper reasoning, argumentation development, and deeper critical and reflective analysis and engagement with literature. I have just recently started writing the section on describing the research as a qualitative approach, and although not a huge lot has been written yet it will follow the same layered approach.


I think beginning with descriptions, even if you know your arguments and reasoning, and so on, shall help guide your further discussions. Each paragraph or even sentence shall be scrutinised for clarity, concepts, points of views and basis of potential argumentative points so that they can be explored further and expanded upon. This way, as a qualitative researcher, you are getting even more intimate with your own ideas as you think deeply about what is being described in each sentence. This does take some time, but it’s important to be able to carry this out and connect each sentence, each idea, each paragraph, each page and each chapter from the wider macro (chapter) perspective and the microscopic (sentence) perspective. Using this approach, it might be possible to identify more concepts to explore in the literature review, or include in the emerging theory and discuss in the results or discussions chapters.


The descriptive drafts of the ontological and epistemological sections have now been sent for feedback, and whilst they are only descriptive accounts they should be able to show where the ideas are going and where they could possibly influence methodological choices.


Research Journal Article:


The other major writing task of the moment is editing a three-thousand-word journal paper that has been accepted recently by a research journal. I think the editing is coming along well enough. The paper is a critical account of my recent conference experiences, where I critically reflect on these experiences and link these critical reflections with thesis development, professional development, and the general doctoral experience.


The reviewers were welcoming of the paper and said that it’s well written, but have suggested edits. The core edits revolve around further, specific elaborations of the relationship between conference experiences and professional development and to give specific, detailed examples of the way in which aspects of the conference have impacted on my thesis development and my identity as a social scientist. The reviewers also advise on engaging critically with existing literature regarding the topics covered in my critical review including attending conferences, and the relationship between attending conferences and research development, professional development and the general graduate academic experience. This was unexpected, as I had not previously realised that critical reviews can include extant literature.


This is the first time I’ve written a publishable critically reflective account, so it is a learning curve but the experience is beneficial as it’s helping me to think more about what happened at the conference. And, it's helping me to refine my critical and reflective analytical skills on a broader level, which can only be benficial for the thesis! Additionally, it’s helping me to focus and classify my ideas about the conference within a particular approach, and the approach used to guide my critical reflections is the knowledge building perspective. Essentially, I am reflecting upon conferences as a knowledge building activity, which in the case of my thesis can lead to change. Thus it could be recategorized as a critical knowledge building activity where critical approaches, as described in various methodological textbooks, are used to promote a change. I’ll have to work on this a bit more before handing the paper in.


The editing process is therefore ongoing, and during the week I’ve managed to increase the paper to over five thousand words! Thankfully, I managed to reduce it back down to under the word limit of three thousand words. I sometimes have the attitude of getting everything down on paper first and worry about sorting it out at a later stage, and so I did!


Summary:


Draft writing sessions are in full swing, with recent focus placed on the journal article, though now I feel more confident with the paper in its current state, though obviously needs further editing, I can balance the work between the journal paper and the methodology chapter. I am finding the writing and editing of the journal paper a fascinating learning journey, particularly as I realised that I can engage with extant literature when writing critical reviews!


May 10, 2017

CES PG Conference 2017: Self–Reflection and Self–Criticism

Self-Criticism is not as harsh as it sounds, but regardless some people run away at the thought of being self-critical whilst others for whatever reason take self-criticism and use it as a form of self-destruction. The origin of this perspective involves a complex variety of social and psychological factors, leading to diverse conceptualisations of self-criticism, and of being self-critical. Being self-reflective and self-critical are important components of being an effective, reflexive researcher and therefore a part of professional development. I shall discuss the process of self-reflection and self-criticism in other blog posts but it suffices to say that they are key skills that enable the Ph.D. candidate, or anyone else, to analyse and think about a previous experience and its context, and to critically evaluate the experience and outcomes in order to identify current skills and knowledge gaps, and to plan effectively and appropriately.

Conferences offer excellent opportunities for self-reflection and self-criticism activities to take place through, for example, observations made and feedback given, and these activities can take place at both philosophical and methodological levels. There is much flexibility and adaptability in the approach to self-reflection and self-criticism therefore it’s up to you to decide what you think represents appropriate reflective and critical engagement.


Evaluation Of My Presentation Performance


The topic of the presentation related to the assessment of debates within a post-truth context where I provided the audience with my working definitions of post-truth within a general context, and within the specific context of social processes, followed by claims made by certain philosophers against the usefulness and effectiveness of debates, followed by the initial findings and thoughts of debates that I have observed. Given that this was the first ever time of presenting at a conference I am happy with the performance that I gave. I didn’t feel that nervous before or during the presentation although beforehand I was wondering if I could actually do this, which was completely irrational because I have presented before but not in front of a wider audience. The audience genuinely enjoyed the presentation and some came up to me for brief chats about the presentation, and importantly I was given important feedback which is being used as a focus for future planning and skills development all of which shall act as evidence for professional development.


From the feedback and from observing other presentations that took place I have come to know the way in which I can improve the presentation in terms of more engaging content, such as explaining more the context and the need for the research so that the audience is able to situate the research and the findings within a particular context. Thinking about the construction of the presentation I did actually begin to include information about the context of the research but I didn’t think this was important given that I wasn’t presenting a complete scenario or complete findings, as I emphasised at the beginning of the presentation, but I’ve now come to know that it is important to really elaborate further on definitions and contextual understandings regardless of the stage of research.


Evaluation of the Conference


It was a wonderful, engaging, thrilling and satisfying experience where I have not only been able to present but also been able to engage with other presenters and their presentations reflectively and critically, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives. Conservations with other Ph.D. candidates and the supervisor has led to new ideas and confirmed some ideas that I had but was not sure of, and these are currently being elaborated upon and therefore shall be discussed at some stage in future blog posts. The new and confirmed ideas are as follows:


· Increase scope of contextualisation in the thesis: explain the context within which learning processes are being explored, and argue why a particular context is of more interest than other contexts. This was going to be included in the first place, but its importance has been hinted to be of a substantial level especially in the social sciences and when substantive theories through grounded theory are being developed, as these theories appear to be relative and contextualised. Such explanations also need to be present in future presentations
· Provide a section relating to the theory-practice relationship. I knew this would be included, but it’s interesting to gather different opinions. The theory or model that I am creating will be useful in practice so I will need to fully elaborate in the thesis exactly the way in which the theory can change or assist practice, and vice versa
· Reconsider research methodology: philosophical approaches are fine I have no problem with my own philosophical perspectives as I think I can argue this in the thesis and in the viva examination (fingers crossed!) it’s just a matter of fully developing argumentation and elaboration of the way in which philosophical perspectives influence the research design and play a part in uniting the components. Grounded Theory is also fine: I do have the belief that a substantive theory that grounded theory enables to be developed is required. The only alteration is likely to be the dropping of the label “case study” and replace it with “case based.” The more I think about the way that I am exploring the phenomena of interest the more I’m realising that it’s not a full blown case study.
· Potentially increase the size and scope of the methodology chapter: a presenter made an important point that theses vary considerably in their chapter lengths from researcher to researcher. I am beginning to form extensive interest in Philosophy and Methodology and their relationship with each other; therefore, I have extensive interest in the way in which different components of the research design fit together. I have just about as much interest in research design itself as I do with the phenomena of interest, therefore I am thinking about extending the scope and size of the methodology chapter considerably.
· Consider further the role of emotional intelligence in social learning processes: an excellent presentation along with my own observations of the data has inspired me to think more about the role of emotional intelligence when analysing social learning processes. This is all part of exploring and thinking about social learning processes from as a wide, diverse amount of perspectives as possible

Summary


The conference provided an excellent platform of self-reflection and self-criticism, and therefore assisted with identifying new directions that were not previously considered important to the research, and assisted with developing solutions to any concerns that I had. I am happy with the performance that I gave and I realise where improvements can be made, and happy with engaging with other presenters and presentations allowing me to reflect and critique my own research; therefore, identifying possible directions to take the research. An excellent conference in general!


CES PG Conference 2017: Education in a Changing World Theme

The political, theological, social, economic, cultural and technological landscapes of the world continue to ride the consistent, constant wave of change, which over the past few decades have led to globalisation and much diverse societies, identities and cultural integration.


Globalisation and the European Union

Globalisation was a buzzword back when I first started college in the late 90s / early 2000s and I remember reading reams of papers about this concept in relation to businesses, business computing, the European Union and the European Union agenda that focussed on technological changes within EU member states, the potential negative and positive influence of these changes on business processes (production, marketing, etc) within EU member states, and the integration of processes across EU member states. Much like the concept of the European Union however, Globalisation has its benefits and also its criticisms. Many questions have been asked to what extent wildly differing cultures, economies and societies can really fully integrate and function, and to what extent integration should occur. Even with our neighbouring European countries: whilst we might be geographically neighbours, we differ so widely socially, politically and economically that it’s arguably fair to ask these questions. As I intend on avoiding political engagement with this blog (admittedly given the context of the theme of the conference this has been difficult to avoid when writing this post), it suffices to say that there is no assumption being made that integration is wrong, but questions have to be asked regarding the extent to which integration should be defined, and the limit of which integration should take place. Questions especially have to be asked about globalised economies and the integration of economies: as we have observed with the financial crisis of America and of the EU (yes, it was a global economic crisis, folks), too much integration can bring as many dangers and negatives as there are positives; additionally, the more integration takes place the more that a country is at the mercy of the actions of other countries regardless of what an individual Government does to safeguard a country’s economy. Whether or not globalisation, the EU and so on are viewed as either positive or negative is up to you to decide.


Globalisation, Education, and the Changing World

The theme of this conference therefore, as you can probably imagine, was about Education in a Changing World. The presentations I attended focussed on teacher perceptions of their role and identity; about teaching British values; about theory-practice relationships; about the role of Education in a changing world; and Grounded Theory. All these presentations were extremely interesting and focussed on different aspects of the way in which Education is attempting to deal with an ever changing world, and the way in which individual researchers are engaging with relevant, challenging issues. The presentations enabled reflective and critical engagement not only with their work, but with my work from both Philosophical and Methodological perspectives.


To focus in on a single thread of discussion (far too much can be said for a single blog post!), a function of any Education system is to maintain pace with a continuous evolving world through equipping and enabling citizens with the skills and processes suitable to take an active part in this changing world relative to their ability and capability. The extent to which Education is able to maintain pace with a changing world, the approaches that are used to ensure this pace is kept, and the way in which a changing world is realised and reflected within an Education system is a matter of much debate and, hence, much research and questioning.


As a specific example in relation to a particular presentation, it can be argued that education systems need to be designed for flexibility, adaptability and fluidity and therefore responsive to change, but it’s arguable as to the extent to which this actually happens in the UK. An extremely interesting presentation revolving around the teaching of fundamental British values noted that the term “fundamental” was debatable because it suggests a set of values that should not be questioned. Given that we are a democratic society, should anything be considered fundamental? Does the very definition of fundamentalism go against the definition of a democratic society, in terms of its freedom and choices that it proclaims? Can you really have pure democracy when fundamental principles exist? Is there really such a thing as a pure democracy? Does the fact that we are a democratic society encourage the existence of diversity and integration? Additionally, the idea of a British value or holding what is perceived to be a British value is also debatable, nevermind defining them as being exclusively British. Democracy, for example, is considered a British value but yet there are other democratic societies. Why define it as exclusively British? Another interesting point made in the same presentation, and other presentations referring to teacher identity, was the use of teachers as applications of surveillance: should teachers play a role of observing children and surveying those at risk of being exposed to or expressing terrorist-like characteristics? Who defines what a terrorist-like characteristic is? In what way can these definitions be separated from normal childhood games and behaviour? Would cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers be perceived as terrorist-like characteristics?

Teachers, according to the research presented, generally reject this role because it goes against their perceptions of themselves as teachers and the general identity of being a teacher, which in turn brings about questions regarding what are perceived to be social norms, trends, and psychological mindsets linked to a particular identity. If a teacher perceives their role and identity as a teacher and not some terrorist surveyor they will not accept the idea of observing children for potential terrorist based characteristics. Further, adopting such a role brings about questions of ethics, obligations and morals. Researchers, as an example, have the moral and ethical duty to inform relevant authorities, parents and, in some cases, the children themselves that they are being observed in some way for a research project. Is it therefore moral and ethically correct that teachers might be able to observe without permission? Might it become a definition of the job of teaching? Would you want YOUR child to be observed in such a way without you knowing, in an attempt to ensure that the child observed British values? Where did these British values come from anyway? Who defines them and why? Who is anybody to dictate what defines a British identity, when British countries themselves cannot agree if whether or not they want to be part of a British union?


Considerations of the Research Context


Just writing this blog post from the top of my head (and following a reedit) it’s already reached over a thousand words and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the conference, as for the purpose of this post I’m thinking about a single aspect: the influence of Globalisation on our Education system in a changing world although this actually wasn’t the focus of my presentation but regardless of that, it is an important concept for Ph.D. candidates in Education and researchers in general to consider. When we are thinking about psychological and social processes within the specific contexts of our research practice and designs it is important to think about the wider society outside of our research contexts and the impact politics, society, economy and so on have had on the phenomena of research interest. This is particularly important when engaging with the relationship between theory and practice, and in the way that our developing theories can integrate with practice and provide it with benefits, and in turn the way that observations of practice can integrate with theory (told you integration can be beneficial!)


Summaries


In summary then, the conference itself was absolutely fascinating and has presented me, as you can imagine, with opportunities to reflect and critically engage. It has most certainly been a worthwhile experience attending the conference and every presenter both orally and poster wise made an important contribution and every discussion has been highly valued and is being reflectively and critically engaged with.


In summary of the general theme of this blog post, Globalisation as part of this changing world has introduced benefits, but it is also playing havoc with the Education system in terms of safeguarding and protecting values, norms and customs that are perceived to be British, and in the identity of a teacher. However, it should be asked if there really can be a set of agreed upon British values and customs and the way in which this should be introduced and taught (e.g., criticisms are raised against extreme Islamic teaching: can the same be raised about extreme nationalist teachings? In what way should this be monitored and approved by official standards, and who would define and develop these standards in the first place?). Additionally, it has to be questioned to what extent the benefits and negative aspects of globalisation are actually perceived or actualised, and the extent to which the media and Governments are using globalisation as a cover up for any mishaps that they refuse to take responsibility of.


Regardless, it’s the role of the Education system to keep up with all changes that occur nationally and internationally, but whether or not it is doing this effectively, ethically, and morally and whether or not it’s based more on ideological assumptions rather than practical realities is a matter of continuous debate and much research.


January 24, 2016

Research design, Research Conference, Conference Paper and Upgrade Paper!


Research Design: getting there!


When exploring learning processes there is a need to develop activities for the participants of the research so that the data can be generated for analysis. These activities need to be appropriate for the participants, relevant to their interests and have the design that encourages participation and therefore generate lots of data. The design of these activities therefore must be grounded in existing empirical literature. Thinking about and designing these activities have begun this past week, starting with a rough outline and what I want to achieve with them. I have thought about the topics, now what I need to do is explore these topics further so that I can create interesting scenarios within which learning processes can be assessed in ways that have not really happened before. These activities therefore are in their early stages of development and they need to be experimented with and amended as necessarily. What exactly shall be measured and assessed shall be partly presented in a conference paper at the next Post Graduate Warwick University conference, along with the Upgrade Paper and Upgrade Presentation, and also a full elaboration, justification, and critique of existing relevant assessment processes in the Thesis and future research papers.


This has led to an interesting observation in that there appears to be quite an interesting approach taken to designing a Ph.D. project in the sense that there appears to be some sort of ordering to the decisions that are made, and that each decision that is made influences the next decision or in some way guides the next step in the design making process of a Ph.D. research design. I have indicated something like this in previous blog posts where I discussed the relationship between Ontology, Epistemology and Methodology but my ideas of this are developing and I think I will come back to this in a future blog post.


Research Conference and Upgrade Paper


Had an email the other day saying that planning and organising of this year’s Post Graduate conference at Warwick University shall begin soon, which means that I shall be starting to write the conference paper from the day that planning begins. Well, I say write but it’s more like planning the outline and structure of the paper first before actually writing it. As I have mentioned before, the conference paper shall be in part based on ideas that were presented in the second ARM assignment and relevant ideas were appreciated by the supervisor therefore these shall be more fully explored in the conference paper. The conference paper and the presentation at the conference shall relate at this time more or less exclusively to the questionnaire, and there are plans to transform it into a research paper but this is something that I shall have to investigate further soon.


Construction of the conference paper shall occur along with the construction of the Upgrade paper and work has continued on this during the week. Even though it is due in September, it is such an important document that it is best to start planning the paper early along with writing rough drafts of various sections of the paper just to get ideas down of what is going to be explained in which section, and therefore setting down quite early some of the directions of the paper. The word requirement is around four thousand words and there is a fair bit to do in preparation of writing some sections of the paper so an early start is fine. The paper is important because it is part of the Upgrade process, the result of which shall consider the suitability and feasibility of my research and therefore whether or not the research project is worthy of being upgrading from working towards Master of Philosophy to Doctor of Philosophy.


That’s it for this post so ‘till next time: Easter eggs are starting to roll out!


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