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May 25, 2018

Some Latest Thoughts on the Literature Reviews and Research Design

I have lost count of the amount of times I have rewritten literature review sections and I am now completely rethinking the structure, layout, content and even the number of literature review chapters given the planned changes to the research design. I have quite frankly given up on all ideas of being settled on any kind of literature review format, layout etc. till the day I actually print out the thesis……..

I have a lot of thoughts about the literature reviews. I am now planning on going for at least two literature review chapters with the first engaging with the relationship between society, culture, education and other concepts that I have now come to know as relevant, and the second focussing on the concepts and characteristics of the phenomenon of interest and technologically enhanced learning. The third chapter was going to focus on the exploration and examination of the different theories and models used to explore the phenomenon of interest in different ways. I am not sure now though whether it is best to keep the planned third chapter the way it is, or to discuss and critique existing models and theories when I have developed my own model of what it is I am exploring. However because my research design is emergent, there is a requirement to save critiquing empirical literature most relevant to the phenomenon of interest till the later chapters where literature can be integrated with research findings in order to compare findings, and to authenticate and validate the emerging model or theory. As you can tell I’m not yet decided about the third chapter because of the complexity of the research design……….

Thoughts On The Research Design

The research design has changed because I have now come to fully realise the multi-dimensional and multi-layered nature of the phenomenon of interest. More importantly, I have come to realise or have become more aware of the characteristics of the data that I want to explore as a result of further rereads of the data and, therefore, the result of coming to realise that Grounded Theory simply isn’t going to capture these characteristics.

This realisation has led me to viewing the phenomenon of interest as multi-layered and, therefore, the need to carry out a multi-level approach to data analysis. There is care needed here with language: there is a difference between a multi-level approach and a multi-staged or multi-phased approach. I am saying that the phenomenon of interest can be explored using different levels; in the case of my research, three levels, but I need not go into any detailed explanations as to what they are on here at this time. Therefore I am saying that the phenomenon can be understood in three different ways, but combined they can provide potentially a powerful insight into the complexity and process of the particular learning phenomenon of interest. Whether or not the multi-level perspective of the phenomenon of interest shall lead to a multi-staged (e.g., Mixed Methods) research design remains to be determined. It is likely though to become mixed methods with the way I am currently thinking about the way I would like to investigate the phenomenon of interest.

What I can say is the first phase naturally aligns with the work I have already completed: Grounded Theory coding, or at least the first stage Open Coding. I am not, however, sure at this time if I need to fully develop the codes into grounded theory categories, or if they can simply be left as they are and not call it Open Coding but simply call it another coding process. Either way, I shall be rereading the data again and reread all the codes and theoretical notes that I have made, and the product of the rereading and reanalysis of the data should lead me to decide exactly what further analytical methods I shall be adopting in the further phases.

I do like the idea of using the graph / network analysis as previously discussed and I feel that there is a need for some sort of quantitative analysis of the data (which would make it mixed methods) but I need to ground this need in the data and the literature (though I’ve read enough to consider these approaches as possible).

Grounding the need to change or amend a research design within an emergent research context is an important point to make, because it is easy to think (as has been argued by some authors) of emergent research designs as ‘anything goes’ but this isn’t the case. Not every research project, particularly emergent designs, is fully planned at the beginning stages of the research project. It can take some time and several reanalysis of the data for the design to really emerge and this accompanies the way in which the researcher becomes sensitised or becomes aware of the extent and complexity of the phenomenon of interest, and the way in which is the best approach to understanding this complexity.

What’s important in my current thinking is not that you are able to perceive multi-level complexity or that you potentially or eventually come to the idea that you need to combine various methods in order to capture this complexity, but that you can fully and elaborately justify your choices and justify why you perceive the phenomenon of interest in the way that you do. Everything has to be grounded in data as well as in sound, authentic reasoning and logic that can stand up to scrutiny (which goes right up to your ontological and possibly meta-philosophical considerations), and of course in the literature.

The next step now is to move away from writing the literature review for a while and refocus on analysing the data and continuing to draft the methodology chapters, but I shall explain this further in the next blog post that shall be coming soon. The coming summer months shall be spent therefore mostly on data analysis!

‘till next time!

May 13, 2018

Changes To The Literature Reviews and Research Design: A Need To Enter Time Of Reflection!

I was going to write a few blog posts this weekend to provide updates as to where I am, but then realised that I need to spend some time reflecting upon the recent changes that have happened since Easter to the research and to reflect upon the more immediate ideas that have come about during the past week.

Essentially, I am now making substantial changes to the function and content of the literature reviews. I feel that as I have thought and read further into the phenomenon of interest and the learning contexts within which it has been and can be situated, my previous ideas of the literature review have become disjointed. Whilst in the first chapter I have been able to discuss the link between society, culture, Education and specific technological contexts of social learning (ongoing task), I am starting to realise that some of these discussions could be better addressed in the second chapter. The first chapter is about that aforementioned relationship; therefore, what I can do is strengthen and extend existing discussions and debates about this relationship, whilst taking a lot of the specific technological learning context discussions and merge them with the technological discussions that have taken place in the second chapter, which revolves around concepts related specifically to the phenomenon of interest and the specific technological learning context of interest.

The problem with chapter two is that I think I am being too specific and perhaps should widen the discussions and therefore merge with sections of chapter one. I am not entirely fully sure in what way I shall be achieving this, and although I have some vision or plan this obviously needs to be further articulated. During the week I shall be planning out how I can merge sections of the two chapters together so I can properly form and define that distinctive nature, role and purpose of each chapter whilst making them relative to the research aims and objectives, and logically flow between each other. At the moment with my current approach I am not convinced I can fully elaborate and clearly relate the two chapters. As mentioned, I have a rough vision in my head but it’s going to take a while to work out the way in which this can be achieved. This is especially since I have come to realise that quite a large amount of literature and the different categories of literature that explores the phenomenon of interest in different ways that I thought were irrelevant are now actually relevant! The different sorts and kinds of literature that I have come to know as relevant now alters the layout and content of each chapter. I am also considering scrapping the third chapter that I have previously discussed on my blog, but I shall talk about this more in future blog posts.

As for the research design and the way I shall be exploring the phenomenon of interest, I feel this is going through a transition and as blog readers shall know, this started back at Easter but really, it’s been ongoing for a while. As I think about my data and the patterns I have been observing, and as I think about the purpose and function of my research and what I desire to achieve, my thinking about the research design is also changing. Grounded theory is still on the cards but I’m not sure the extent I can now use grounded theory to achieve what I want to achieve now compared to what I thought I wanted to achieve several months ago. Graph theory and sequence analysis are becoming more and more fascinating as they align with what I want to achieve, and other research methods I once thought were irrelevant have now become relevant to consider and critique either in conjunction with or even replace Grounded Theory completely.

Thinking about the research design more, I wonder if in the methodology chapter I should go all out and define the research design as emergent and therefore talk about how I have viewed and explored the data, and the way that my observations have led and is leading to a variety of different methods being considered and eventually adopted / adapted for context suitability. What I once thought was going to be understood through pure grounded theory approach many months ago is not turning out to be so; that what I am observing and investigating is more complex than I considered, but I have been cognitively and academically flexible enough to accept the possibility of this complexity and have been open enough to consider all possibilities. Now am I really at a point where I no longer believe that using just grounded theory is going to help me achieve what I really want to achieve and to best theorise about, provide a practical solution of, or both, the problem.

During the week I shall be reflecting on all of this, planning and visualising the way that I can merge certain sections of the literature reviews, and to begin to explore other methodological options. I shall also be coming out of the literature review phase soon and return to data analysis and the writing of the methodology chapters.

I shall be writing and reflecting on my blog during the week on all of this and possibly more, so blog readers might be interested in keeping a watch out for blog posts during the coming week!

May 06, 2018

Latest General Ph.D Research Updates

Progress With The Literature Review

Since writing the previous blog post before Easter, most of the attention has been given to the second literature review chapter. This chapter has the purpose of documenting the exploration and critical analysis of the definitions, theoretical perspectives, philosophical and methodological considerations, and practical, empirical applications and findings of the specific social learning phenomenon of interest within various learning contexts. This is ongoing and continuous work.

Currently I am working on two sections of the literature review chapter. The first section refers specifically to the social learning phenomenon: the many definitions from various disciplines (sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.), its structure and its different kinds. Such discussions are then followed by discussions and critiques of its pedagogical uses and the way it has been applied and used within different learning contexts. This part of the section is currently being developed. The other section of the chapter discusses the many practical applications and methodological approaches of the phenomenon of interest within specific technologically enhanced learning contexts.

Both of these sections along with the third planned literature review chapter contain, and shall contain further developments of, extensive and intensive analytical critiques, discussions and engagements with the social learning phenomenon from both a general learning perspective outside of technological contexts, and from within technological learning contexts, with the critiques situated within various associated practical, pedagogical, methodological, theoretical and philosophical approaches.

A couple of things I have noticed with the second literature review chapter, which shall probably also be the case for the third, is that the structure is emerging as I write as opposed to following a strict pre-planned structure I previously constructed. This I am absolutely fine with because it is showing that I can identify and engage with constructs, ideas, empirical findings and theoretical discussions that I had not previously identified or thought of as relevant when I wrote the original plan. If I attempted to fit everything within the pre-planned structure I would severely limit myself as a reflective and critical reader, and would limit my ability to observe new ideas and connections between ideas. Writing a literature review should not render your ability to observe new ideas and new connections limited; writing a literature review really entails having an open mind because every time you read a new piece of literature or even reread a previous paper you are not only likely to make new observations, but are more than likely to make observations you had not previously made. Even recently, and something I am continuing to do, I have been returning to more literature that I thought was irrelevant. This is being driven by my continuous refinement of my conceptual understanding of the phenomenon of interest, and of the continuous refining of my contextual understanding of the phenomenon’s many applications and theoretical perspectives.

Secondly, I am starting to appreciate and value the use of tables within literature reviews to present a large volume of information that would arguably make my critiques and arguments of empirical literature and findings appear disjointed and difficult to read if presented as large reams of text and references. The tables consist of what could be classed as meta-information about the papers e.g., the author, the target discipline and population, pedagogical goals, research goals, etc. I am still constructing and completing the tables at this time, but I can visualise these tables as being useful reference points when I rewrite and further develop my critiques and arguments

Importantly and perhaps crucially, through creating these tables I am able to make further observations that I had not made before, and probably would not have made easily if I had not created these tables. Essentially, I can use these tables to store meta and contextual information of empirical literature without such information ‘getting in the way’ (so to speak) of the flow, logic, order and structure of my arguments and critiques. This should lead to a more complete analysis of the empirical findings, although the tables and information within shall be referenced in some way, and a way that does not disturb the logic and flow of argumentation that could otherwise have happened without the tables.

This is ongoing work and I am planning to spend most of the month continuing to refine, reread and rewrite the literature review sections (and perhaps move onto chapter three) before moving onto focussing more time on data analysis.

Research Design

The new research design that I have been discussing recently has been approved, so as soon as I am happy with the literature review chapters (ha! Like that’ll happen!) I shall be moving onto reanalysing the data and analysing more data.

To recap, I have extended my grounded theory approach to include graph theory / network analysis. This shall involve converting or translating grounded theory findings into suitable graph form and then perform relevant numerical and possibly statistical analysis upon the graph where necessary. Although I have completed a series of diagrams that illustrate the way the design might work in theory, I won’t really know for sure till I go through each data analysis stage.

However, I do feel that this extended grounded theory approach is something that I feel is required and something that I feel addresses concerns that I have had over the past few months, based on what I have observed in the data in terms of the patterns that have been emerging. I feel that I can no longer simply limit myself to grounded theory to explain everything and provide a complete picture, because as mentioned previous blog posts I feel that grounded theory explains “what” is going on in the data, but from my current understanding does not properly or fully elaborate sequential or patterned observations. I might be wrong, but from all that I know, understand and have observed so far I feel that this is the correct approach, which I have been told is workable and justifiable.

There are other options that I am thinking about particularly case study methodology and mixed methods approach. In fact, I have just read a research paper prior to writing this post that explored a particular phenomenon of interest within a very similar technological learning context that adopted a case study approach, so that might be worth following up further. I am not sure if this is a mixed methods approach: it definitely contains a qualitative strand through grounded theory, but I am not sure if the inclusion of the graph theory / network analysis makes the project mixed methods or simply muilti-method. Mixed Methods is a very precise approach to research with its own methodological and theoretical approach to exploring, combining and explaining data in order to explore complex questions.

When I read through literature on mixed methods I can find that there are approaches and reasoning that are related to my project, but then I can also find some doubts that it is mixed methods. If anything, it might definitely not be mixed methods at the level of data collection methods (everything is coming from a single type of data) but is more likely to be mixed methods at the data analysis level.

I am not entirely sure at this time about the inclusion of case study and mixed methods but these are ideas I have been flirting about with for a couple of years or so. I am keeping a very open mind about the design: I have to be, since the research design is emergent in nature, as this design as emerged through making certain observations in the data. Therefore, when I come to analysing further data it might be identified that a case study approach is appropriate. It is challenging, yet fascinating!

Thanks for reading. Have a lovely bank holiday weekend UK readers!

‘till next time!

April 21, 2018

Ph.D Thesis Literature Review Update

What a busy time it has been since I wrote the previous couple of posts about my new research design. I am thinking about this new design constantly and I shall be writing more about the design following on from the previous blog posts in due time, but it suffices to say that the blog posts relate to the second part of the new research design: the graph theory / network analysis stage. The idea at the moment is to convert what shall be the developed grounded theory categories into elements of a network and perform, where and as deemed appropriate, various numerical and quantitative analysis upon the data. I have picked up some really interesting papers and other resources about this so far and some I shall share when I get round to writing the blog posts about the networking side of the research design. I am not entirely sure if it will be mixed methods or multi methods as the need shall emerge from the data analysis but I shall discuss this in future blog posts.

Attention for the time being has been shifted to the rewriting of sections of the second literature review chapter, where I am discussing and exploring specifically the phenomenon of interest and related constructs. The main focus at the moment is continuously rewriting the first section of the second literature review chapter that focusses on the main phenomenon of research interest. I am furthering my exploration of literature and this is leading to a deepening of my conceptual understanding and the potential nuanced existence that the phenomenon of interest takes not just in its own existence but in its co-existence with other learning phenomenon. This is an ongoing process, but this continuous exploration is helping me to further contextualise my discussions of the phenomenon and to really understand the way that this phenomenon fits the context of the research. This first section is important, because it revolves around the reflective, analytical, evaluative and critical exploration of existing conceptualisations and definitions of the phenomenon of interest, the different kinds, and the different ways in which it has been applied within general educational contexts.

The more I develop my depth and breadth of understanding the phenomenon and the more I deepen my explorations into literature, the more I can deepen the breadth and depth of my conceptual understanding, of existing and relevant arguments and debates and engage with them accordingly, and further develop justifications for exploring the phenomenon of interest in the ways that I am presenting. This has always been a long term, continuous process and it continues now, and I am really beginning to observe and understand its complex existence and that it’s part of a complex network of learning phenomena. I am asking a lot of questions about the potential product of the research and the way that the emerging theoretical framework shall be situated between other theoretical frameworks related to exploring other learning phenomena, and therefore the way that it competes with or complements the use of other frameworks. I’m going in directions here I never thought was possible even just a couple of years ago.

As for the process of rewriting the literature review sections, I’ve basically more or less completely rewritten each drafted section completely and continuously extending, amending, and further adding arguments and ideas. Sometimes this can take up the majority of your reading and writing sessions: I spent a whole day recently rewriting a single section because as I was able to develop a concept, idea, argument or critical commentary of a piece of literature or existing argument I was finding that I could reference different aspects of a piece of literature and the ideas and critiques in other areas, effectively leading to a domino effect or a chain of increased idea development across all aspects of that section.

It is a complex process that is continuously driven by the following questions: is what I am suggesting here accurate and correct? Is this the way I am really going to present my argument and critiques? Is the order of the current section logical? Does everything flow and connect appropriately? Does everything communicate exactly what I want to say at that specific time? Is there a way I can better present and build upon my ideas? Can I present my arguments better? Can I improve upon my arguments? Can I in some way enhance them? How can I enhance them? Have I gone deep enough? How do I go deeper into my arguments and ideas? How can I draw out fully the depth and breadth of my ideas and arguments, and their relationships? How do I know when I have achieved the ultimate level of depth and breadth? Is this even possible? How do I know if this is possible? How do I know that I know what is or is not possible? How can I use further literature to support my ideas? How can I use existing literature in different ways? What else do I need to do in various sections? Can I further the logical connections between ideas? Can I present these logical connections between ideas differently? Is this current structure the actual structure of the chapter?

When you think about it though, most of these questions are not just associated with the literature review chapters but every single chapter in the thesis and every single section of each chapter. This is where a line by line, sentence by sentence analysis is coming in handy because I am questioning the purpose, meaning, value, and worth of every sentence. I am questioning the linguistics, grammar, content, accuracy, validity, verifiability, and epistemic stance of each and every sentence. All guided by the questions just mentioned.

Is it taking me a long time to find that happy point with that particular section of the literature review? Yes I think so, but I think I am getting there now and I believe that I have the grounds upon which I can build the rest of the chapter and that might now mean rewriting the other sections of the chapter completely. I have another section that has developed substantially and other section that is in need of a lot of work, but that doesn’t really matter so much now because I can approach the rewriting of other sections within the context of the first section. Remember, everything has to be connected and flow logically. In my opinion there is not a high amount of value in writing disjointed and disconnected sections: you have to write each section in accordance to the first, because it is the first section that really should set the scene and contextual layout for the rest of the chapter sections.

Ongoing and challenging process, yet it is satisfying and a relief when you can observe substantial changes and improvements to the way you are writing your chapters and the way in which everything you want to say is being communicated.

‘Till next time!

March 29, 2018

Reflections Of Ph.D. Work From January To Now!

Now that Easter (or whatever you choose to celebrate) is around the corner it’s time for some reflections of the year so far and what an interesting time it has been between January and now. It’s been one of those time periods where I had a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve, but as is the nature of research I achieved other things that I had not planned on achieving, and made observations that I had not originally anticipated!

That is a good thing or a bad thing depending on the way you perceive the events and the values of the observations you have made leading to the extent to which your ideas develop! There are two tasks that I have focussed on during the recent time frame and that’s the literature review chapters, and the rethinking of the use of Grounded Theory.

The Literature Review Chapters

The main focus of the year so far has been writing and drafting the first literature review chapter, which focusses on the relationship between society, culture, Higher Education and technology, and two sections of the second literature review chapter that focusses on different concepts related to the phenomenon of research interest. I have completed the first drafting of the first literature review chapter although obviously this needs revision and expansion, and also have made suitable progress with the writing of the two sections of the second literature review chapter.

Where I feel a little uneasy with the second chapter is the fact that it is related to the concepts of the phenomenon of interest. Given that my project is based on a grounded theory methodology, I am not entirely sure of the extent to which I should be giving attention to the concepts in the literature review and the extent to which I should give them attention in the findings and discussion sections, for example comparing and contrasting my data with published data in relation to those concepts. What I am thinking is it might be best to discuss the philosophical and theoretical concerns in the literature review chapters and then analyse the concepts empirically: published data in conjunction with my own data, and compare and contrast in order to validate findings or in some way find new ways in which those concepts could be interpreted, observed, measured, occur, and thought about.

Actually writing the chapters has taken and is taking longer than I had anticipated because I did not anticipate the fact that structure of a chapter can actually emerge from the act of writing. In a sense this is not a bad thing: it is a waste of time trying to stuff content in a pre-planned structure when the emerging content, the continuous development of ideas, the emerging debates you are engaging with and the development of your arguments are no longer compatible with the pre-planned structure. Remember that your ideas and arguments and the way you shape and engage with debates relative to your research questions and objectives are continuously developing and therefore, so is your thesis structure.

But overall though I am pleased with what I have been able to achieve in terms of my thesis chapter writing, and I do believe there is value in utilising the edit as you write approach as there is no point in fighting against ideas as they emerge from ideas that you are constructing, and which causes you to rewrite or rethink perhaps the way you present or interrelate previous ideas, or to change and individual ideas as you form new ideas and test their interrelation and compatibility. This is interesting, because not only does your structure emerge as you write, but more ideas and ideas for idea development, redevelopment, restructuring, and interrelation analysis also emerge.

Use of Grounded Theory

I was aiming to progress with theoretical development, but as has been discussed during the year so far on this blog I came across a few challenges referring to the nature of grounded theory e.g, its philosophical framework; the application of grounded theory in my research, and the way in which I was perceiving and exploring the phenomenon of interest. Essentially, I have come to the conclusion that the general approach I took to coding all the data was incorrect (I should not have been coding all the data, only what’s relevant to my specific research interest); that the phenomenon of interest, therefore, was being perceived slightly incorrectly, and that I came to the realisation that a particular theoretical framework best fits grounded theory within the research context, which better guides the use of grounded theory and therefore the way that I perceive and explore the phenomenon.

In a nutshell: the emerging codes, categories and theoretical framework were incorrectly constructed because I was coding every piece of code even those that were irrelevant, but I had not realised their irrelevancy till recently, and it took me a while to figure that out. To resolve this I now have to reread the data and reanalyse through adopting not just a segment by segment analysis, but a closer inspection of the data that clearly activates and signifies the presence of the learning phenomenon of interest. To assist with this process, I am now going to adopt a network analysis method where I can clearly and more appropriately identify trends and network trends of learning phenomenon occurrences and behaviour and I shall be working on developing this method sometime after Easter.

This brings me to the problem I had of perceiving the phenomenon of interest: it took me a long while to realise that I was incorrectly perceiving the behaviour or potential behaviour of the phenomenon of interest relative to the objectives of my research and the research questions I am exploring, as I think I have discussed in a recent blog post. Essentially I perceived the phenomenon of interest as a social entity only, and not cognitive or at least a combination of social and cognitive: sociocognitive. I have now rectified this problem through understanding the phenomenon of interest as both a social and cognitive occurrence, which shall further help with my understanding of the way in which grounded theory and network analysis should be applied in my research.

And therefore, I came to the conclusion that grounded theory was being used incorrectly because I was coding everything. In a sense it is not the case I was misunderstanding grounded theory methods, but I was misapplying them. Through the use of network analysis and through the leaning towards the sociocognitive area of understanding, the problems of misapplying grounded theory should reduce.

That’s that in a nutshell! I’ve sent my supervisor the drafts of my first literature review chapter, two sections of the second literature review chapter and currently engaged with an email discussion about our ideas and conceptions of the phenomenon of interest and I am finding this to be a very fruitful and productive discussion, and which has contributed more to building my arguments, confirming my ideas, and enabling me to question and present alternative ideas to what is being presented. This is what academia is all about, and this is a reason why I adore the discipline of academia that much!

I’m now on an Easter holiday! Thank you to all my blog readers for your continued reading and fingers crossed that you are benefiting in some way from reading my ramblings. Thank you again, and have a peaceful and happy Easter holiday or whatever celebration you choose to take part in!

March 10, 2018

Update Early March 2018 Part A: Overview Of Recent Tasks And Ongoing Challenges

The thesis writing schedule of the week started with a set of guiding questions that would help with determining the content of a particular section of the second literature review chapter. As the week progressed, these questions simply grew and branched out into multiple different directions regarding various aspects of the learning phenomenon of interest, the direction of the thesis chapter, and of grounded theory itself. As I was going through the literature, therefore, I found that I was beginning to address various different aspects of the research simultaneously, which led to moments of feeling overwhelmed during the middle part of the week.

Thankfully towards the end of the week, clarity and direction overcame feelings of being overwhelmed, resulting in generating many more questions than I had started with! Through these questions, more directions and more questions for the literature review chapter could emerge both in terms of its structure and its content. This again is the nature of academic research. If you come out of a reading, writing, or analysis session with more answers than questions then arguably you might not be thinking about things properly, particularly within social science based qualitative research. Some probably won’t agree with my assertions, and that’s fine.

The aim of the second literature review chapter is to define, explain, explore and critique existing conceptual, theoretical and empirical definitions of the main learning phenomenon of interest across a variety of learning contexts, and to explore its interconnection and interrelation with other learning phenomena. A goal of the current and ongoing reading session therefore is to decide the order in which each phenomenon is to be addressed, and to determine and explore the existing relationships as I go through subsequent phenomenon. I am attempting to present the order in a logical manner where the relationships between all concepts and phenomena are clearly illuminated and mapped.

As shall be discussed further in the next blog post, what was overwhelming for a short while was the diverse and complex being and existence of a particular learning phenomenon. The mistake I was making was conflating form and type of learning phenomenon: I was attempting to reduce discussions in the literature review based on the type, and not form, of learning phenomena. As I deepened my understanding of the different types, I realised in the data I have collected there exists multiple types of the learning phenomenon of interest (although more data has to be collected to confirm the importance and value of the existence of different types). This has had interesting implications on the way in which I shall continue to apply grounded theory.

In the next two blog posts I shall be exploring two particular issues I have had to contend with during the week: the first being the differences between form and type of learning phenomena, and in the final part I shall be documenting my thoughts regarding grounded theory from a theoretical perspective.

February 25, 2018

MILESTONE: Completed The First Literature Review Chapter Draft; Commence Full Chapter Rewrite!

Achieved Milestone!

It’s been a while since I posted an update, but I am happy to say that recently I have completed the first draft of the first literature review chapter of the thesis! The structure of the chapter, as has been discussed throughout some of the postings this year so far, has faced challenges and changes particularly when addressing the concepts of society and culture and their relationship to Education. But I think I am now settled on a structure that emerged as I wrote the chapter, and the structure is not likely to change although the content probably shall do as the editing and rewriting continues. Currently, the word count is standing at around ten thousand words but this is due for strong edits and the shifting of blocks of texts to other thesis chapters or to be discarded.

Remember, when I say discarded I don’t mean literally thrown away but placed in another text file so that sections of text can be recalled as necessary if or when they are deemed relevant for a particular chapter.

The content of the chapter consists of explanations of my ever changing understanding and interpretations of the concepts Society, Culture, Education and Social Technology and their relation to each other. Additionally, the content also consists of critiques and evaluations of these relationships as a result of critically engaging with and critical analysis of published debates and discussions, and the continuously developing evaluative arguments based on these critical engagements. What we have then is a continuous grounding and, through rewriting and editing, regrounding of critical engagements and the developing arguments built from these critical engagements.

Through editing and rewriting, these debates and discussions are being extended upon with new directions and observations being made and grounded in existing discussions and debates. Everything being discussed is situated and bounded by the research context including research problem and research questions.

The aim of the first literature review chapter, as I have previous mentioned in a blog post, is to present a case or a justification for the use and exploration of specific social learning technologies, and the use and exploration of specific learning processes and patterns within these social learning technologies. And, therefore, to explain and argue what has given rise to their importance in recent decades. It is aimed to achieve this goal through not only exploring the relationship between society, culture and Education, but also through discussing relevant pedagogical approaches and different social learning theories that enable particular learning patterns and processes of research interest.

Current Thesis Writing Task

The current task is to strongly, comprehensively, substantially, and with great detail rewrite and reedit the content of the first literature review chapter. This process involves rechecking or revalidating claims and arguments I have made and are in development, and to ensure that they are grounded in the critiques of existing published discussions or relevant findings.

You cannot claim anything without fundamentally grounding the argument in existing published arguments and discussions because without such grounding, any existing arguments would lack philosophical and / or empirical basis and would not stand up to scrutiny in any VIVA assessment. Even in the literature review you must begin to develop arguments. A literature review is much more than just a review of literature: it’s a separate research project in its own right and therefore is its own project of argument and critique building. This demonstrates your understanding of current literature and current discussions, and demonstrates your ability to critically engage with existing literature and to build arguments and counter arguments, etc. from these critiques.

In order to reach a comprehensive level of editing and rewriting, I am adopting a line-by-line analysis method. This method enables me to go through each page on a line by line basis, scrutinising every sentence, every word, every thought, every idea, and every debate and discussion that I am developing and therefore reground in existing literature, and to verify and validate references that I am using to assist with argument building particularly in the context of new understanding and new thoughts that I have documented since I began originally writing the literature review.

This is an extensive and at times intensive exercise, but is something that I think is beneficial in the long term because since I started this reediting and rewriting process of the first draft, I have made observations in the literature that I had not previously observed, and have developed and continue to develop further thoughts and amendments to debates and discussions.

I come across some people in particular quarters who oppose the idea of what they consider to be an “over thinking” of reading and writing processes and the way in which we engage with the processes psychologically and mentally. But I argue that to class or to consider such as “over thinking” is an admittance of only having the desire to think at a level of convenience rather than the level of what is actually possible in reality. Trust me, when you are engaging with a Ph.D. and dealing with challenging concepts and their challenging relationships, there is no such thing as overthinking!

When you have taken your thinking and your mind to what you think is your limit, go beyond!

‘till next time!

February 11, 2018

First Mini Milestone Achieved: The First Section of the First Literature Review Chapter!

All research projects consist of a series of major and mini milestones. Major milestones represent the formal completion of academic tasks such as successfully demonstrating progress per year, the completion of the Upgrade paper, the completion and passing of the first year research training assignments, and the completion of the thesis. Mini milestones are smaller, but nevertheless equally significant achievements that are personal to you and what you have set yourself to accomplish.

Most recently I have accomplished my first mini milestone of the thesis writing process: the completion of the first draft of the first section of the first literature review chapter! I am going to call each completed draft section a milestone; each time a section is drafted it’s going to be a milestone because each iteration shall demonstrate continuous progression of understanding, knowledge, awareness and comprehension of the subject matter, and further development of arguments and discussions. Each draft iteration, therefore, shall experience transitions, developments, progress and transformations in various ways. These mini milestones that you set yourself are important, because they are your means of observing and measuring progress and development as a writer, thinker, academic and researcher.

The word “completion” should not be taken in its literal sense, however, because any section that you complete for your thesis at any time in draft form will change. Completion in this sense therefore means that enough has been written so that you can progress onto writing the next section. Remember to relate each section in some way as you write them, as each section should build upon the previous section’s ideas, discussions, debates and arguments. Even in the early drafting stage you should be able to find connections and opportunities to build upon across each section.

The key idea of the first section drafts is to document your ideas and points of debates and discussions as quickly but as detailed as you can based on what you know at the time. Sometimes you might have to use some creativity and imagination when you are thinking about links between different ideas within the paragraphs (remembering to note that you have to explore these ideas further and reference accordingly) and that’s fine. Don’t discard anything out of your mind, just get things down on paper or on the computer.

Forming some sort of logical order and structure to your thoughts during the first draft is not too important. If you can form some logical order and structure as you progress (as I write I can visualise connections between ideas so I try to sort the order and structure out there and then relative to what I currently know, but that’s just a personal preference) that’s fine, but don’t be too worried about that at this time. What is important here is to get your points of debates, discussions, critiques and analysis down, and these shall guide you as you search to develop them further with each draft.

This is not to say, however, that no new points of debates, discussions, critiques and analysis shall emerge from further readings and thinking because they will emerge. As I was reading material for the second section of the chapter, I actually discovered ways that I might be able to develop existing arguments, etc. further and identified new potential points of discussions for the first section. These have been noted and I will come back to them as I write the second draft of the first section. In the meantime my attention is fixed on the next section of the chapter.

Additionally, not only do those arguments, critiques, etc. act as a guide for further reading, but can also inspire and encourage further insights and observations that you had not taken notice of before within the literature. Be creative and imaginative here and think carefully about everything that you read, and carefully relate to your previous discussions. But remember to always, therefore, ground your creative thoughts and imaginative ideas in existing, published debates and discussions or have very sound and logical reasons why your ideas logically build upon existing ideas.

Remember that the key idea of drafting is to continuously strengthen your arguments, debates, discussions, and analysis through engaging with existing literature, and to, as mentioned, think carefully about the literature and the formation and grounding of your further thoughts. As you write each section remember the key rule of building them up on what has been previously discussed. Each idea builds on a previous idea; each paragraph builds upon a previous paragraph in some way, and each section contributes to the overall picture or objective of a chapter.

A milestone is a milestone. Each of them in some way recognises a development in your work and your journey as a researcher and writer. Acknowledge them, reflect upon them, learn, and continue to progress!

February 04, 2018

Further Reflections on the Importance of Discussing Society, Culture and Education

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have not had the time to write this post till now; therefore, consider this post to contain valid thoughts on the subject up to W/C 28th January 2018. I have decided to post this anyway at this time simply for me to track and share my own thinking*

Exploring the importance of Macrosociety in my Research:

In the previous blog post, I discussed the view of Education from a couple of possible general sociological perspectives: the Macro and Micro. I indicated that the Macro perspective could be used to study Education in a variety of ways: impact of social and cultural contexts upon the individual learner; or from a structural perspective that explores the impact of social institutions (Education, law, finance, politics, etc.) on each other. I also talked about and focussed on the Micro perspective, which focusses analysis and explorations on the smaller scale interactions between humans either on a one to one or small group basis, and defines the individuals as having agency that can change institutions.

I suggested the relevance of Macrosociology for the first chapter of the literature review, in terms of explaining what Macrosociological research is, what it entails, what are its characteristics and therefore explain why I am not adopting a Macrosociological perspective. As I began to write about this however I quickly realised that I would have had a problem: pages and pages written about a perspective that has nothing to do with the actual research context, research questions and research problems. It wouldn’t make any sense to include discussions about Macrosociology because although my research is in Education, it is not looking at Education from an institutional level. If I were looking at Education from a Macro perspective it would have made more sense to talk about it, and to talk about which theoretical perspective of Macrosociology I would adopt relative to the context and in comparison with other theoretical approaches.

Exploring the importance of discussing the relationship between society, culture and Education

After battling with the way in which I should present discussions on society and culture, I arrived at the point where I identified the importance of carrying on with relevant discussions. Not in terms of macro or micro perspectives, but in terms of how society has changed, and the way in which these changes, challenges and opportunities have given rise to the importance of types and modes of learning, and therefore, the relevance of the Ph.D.’s research contexts and explorations.

Another cause of change to the way I am structuring the sections and content of the chapter is the definitions of culture. There are many definitions of culture from anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and Educationalists, but essentially all define culture as a set of knowledge, beliefs, values and skills that are transmitted and acquired from one generation to another, but are changeable over time. I had to be mindful of language here, because the words “transmitted,” “acquired,” and “changed” illuminate processes of learning. Culture, however, does not define the actual process of learning, but it can shape and frame the process. This identification of commonality across different cultural definitions made me question my approach of attempting to separate discussions between society, culture, and Education. I’ve now concluded that it is impossible to do, because at the level of definition, society and Education are embedded within the definitions of culture; therefore, there appears to be a strong interrelation between society, culture and Education. They cannot be discussed independently and separately from each other. Society cannot exist without culture, culture cannot exist without society, and discussions about Education simply cannot take place, therefore, without placing it into some sort of social and cultural context

Personal Thoughts and Summary

I am happier with what I have come to realise recently, and have begun to alter the thesis chapter accordingly through merging the discussions of society and culture, and reduce the word count that was over seven thousand words mostly talking about society and culture, but little at that point about Education. Another concern, therefore, that caused a change in approach was that the VIVA assessment panel might have questioned why I wrote so much on society and culture and not Education till after a certain point, especially given I’m doing a Ph.D. in Education and not Sociology or some branch of Cultural Study.

It’s a fascinating journey, and I’m pleased that I have come to realise that acknowledge that the structure isn’t working and therefore change tactics. Do not fight this: it’s important that you are adaptable enough to change, and enable a mindset open enough to be guided by the writing and the reading, rather than religiously adhere to a structure that perhaps did not reflect what you could have known at the time.

Keep reading, and keep writing!

January 21, 2018

Conceptions of the Relationship between Society and Education: Problem Solved (Apparently!)

To Recap

In the previous blog post I talked about the way I was approaching the discussion of society, culture and the relationship between society and culture in the first chapter of the literature review. I began to talk about certain definitions of society that caught my attention and I was beginning to offer initial evaluations and critiques of them. I then offered initial discussions of the characteristics of society, of the definitions and characteristics of culture, and of the relationship between society and culture.

This was progressing fine until I started to discuss the relationship between Society and Education. Two aspects observed in the literature began to puzzle me. Firstly, I was finding that authors would talk about the relationship between a specific type of Education and a specific type of society (e.g., Higher Education in the context of a ‘Learning Society’ and other papers would focus on Higher Education in the context of a ‘Post Modernist Society’). Going into the idea of a ‘Learning Society’ further, I half expected conversations to be based on the promoting of particular learning processes and learning contexts and pedagogies. What I found was different: a ‘Learning Society,’ at least from the papers I was reading, revolves around a complete change in social structures and social institutions and their interactions in order to bring into existence the principles of LifeLong learning. But whilst this perspective has some role in my research, it’s not a complete whole. Why was the Learning Society being viewed as some huge transformation of social structures and social institutions, and not based on the activities within a particular classroom? There appeared to have been little talk of this and I was beginning to wonder if I was viewing Society from an incorrect perspective, or simply reading the wrong papers.

It turned out I was doing both………

Shaping the Views of Society

A particular paper that I have unfortunately misplaced (if I find it I again somewhere on my computer or favourites folder I shall amend this as necessary) clearly defined and made clear to me that the relationship between Society and Education can be viewed from two different perspectives: the Macro and the Micro. This is where, along with other literature I read through as follow ups, I realised that I was actually viewing the relationship from an incorrect perspective: the Macro perspective. The Macro perspective or Macro analysis deals with society at the level of the institution and high level social events, such as social change. The Macro perspective deals with the role of and relationships between institutions, analyses the impact of institutions on each other, analyses the way that changes to an institution affects others, and investigates the way in which institutions have power over and change individuals. Institutions, therefore, have power value and those who carry out Macro based analysis believe that institutions have real power over individuals and that individuals have no agency and therefore have no influence over the construct and function of institutions.

In the example of Education, a Macro perspective would deny that learners have any power-enacting agencies and therefore have no ability to change their institution because they are powered and controlled by institutions. A Macro perspective would also look at the impact that other institutions have on Education and the role and function of Educational institutions (e.g., employment institutions impacting policy and curricular at schools, colleges etc., and University based research) and, therefore, the way that changes to an institution impacts Education.

A Macro perspective for my first literature review chapter is fine insofar as it is useful for describing changes to society, the economy etc. over the decades that gave rise to the need for a change to occur in classrooms, tutor-learner relationship etc. and for the need of and to explore a particular learning phenomenon. However, the Macro does not deal with what happens within classrooms, online learning groups, tutor-student relationship, student-student interaction and other social interactions and processes. For that, a Micro perspective is required.

The Micro perspective, as you have probably guessed, focusses on an individual, interaction between a couple of people, or interactions within a group of people within an institution. The Micro perspective does not necessarily deny that institutions and other large social structures have an impact on individuals, but argues that individuals are power-enacting agents and therefore do have a force and power to change institutions and society. But on the whole, the Micro perspective is interested in the smaller units of society instead of large, giant social structures.

The relationship between society and Education through the Micro perspective is quite diverse, from what I can currently understand, and can be taken in various directions. You can focus on the interactions between the teacher or tutor and the learner, interactions between a teaching assistant or specialised SEN tutor and the learner, the interactions between a specialised SEN tutor and the teacher, or the interactions between students carrying out groupwork in a classroom. Interaction itself is a complex process which can involve sociological and / or psychological processes and can take place within a range of classroom environments, pedagogies, different types of social technologies, different task designs, and different learning goals and purposes. The key characteristic of micro analysis, from what I can currently understand, is that it focusses on interactions, and that it views individuals as power-enacting agents who can bring change to their institutions and social structures.

Where am I going with all this?

That is a wonderful question………

Ok, the research questions, the research context, the fact that the focus is on a social learning phenomenon, and the nature of the problem all necessitates a micro perspective. This, therefore, impacts the research design and the methodology that is used because I am using the methodology from a micro analysis perspective (something that my supervisor briefly mentioned in an email ages ago, which I happened to have just remembered!).
The Macro perspective, however, is useful for the first literature review chapter because it is here I building a platform upon which I can discuss, evaluate, analyse and critique literature related to the learning phenomenon of interest in subsequent literature review chapters. In the first literature review chapter I shall be talking about the relationship between society and Education from that macro level, before progressing towards the changes to society that invoked changes to the Education system, and the way that society is still changing now that, in my belief, invokes the need for, the investigation of, and new thinking of the learning phenomenon. This chapter is yet to be fully restructured and quite frankly the structure might change anyway as I rewrite the chapter, as is the nature of research!

In summary: the Macro and Micro perspective offer completely different views of society, and I was getting myself into a muddle because I was trying to understand the relationship between society and Education from a Macro perspective instead of also thinking about the Micro perspective. Both perspectives now make much more sense to me, and I can now associate each perspective with different parts of the thesis. As I explore the relationship between society and Education further, I might be able to think about more Macro level discussions in further chapters e.g., possibly showing the way that the particular learning phenomenon can provide power-enacting abilities within learners, who can challenge authorities and perhaps bring changes to their environment.


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