All 38 entries tagged Design

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April 04, 2018

Research Design: A Reflection and Possible New Direction

Not only have I been stuffing my face full of Easter goodness (hot crossed buns and Easter eggs) but given that the newly added methods to my research design have been confirmed and accepted as being appropriate as a result of coming to know the phenomenon of interest in a way I had not previously considered, I have been rethinking the structure and process of my research design. This is particularly since this past weekend where I had the revelation that perhaps I should return to and re-evaluate the value, worth, role and purpose of combining qualitative and quantitative data within my project. A current task is therefore to think very diligently, carefully, strategically, and comprehensively about how qualitative and quantitative methods can analyse the data, and how qualitative and quantitative data can be combined or utilised in a way that can comprehensively describe and explain the phenomenon of interest unachievable by a single approach.


An Emergent Research Design?


What has struck me recently is that my research design can be characterised as emergent. The newly added methods and the possible re-evaluation of the methodological approach has emerged from further understanding of the data, further understanding of existing literature, and further understanding of the different types, structures, processes and outcomes of the phenomenon of interest. Further, these sources appear to triangulate to provide some sort of justification for what has emerged e.g., what I have observed in the data and the need to explore these observations further can be backed by existing literature, and both give rise to the need of the additional data analysis methods and perhaps a rethink of the methodology and research questions. This idea of an emergent research design appears to be a characteristic not just of grounded theory but qualitative research design more generally.


Essentially and I shall be writing more about this in the future, the research design emerges as the data analysis progresses with further readings as necessary to support the need for any emergent research design aspect. Where I am now with the research design and the inclusion of network analysis as a method has come from what I have observed in the data. In other words, the need for such a method has emerged from understanding the data, from observing particular patterns and trends, thinking carefully about the way these trends and patterns could be explored more comprehensively, and the potential value and worth their explorations might offer to the research.


Let’s take a brief journey in time to reflect on where I have been with the research design


The Journey of the Research Design so far


The Ph.D. research began prior to the Upgrade process as a mixed methods project, where mixed methods approach was introduced at the data collection level where the idea was to collect qualitative data from observations of the learning phenomenon and quantitative data from surveys. After a series of doubts started to creep in following the submission of the original Upgrade paper about the data collection methods and the context of the quantitative data collection and analysis aspect, and after discussions with the Upgrade member panel and the supervisor, the approach was dropped. The qualitative aspect was kept and therefore, grounded theory became the sole focus of the research design. Grounded theory became the methodology and its coding package became the methods of data analysis.


For many months after I began to downplay the relevance of mixed methods approach in my research and began to focus exclusively on learning about Grounded Theory and the way that I can utilise Grounded Theory within my research context, which again has been documented extensively throughout the previous year. I also began to realise and became aware of the complexity of my philosophical beliefs both at the ontological and epistemological levels though had not travelled down to the methodological and methods level because of my continued denial of the value of a mixed approach to understanding the phenomenon of interest. I did, however, later in the year and earlier this year seriously began to challenge the theoretical orientation of grounded theory and began to really believe that symbolic interactionism (the most common theoretical framework of grounded theory) was not compatible with the research context and began to search for other possible frameworks. Again this has been documented in earlier blog posts. I also began, through reading through more existing literature and the draft writing of earlier thesis chapters, to challenge my own understanding of the phenomenon of interest: the way I perceived it, the way I approached its exploration, and the way I could define it.


This led then to me challenging the way I had used grounded theory previously to analyse the data and I came across a startling thought: grounded theory could be used to recognise a central theme of the phenomenon of interest and theorise about the phenomenon around this theme, but I began to doubt grounded theory’s ability to theorise or hypothesise about the progress and process of the phenomenon of interest over a period of time. It was not, so I came to eventually realise, the central theme of the learning phenomenon that was the only product of the research that is of interest to me: it’s the way in which the learning phenomenon initiates and is sustained over a period of time. This I think is an area that is not addressed by grounded theory.


Where am I now with the Research Design?


Grounded Theory is still of interest and of importance to the research in terms of, from what I can currently understand, identifying a central theme to the phenomenon of interest, and to theorise about the phenomenon in accordance with this key theme. However, in what way do I explore the progress of the phenomenon of interest and the way in which this learning process can be sustained over time? This is where network analysis comes into play. But here is something else: I have always created diagrams and “networks,” if you will, about what is occurring in the data in order to help me understand what is going on in the data but I had not considered these diagrams as being somewhat of an independent data analysis method in their own right as I always thought of them as part of the grounded theory. But as I drew out more of these diagrams I began to realise that I was making observations and identifying trends that perhaps grounded theory on its own might not be able to explore to a substantial extent. At least, not to the extent that I am now interested in.


More significantly, I’ve very recently began to think about the way in which I could use these diagrams to further explore the phenomenon of interest through network analysis and the inclusion of quantitative analysis to test hypotheses and theoretical constructs that have and shall continue to emerge through grounded theory analysis. And therefore, a reintroduction of an old idea: the mixed methods approach!


And that shall be the topic of the next blog post!


September 11, 2017

Ontological Beliefs: The Journey So Far, Part B

As a research philosophy, Constructivism emphasises an active relationship between researcher and participant. This is to mean that the researcher co-constructs, negotiates and validates meaning and knowledge with the participants. Truth, meaning, knowledge, understanding and our knowing about the phenomenon of interest is not discovered or interpreted, but is constructed or developed. Therefore, constructivism suggests that there are multiple truths and that no single truth is more valid than the other truths. For various reasons, I was beginning to experience problems with this conception of understanding the phenomenon of interest. Firstly, because I have no actual involvement with any of the participants, therefore, there is no co-construction occurring between myself and the participants. Secondly, because the intention is to contribute to classroom practice it is impossible to conceive of multiple truths. Products that are developed for practice-based disciplines cannot function on the idea of multiple truths, because you cannot have, for example, two models that evaluate the same aspects of critical thinking. One model has to be viewed as being more true to the reality of critical thinking, based on some criteria set, than the other. You can have, however, two models that evaluates different aspects of critical thinking, but not same aspects.


Once I realised this, I realised that I was conflating truth, meaning, understanding and knowledge in terms of the way in which we come to understand each of these terms in our research contexts. They had to be treated separately and differently to the way I was conceiving them. But in what way? Where could I possibly begin? What on Earth does it mean to have single truth and in what way can I come to understand what this truth is? I came to understand that my philosophical beliefs of the time were not compatible with the research context. I could not possibly continue with a constructivist philosophy given my new awareness of the research context and given the nature of a practice-based discipline. And then, I came to know the philosophical concept of ontology, and I realised my mistake: I was conflating ontology and epistemology. I was treating knowledge that we have of reality as mirroring reality itself. I came to know ontology as a separate study unit in itself, so I embarked on separating epistemology and ontology, and studied them further. I shall discuss the journey of epistemology another time.


Now that I separated ontology and epistemology I could focus on understanding my own beliefs of the nature and structure of reality itself. Remember that ontological beliefs refer to our beliefs about the nature and structure of reality, and epistemological beliefs refer to our beliefs about attaining knowledge about this reality. As I read papers and book chapters of ontological books, I came to understand that I didn’t perceive reality as internal within our minds, but that there is a reality external to our minds. In other words, that there is a reality independent of our knowledge and conceptions of it. This was actually a revelation, and not something that I expected. However, now was the time to find out where my developing beliefs could be situated within the existing ontological frameworks and beliefs.


As I reflect on this point in my journey, I remember that I still had that behaviour of trying to pigeon hole my beliefs or fit my beliefs into a pre-existing set of ideals and frameworks. Why was this? I think it was initially more to do with convenience because I was trying to understand the existing frameworks that are available to possibly evaluate and critique them whilst attempting to apply them to my own set of beliefs. With the awareness and understanding I have now, I find it neigh-on impossible to situate my beliefs within any single existing framework. But at the time I just wanted a better understanding.


After reading widely around the topic of philosophy I came across the notion of realism, and this supports the idea that there is a reality out there independent of our conceptions of it. But what version? There are many versions available and it took me a while to align myself with the correct ontology, or what I thought was the correct and relevant ontology. I did settle on critical realism for a fair while due to my research methodological approach of mixed methods. But I came across problems in the mixed methods approach and, therefore, critical realism.


I had to question and really contemplate my ideas about reality, as discussed in Part C!


Ontological Beliefs: The Journey So Far, Part A

I am hoping that I have made clear the importance and value of understanding your own ontological beliefs so far in writing this blog. This is not to suggest that you should know everything about ontology as this would be a pretty impossible task unless you were doing a Ph.D. specifically in dealing with ontological issues. But, I do feel that it is important to engage with ontological issues in the context of your research, in terms of attempting to understand your own ontological beliefs, to situate these beliefs within the wider published field of ontology, and the way in which your ontological beliefs shape your overall research design. For me, this has been a long journey of twists, turns, introspection, doubting, experimenting and challenging my own ideas. And, this is a journey that is still unfolding itself!


The changes that have occurred with my ontological (and epistemological) beliefs over the years lead to the following question: is it that we actively construct and alter our beliefs of reality? Or is it that we simply become more aware of the complexity of reality itself and of our beliefs about this reality? There are no easy answers to these questions, but it is the role of a Ph.D. candidate to explore their own beliefs, and to situate them within the wider published frameworks and theories. I originally thought of this as straight forward, but really, it isn’t, despite the way in which some academic textbooks attempt to portray it as straightforward. Situating beliefs and trying to find where they fit within the wider literature can depend on the research problem, the research context, and the overall, general discipline within which a researcher is situated. But even then, research problems and research contexts can be philosophised in several ways, and can therefore be explored using a variety of different approaches sometimes in combination.


When I first began the Ph.D. I was convinced that I was a constructivist. I conceived reality and knowledge of reality as a personally constructed entity with no real objective existence. Therefore, I had the idea at the time that everyone constructed their own truths and it was the job of the constructivist to find out the way that people perceived the truth of certain aspects of reality based on their experience. My preference towards constructivism was driven by my favourable position towards constructivism as a teaching and learning theory. However, as I found out fairly quickly into the Ph.D., constructivism as a teaching and learning theory is completely different to its philosophical orientation.


The idea of constructivism as a teaching and learning theory is that learners are able to construct their own understanding and knowledge about subjects instead of passively listening to a teacher. Learners are active participants in their learning, and through experimentation and collaboration they build their understanding and knowledge. This is in some sense similar to constructivism as a research philosophy: researchers construct their knowledge of what is going on within a research setting through actively participating within the setting, typically through co-constructing and negotiating meaning and knowledge with the research participants. What is usually found is each participant constructs their own truth about reality therefore leading to multiple truths, and constructivism treats truth of all perspectives as the same.


Whilst this might initially be appealing, I did come across stumbling blocks as I shall discuss in Part B!


August 10, 2017

Ph.D Update: Multiple Changes Are Happening!

As part of our Ph.D. research and training, we must try to avoid polarising our beliefs and, therefore, subscribe to a stance, position, approach or method just because it appears to be the most convenient and approachable. What might be convenient and approachable might not be appropriate and relevant for the research problem and nature of the research context. It is part of our emerging identities as researchers to think very carefully about who we are and what we do, to take a critical stance towards every decision that we make, reflect on our decision making to ensure that there are no gaps that could cause methodological or practical problems, and to therefore ensure that every element of our research design connects reasonably and logically.


Earlier this week as part of the qualitative section of the methodology chapter, I began to describe the characteristics and features of qualitative research. As I began to relate characteristics and features to the research setting and context, phenomena of interest and the position of myself as the researcher (research positionality: I shall discuss this more in the future), I noticed that I was beginning to discuss the idea of complexity. Qualitative research, I was saying, is useful for exploring the nuanced, complex existence of social phenomena and the complexity of the setting of the phenomena of interest. It struck me there and then that this complexity of the existence of the phenomena of interest and the way that we come to know this complex existence was not mirrored by my awareness and discussions of my epistemological beliefs. What was going on here? Was I beginning to doubt my own epistemological beliefs? Or did I simply become immediately aware of the possible inadequate way in which I was perceiving and labelling my epistemological beliefs? This begs the question: can our epistemological beliefs shift as we progress through our research projects, or are our epistemological beliefs always in a constant state but that our awareness of their states continuously changes? Are epistemological beliefs therefore a construction in our minds, or do they pre-exist and we simply become more aware of them through various experiences?


Whilst I was tackling these complex questions (which are still being tackled), I completed the rough first draft of the qualitative section and began to tackle the grounded theory section. As I was writing this section I began reading through Birks and Mills (2015) publication “Grounded Theory, a Practical Guide.” Based on their comprehensive discussions of the philosophical and methodological developments of grounded theory, situated within the controversies and movements of the time, the authors advised students to be mindful of the possibility of what I call grounded theory methodological fluidity. I’ve talked about the idea of fluidity before and shall talk about this more in the thesis, but essentially the authors suggest that Ph.D. candidates should not simply subscribe to a specific grounded theory variety but to explore and experiment. Ph.D. candidates are therefore advised by the authors to draw upon and build upon the ideas and approaches of the multiple varieties and writers of grounded theory. This would lead to the development of a grounded theory approach that best matches the research problem, the nature of the research setting and context, the data collection method, and the position of yourself as the researcher. This overwhelmed me, because not only was I grappling with my own increased awareness of the complexity of my epistemological beliefs, I was also now beginning to grapple with the possibility of needing to draw from multiple varieties of grounded theory, and to build upon procedures and techniques presented in different varieties as necessary. I have the belief that there has to be a connection between the two: that a change in my awareness of my epistemological beliefs has led to a change in using grounded theory to analyse the phenomenon of interest.



Where am I with all of this now? Ontologically I’m still a realist: I still believe that there is a social reality that exists outside of our conceptualisations and perspectives of social reality and therefore there are social elements of social reality that do exist. The revelation here is that perhaps I have limited myself in the way in which I can come to understand these objective social elements or phenomena. Perhaps constructionism alone cannot fully capture everything that I am and everything that my epistemological beliefs have led me and are leading me in terms of my research design. But how can I at any time suggest that any particular epistemological stance really reflects how I can attain knowledge and understand phenomena of interest if my epistemological beliefs are continuously evolving? Or, more likely, that I am becoming more aware of what pre-exists in my mind? The simple fact is: I can’t! From the many months of reading and thinking about different epistemological stances, nothing really fits completely within my realm of coming to know about the phenomena of interest. This has to be because all of these difference stances: positivism, post-positivism, constructivism, constructionism etc follow set assumptions about the way that we as researchers come to know reality, the nature of our research problems, and our positionality. How we might come to understand and know about the phenomena of interest might follow a more post-positivist line, but my positioning of myself as the researcher and the way I engage with the data reflects a more dynamic approach. The best way I can really “label” my beliefs is to reread in more detail literature on different epistemologies and draw upon ideas and approaches from various authors and approaches, and develop strong argumentation for why I perceive the research setting and phenomena of interest the way that I do.


Methodologically, grounded theory is the only approach, situated in a qualitative methodology, that makes any sense to me. But what flavour now? Because of my increased awareness of my epistemological beliefs and the way in which I position myself in the research, and of the nature of the research setting, I cannot fully subscribe to the techniques and ideas of Strauss and Corbin’s version of grounded theory. I shall explore these issues and reasoning as the research progresses, but at this time it suffices to suggest that I will have to follow the advice of Birks and Mills (2015) and other authors. Their advice is to carefully, thoughtfully, reflectively, progressively, and critically draw on approaches and ideas from various key grounded theory authors (Glaser, Strauss, Corbin, Charmaz, Clarke and Bryant) that are most relevant and appropriate for my overall research design and research context. And, where necessary, to reformulate or build on existing grounded theory techniques.


Summary


To try to summarise all this: becoming more aware of the complexity of the research setting has caused me to become more aware of the complex nature of my epistemological beliefs. But a key question that I might like to tackle in the thesis is whether my epistemological beliefs have changed to become more complex, or if my epistemological beliefs have always been complex and I’ve only just become aware of this complexity. Can they change? Or is it simply the case that we become more aware of their complexity? Or is it a bit of both depending on what we experience and the way that we come to understand and build on this experience? This has to be reflected in my now new position on Grounded Theory: I cannot possibly capture the complexity of the research phenomena using just the procedures and ideas described by Strauss and Corbin. There has to be some sort of way that I can draw upon and build on the procedures and techniques from multiple authors that are most appropriate for my research design and research setting. But this I can only find out as I progress with my reading and testing of different techniques.


As for rereading the literature on epistemological theories and grounded theory approaches, as many authors state it’s not a matter of which array of writers you draw from and build upon, but it’s the way in which you can strongly defend and justify your positioning. What this means is there really are no right or wrong answers, but there is such a thing as a justifiable, defendable answer. And this, ultimately, forms the core of your thesis chapters and what you need to present at your viva. Overwhelming perhaps, and a little scary, but at the same time challenging, thrilling, motivating and exciting!


Reference / Bibliography


Birks, M., Mills, J (2015): Grounded Theory, A Practical Guide (2nd Ed). SAGE Publications


Urquhart, C (2013): Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide. SAGE Publications.


I have included Urquhart because she was the other author who influenced my now changing approach to grounded theory, though haven’t mentioned the author in the blog post as Birks and Mills publication was the first to really confirm the need for a change. That being said, both books are worth a read through if only to find out more about the idea of researcher leading the methodology and not methodology leading the researcher!


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!


June 18, 2017

Ph.D. Update: Successfully Passed The Upgrade Process; Onward With The Thesis!

Confirmation arrived by email earlier the previous week, confirming that my research work has been successfully upgraded to Ph.D. level! The successful confirmation has been met with surprise and feelings of relief, as the confirmation is the result of a reassessment of my work following the upgrade presentation that took place a few months ago, where my work at the time nearly matched Ph.D. level but had to make a few alterations to the research design. These alterations initially came about as doubts that I had about the suitability of my own research design subsequent to first submission of the upgrade paper, but before the upgrade presentation and these doubts were confirmed during the presentation.


As has been detailed and heavily documented in my previous blog posts, the Mixed Methods approach was dropped in favour of a Case Study Grounded Theory research design and the rewritten upgrade paper, which increased in word count from three thousand words to between six to seven thousand words, was based around this research design. The literature review, methodology, trial study and discussion chapters were significantly revamped to reflect updated readings, changes in methodological directions, thoughts about the phenomena of interest, initial data findings, hypotheses and thoughts about the data.


Eventually I was happy to send it in for reassessment, and led to my research upgraded to Ph.D. level!


Current Status Of Research


But even now I’m debating my research design as I am beginning to feel that a case study design is no longer appropriate, as a characteristic of a case study design is its suitability for research where the boundaries of the context and phenomena of interest are not clearly defined.


What this means is, a case study design is most suitable in situations where the boundary definitions of the phenomena of interest (I am taking this to mean contextual, research environment and situational boundaries) are not clearly understood or are clear. However, as I come to know and understand my own philosophical beliefs and read intensely about them, along with analysing and thinking about the data relating to the phenomena, the more I am beginning to realise that there are situational and contextual boundaries and that I am able to clearly define these boundaries. Therefore, the case study option might be dropped. I shall explore this more though and write a blog post in the future when I am fully convinced this is the case, and no pun intended!


Doubts are also beginning to come about regarding the possible use of interviews in the research. The idea of using interviews came about when I followed a more constructivist epistemological approach, but having really analysed the situational context of my research a few months ago I shifted away from constructivist epistemology to constructionist epistemology. Basically, the type of interviews I wanted to carry out are known as semi-structured interviews, which enable co-construction of meaning and knowledge about concepts of reality to take place between the interviewer and the interviewee; also, the research interviews could be taken into different directions depending on the answers given by the interviewee in order to enable myself as the researcher to explore specific thoughts further. This is a sign of a constructivist approach therefore I am not entirely convinced this is achievable with a constructionist epistemology. This is something I need to look at further in the future.
Apart from those two concerns, everything else is more or less decided upon: an ontological realist approach, a social constructionist epistemology, and the possibility of dropping the case study methodology and upgrade grounded theory to a full methodological approach therefore in a sense the grounded theory shall be situated within a realist-constructionist paradigm.



What is the current focus? Where to next?


I have made tentative plans up to around the middle to the end of August where I am planning to take my annual summer time off before the long autumn and winter stretch towards Christmas. The plans, put in place about a month or so ago following the successful Warwick University conference, revolve around developing philosophical justifications for my research design, and to attempt to argue the case for a realist-constructionist paradigm as most suitable for exploring the phenomena of interest, as opposed to a positivist paradigm or a relativist paradigm.


Essentially, the main current focus is to begin drafting the initial sections of the methodological chapter of the thesis. The initial sections of the methodology chapter aim to explain and explore my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and therefore reflexivity, reflectively, and critically analyse and acknowledge any personal biases and the way that these biases might have affected the implementation of the research design, and the development of the theory. Obviously I will have to edit the methodology chapter to include such reflexivity, reflections and critical analysis in the future as I have not fully applied the research design.


However, the main focus at the moment is to develop philosophical justifications of the research design: I need to explain what my ontological and epistemological beliefs are; justify and explain why the phenomenon of interest is being explored from a realist, constructionist perspective; compare to other perspectives that other researchers have considered in the past; and to explain in detail the relationship between ontology (realism), epistemology (social constructionism) and methodology (grounded theory).


Some might consider this as a little odd because I am writing the early chapters of the thesis in somewhat of a reverse order, as I am writing the methodological chapter, or at least the beginning of it, before fully drafting the literature review. But this approach makes sense to me. I’m leaning more heavily towards philosophy compared to a couple of years ago, and I feel that a full understanding of the philosophical aspects of my research design shall put me in a better position to fully critique and analysis the ways in which the phenomenon of interest has been explored, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives.


There are various ways in which a thesis can be completed and a qualitative, grounded theory thesis does not have to be completed in a set order of literature review – methodology – results – discussion chapters and so on (I’m simplifying the structure of a thesis here) but it can be completed in whatever way a researcher feels the need to complete it. The key is not the order in which the chapters are written, but that throughout the thesis there is a clear, identifiable, observable, and engaging narrative and relationship between the chapters.


Summary


Being upgraded to Ph.D. level is half a surprising outcome but definitely a relief! The current work leading up to around the middle to end of August, possibly, is the drafting of the initial sections of the methodology chapter that refers specifically to documenting and exploring my ontological and epistemological beliefs, argue their relevance to the research phenomena and context, and explain the relationship between my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and the methodological approach.


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.


May 01, 2017

My Current Thinking About Grounded Theory

As mentioned in the previous blog post I still have many unanswered questions, and whilst some questions have been answered and thoughts have been developed from reading many research papers and textbooks, which itself is an ongoing task, many of these questions will be answered as I continue to code through the data and experiment with different Grounded Theory procedures. Experimenting with these procedures shall assist with my understanding, decision and selection justification of the most appropriate procedure for the type of data, disciplinary contexts, and the phenomena itself.


My Current Philosophical Position

At the Philosophical level, I am aligning with the idea of Philosophical fluidity: because Glaser’s writings have been interpreted as philosophically neutral (although there are writings that do suggest that it leans methodologically towards positivism, and some suggest critical realism) and Strauss and Corbin’s writings suggest non-formal adherence to procedures, along with their later writings lining out pragmatism and symbolic interactionism as being the underlying theories of their grounded theory, it can be argued that Grounded Theory encourages philosophical fluidity.


Because my philosophical beliefs align with a realist philosophy; specifically, a realist ontology and an interpretivist, critical epistemology (ideas are continuously being developed here) I can safely reject Charmaz and Clarke’s variants of Grounded Theory as they align themselves with constructivism and post-modernism respectively. I can also argue the rejection of Bryant’s Grounded Theory as appropriate as it aligns with a Pragmatist philosophy but this might not be black or white as I am currently engaged with debates about the methodological level of grounded theory.

Methodological Considerations

My current engagement with the methodological aspect of grounded theory refers to the following questions:


Which procedures of grounded theory are most relevant to a realist conceptualisation of Grounded Theory? Therefore, which version of Grounded Theory out of Glaser, Strauss or even Bryant would be most relevant? Would I have to think about a combination of procedures? Or do I have to in some way create a new procedure? A specific focus in answering this question revolves around debates of Axial Coding, and its relevance to the context of research.


Another question is, what difference does coding for a process introduce to Grounded Theory? Grounded Theory has most popularly been used for coding for experiences and beliefs of a phenomena as opposed to coding for structure and sequences of a process in non-interview based documents and transcripts. From my ongoing readings, I have not come across much literature that covers grounded theory use for developing a substantive theory from observations of a process, as opposed to building a theory from experiences and beliefs.


Therefore, following from this, in what way does a realist Philosophy contribute towards understanding a process from non-interview documents as opposed to understanding a process from the beliefs and experiences of participants as reported in interview based transcripts? What are the philosophical differences here in general? I know that constructivism relates to interview based transcripts, but what about realism and interpretivism and their links with non-interview based documents? Can we assume that interpretivism is some internal process of meaning making and application of meaning on constructs and aspects of reality (reality of the argumentation process) we consider real? What can a realist Philosophy say about qualitative data in general, in contrast with or complementary to constructivist perspectives?


Reflection and Pushing Forwards


Comparing my thoughts documented in much earlier blog posts I do appear to be more settled on grounded theory from a Philosophical perspective and continuously building philosophical arguments for grounded theory. The main area of current contention is the methodological level; specifically, knowing the exact grounded theory procedures to use and this can only be understood as I progress through coding of data and experiment with coding procedures complemented by appropriate reading. Further questions revolve around the way in which the type of theory produced from grounded theory (known as a substantive theory) explains the phenomena of research, and in what way this type of theory can develop into formal theory in the future beyond the Ph.D.


There is a lot to think about here, but I feel that I am placed somewhere in the middle of everything: I am coming from that land of philosophical and methodological confusion of wondering what on Earth do I use and why, to coming to be settled on philosophical perspectives and general methodological approaches. What I am starting to do now is push myself along this philosophical and methodological spectrum towards the side where I am developing philosophical justifications and arguments for the research design, and generally understanding, experimenting with and justifying selections of variants of grounded theory approaches.


Therefore, I have come from the land of philosophical and methodological confusion (Genesis if you’re reading this, no plagiarism intended) to a general sense of philosophical and methodological clarity although specific confusion (for lack of a better term) still exists, and now pushing myself towards specific and detailed clarity. I can tell this is happening because I have felt ready to start writing the thesis, and I have already made a formal start to drafting sections.


Onwards!


Grounded Theory: Philosophically, Methodologically, and Disciplinary fluid?

Grounded theory initially appeared straightforward but it did not take long to realise its complex nature and intense debates surrounding philosophical, methodological and, most recently discovered, disciplinary issues. I first encountered grounded theory through Charmaz’s Constructivist Grounded Theory and read through her book thinking that it would be most relevant to my philosophical beliefs at the time. As I understood the phenomena of interest and the general context of my research through much reading of existing empirical literature revolving around the phenomena of interest, I began to realise that I’m not a constructivist, but a realist. Constructivism and therefore constructivist grounded theory became increasingly irrelevant because of its leaning towards there being multiple realities (I have a belief in a single reality, but not a single reality that is easily discoverable or understood) and an emphasis of the co-construction of meaning between researcher and participant (context of my research does not facilitate such a relationship). I therefore discovered the works of Glaser and Strauss (1968) and Strauss and Corbin (1990) and to this day it hasn’t been easy to decide which is the most relevant to my research and there is a reason for this, which I shall explain further.


There are several key authors of grounded theory: Glaser and Strauss (1968), Strauss and Corbin (1990), Charmaz (2000), Clarke (2003) and Bryant (2016), with each contextualising grounded theory within different philosophical assumptions and methodological approaches (as in, different coding procedures from what I can currently understand). Charmaz as mentioned contextualised grounded theory within a constructivist philosophy following criticisms of Glaser and Strauss’s approaches as leaning too much towards positivism, whilst Clarke positioned Grounded Theory within the context of post-modernism following criticisms of all previous versions. Bryant makes Grounded Theory relevant to practice-based research by positioning Grounded Theory within a Pragmatist philosophy. All these different versions of Grounded Theory have arguably come about through the professional separation of the pioneers of Grounded Theory: Glaser and Strauss.


Initially, Glaser and Strauss were united in their criticisms of social science research and the dominating positivist, objectivist, theory testing approaches to understanding the social world, and embarked on a mission to change that and eventually developed Grounded Theory, which initially was an inductive approach to develop a theory to explain social phenomena.


After a while however, the disciplinary differences and, therefore, theoretical differences between Glaser and Strauss led to their professional break up with each following their own paths to developing grounded theory, with Glaser’s version becoming known as Classical Grounded Theory, whilst Strauss’ version became known as Straussian Grounded Theory. Discussion of the exact differences between the two is beyond the purpose of this blog post but it suffices to say that Straussian Grounded Theory focusses more on combining theory building and theory testing approaches (inductive-deductive or some form of abductive logic) and consists of an extra coding procedure known as Axial Coding, which has been the subject of much criticism from Glaser and Charmaz, and much debate among other authors.


Glaser himself in various research papers and books has highly criticised Straussian Grounded Theory for being too prescriptive and therefore limiting theoretical creativity; however, Strauss and Corbin have both stated that Grounded Theory researchers should not follow a strict adherence to Grounded Theory procedures, but to view the procedures as a guide and therefore adapt according to their research context. And this, I would argue, is where we find the roots of much diversity and fluidity within grounded theory.


Philosophical and Methodological Fluidity


From the writings of Glaser it appears that he opposes the different versions of grounded theory arguing they have transitioned beyond the point where they can reasonably be called Grounded Theory.


The problem with this opposition however is that it has been argued that Glaser’s Grounded Theory is philosophically neutral and can therefore be aligned with any Philosophical position. It’s almost as if Glaser’s opposition focusses on methodological differences rather than Philosophical differences, but it’s the very argument that Philosophy influences methodology that suggests the existence of both philosophical and methodological fluidity. Glaser’s apparent Philosophical neutrality and Strauss and Corbin’s recommendations not to subscribe to strict adherence of Grounded Theory procedures evidences the existence of this fluidity of movement between differing Philosophical positions therefore enabling different variations to be presented. But there is a near limitless debate about this fluidity from all the key authors of Grounded Theory along with discussions from other methodologists and qualitative researchers, but in general there is movement towards this fluidity within research designs as written by some key contemporary methodological authors, all of which I shall be covering in the thesis to some extent.


Disciplinary fluidity


A paper written by Carter and Little (2007) has recently begun to encourage me to think further about the use of Grounded Theory in my research. They present a series of hypothetical scenarios involving a fictional character named “Anna” and a series of considerations she has had to make when designing a research study, and the eventual selection of grounded theory in her study. Briefly, this is encouraging me now to think more about disciplinary assumptions and disciplinary contexts that shall play host to Grounded Theory, and in what exact way and why certain grounded theory procedures are relevant to the discipline within which the phenomena of interest is situated. Additionally, I have to think more about the genesis of the particular version of grounded theory that I desire to use.


Therefore, currently I plan to use Strauss and Corbin’s variant of Grounded Theory. But I have many questions now particularly surrounding the debate about axial coding. I shall be covering some of these questions and thoughts in the next blog post.


References:


Bryant, A (2017): "Grounded Theory and Grounded Theorising: Pragmatism in Research Practice," Published by Oxford University Press


Carter, S.M., Little, M "Justifying Knowledge, Justifying Method, Taking Action: Epistemologies, Methodologies, and Methods in Qualitative Research," Qualitative Health Research, 17 (10), pp 1316 - 1328


Charmaz, K (2014): "Constructing Grounded Theory" (2nd Edition). Published by Sage


Clark, A.E (2003): "Situational Analyses: Grounded Theory Mapping After The Postmodern Turn," Symbolic Interaction, 26 (4), pp 553 - 576


Glaser, B.G., Strauss, A, L (1967): "The Discovery of Grounded Theory," Published by Aldine Transactions


Strauss, A.L., Corbin, J. (1990): "Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory" Published by Sage. (Note that updated editions have been published throughout the years)


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