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June 22, 2018

Ph.D Update: Research Methods

Since my previous update, I have been reading more about thematic analysis and discourse analysis, as well as beginning to recode and reanalyse the previously coded data, a process at the time influenced by Grounded Theory.

The reading has illuminated text analysis to be a complex area and therefore, there is no clear or shared consensus of the way in which a specific type of text can be or should be analysed. Different methods and methodological ideas lean towards different type of texts to achieve different purposes and different outcomes; at least, that’s what is perceived from the research methodology textbooks. I think it’s more complex than even that because since I have ideas about methodological fluidity (check earlier blog posts) I think potentially any analytical method can be used for any type of text. The key to all this is to understand your data within the context of the research problem, research questions, research discipline, and your own philosophical beliefs and the extent to which you are consciously aware of the values and importance that your beliefs bring to your research. Within the context of my current thinking about my philosophical beliefs, the research problem and questions, etc. there actually isn’t a single individual approach that convinces me to be the absolute way to analyse data that achieves what I want to know.


This is a challenge because how can I possibly analyse data if I do not know which analytical method is best?


The answer comes from releasing your mind; from allowing your mind to be chained to this idea that a specific analytical method is required to becoming open and sensitive to the data; to allow yourself to become sensitised and to allow the data to speak to you. Obviously I am being guided by the research questions and I have a very general approach to what I am looking for based on the previous readings and analysis of the data via grounded theory, and identifying aspects of the data that grounded theory in my opinion is not able to capture (check previous blog posts). Beyond that I am allowing the text data to “speak” instead of me trying to apply any frameworks to it.


This is challenging, but my thinking is that I shall eventually arrive at either a specific analytical approach beyond the initial stage of thematic analysis, or I shall be able to pragmatically combine different aspects and ideas of different analytical methods in order to enable me to explore the data fully and therefore, enable me to achieve what I want to achieve with the research.


I have read through a variety of different analytical approaches, and what I am finding is there are aspects of these approaches that I think are relevant and aspects that are not. It is from these readings that I am leaning towards the possibility of adopting some sort of pragmatic, functional approach to analysing the data. This would involve the combination of different elements and aspects of different approaches, as long as what I do is relevant to the research purpose and questions, and aligns with my philosophical beliefs. What I will have to do in the thesis is to very carefully, reflectively, critically and analytically describe, critique, evaluate and explain what I am doing, how I am doing things, why I am doing things the way I am doing them, and also evaluate, critique, contrast and compare my approach with other approaches relevant to the analysis of the phenomenon of interest.


I could probably write eighty thousand words for the methodology chapter, nevermind the entire thesis………


This is effectively where I am with the data analysis! I have recoded the data that I have previously coded now under the thinking of thematic analysis instead of grounded theory, and I view no problem so far with the transition of thinking. The current task is simply to recode the data, meaning that I have dropped some of the previous codes and created new codes in order to better represent what is going on in the data. This has come from an increased understanding and awareness of the subject content and the way in which the content can be expressed. And also, I’m going beyond the data: I am beginning to visualise, theorise and conceptualise relationships and patterns within the data, which shall contribute towards theme development as the next part of the thematic analysis as well as the phase beyond thematic analysis. But before I get to that point I shall have to analyse more data than previously as I have changed the scope of data collection and data sampling procedures but I can discuss that another time and more specifically in the thesis.


As I code through the data, develop the themes and then begin to go deeper into the data and explore the contexts and expressions of these themes I shall be able to understand which analytical method is best used for the particular type of text (again, in the context of the research problem, research questions, and my own philosophical beliefs), or which aspects of relevant analytical approaches are best combined in a more pragmatic sense.


This is challenging but fascinating area of research and exploration!


‘till next time!


June 10, 2018

Previous Week's Update Part A: Thesis Writing

I have now switched for the time being from the literature review to the methodology chapter(s). Unsurprisingly, there shall be a substantial amount of editing and rewriting of existing chapter sections as they were written at a time I was using a pure grounded theory approach. I think it would be a mistake however to focus any allocated time frame on just a single thesis chapter because, in my opinion, the construction of a thesis is not a linear process particularly in qualitative research. There is fluidity in the intellectual movement across thesis chapters as they are being constructed and / or edited. As you are reading and writing for a particular chapter, ideas and thoughts relevant for earlier or later chapters might be revealed. Do not fight these happenings and occurrences: record them in whatever way is convenient at a particular time, even if it’s just a few words written down quickly on a piece of paper, so that you can follow up on your ideas at a later time. We all develop a strategy for doing this: for example, I write more extensive ideas down on paper before transferring them to the computer and extending and amending accordingly; any terms I want to explore further I simply type some key words into a search engine and save the results for future exploration. Whatever you do, do not dismiss or undermine any ideas that come to you, because during the Ph.D. so far I have found a lot of value in keeping ideas, documents, papers, word processed pages of previous ideas etc. as it was proven recently that lots of previous work has suddenly become quite relevant. Don’t dismiss or discount anything that comes to you!


The current methodological writing process at the moment is on paper instead of on the computer. I find this beneficial because with writing on paper sometimes I feel that I can explore my own ideas and play with my ideas better than I can on the computer. You could call this experimental writing of ideas, where try to carefully elaborate on my ideas and test according to what is suggested in the literature, and to think carefully about the way that literature supports my ideas. I obviously cannot write a thesis chapter on paper, but what I can do more effectively is to experiment with my writing and with my thoughts. I can also do this on the computer, but I feel that it’s best to start with on paper, but that’s just my preference! Opposition is welcome too, because if you engage with opposing views you can carefully construct a reasonable response that continues to support your views. As long as what you construct is logical and counters the opposing claims in a reasonable way with well grounded elaborations and explanations, supported where necessary and appropriate by relevant literature.


The topic of my current methodological writings is philosophy; more specifically, my ontological beliefs and the way that my ontological beliefs are shaping and guiding the utalisation and perspective of the newly assigned methods, as well as the way they are shaping my views of the type and source of data. Briefly, I consider myself an ontological realist (more moderate than staunched), which impacts, as mentioned, the way that I perceive the value of different types and sources of data, and explains the way in which research methods shall be utalised. Being a realist impacts what I perceive to be real, what I consider to be a more truthful or accurate representation of reality, and therefore the way in which different types and sources of data are to be engaged with in order to best understand this reality. These are the topics I have been writing about and obviously there is much more to think about and, therefore, this is an ongoing process. Obviously as time goes on these notes shall be extended and amended in various ways.


What I intend to do is write the methodological chapter as I go through the analysis process. At least, the sections that more closely relate to the utalisation of these research methods, as the methodology chapter(s) contain sections where you have to explain and critique your own understanding and utalisation of whatever research methodology and methods you use for your research. In the meantime however, I shall be working on elaborating on my philosophical beliefs and their relationship with the research method, and the source and type of data before progressing onto engaging with the first stage of analysis, which shall be reanalysing the data.


More on this in the next blog post!


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 23, 2018

Updated Thoughts on Discourse Analysis: Brief Comparisons With Conversational Analysis

Thoughts About Definitions


There has been a plethora of definitions of discourse and many approaches to discourse analysis defined, and understanding them is going to take some time. Judith Baxter in her paper “Discourse-Analytic Approaches to Text and Talk” published in the book “Research Methods in Linguistics” brings some much-needed clarity in this early stage of deepening my understanding of discourse and language. As I had expected, different theoretical orientations, philosophical perspectives, and the disciplines that provide some of the contextual and situational characterisations have caused the emergence of differing definitions and perspectives of discourse and its analysis.


Baxter suggests three general definitions of discourse. Firstly, that discourse can be viewed as language above the sentence: any piece of text that consists of more than just a single sentence can be considered a discourse. Secondly, and is a definition that appeals most to me personally, is the, as Baxter puts it, “functional and sociolinguistic” definition that views language as language-in-use with a focus on the context and situational aspects of discourse. The third definition revolves around the existence of discourses and not just a single discourse, which when placed within a post modernist, post structuralist perspective refers to the emergence of social realities from these discourses, with a focus on power structures and authorities. The first two definitions from what I can currently understand aligns more with a realist ontology perspective of discourse, with Baxter later suggesting that Conversational Analysis is situated within a more realist perspective compared to discourse analysis.


I have some reservations about a post structuralist, post modernist view of discourse that leads to the construction of a social reality. That’s more than likely because I identify myself as an ontological realist or at least some flavour of realism where I believe that external objects exist and through discourse and language can be referred to by learners. I have difficulties in accepting that certain objects are simply constructed by learners, which is advocated by Parker who in 1992 suggested that objects and reality itself are constructed through discourse and language. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, evidence is an externally existing object that is not constructed by the learners at that time (although one could argue that ultimately evidence is a human constructionbut it’s not exactly black or white and quite frankly that’s another matter) but is externally referenced through discourse and language. What we have therefore is a mix of what is real (evidence exists; it is real independent of a participant knowing about it) and what is a construction (the relationship between evidence and another relatable object that needs evidencing, and the discourse surrounding the evidence, which might differ between different types, between different people, and different contexts).

Philosophical Thoughts


It appears to me from the literature that I have read so far, different authors have different philosophical ideas about what discourse analysis is. There appears to be some sort of consensus that discourse analysis is commonly used within a post structuralist, post modernist, Foucauldian theoretical perspective (even though Michael Foucault actually rejected post structuralism and post modernism labels) as well as hermeneutic and interpretive perspectives. Conversation analysis is positioned typically within a more empiricist, realist perspective. Both deal with discourse and language in different ways and there is a huge amount of debate and discussion regarding both. For example, some authors have aligned discourse analysis with a social constructionist epistemology and therefore assume a relativist ontology; however, other social constructionist authors have argued that a social constructionist epistemology does not necessitate a relativist ontology. From what I have read about social constructionism previously and from the notes I have taken, I remember thinking about social constructionism as an epistemological concern and not an ontological concern.


Conversational analysis, meanwhile, according to Baxter works better within the empiricism and realism orientations. From what I can understand with my initial readings, the core attack against Conversational Analysis refers to its philosophical assumptions: some authors suggest that language and discourse cannot be analysed objectively or reveal truth about reality, because those authors believe that the truth of social reality is embedded within the discourse and thus revealing a relativist social reality. This is again something I have difficulties accepting when exploring the phenomenon of research interest because, as already mentioned, as already mentioned through the previous discussion of evidence.


Brief Summary


I appear to be developing a philosophical understanding of Conversational Analysis and Discourse Analysis and therefore from the Philosophical level it could be argued that I am learning towards Conversational Analysis. However, as I think about the methodological application of both I am finding that things are not quite so black and white. And this is where I have a challenge now because it is coming clear that Grounded Theory is not able to capture the characteristics of the data that I am becoming more fascinated with and desire to explore more (and there is a need in literature to explore these characteristics). The question is, which methodology or method do I now use? Which is the most suitable and in what way shall I know which is the best to use? Will graph theory now be affected? Could I still go for a multi-method or mixed method approach to understanding the phenomenon of interest?


Those questions I shall begin to answer in the next post that shall be written soon!


May 22, 2018

Initial Thoughts and Ideas of the Definition and Philosophy of Discourse Analysis

Emergent research designs are shaped by what you observe in your qualitative data. This can include part of the design, perhaps such as the methods that you use to analyse your data or holistic reconfigurations which can include your research questions and even research directions. This is what I am finding with my research design at the moment. I am finding that I am being drawn to characteristics and aspects of the data that are not likely to be captured by grounded theory, but I previously thought they could. I was wondering which methodological direction I could turn or perhaps use in addition to Grounded Theory. I found usefulness in graph theory or network analysis but this still, as far as I can currently understand, is not able to capture the characteristics that I really want to study and explore the most in relation to the phenomenon of interest and characteristics of that phenomenon. After thinking about this further and in conversation with my supervisor I returned to reading about a method I had previously read about but did not think was relevant, till now (plenty of this happening recently!) and that method is Discourse analysis.


Discourse analysis is a complex, fluid, flexible and adaptable set of ideas, competencies, approaches and methods suitable for the analysis of discourse and language use that can be situated with a variety of different theoretical and philosophical theories and ideologies. Because I have only just begun rereading the relevant literature and contextualise the literature within my own philosophical and theoretical frameworks, this blog post briefly sets out some of my initial thoughts of the definitions and philosophies of Discourse Analysis.


Thoughts about definitions


Discourse analysis is, unsurprisingly, the analysis of discourse and language that occurs in a variety of different contexts and situations. Unsurprisingly therefore, many authors of papers and textbooks note the difficulty in creating a universal definition of discourse because different contexts and situations creates different emphasise, types, structures and formations of discourse. Educational discourse, for example, would be different to political discourse, which in turn would be different to scientific discourse, and so on, not to mention there are many internal differences e.g., Educational discourse differs depending on the its purpose and context e.g., teacher-learner discourse is different to, say, student-student discourse. Teacher-learner discourse could be based on power relationships and acknowledgement of authority whilst student-student discourses could emphasise learner empowerment and the impact of democratic classrooms.

I am beginning to align with the perspective of Julianne Cheek where in a paper titled, “At the margins? Discourse Analysis and Qualitative Research” the author argues that to understand discourse analysis is to effectively understand our own theoretical and philosophical positions because discourse analysis can effectively be placed within any theoretical or philosophical orientation. Julianna Cheek situates discourse analysis within Foucauldian Theory, Post Structualism, and Post Modernism; therefore, the author situates their discussions and applications of discourse analysis within those theoretical frameworks.

A while ago I came to the point where I do not consider myself a post structuralist or post modernist in relation to my own views of the phenomenon of interest and I have further acknowledged this through disagreeing with a quote by an author named Parker who in 1992 suggests that all objects of reality and perhaps reality itself is created by our own discourses and language. I find this a little difficult to accept within Educational circles because in a social learning situation where learners disagree, the person who disagrees with another’s claim needs to present an alternative claim and, ideally, some sort of evidence. Where has this evidence come from? If this evidence has come from an external source then it cannot be possibly suggested (from my current understanding) that evidence is constructed by our discourses and language because this evidence has a real, external existence and would exist independent of our own ideas and awareness of it. What might be more correct to suggest, possibly, is that it is not evidence that is constructed by the learners but the discourse and language that is contained within and surrounds the use of this particular piece of evidence in relation to a claim being made within the context of, for example, challenging another claim. Here you have important questions such as what is the relationship between evidence and claim? What is the nature of the evidence? What is the nature of the claim? What is the nature of the relationship? In what way is the other claim being opposed? What are the discourse and language structures being applied? In what way do these differ from person to person and from context to context? It’s a complex field and that’s just a basic example, from what I can currently understand!


Philosophical Thoughts


It’s quite an idea to get your head around: to best understand discourse analysis is to best understand your own philosophical ideas, because it is your philosophical frameworks, both ontological and epistemological, that determines the way in which you frame your qualitative data and your framing of the way in which discourse can be and shall be analysed.

As I have discussed on this blog, I align more with a realist ontology than a relativist ontology (I’ve also hinted towards this in the previous section) and therefore I have difficulties in accepting definitions of discourse that suggest that reality itself is constructed by our discourses and language. I am developing my arguments and critiques of this but it suffices to say currently that perhaps in some cases it is not that the object itself is created by our discourses and language, but it is the meaning and interpretations that we apply to an object that is constructed by our language and discourse but that doesn’t mean that our discourse reflects the reality of it and that doesn’t mean that each account is equally true.

Another observation I have made in the literature is that some authors associate discourse analysis with Social Constructionism. I have talked about Social Constructionism briefly previously on this blog, and what I have found with the previous readings of Social Constructionism is that it does not necessarily align itself with a relativist ontology as some authors attempt to make out (remember though that papers and textbooks are usually written to align with an author’s conceptions of reality) but that it is ontologically neutral. I have to reread the literature on Social Constructionism again but from what I can remember and what I can remember writing about it, Social constructionism as an epistemology can work with varieties of realism as well as relativism. Whichever Social Constructionism is situated ontological depends on you and your conceptualisations of reality.

The philosophical concerns of discourse analysis appear to be very open for debate and therefore there does not appear to be any universally acceptable definition or philosophical positioning of Discourse Analysis. This very much depends on the understanding that you have of yourself and your own philosophical positioning.

This is all work in progress but I do feel that there is a place for Discourse Analysis in my research as it aligns now with the way I have been observing and exploring the data and my observations of Grounded Theory being able to capture what I have been observing. Whether or not I keep Grounded Theory and Graph Theory approach, and whether or not this research is going to be multi-method or mixed methods, depends entirely on the way that I can use discourse analysis, and the way in which it can complement other approaches. A blog post shall be written either soon or sometime in the future about my initial thoughts of the methodological thoughts of discourse analysis.

It’s a complex field!

‘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!


April 08, 2018

Continuation of the Qualitative Thread: Current Thoughts on Axial Coding

In the previous blog post I talked about the role and function of Open Coding, which is to label data segments with meaningful codes that summarise the content, features, characteristics, events and activities within that data segment and from these codes, develop categories and their properties and dimensions. Remember that categories are a collection of similar codes, with data segment characteristics represented as properties and dimensions. Open Coding from what I can understand is essentially descriptive where it attempts to describe the features and characteristics of data through coding and category development, and as argued by some authors, carries realist assumptions based on its use of constant comparative analysis. I did ask questions about where to go next following Open Coding, and now I think I have the answer.


I had my doubts about Axial Coding initially simply because of the challenges and criticisms against Axial Coding from various authors, who shall be engaged with on here at some point and especially in the thesis. But you should never adopt or reject an approach just because others have criticised it: you should instead adopt or reject an approach based on its relevance and suitability for your research project. As long as you justify and reason why (and why not) you have used (or have not used) particular design components and that they are aligned more generally with your philosophical and theoretical (if appropriate) assumptions then you are within your right to use any coding form.


I have now come to the idea that Axial Coding is the most sensible next step level of coding for my research. Open Coding then is that descriptive approach to developing categories; Axial Coding, therefore, is a more abstract means of coding that involves linking or relating categories together in order to better understand a process not through the views and experiences of those experiencing a process, but through exploring the process itself. Axial Coding is beginning to be understood therefore as a means of developing relationships between categories, and of developing relationships between a category and its own properties and dimensions.


During the process of redeveloping my understanding of Open Coding, conceptions of categories were formed: what a category is, what information should best be part of a category, and the guiding questions I have when developing a category further in terms of its properties and dimensions. I have noticed upon further reading that some of the questions I ask of a category, some of the questions align with the purpose of Axial Coding but that’s fine as some authors have stated that the thinking about relationships between categories and between a category and its own properties and dimensions occur during the Open Coding stage. As I recode the data I shall have additional questions though, and are based on the development of the relationships and they include: what forms a relationship? How can I identify a relationship? What is the content of this relationship? What are the features and characteristics of this relationship? What is the influence and impact of the context of the situation upon the relationship? Axial Coding, then, not only establishes relationships but also appears to acknowledge and consider the context of the relationship. For example, a relationship between two categories might differ between different contexts and this is important when exploring learning phenomena.


Although Axial Coding can establish and identify relationships between categories, properties and dimensions, it does not, as far as I can currently understand, produce an actual network of activities and events relating to the sustainability and on-going nature of social learning situations but it can provide the foundational understanding of what is occurring within a discussion through categories, dimensions and properties. However, it might be possible that a grounded theory’s relationship identification process and network diagrams and associated analysis attains a better understanding of certain social learning processes.


This is simple a try it out and find out approach, but from what I have drawn out in a presentation that I am producing for the topic it appears that this is the limitation of grounded theory and hence the introduction of a network analysis method and the interest in quantitatively analysing relationships but this is for another blog post.


In all, Axial Coding makes more sense to my research now if I view it as a means of relating categories, and to relate categories with their properties and dimensions. This makes sense to me because clearly defining relationships between categories and their dimensions and properties shall assist with understanding the complexity and highly nuanced existence of certain learning phenomena and provide a basis upon which I can build complex networks and be able to quantitatively analyse the relationships between these categories.


That’s the picture of Axial Coding for now!


‘till next time!


April 04, 2018

Mixed Methods Research Design: Should This Now Be Considered Suitable?

This past weekend has encouraged me to re-evaluate and re-explore the value of using both quantitative and qualitative data within my research project. This is an ongoing task that demands careful and reflective thought, and currently constructing diagrams that illustrate aspects of the design and the way in which these different aspects relate to each other, and the way in which the research shall now progress. Once I have completed these diagrams I shall be sending them to my supervisor for further feedback and confirmation of the design’s suitability. There are, not surprisingly, many thoughts, questions and ideas that I have about the emerging research design. As mentioned, going through all these thoughts, questions and ideas is an ongoing process but there are some key questions and ideas that I am focussing on at the moment with regards to the characteristics and aspects of the research design.


Firstly, and probably most importantly, should I reemploy a mixed methods approach? Is a mixed methods approach actually possible given the data collection context? Instead of collecting qualitative and quantitative data separately as is typically found in most mixed methods research, I have collected qualitative data and from this data set, both qualitative and quantitative data analysis shall be applied. I have a vision about what qualitative and quantitative data I want, but I am working through how this is going to be precisely and exactly realised particularly the quantitative aspect. I realise therefore I am not using mixed methods at the data collection level, but there appears to be a mixed approach at the data analysis methods level. This has implications at the methodology level: should mixed methods be confirmed as the appropriate approach to the research, then grounded theory becomes the qualitative method and not a methodology, whilst network analysis or some form of it becomes the quantitative method.


But here’s something to think about, and forms my second current thought and question: what comes between grounded theory and network analysis? What acts as the bridge that enables qualitative data to cross over into the quantitative realm? I think the answer lies in visualisation. In my understanding, a network is a visual representation or diagram of what is happening. A phenomenon can be understood through its aspects, features, events or activities and these can be represented as a network of nodes and connections. What I am attempting to do here is convert the concepts, categories and their relationships, products of grounded theory analysis, into a network. I am slowly working through how these grounded theory concepts can be converted into aspects of a network and this is going to take some time, but currently I am thinking that concepts and categories can be represented by nodes, and the relationships between categories can be represented by connections between nodes. What I am also interested in is exploring the relationships between these nodes because it is at these points where interesting observations and values can be obtained, but I’ve yet to figure out the way this can be fully considered. I’m thinking at the moment these relationships shall be related to the hypotheses that shall be developed as well as the properties and dimensions of categories and might also might be involved with quantitative analysis. The quantitative analysis shall be used to analyse these relationships to determine the strength between different types of nodes within different contexts, but the exact relationships and hypotheses that are to be explored are undetermined at this time and shall be until the qualitative data analysis section has been completed. This in a sense brings me to a third concern I am working on.


If my research is to adopt a mixed methods methodology again, what type of mixed methods should it be? My previous approach to mixed methods was a sequential exploratory type where qualitative data were to be collected and analysed first followed by the collection and analysis of quantitative data. This was therefore sequential in nature but I am not sure at this time whether my mixed methods approach now would be sequential or transformative: sequential because qualitative analysis will come after qualitative analysis, or transformative because it might be that some aspects of the qualitative data might be transformed into quantitative data. Is this even possible? It is in some context but I’m not sure if my qualitative data will be able to transform into quantitative and I am probably unable to know this till the qualitative analysis phase is complete and I begin to really look at the findings. At a push at the moment I'd say sequential exploratory: might be best to design both types just in case!


There are many other concerns that I now have that I shall be exploring further as my thinking and experimenting of the potential mixed methods approach progresses: in what way should I now present my research questions? The research questions shall have to change to better represent a potential mixed methods approach as the questions cannot be purely qualitative: a question must be qualitative and another must be quantitative but derived from an overarching question that brings both together.


Also, what are the implications on the use of literature and the roles of the literature reviews? At the moment I cannot imagine there being too many changes because of the important role that grounded theory shall continue to play in terms of identifying the nodes and connections of a network, which shall subsequently have some form or forms of quantitative analysis placed onto it (is this really network analysis, or something else?) although I shall have to double check the role of literature within mixed methods research.


What about the product of or the outcomes of the research? What is the nature of theoretical development within mixed methods research? A key role of mixed methods as described in some of the methodological literature is to both build and test a theory and / or a set of hypotheses. The qualitative aspect builds theoretical constructs and hypotheses and the quantitative strand tests these theoretical constructs and hypotheses.


What shall be or should be the extent to which grounded theory is used? Should I use grounded theory to the extent that a general theme of the learning phenomenon can be established and use that as the basis of the network construction and exploration? Or, should I use grounded theory to the extent that categories, relationships and hypotheses can emerge from the data, but use an existing overarching theoretical framework to guide their use in the network construction, and use quantitative analysis to test the identified relationships and hypotheses that come from the qualitative stage? I am not sure at this time.


What about the case study methodology? Should I return to thinking about the value of a case study methodology with mixed methods approach encased within? There is some debate about whether or not a mixed methods approach really is a methodology and not just a strategy of the way in which methods are to be sequenced or arranged. I shall have to revisit this debate area.


I have so many questions at this time, so many more than answers but I have a plan to work through all these different questions and issues that I have discussed here and more besides. I shall probably be writing on here on a regular basis now if only to document this challenging yet exciting journey and therefore to help me reflect upon my ideas and their development.


Thanks for reading! If you’re on your Easter holidays still, continue to have fun!


March 18, 2018

A Possible Extra Method for the Grounded Theory Project

Soon after the submission of the original upgrade paper in November / December of 2016, I came up with the idea of analysing the data using network analysis as well as grounded theory. Because of the early stage of idea development regarding the use of network analysis, I had not included it in the original upgrade paper. During the early part of winter the previous year, I began to reanalyse the data using grounded theory and was able to think more about the possibility of including network analysis within a grounded theory methodology. Very recently I have been thinking about the theoretical framework of grounded theory in my attempts to possibly move it away from symbolic interactionism (the social) and try to think about ways in which grounded theory can analyse learning processes from a more social psychological perspective. I think I have now found a possible solution (shall talk about this more when I have confirmed with my supervisor of its potential and suitability) and has lead onto the idea now of using network analysis. Reading through the data collected so far indicates to me that there is a strong possibility of the value of using a network analysis, but I am currently developing these ideas and in a discussion with my supervisor about the possible directions of network analysis with grounded theory, and also of the theoretical framework.


Both Grounded Theory and Network Analysis would serve different but relational purposes in order to achieve a better understanding of the process and development of the learning phenomenon of interest.


With Grounded Theory, codes and categories emerge from the data and the categories are developed through identifying and interrelating their dimensions and properties. From what I can currently understand, the key aim of Grounded Theory is to enable the development of a substantive theory with a core essence (category) of a phenomenon defined, and then interrelating all other categories with this core category. Effectively, grounded theory identifies the essences of a phenomenon of interest and through a coding, analytical process that identifies a core category and its interrelation with other categories. A network analysis leading to a network could possibly accompany this theoretical development through providing a more objective stance to using grounded theory, by first identifying the activities and events of each category, translating these events and activities into nods, and represent their relationship in the diagram by using lines.


This network would explain the way that a phenomenon develops or manifests itself over a period of time, which is something I think might be lacking within Grounded Theory analysis. Grounded Theory, from what I can currently understand, explores the existence of and relationships between essences, and do not necessarily describe or explain the way in which these essences enable the progression of a phenomenon’s progress or development. I accept that learning these approaches are continuous and therefore I accept that I might not be fully correct with my current and developing understanding.


This research therefore could lead to three possible scenarios.


First Scenario: the exploration of pure essences of the phenomenon


This would be pure grounded theory: open, axial and selective methods of coding to establish a substantive theory of the phenomenon of research interest. This would be related to the identification and exploration of essences, and the identification of the core essence of the phenomenon of interest.


Second Scenario: identification and explanation of the development of phenomenon via its essences


This would involve using grounded theory to the extent that all activities and events, at least as many as can be observed to exist, of the learning phenomenon are identified, and then are translated or transformed into possible nodes of a network, with their relationships represented by lines on the network. A complete network would be able to describe the progress and manifestation of a phenomenon, and explain the way in which it progresses and is directed.


Third Scenario: Identification of the pure essence, and the development and progress of a phenomenon via its essences


Currently this might be the most likely scenario of my research, and is the combination of both previous scenarios. The aim of the research then would be to identify the essences of the phenomenon of interest and the core essence of the phenomenon as explained in the substantive theory, and describe and explain the progress and development of the phenomenon of interest via its essences, illustrated via a network.

I am continuing to work out the details and to experiment in each scenario. I shall unlikely know the path that I shall definitely be taking till the summertime and after a lot of discussions with the supervisor. But I feel that there might be worth in all three scenarios, and indeed it could be argued that the third scenario could lead to potentially more papers being published as a result of the Ph.D.!


I shall keep you updated with my progress!


March 10, 2018

Update Early March 2018 Part C: Considering the Theoretical Framework of Grounded Theory

What I have found in the data collected so far is what appears to be the presence of both social and cognitive interactions, with both arguably contributing considerably to the function, presence, formation, dynamism and the nuanced existence of the learning phenomenon of interest. But these observations along with the research context surely have important implications on the application and understanding of grounded theory. With that, those of you who have been following my research have noticed my critiques and observations of the incompatibility of the otherwise firmly established relationship between symbolic interactionism and grounded theory with my research.

Do note that these critiques and observations do not suggest anything directly wrong with symbolic interactionism and its relationship with grounded theory, but symbolic interactionism is not suitable as a theoretical framework for my research. This is because symbolic interactionism is a purely sociological theory used by sociologists in their research to investigate participants’ interactions with others through culturally mediated, socially constructed symbols, or objects. Participants interact with the world and constructed objects based on their interpretations and assumed meanings of objects or events of that world. In other words, they do not interact with the world directly, but interact with the world through their symbolic representations. This is effectively what symbolic interactionism is all about in, arguably crudely defined, nutshell. Symbolic interactionism is therefore assigned to grounded theory as the arguably ideal relationship for generating a theory from the data that explains social processes and social behaviour from the perspectives, meanings, understandings and interpretations of the research participants.


For various reasons therefore, and which has been suggested in various research papers, I am attempting to shift grounded theory away from symbolic interactionism, and of pure sociology in general.


But where do I take grounded theory? What are the disciplinary and theoretical foundations for the ideas that I have for grounded theory?


This has been a challenge for quite some time and it continues to be, with the origins of change going back to the pilot study. During the pilot study, I found that I have no direct contact with the research participants, therefore interviews and observations were out of the question. The research does not revolve around the way that research participants construct their world, but that does not necessarily suggest that all social possibilities have been discarded from the research. What I found during the pilot study, therefore, is I am not exploring the learning phenomenon based on the perceptions of that phenomenon, but through actual engagement in its development, production, progress and sustainability.


Following these realisations, they led me to conceptualise the learning phenomenon of interest as cognitive in nature, but pure cognitive theories and perspectives appear to focus on the individual and the way in which one’s cognition influences or frames one’s learning processes. Pure cognitive theories, from my current understanding, do not appear to address the way in which the cultural and social situation of one’s cognition impacts upon the development and sustainability of learning phenomena.


To summarise in a nutshell the differences between social and cognitive theories, the social theories arguably focus on the function, formation, characteristics, effectiveness and behaviour of groups in learning contexts and their interactions; cognitive theories, meanwhile, arguably focus on the characteristics, effectiveness, development, progress and achievements of one’s psyche and cognition. These definitions are arguably presented as a little simplistic, but viewing the theories in this way assists in my ever continuously developing understanding of the characteristics of different groups of theories.


For the past few weeks I have found difficulty in trying to think about the learning phenomenon of interest as a pure social process and a pure cognitive process. A fair percentage of cognitive activities have been observed in the data but I cannot help but to think that their occurrences have only come about due to social interaction processes. Therefore, and thanks to some of the papers I have been reading this past week, I am coming to the idea that the sociocognitive realm might be able to provide me with the most suitable theoretical framework, even if I have to merge or combine ideas from multiple different theoretical perspective as relevant to my wider philosophical beliefs. But understanding of the sociocognitive dimension and relevant theories and potential theoretical frameworks is a continuous and ongoing process.


What I am essentially attempting to achieve is a shift in grounded theory from a sociological perspective to a sociocognitive perspective. It’s a complex subject, but when you think about the process of learning within groups it might not be plausible to just thinking about the social or the cognitive, but to consider both dimensions.
Obviously, I am not going to be able to cover every social and cognitive detail related to all types and forms of the learning phenomenon of interest (this would be impossible: most Ph.D. projects focus on a small section of the social, cognitive, or sociocognitive). A key decision I need to make relatively soon is to decide for sure what processes in relation to the learning phenomenon of interest really interests me, that which I think would be more beneficial to explore (evidenced by the literature review chapters), and that which can be shown to be most relevant to answering my research questions and of the research context.


Again this shows the importance of referring back to your research context and research questions. Additional assistance in my decision making shall come from the data itself, as well as the directions and content of the first literature review chapter, which itself shall likely change in the future but that again is the nature of academic research, and of writing in general.


Thanks for reading. I shall keep you updated!


‘till next time remember: never hold an absolute thought absolutely!


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