All 13 entries tagged Planning
View all 40 entries tagged Planning on Warwick Blogs | View entries tagged Planning at Technorati | There are no images tagged Planning on this blog
November 07, 2019
A reason why I have not fully developed the philosophical and methodological arguments yet is simply because there is a lot here to consider. There are probably things that need considering that I have not even thought about yet, and there are probably things that I gave only a passing glance that need further thought (I’ve come across this several times!).
From what I can currently understand and from what I am currently considering, further thought needs to be given to how the multiple uses of methods is compatible with middle range philosophical positions. I also need to further consider how the approach is compatible with hermeneutical qualitative methodologies. I also have to consider further how thematic, basic quantitative and pattern-based approaches complement each other with respect to the philosophical and methodological positions. I also have to think further about these considerations with respect to the research question and research objectives.
This is all ongoing work and will take a number of months to fully realise and elaborate. This shall obviously lead to the continuous need to edit and probably rewrite the research design chapter sections as deemed necessary.
I am also considering carrying out extra analysis of the data. I have found the essentials of the process of social learning and have developed a better understanding of the process itself, but I have also begun to understand and explain in the thesis what factors inhibits the process of social learning. This needs further work because I am realising that I am developing claims and hypotheses that I am not able to answer, and I am thinking that these assumptions can become more reliable and validated if I carried out further data analysis. This will of course impact the content and ordering of the findings chapter and the discussions chapter. In what way this could happen, what extra content or discussions could be made, and the way that existing discussions shall be amended have not been fully considered yet and won’t be till I decided what other data analysis tasks are required, and to think about the way in which they could affect existing findings.
The coding framework, which is a key deliverable of the research, is now complete but I am also in the process of testing the framework within different contexts. The aim of this is to improve validity and reliability of the framework, and to show its possible areas of application, which might have a profound impact on what has already been discussed in the discussions chapter. The desire is to publish these findings in a research paper in the future.
I also have other ideas for research papers particularly method papers that contribute towards the discussions of ‘multi-methods’ approach particularly with respect to the specific learning context. Papers based on the findings are also planned and I have ideas to publish papers based on each type of method and also in combination, but I am not sure at this time the way this is going to come about and I am going to think about this more next year.
Lots going on! The key emphasis now is on the continuous development and redevelopment of thesis chapters from what I consider to be complete draft form to formal thesis form. Another key emphasis is on testing the analytical framework for validity, reliability and applicability. The other key emphasis is on publishing papers, but this is not an immediate concern and can be left to some point next year. In the meantime between now and Christmas the focus shall be placed on editing and rewriting the first literature review chapter.
What a journey and there’s more to come!
December 30, 2018
The other key task up to Christmas was the redrafting of the literature review. Whilst this redrafting is continuous, the literature review is really beginning to take shape where I believe that the structure and content of the chapter are aligning with the overall chapter goals and ambitions. I have increased discussions and expanded upon existing discussion directions in relation to social learning, relevant areas of technology enhanced learning, and concerns that are specific regarding the phenomenon of research interest. I am greatly expanding discussions to include not just formal learning pedagogies related to the phenomenon of interest, but also informal learning and informal learning approaches. I also continued, and continue, to check through to ensure that arguments and discussions flow logically, systematically, and are in an ordered fashion from general to more specific.
I think in all literature reviews it is important to discuss from the general to the more specific. This way, you can set the context layer by layer. Through this, you can help navigate your reader through the vast maze of concepts, characterisations, definitions, findings and perspectives in relation to your research project. Additionally, and further to the navigation of existing concepts, etc. you can introduce the reader to your critiques, leanings, characterisations and conceptualisations with reference to each layer, and integrate these across each layer to form a cohesive and coherent literature review.
The aim of the research itself is to create a new coding framework and to develop thematic understanding of the content and behaviour of the phenomena of interest. The literature review offers a context for the research; it offers a platform upon which I can explain what the current and relevant coding frames are, to offer critiques of these coding frames, and to explain why there is a need for a new coding framework to assist with the investigation and understanding of the phenomenon of interest. The literature review goes beyond the critiques and discussions of the coding frameworks, as the literature review shall explain, investigate, discuss and critique existing publications regarding the wider social learning and technological learning and communicative contexts within which the phenomenon of interest is being investigated. Further to all of this, I still have to explain why there is a need to further develop thematic understanding of relevant areas of the phenomenon. I still have to explain the aspects and characteristics of the phenomenon I am exploring, the context of this phenomenon, and why the aspects of the phenomena and its context of choice are valuable and important to explore.
I additionally have to explain the value and usefulness of the coding framework against other coding frameworks, and explain how and why it is different from other frameworks and to explain the way in which the coding framework can work with other frameworks. These discussions shall be left till later in the thesis.
At the moment, the word count of the literature review stands at over 10,000 words, though it is expected to have up to around 15.000 words by the time the final version is complete. Always remember though that quality is more important than quantity. With that, I aim to try to keep the first literature review chapter as short as I can whilst including all the meaningful arguments and discussions ordered in a logical fashion from the general to the specific.
In summary, the literature review work is ongoing but I am more confident in the direction that I am now taking the literature review, and the general plans that are in place to produce an engaging, cohesive and coherent chapter. At least, fingers crossed!
October 06, 2018
The fifth and final year of the Ph.D. is now underway! All plans lead towards the submission of the thesis next September, the VIVA defence a few weeks or months following the submission, and the production of more research papers. I have every desire to publish my work following the thesis and where possible, before the submission of the thesis. I have every desire as well to develop a book proposal and have this accepted by an academic publisher: I’m leaning towards the idea of converting my thesis into a book format. I have ideas of what I might like to cover.
I look forward to the coming year, a year that shall academically challenge, excite, scare, and push me and develop me further as an academic researcher. There is always much more to learn, but I am excited because after the many months of experimenting with different analytical approaches to the data, I feel that I am starting to put together a workable plan of data analysis. I feel excited because I can observe continuous development of my understanding of the phenomenon and the data that represents it. This has been achieved through continuous detailing and elaborating of my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and continuous elaborations of the way in which these link with the methodological approach and the methods of data analysis. As I begin to further develop my approach to analysing the data, these elaborations shall no doubt become more detailed and comprehensive.
But I also feel challenged and slightly nervous at the fact that this is the final year and I still feel like I have a lot of analytical work to do, even though I feel like I have already completed a significant amount. Another concern is the simple consideration of the workability of what I shall ultimately develop, and whether or not I’ll actually get the Ph.D. but those thoughts are probably common among a large number of people working towards their Ph.Ds. That said, I do feel more confident with the approaches that I am developing compared to what I was trying to achieve a couple of years ago and even a few months ago.
My understanding of my own epistemology and the way that my beliefs link with methodological approaches and the data analysis methods have altered over the years of thinking about them and experimenting with them. The significant time spent thinking about different philosophical orientations, methodological approaches and experimenting with different analytical methods have been beneficial. This is leading to a thesis chapter that shall include comparisons between different epistemological orientations, methodological concerns and data analysis methods, where they shall be critiqued and evaluated with regards to their effectiveness of exploring the particular type of data in relation to the research questions. It gives me the opportunity not only to write a thesis that provides new knowledge pertaining to the understanding of the phenomena, but also new knowledge with regards to methods and approaches that can be used to explore the phenomena represented as a particular type of text.
Despite these alterations there have been a couple of constants that have remained throughout the research so far: the idea that there is something real independent of our conceptions and beliefs about that something in the social world, and also the appreciation of and desire to adopt a coding and categorisation approach. Coding and categorisation of the data leads to the development of categories and themes, which can be used for further analysis depending on the aims and objectives of the research. Coding and categorising are considered to be the fundamental aspects of qualitative research, and can be a key element of mixed methods research. Qualitative research is dominated by text based resources of different forms and types, which, I am going to argue, can provide different types of knowledge and understanding of a phenomenon. Depending on one’s theoretical and philosophical orientation, one shall perceive the texts in different ways, and place different emphases and meanings upon the text in order to understand the text in various ways related to the phenomena in order to answer the research questions. Coding and categorising, as well as thematic analysing, the data is the key means of capturing the meaning of particular events, actions, and activities either implicitly or explicitly stated in the text. That is essentially qualitative research in a nutshell though, obviously, qualitative research is much more complex than that.
It is a journey, and it’s a journey of constant wonder, awe, inspiration, development, innovation and invention. It’s a journey of challenges, excitement, of emotion, of being inspired, of inspiring others, and it’s a journey that is unique to you and to you alone.
It has been an incredible journey, and it’s nowhere near finished yet! Sometimes I feel that I am really only just beginning: that a real “end” does not necessarily exist, therefore, this idea of “finishing” a Ph.D. is quite an interesting concept. What is it you are actually finishing? Are you finishing the Ph.D. research course? Yes, you are! But are you actually finishing your research? Is that it? Is it done? What about all the ideas that you have developed during the time on your Ph.D. that you had not had the time to implement or develop further? Or what was considered irrelevant at the time but you might be able to think of contexts where they are more relevant? Does your thesis really represent all that your research could be, has been, might be, and should be? You might complete the Ph.D. course, but in reality your own research has only just begun!
Thanks for reading!
‘Till next time!
September 05, 2018
A literature review chapter has been dropped whilst the other two planned literature reviews have been completely redesigned and have been given new purposes. I shall discuss the first literature chapter in this blog and in the second, I shall discuss the second literature review chapter.
The changes to the literature review chapters are as a result of greatly expanding the scope and purpose of the research design chapter. I shall discuss the research design chapter in a later blog post, but here it suffices to say that the research design chapter has changed in order to address the need for qualitative research theses to go into much greater detail of methodologies and methods and to explain the role of the researcher’s biography and background knowledge in constructing the interpretations and analysis of data. The process of explaining my role and the way in which my biography has influenced the research findings is known as ‘researcher reflexivity.’ I am currently planning this to be extensive and comprehensive, and, therefore, the literature reviews had to change.
As some of you longer term readers might know, at the beginning of the year I was going to delve into discussions about the relationship between society, culture and Education. These discussions would have paved the way for discussions about technology and their use in society and culture eventually getting round to their use in Education. Some of these discussions are being shifted to the Introduction section to give the research context a wider perspective and therefore have been dropped from the main literature reviews, whilst some of the other planned discussion points have been dropped completely to save space. The topics that were dropped were deemed to be the least relevant topics.
The first literature review, therefore, has been rewritten completely and leans now towards the idea of comparisons. The chapter offers critical evaluations and comparisons of explorations of the phenomenon of interest across different technological contexts. These comparisons are being used to justify the use and appropriateness of this research’s technological context relative to the phenomenon of interest, and the research’s aims, objectives, and outcome intentions. The use of tables is appropriate here, as each table contains details about the findings of relevant comparative, empirical literature. These findings from each table have been and continue to be compared across each table in order to identify patterns, similarities and differences. From these patterns, similarities and differences, comparisons and associated discussions can be made.
Tables are effective at presenting large amounts of empirical information, and efficient at being able to assist with a variety of comparisons and pattern identification within existing literature. The use of tables within the literature review process affords important and extensive learning opportunities including the development of analytical skills through comparing tables and forming observations of data patterns across the tables, and developing synthesis skills that enable the learner to synthesise large amounts of published findings.
Theory is an important topic of discussion in terms of its position and role not just in the research design but also in the position of theoretical discussions in the thesis. My main concern at the moment is, if I discussed, critiqued, evaluated and compared theories in the literature review I would be giving the impression of having a deductive approach. A deductive approach to understanding the phenomenon of interest means that an existing theory or model would be tested against the collected data, therefore requiring extensive examination of existing theories in the literature review. From my understanding, a qualitative approach typically does not use a deductive method and, therefore, testing theories is not an aim of qualitative research.
Instead, qualitative research aims to construct theories, models, schemes or frameworks from the data; or, arguably more precisely, derives from our verified and validated interpretations of what is happening in the data. This would be using an inductive approach, or a retroductive / abductive approach. The discussions of theories, other models etc. shall take place in later chapters, particularly in the findings chapters where a role of each chapter is to verify and validate themes.
The structure of the literature review is complete in terms of the sections and topics that I want to discuss, although the actual content is still work in progress. Where sections need further development, I have used footnotes to inform and remind myself of the direction of section development, for example in terms of developing ideas, developing arguments, and the way to increase section cohesion, consistency and coherence. A handy tip here, therefore, is to use footnotes to document any thoughts or ideas that you might have to push the development of a section further. If, for example, a particular sentence or paragraph captured a thought that I want to develop further, I would describe such development opportunities in the associated footnote. Using footnotes in this way makes the draft cleaner and more coherent, as well as making everything flow more logically and clearly, and helps to clearly indicate which idea is to be specifically improved or developed in a way that had been described in the footnote.
The content is still work in progress but I am happier with the structure and the way it is now panning out.
That’s the latest updates for the first literature review chapter!
February 11, 2018
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!
January 07, 2018
After a period of festivities (including eating far too much) it’s time to get back to the Ph.D. beginning with a short period of initial planning of what I would like to achieve this coming year. During the planning and strategy development, I have been rethinking questions about what time is, and the importance and value of time when it comes to planning. What is time? In what way can time hinder or assist? It’s important to remember from the beginning not to view your planning and strategizing as something that has to be set in stone and followed in an absolute, unchanging way. Give yourself room to be flexible and manoeuvrable and try not to set it into your head that you must complete a particular task by a particular time, but obviously do your best to achieve as much as you can within any given time frame. Time is a man made creation. Time itself has little control over us, but we can use time as a psychological guide or frame of referencing that assists with our task identification, task ordering, and task structuring, with the order based on the way in which we perceive the need to complete the tasks. The act of structuring and ordering the tasks therefore is time independent, although time itself can be a useful framework if approached in a flexible way.
Several times during the previous year I found that a certain task took longer than I had originally planned, but the task led me to ideas and directions I never considered before. This resulted in the strengthening of my ideas, of my directions, and substantial understanding. I completed some tasks way outside of their original time frame, but I find this as perfectly acceptable because of the way in which the task contributed towards the further development of my ideas and research directions. If you do not complete a task outside of whatever time frame you categorised it, don't panic! If you complete a few tasks then that is fine, but don't beat yourself up if you do not complete every task. Simply replan, and always, always, try to monitor your progress so that you can adjust accordingly.
When you are writing your plans, you cannot at all predict this sort of event or occurrence, and if you are absolute and regimented in your approach then these potentially useful events might not occur at all. Why? Because you would be so focussed on completing a particular task within a particular time that you would not be able to view the task beyond what you have conditioned yourself to observe. Do not allow yourself to be trapped like this. The best you can do is allow these events and occurrences to happen, deal with them accordingly, and readjust your plans as necessary. Do not fight these potentially enlightening, creative, inspiring, developmental yet challenging moments. Let them happen; let them develop you and let them develop your ideas. Dynamism and flexibility are keys here.
The possible time and task independence does not negate the importance of good, appropriate planning at least so you have some sort of guide to direct you to the next important task in the ordering or structure of your plans. Do not rush, and do not be so regimented and strict with the planning process that you enable the process itself to suppress your creativity and originality.
A Brief Look At My Planning As An Example:
My two, long term, main goals of this year are:
· Continue to draft the thesis
· Continue to develop the theoretical framework
I am telling myself here that focus of the year needs to be placed on drafting the thesis, and to continue development of the theoretical framework. Would I be able to complete, for example, the construction of the theoretical framework? It is possible, but I am not going to commit myself to that because I do not want to view the definition of time as more important than the creative, innovative process that come with developing a theoretical framework. If I were to commit myself to completing the theoretical framework, I would be in danger of missing out on moments of creativity and innovation. I really cannot predict if I will complete the theoretical framework this year, but at the same time I am not saying this is impossible.
In my planning, I have broken the rather abstractly stated main goals down into a series of medium term goals and tasks, and short term goals and tasks. I have used a time frame (blocks of time: now and Easter; Easter to summer holidays; summer holidays to Christmas holidays) to categorise and order the goals and tasks, but I am not using time in a regimented and dogmatic way: I am using time as a rough guide to assist with ordering the completion of the identified tasks.
What is most important to me is not to use time in a regimented way; a way that forces me to complete a task at a particular time, but to use time as a rough guide with more focus and emphasis on the importance and value of ordering and structuring task completion, irrespective of time. But, that does not mean I would not be able to complete a task within a specific time period; however, I do not want to restrict whatever creativity the methodology affords me, and whatever unexpected insights within the data that come about that inspire me to return to literature exploration, or to collect more data to further develop conceptual or practical insights. I do not want to get into a position where I am so focussed on completing a task within a particular time frame, that the quality, insights, observations and careful thinking reduces. Be flexible! This is important for Grounded Theory projects. Don’t let your use of time restrict your creativity and your ability to innovate. Plan and think very carefully and use time as a resource, and not the be all of everything.
Do not use time in a way that enables time to restrict your creativity, your ability to view new insights, to develop existing insights, and to observe and critique new events and ideas that you develop and identify. Breaking down your abstract long term goals into more observable, measurable medium and shorter term goals, and understanding the importance, value and order of the tasks you want to carry out is more important than the time you give yourself to complete them. Obviously, do the best that you can and strive to achieve, but don’t ever rush yourself and don’t ever restrict and suppress your creativity in the name of completing within a time you set yourself. I think this is more relevant to grounded theory projects, simply because with grounded theory you simply cannot predict what you are going to find within the data. I might be able to develop some sort of anticipation of what to find as I reread and code more data, but ultimately those anticipations could also act as restrictions.
Be open minded, be flexible, be dynamic, and don’t restrict yourself. Remember that time is a man made construct that should not be used to control and suppress you, but to be used as a guide.
‘till next time! And that was a timely pun!
November 27, 2017
Initial Stage of Grounded Theory Coding
Coding the data using the initial stage of the Grounded Theory process, known as Open Coding or Initial Coding, has progressed substantially since the previous update. In fact, I’ve actually completed the task of coding through the first set of data during the previous week, which I had not expected but has put me ahead of schedule!
Just as a brief reminder, Open Coding or Initial Coding refers to identifying concepts within the data and the use of codes that summaries or describes the meaning or characteristics of that particular data segment, and therefore identifies these concepts. You could say that coding gives data segments an identity that you can refer to time and time again as you progress through your coding, depending on the characteristics that you identify and interpret within each data segment. You are essentially making practical, empirical observations of the data, and interpreting that data to mean something that is of value or in some way contributes towards characterising the phenomenon of interest that you are exploring. Whilst all your codes and code-data segment matching is an interpretive process, it is also objective as all codes are grounded in the data, particularly with the process of comparisons between data segments for similarities of characteristics. I shall be talking more about this in my future short blog series of Grounded Theory from next week.
At the time of writing this blog post, I think I have about twenty or more different codes that I have used across the whole data set, and this is actually a reduction on the amount produced during previous coding sessions. What I am increasingly discovering within the grounded theory approach is the influential impact and role of context on my interpretations, and perhaps the way that I should be interpreting and coding the data, and identifying the appropriateness of code-data segment matching. What is assigned a particular type of code in one context would be coded as something completely different in another context. This appears to be the nature of exploring learning processes and phenomena using grounded theory: the understanding and acquirement of knowledge regarding the development and process of learning differs between contexts. With collaborative learning for example, the collaborative activities, processes and communication shifts and moulds what is happening within the data as time progresses, and can illuminate different patterns at different times depending on the context; depending on what is being dealt with at the time. It is simply not a case of observing a particular process and thinking that it’s always universally understood because learning processes and phenomena have a nuanced existence that is shaped and moulded by events, happenings, actions and others within collaborative situations.
Therefore, as a grounded theory researcher, when you are exploring learning phenomena, the context that envelopes or provides the basis for the learning process is able to mould and shape this learning process over time, yet grounded theory enables you to identify the nuanced existence and subtle differences between the characteristics of similar concepts. Beyond reading the textbooks on grounded theory, the biggest learning curve and learning experience of my application of grounded theory has been trying to understand the importance of context and the way in which this really impacts my interpretations and observations of the data. I’m still learning now. I’m still wondering and questioning if I have really coded everything correctly even though I have checked through things several times during the past week and have altered the coding where I feel necessary.
Along with coding, I’ve also been writing plenty of memos. Memos is a technique of grounded theory that helps you to build your theory by capturing all of your thoughts about the development of your codes, what you have observed, the similarities and differences that you find between coded segments, and the comparisons between different coded segments e.g., their characteristics and contrasts between similar and different concepts and what makes those data segments really what they are.
Additionally, all this information contributes valuable insights and input into your theoretical sensitivity and theoretical awareness of the data, as well as developing theoretical sampling. Theoretical sampling is a qualitative sampling method that determines what to sample next (e.g., what information or data you need next) based on the emerging theory: the observations and questions derived from the data and the codes all guiding and directing the next set of data to pick up and analyse. I shall be talking about this more either during the short blog series of grounded theory or at some point early next year.
Focussing on rewriting the memos shall be the focus of the rest of the week in an attempt to communicate my ideas more clearly, to tidy them up a bit, and to reduce their number and organise them into something that makes a bit more sense. The set of memo writing sessions just completed involved writing a memo page (in some cases several pages) per code, within which each data segment coded with that respective code was explained and compared to previous segments in order to identify and locate subtle differences between each segment, leading in some cases to identification of potential categories (which are basically a combination of various codes and provides the core of the theory) and categorical properties and dimensions.
Writing a memo per code worked fine for a while, and the potential categories identified so far are suitable although these obviously need to be re-examined continuously (shall talk more about categories next month) but what I have realised is I have been taking these data segments out of their context and trying to explain them as standalone entities. As I went deeper into the data I began to realise that data segments can be logically connected, therefore trying to explain them independently of each other was becoming an increasingly difficult task. I found myself referring to these logically connected data segments in order to provide a contextual explanation for the data segments and their difference between other similarly coded data segments.
What I shall do next is rewrite the memos and add more details about the context. Instead of writing about each data segment as stand alone entities, I shall now write about complete units of logically connected data segments. This way, I can break the unit down into constituent segments and attempt to explain them individually and then discuss their relationship to each other as part of that unit. Doing it this way, I think I can then explain the meaning of individual segments without losing its contextual meaning and relationship with other segments. And, I can compare data segment to data segment, and data unit (a series of logically connected data segments) to data unit. It makes sense, um, well, currently in theory……..
What’s The Aim Then?
At the conclusion of the week I aim to have a complete coded first set of data (shall be rechecking again), a full set of rewritten memos and an updated theoretical framework. This will then, as far as I am currently aware of, bring grounded theory work to a conclusion for the year. I shall send everything off to the supervisor for feedback and guidance, and up to the Christmas holiday I shall work on the first literature review chapter, and write the blog series on Grounded Theory!
Plenty to come; watch this space (or just read the blog!)
October 22, 2017
It’s incredible to think that the fourth year of the Ph.D. has started! The previous year was simultaneously scary, exciting, awe inspiring and successful. A successful conference, a published research paper and the successful upgrade from MPhil to Ph.D. were some of the highlights of the highly interesting and inspiring year of the Ph.D.
But that was the previous year! This is a new year (academically speaking) and the new year comes with a new, energised focus and the determination, more than ever before, to continue to write as a comprehensive, detailed, immaculate, complete thesis as I can possibly write within eighty thousand words. The key chapters that I have been working on recently have been, as mentioned in previous blog posts, the literature review chapters (three different literature review chapters serving different but related purposes) and the methodology chapter. My approach to these chapters and the thesis in general has continuously changed in style, structure and content outlines. This has been a result of continuous improvements to my understanding of the different styles, approaches, purposes and construction of different literature reviews; changing nature and style of my methodology and methods of choice, and of developing my academic language and finding my academic “voice.” Further, changes to the thesis have come about as a result of becoming more conscious of my identity as a researcher, as a social scientist, as a philosopher, as a researcher, and of my positioning within this vast and diverse world of academia and educational research.
Becoming conscious of and developing your own identity is an important aspect and product of Ph.D. engagement, and has been the subject of many published journal papers.
It can take a whole Ph.D. program and beyond to really understand who you are as a researcher and where you position yourself in the academic world. I understand my own identity as a researcher more than I have ever been able to understand before, but I know that there is always room for improvement. I can always learn new skills, develop new knowledge, explore new areas and try out new methods and methodologies. There is always much to learn and develop, and there is no doubt that identity awareness and development shall always be a progressive, developmental journey. I have no doubts, therefore, that as the year progresses I will gain further understanding of my position as a researcher and where I position myself in this academic world.
It’s really important that at the beginning of a Ph.D., you don’t hold the belief that you know what it is that you know with absolute certainty. Your research interests might change (I’ve found a new fondness for the Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Language that I did not possess a few years ago), your ideas might change, your methodology and methods might change, your research context might change, and you will change as a researcher. As you really wrap yourself into your research and as you continue to travel along that path of inquiry and questioning of everything, you will gain new knowledge, skills and wisdom to acknowledge the need for changes, and to cope and adapt to these changes. This is not a bad thing, because organic, progressive, natural changes to your Ph.D. as a result of your experiences and increased wisdom (don’t forget to document extensively these changes) will evidence your developing skills and your adaptable and flexible identity as a researcher. Allow any changes to your Ph.D. research be organic and natural and never forced: let those changes be guided by your intuition, by your experience, by your observations, and by your thinking and cognitive connectivity with your research context and reality itself. By fully documenting these changes, you assist yourself in understanding why these changes have occurred in the first place, and what led your research to these changes. The Ph.D. is not just a process of understanding your research phenomena of interest and contribute new knowledge thereof, but also a process of developing your understanding of who you are as a researcher.
I can imagine that every aspect of my Ph.D. shall experience a sense of growth during the year. Identity will more than likely be a part of that growth.
It’s going to be an exciting yet challenging Ph.D. year! This is really the key year that I build the Ph.D. thesis, continue to push forwards with theoretical development, position myself further within this vast universe of academia, and think about the way in which my theoretical contributions can impact philosophical and practical aspects of the research context.
I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m determined, I’m inspired, I’m driven, I’m motivated, I’m scared, I doubt, I think, I write, I read, I……am…….me……
‘till next time!
June 23, 2017
With thirty eight pages of rough drafted notes on paper consisting of ideas, quotes, paraphrases, references, elaborations of thoughts along with goodness knows what amount of loose notes and ramblings on the hard drive all pertaining to the methodology chapter, the plan was laid out: to transform this mess into something that resembled at least the foundations of a draft of the initial parts of the methodological chapter! Well, that was the plan to begin the day but my inquiring mind had other plans……
“Where do I start?” “From what point do I begin?” “What on Earth did I write there?” “What on Earth did I say there?” “Was I high on Easter eggs when I wrote this?” “What is the meaning of what I wrote here?” “Why is my handwriting so shoddy here?” “Wait! If I get a magnifying glass I’ll be able to read this!” And other relevant statements started to ring out as I began to make sense and classify the unordered pages. After managing to make sense of the mess to some extent without wanting to throw the computer out of the window (even though I had not actually typed anything at this time) I began to stare at the blank page. The friendly black cursor thing flashed again and again, as if it was calling me to place my hands on the keyboard and write pages and pages of draft notes that in the future could be classed as meaningless dribble but that wouldn’t matter! What would matter is I would get raw ideas down and sort everything else out at a later point! Thankfully as I began reading through a couple of pages to remind myself of what I said when I originally wrote the notes, I was inspired to write, and throughout the day the following words echoed in my ears: Continuity! Consistency! Cohesion! Coherence! Honestly I felt like I was being invaded by a party political broadcast on behalf of the Let’s Have Another Coherent Thesis Written Party.
As draft formation began, my thinking became channelled. I reflected on what I was writing more intensely, reflectively, and critically than when I was jotting down lots of notes on paper during reading sessions of literature. I was scrutinising every word, sentence, reference and paragraph. I really questioned the purpose, meaning, positioning and context of each sentence. Is there something missing from I had previously written on paper? Can I say this better? Can I improve this in anyway? What ideas should come before this paragraph? What else should be included in this paragraph? Are there any alternative ways I can express these ideas? Have I correctly analysed the references?
All these questions and more ran through my head as I became more critical and reflective of my ideas, style of writing, style of using language to express my ideas and thoughts, the content and semantics of the ideas and thoughts, and the interpretations and representations of references. Perhaps some people might argue that at draft phase, my thinking and general approach might be too involving and too intense for the purpose of writing draft form chapters, but I disagree. In my opinion it’s important to practice self-criticism and self-reflection during academic writing not to the point where you go completely insane, but to the point where you can come away from whatever amount of words, sentences and paragraphs produced feeling satisfied. I am finding that I am much more critical of my thesis writing and any other academic writing than my blog writing. That doesn’t negate the importance of constructing informative, and (somewhat) entertaining blog posts that is as grammatically as solid as possible, but for me personally a blog environment is a bit more relaxed. In other words, I can write a blog post at about nine or ten in the evening when I am in a more relaxed mode: I cannot do this for the thesis.
As can probably be understood, my mind cannot fixate on the main purpose of a draft form: to simply get ideas down on paper and sort everything out at a later time. I like to edit as I write. I like to write a few sentences or even a few paragraphs at a time if possible, and then stop and reread, and edit. It’s quite surprising what you can observe as you reflect upon your own writing and the meaning of the content being produced. In a sense you are engaged with the simultaneous activities of writing and self-reflecting.
When I wrote the first initial paragraph, and without reading the rough notes any further, I started to form ideas of what I could discuss next, and began forming conceptions of what I could say before the paragraph. This initial paragraph discussed briefly as a starting point about human existence and the essence of existence in enabling the existence of social processes. Having reread the paragraph I realised that I should be talking about the context and placement of human existence; to transcend discussions of human existence from its impact on social processes to the concept of human existence itself, and what it means to exist: social ontology!
I wrote a paragraph on social ontology with suitable references, but I was being drawn into talking more about social ontology before even contemplating further discussions on the way that human existence impacts social processes, and what processes would be investigated to what extent and in what way from an ontological sense. This then lead to rereading papers on social ontology and I was picking up ideas and definitions of aspects of social ontology that I had not previously observed or interpreted before. As I was picking up different interpretations and definitions I was rewriting this same paragraph and I must have reedited it over ten times, perhaps even up to twenty times I actually cannot remember. This is the result of reflecting upon existing ideas, thinking about the new interpretations and definitions, and integrating these new ideas with existing ideas and trying to be as concise about these ideas when writing about them.
By the time I completed rereading the small set of closely relevant social ontological papers I had three pages of notes written as part of the draft, but the only piece of this I am actually happy about at this time is the very first paragraph! All the other sentences and paragraphs across the rest of the draft are ready to be linked together, edited, or discarded in some way in time. Even though I do feel happy with the first paragraph, due to the nature of research and editing there is no guarantee that this paragraph will be relevant in future drafts of the chapter, as ideas and directions do change. But, as it is, it’s the most “complete” part of the chapter. I could have easily wrote ten pages from the notes that I have written on paper without carrying out any further thinking, reflecting, critical analysis of the language used and meaning of the content, and reading, but that’s not the way my mind works.
Whilst I would have been able to say “I wrote ten pages wooooo hoooo what a productive time” that would actually be a meaningless statement. Simply because, it’s more important and beneficial in the long term in my opinion to craft a most cohesive, correct, logical and easily flowing paragraph that best represents current ideas and references whilst acknowledging that the paragraph could very well change drastically or even be dropped in the future, than to produce ten pages of what could effectively be meaningless ramblings most of which would be thrown away.
That’s the way my mind works and when I think about it, my writing sessions will not be based on the number of words or the number of pages I can muster in a single writing sessions: I want to make sure that every word, every sentence and every paragraph is as carefully constructed, is as meaningful, and is as grammatically, syntactically and semantically correct as is possible at the current time of writing. That, to me, is most important.
My advice? Don’t focus too much on quantity and go for quality. Even in just draft form, it is still worth taking the time needed to construct well-crafted paragraphs that expresses what you want to say as effectively as possible. Academic language is not easy to master, but pausing and reflecting on your writing, identifying knowledge and language gaps and really questioning everything that you write and the way you write shall benefit you more in the long run!
June 18, 2017
Confirmation arrived by email earlier the previous week, confirming that my research work has been successfully upgraded to Ph.D. level! The successful confirmation has been met with surprise and feelings of relief, as the confirmation is the result of a reassessment of my work following the upgrade presentation that took place a few months ago, where my work at the time nearly matched Ph.D. level but had to make a few alterations to the research design. These alterations initially came about as doubts that I had about the suitability of my own research design subsequent to first submission of the upgrade paper, but before the upgrade presentation and these doubts were confirmed during the presentation.
As has been detailed and heavily documented in my previous blog posts, the Mixed Methods approach was dropped in favour of a Case Study Grounded Theory research design and the rewritten upgrade paper, which increased in word count from three thousand words to between six to seven thousand words, was based around this research design. The literature review, methodology, trial study and discussion chapters were significantly revamped to reflect updated readings, changes in methodological directions, thoughts about the phenomena of interest, initial data findings, hypotheses and thoughts about the data.
Eventually I was happy to send it in for reassessment, and led to my research upgraded to Ph.D. level!
Current Status Of Research
But even now I’m debating my research design as I am beginning to feel that a case study design is no longer appropriate, as a characteristic of a case study design is its suitability for research where the boundaries of the context and phenomena of interest are not clearly defined.
What this means is, a case study design is most suitable in situations where the boundary definitions of the phenomena of interest (I am taking this to mean contextual, research environment and situational boundaries) are not clearly understood or are clear. However, as I come to know and understand my own philosophical beliefs and read intensely about them, along with analysing and thinking about the data relating to the phenomena, the more I am beginning to realise that there are situational and contextual boundaries and that I am able to clearly define these boundaries. Therefore, the case study option might be dropped. I shall explore this more though and write a blog post in the future when I am fully convinced this is the case, and no pun intended!
Doubts are also beginning to come about regarding the possible use of interviews in the research. The idea of using interviews came about when I followed a more constructivist epistemological approach, but having really analysed the situational context of my research a few months ago I shifted away from constructivist epistemology to constructionist epistemology. Basically, the type of interviews I wanted to carry out are known as semi-structured interviews, which enable co-construction of meaning and knowledge about concepts of reality to take place between the interviewer and the interviewee; also, the research interviews could be taken into different directions depending on the answers given by the interviewee in order to enable myself as the researcher to explore specific thoughts further. This is a sign of a constructivist approach therefore I am not entirely convinced this is achievable with a constructionist epistemology. This is something I need to look at further in the future.
Apart from those two concerns, everything else is more or less decided upon: an ontological realist approach, a social constructionist epistemology, and the possibility of dropping the case study methodology and upgrade grounded theory to a full methodological approach therefore in a sense the grounded theory shall be situated within a realist-constructionist paradigm.
What is the current focus? Where to next?
I have made tentative plans up to around the middle to the end of August where I am planning to take my annual summer time off before the long autumn and winter stretch towards Christmas. The plans, put in place about a month or so ago following the successful Warwick University conference, revolve around developing philosophical justifications for my research design, and to attempt to argue the case for a realist-constructionist paradigm as most suitable for exploring the phenomena of interest, as opposed to a positivist paradigm or a relativist paradigm.
Essentially, the main current focus is to begin drafting the initial sections of the methodological chapter of the thesis. The initial sections of the methodology chapter aim to explain and explore my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and therefore reflexivity, reflectively, and critically analyse and acknowledge any personal biases and the way that these biases might have affected the implementation of the research design, and the development of the theory. Obviously I will have to edit the methodology chapter to include such reflexivity, reflections and critical analysis in the future as I have not fully applied the research design.
However, the main focus at the moment is to develop philosophical justifications of the research design: I need to explain what my ontological and epistemological beliefs are; justify and explain why the phenomenon of interest is being explored from a realist, constructionist perspective; compare to other perspectives that other researchers have considered in the past; and to explain in detail the relationship between ontology (realism), epistemology (social constructionism) and methodology (grounded theory).
Some might consider this as a little odd because I am writing the early chapters of the thesis in somewhat of a reverse order, as I am writing the methodological chapter, or at least the beginning of it, before fully drafting the literature review. But this approach makes sense to me. I’m leaning more heavily towards philosophy compared to a couple of years ago, and I feel that a full understanding of the philosophical aspects of my research design shall put me in a better position to fully critique and analysis the ways in which the phenomenon of interest has been explored, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives.
There are various ways in which a thesis can be completed and a qualitative, grounded theory thesis does not have to be completed in a set order of literature review – methodology – results – discussion chapters and so on (I’m simplifying the structure of a thesis here) but it can be completed in whatever way a researcher feels the need to complete it. The key is not the order in which the chapters are written, but that throughout the thesis there is a clear, identifiable, observable, and engaging narrative and relationship between the chapters.
Being upgraded to Ph.D. level is half a surprising outcome but definitely a relief! The current work leading up to around the middle to end of August, possibly, is the drafting of the initial sections of the methodology chapter that refers specifically to documenting and exploring my ontological and epistemological beliefs, argue their relevance to the research phenomena and context, and explain the relationship between my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and the methodological approach.