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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!

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 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!

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