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July 08, 2019

Ph.D Update On The Thesis Work So Far, Part B

Progress On Data Analysis And Findings Chapter

Data analysis was completed earlier this year leading what I believe to be a complete set of codes, and a complete set of themes that forms the thematic framework. As per the requirements of thematic analysis, I have been able to identify how the themes relate to each other and as a result, I have been able to complete the findings chapter. There are various theses available that revolve around the use of thematic analysis, and these have assisted greatly with forming and shaping the structure of the findings chapter. Briefly, the findings chapter is where I describe and explain the meaning, description, and explanations of the functions and purposes and variation of each theme, with all claims of the data backed up using relevant extracts from the data that justifies the claims being made.

As a side note that relates to the findings chapter, but also the research design chapter, I very much recommend that you read other theses that apply the methods and methodologies that you use so that you can attain a sense of their functionality and use, and perhaps attain an understanding of the extent to which they have been used so far across different philosophical, theoretical and disciplinary contexts.

What you can state in your thesis is your observations of how the selected methodologies and methods have been used within different philosophical and theoretical positions, and if you can find approaches that match exactly what you are doing in terms of your research design that could be useful. However, this is not a guarantee as research design itself is an evolving field of research and practice. Sometimes, if you feel convicted in your beliefs and reason about your research design, you have to take a risk, but make sure that you clearly, comprehensively, meticulously, and considerable detail, explain, and justify the components of your design, and the way that they relate to each other. An interesting approach is to argue how your philosophical and theoretical positions could provide further insights into the characteristics and behaviour of the phenomenon that other philosophical positions would not be able to observe. I’m planning to write a paper on this subject.

Discussions Chapter

The discussions chapter is where the findings are situated within a more interpretive, theoretical level and situated within existing literature in order to provide reasoned validation to the themes, and to increase their reliability and validity in their ‘existence’ through their existence being perceived and interpreted by other authors across different contexts. The discussions chapter is being divided into a couple of parts. The first part simply discusses the key findings, the core themes, and how they relate to each other in order to address the research problem and answer the research question. It is in this chapter, therefore, that you strongly link your findings to the research question, how they are relevant to the research question, and the way that they connect with the research problem and offer a possible solution. Remember, because your framework is built on a set of reasoned and rationalised interpretations grounded in the data, you cannot be absolute and certain about the absolute validity of your interpretations. This is particularly the extent to which they are generalizable across multiple contexts. This is a big debate in literature.

The second part of the chapter revolves around situating my findings and the discussions of my findings in the context of the wider literature, and this is where I begin to compare my themes, claims, codes, observations, etc. to other research and literature. This is where I am reading literature that very closely matches my own in terms of naming themes and codes with very similar functions to my own in order to validate and verify my themes. Not only this, but I can use extant literature to explain how my thematic framework differs from what exists, why it is different, and why these differences are important. This is where the second literature review takes place, and is effectively embedded and integrated in with the discussions of the findings.

It can take a long time to work out the way that this second literature review shall be shaped. You won't really know till you have completed your data analysis and have, therefore, developed your themes. It is your themes, how you view your themes, and the context within which these themes have been developed, that guide your understanding of existing literature, and how you compare your themes to what already exists. This is why it is important to ensure that the literature you choose for both the first literature review chapter and the integrated literature review is correct and relevant for the purposes of (a) research contextualisation and (b) for the purposes of validating your themes. An incorrect approach to discussions can disjoint your literature reviews and qualitative thesis as a whole. It has taken me a long time to figure this out and, quite honestly, it wasn’t until I completed the data analysis that I was able to build that complete picture of how I am going to discuss my framework and the frameworks of others, and where in the thesis I can discuss them. I am still thinknig about the very fine details, it's an ongoing process.

Implications Chapter

Have literally just begun this chapter so a full vision of the chapter has yet to be developed. However this takes what has been discussed from the previous chapter, the critiques of the literature and the explanations of the findings, and situates these discussions in the broader and wider theoretical and disciplinary landscape of the research. Because the discipline of my research is Education, I would have to link these discussions to the broader practice of education e.g., how the findings impact teaching and learning practice, how does the framework assist with researchers in their explorations of online learning, how can the framework be used in different contexts, etc. Also link with the theories of learning and perhaps link with the general goals and purposes of Education in our society, I’m guessing, I am not fully sure but I might just go for it anyway…..

I remember writing lots about the goals and purposes of Education in the past as part of the role of Education in society, but I had archived those discussions because I didn’t think they were relevant. Thankfully, they are archived and not deleted completely so they might prove to be relevant after all!

Side Note

The previous couple of posts show where I am more or less up to at the moment! Still a fair way to go, but I have a vision that continues to unravel itself as time progresses and the more that I write. It is important to keep that vision and to keep that in focus because when you become overwhelmed, you have that to guide you. That, and the mindset that tells you that it is better to feel overwhelmed with so much to say, than to feel underwhelmed and feel devoid of anything to say.

‘till next time!


Ph.D. Update On The Thesis Work So Far, Part A

I apologise for not writing a blog post in quite a while! I noticed that the previous update was way back earlier this year. Admittedly, blogging was put aside for a while as I simply wanted to focus on writing the thesis and complete the data analysis with the intentions of returning to the blog when I had more time to spare to blog about what I have completed and where I am going with everything.


Since I wrote the previous update there have been times when I have felt overwhelmed not because I have struggled with knowing what to say, but knowing what to say where. This has not necessarily led to times of anxiety and paranoia, but of uncertainty. What carried me through the times that I have been overwhelmed and felt uncertain is this single thought: I’d rather feel overwhelmed due to having a lot to say, than to feel underwhelmed with nothing to say! It takes time, but persevere and make sure you are continuously writing. It doesn’t matter what form your ideas take on paper, just get them down on paper and sort out the edits and presentations afterwards.


The Literature Review


Much of the literature review has now been completed and it’s a case of editing what I have already written and complete and edit the critical summary section. A section that I have been working on during the past few months involves the critique of various analytical coding frameworks pertaining the exploration and analysis of the phenomenon of interest. This has not been an easy section to write because of the very nature of qualitative research and approaches needed to write qualitative theses. Briefly, the approach that I am adopting to handle and critique the literature more generally is to split the literature review in a couple of parts, each of which serving different purposes. The first literature review chapter contextualises the phenomenon of interest. By this, the first literature review refers to conceptualisation and definition: I am explaining and critiquing how the phenomenon of interest has been conceptualised in the literature, how the phenomenon has been identified and explored across different contexts, and to critique these approaches to exploring the phenomena in order to situate the need for my research within these critiques.


With the analytical models, in this first part of the overall review of the literature, I have to explain the models in a way that demonstrates how the phenomenon of interest has been analysed, and critique the general approach of the models. The second part of the review is integrated in with the discussions of the findings, and I shall explain this in the next blog post.


Research Design Chapter


This is more or less complete in various drafted forms, it’s just a matter of trying to put the whole chapter together. I have written the introduction section, explanations and descriptions of the research design itself, explanations of the research questions and objectives, my position as a researcher, my philosophical position, and the explanation and justification of the selection of the methodology and methods. Other sections I am working on include discussions about the sources of the data, the setting of the research, and detailing the process of coding and thematic development. Additionally, I am attempting to write justifications in terms of how the methodologies and methods have been used before so that I can attempt to verify the historical effectiveness of various aspects of the research design. Phew!


This has been another chapter that has received many edits and redesigns, but I am now happy with the chapter with the way it is and the way it is progressing. Still a fair bit to write, but everything is basically written in pre-draft form it’s just a matter of editing and putting the sections together so it shouldn’t be too bad. What has been the most challenging section, to be honest, has been the Philosophical section and then working out the way this relates to the methodology. It can take a long time to work out your philosophies, and even then they can change so try not to be too much of an absolutist no matter what your position you believe best matches your own. Be dynamic and be flexible.


In Part B, I shall discuss briefly where I am with the latter part of the thesis.


April 18, 2019

Research Design Chapter Philosophical Section: How Much Is Too Much? Part B

Philosophically, how much is too much? There is no definite answer here. I’ve spent the day editing the Philosophical section of my research design chapter following contact with my supervisor. This feedback is proving to be invaluable, because it has guided my editing and also consideration of the content.


Previously I wrote the philosophical section using a comparative, reflective approach. During my time on the Ph.D., I have engaged with a variety of different ontological and epistemological positions. As a result, this led to writing separate ontological and epistemological sections.


Within each section I have attempted to tell a progressive narrative of my engagement with different positions. I discussed how I previously conceived the existence of the phenomenon (ontology) and how I believed that we come to know this phenomenon (epistemology). This led to discussing and explaining how these conceptions changed over time, how this led to me oscillating between different positions, and finally, I explained how I selected the ideal position (with epistemological beliefs drawing from various positions), and offered a justification of their selection.

Why did I do this? I am fascinated with the Philosophical aspects of the research and of the phenomenon, and I also wanted to address concerns in methodological literature about the lack of philosophical discussions within theses.

Recently, I returned to available, relevant qualitative theses and read through their research design chapters again. Clearly, as mentioned in a previous post, there is great variety in the reporting of the philosophical stance with some conflating ontology with epistemology, which I do not agree with. A combination of supervisor feedback and rereading of the theses indicated that what I have produced could be better as future, publishable philosophical essays separate from the thesis, but still relevant in reporting my experiences of the Ph.D. journey. Additionally, these essays could contribute something useful or original to the general discussion of research Philosophy.

The essence of the research design chapter is to discuss specifically about what was actually carried out in the research, as well as developing the appropriate Philosophical, methodological and practical justifications. I find that a lot of theses tend to focus more on methodology and methods than the underlying philosophical stance that underpins or frames the methodology.

I have difficulties with lip service paid to the Philosophical section. Philosophy carries methodology and, therefore, is the foundation upon which methodologies and methods are placed upon. Philosophy provides the framework to how the methodology defines how phenomenon is to be investigated and understood, through the appropriate selection and definition of methods and procedures.

Lacklustre discussions of Philosophies, in my view, make it difficult to validate, authenticate, verify and contextualise the findings. It makes it difficult to understand where the researcher is coming from, and it makes it difficult to understand how the researcher perceives reality. It is difficult to assume, for example, if a theoretical framework is developed from a constructivist or interpretivist perspective unless this is explicitly stated within the research design section.

How much is too much? It depends. The thesis is the core of the Ph.D. It is the core, central artefact of the Ph.D. endeavour that communicates what you have done, how, why, where and when. The Philosophical aspect of your research design, therefore, has to relate very specifically to the ontological and epistemological positions that relate specifically and strongly to your design and to your conceptions of the phenomenon. How much is too much or too little depends on what you are exploring and perhaps arguably how much you value Philosophy, and are willing to engage with philosophical issues of your research. Regardless, however, nothing should lead to lip service being paid to philosophical issues.

The edited version of the chapter now doesn’t consist of extensive comparative discussions of different positions that have been critically and reflectively engaged with, nor is there any discussion of how I shifted and changed positions. Everything is now strictly and directly relative to what was actually carried out, how, and why, their impact on the research design, their impact on the research phenomenon, and the appropriate justification of ontological and epistemological beliefs and their position within existing theories and literature.

Where has all the comparative discussions gone? Where have all the discussions about how I have changed conceptions over time and how those changed entailed shifting between different positions been placed? Has all that been wasted?

Not at all, because now all of that detail can be taken out of the thesis and be turned into publishable, philosophical essays and that is something that I will be working towards! This reason alone made the process worthwhile. The process of engaging with different ontological and epistemological positions increased my understanding of how philosophy impacts methodology and of how I could have interpreted and explored the phenomena within different positions. This enriches knowledge about Philosophy, and empowers the researcher to contribute potentially to academic discourse and existing, unresolved issues.

That, folks, is the ultimate goal of academia, and the ultimate goal of who you are as a researcher. Write and contribute because you want to, not because you have to. If you’re not in the business to contribute in some way, then really, what’s the point?

‘till next time!


February 21, 2019

A Year In Reflection, Part C: Thesis Progress

I apologise for the lateness of the continuation of the reflective posts, where I reflect over the past year’s progress. With this final blog post in the series of reflective posts, I shall focus on the thesis.

I find myself in an interesting position when it comes to the order in which the thesis chapters are being written. Typically, the chapters of a thesis are written in order: introduction, literature review, research design, findings and discussion of findings (I accept this is a very simplistic overview!). I appear to find myself switching between chapters at different times, that writing sections in later chapters help to further develop previous chapters, and that I appear to be writing the findings and discussion of findings chapter (albeit in very rough form) at the same time as engaging with data analysis.

Most influentially, the engagement with the data analysis process has shaped the development and direction of the literature review, the use of the literature, as well as the direction of the research design and the construction of the research design chapter. This is probably to do with the nature of the research: I am adopting an inductive approach to qualitative analysis, and I am coming to realise that inductive research shapes our understanding of not just the data but also the wider literature landscape. Additionally, the changes to philosophical and methodological stances, as has been reported in the two previous blogs, have occurred through engagement with the data. Furthering this, it is the process of critical engagement with the data e.g., the act of asking questions about the data, about what I was perceiving and interpreting from the data, that led to alterations of my philosophical and methodological stances. Ultimately this has led to the reworking of the research design chapter’s philosophical sections.

Reflecting further, I did attempt to write the research design chapter prior to data analysis, as is typically the case, but I found this difficult. I found this difficult because I had to predict what methods I was going to use, but because I was experimenting with different ideas I could not rationalise the decision making at that time. Therefore, I found it better to write the research design chapter (particularly writing about the application of the data analysis methods) at the same time as actually performing data analysis. I have found this to be very beneficial because not only have I detailed the different steps that I took (and as I continue to take) to analyse the data, I also detailed reasons why and justified every phase, every step, and every method of data analysis, and continue to do so. I do believe that I made the right choice in writing about the data analysis at the same time as actually engaging with data analysis.

Every stage and every phase have been carefully documented, related, and justified, with every data analysis method used also being justified. In addition to all of this, I have been writing continuous theoretical memos to document the analysis insights, observations, etc. that shall go towards the findings chapter and the chapters related to each identified theme.

Essentially, engaging with the data has not only added to my literature review chapter, but also added to the research design chapter and, as mentioned, impacted upon the directions of the research design including my ontological position as previously discussed. What I am saying is, yes you can begin with an ontological or / and epistemological stance with various research methods, and as much as you might get on well with those methods it does not mean that they are the correct approaches. I was using Grounded Theory for a while and I was getting on well with it till I started to perceive the data differently. These changes entailed a shift in ontological understanding of the data, which led to changes in the methods used.

Have some ideas to begin with but be prepared to be flexible and changeable in terms of your ontological and even epistemological positionality. What’s interesting is that my epistemological positioning hasn’t changed much: it’s the ontological position that has changed. This might sound a bit odd given that ontological concerns impact the epistemological level. Some writers argue that epistemological concerns logically entail ontological positioning. Whilst this is true, what I am arguing for is that there does not have to be a strict adherence to this relationship. A realist ontology should not always necessitate an objectivist epistemology, for example.

In summary, try not to trap yourself in the idea that you simply must write a thesis in a particular order and in a particular way. It’s best to be adaptable and dynamic and allow yourself to be guided by your thinking, your observations and your analyses rather than what could be perceived to be a set institutionalised approach to your writing. Of course you have to get the chapters completed in good time to be reread, proofread, etc, but not in such a restrictive way. If you find, like me, that your research is naturally guiding you towards writing more about the research design at least initially than the literature review then so be it. Be guided by what you do and what you observe. Seek advice and clarification yes, but be true to who you are and what you believe is right for your thesis.

Remember: you are the author of your thesis. No one else can write your thesis in the way and order that you believe shall bring out the best in yourself, and your thesis!


September 05, 2018

Current State Of Play: Thesis Structure

I have altered the thesis structure several times relative to the research design. I have come to understand over the years that research design is not driven by the thesis: the thesis, its structure, its content and layout is guided by the research design. Quantitative, Mixed Methods and Qualitative research designs all influence the structure and ordering of the thesis in various ways.


I have thought about Mixed Methods and Qualitative theses given that I have been fascinated by both research designs. But now I am focussed on qualitative as the main component of the research, with quantitative analysis involved as deemed necessary, but as a smaller component that complements the qualitative.


It could almost be argued that in some way, quantitative data shall be embedded in a bigger qualitative project in order to provide a broader and more detailed picture of what is happening with the phenomenon of interest within the research context. I am not sure if this could be classed as mixed methods though. I would call it multi-method, because the collected data would serve both quantitative and qualitative and the quantitative analysis would be based on qualitative findings. Multi-method means multiple methods of, for example, data analysis used in the same methodological paradigm, in this case qualitative. It could still be a mixed methods approach but an embedded approach, but I shall have to think about this more. That said though, Mixed Methods is a continuously evolving methodological field with continuous potential for new contributions of creativity, innovation, possibility and lots of debates. Either way, the qualitative provides the framework within which the thesis is being developed, given that the qualitative side of the Ph.D. is considered the largest aspect.


Anyway, the the following thesis structure is now in place:


Introduction: this is going to be a chapter that shall be formally written last. This chapter shall simply introduce the research problem, research context, research issues, the need and value of the research, the research questions, research aims and objectives, research outcomes, and who the research is intending to benefit.


Literature Review, Setting The Scene: this chapter sets the scene and the key outcome of this chapter is to justify why a particular technological context is being used relative to the problems, questions etc. introduced in the introductory chapter. This involves evaluating and comparing each context relative to the phenomenon of interest. I am also attempting to engage with discussion and debate about terminology, and to provide my own definitions of different terms relative to the technological context, and attempt to address ambiguity and conflation.


Methodology Literature Review: this is a critical and analytical evaluation and comparison of different philosophies, theories, coding schemes, methodologies, and methods used to explore the phenomenon of interest within contexts very similar to the Ph.D. research. Additionally, the chapter shall report on the testing, evaluation, comparisons and critiques of different research methods in order to justify the most suitable approach to the research project. The actual approach used for the research project shall be described, explained, evaluated, critiqued and tested in the research design chapter.


Research Design: provides a full elaboration the research design phases including full details on the philosophies, methodology, methods and approaches that made up the design. The chapter shall also consist of design evaluations and shall comprehensively relate every part of the design to the research context, issues, problems, outcomes and questions. There shall also be a full discussion on the way in which the coding scheme and the themes were developed, tested, verified, clarified and validated.


Following the design there shall be chapters dedicated to discussing the coding scheme in more detail, as well as discussing identified categories and themes, and their interrelationships. Also as and where necessary there shall be chapters associated with thematic maps, and any quantitative analysis that takes place. It’s difficult to plan these chapters out though, because the chapter structure and content emerges from the data and not emerge from pre-existing theories and models. Hence, the structure and content of these later chapters are continuously emerging from the data analysis. There shall also be a chapter or a section of a chapter revolving around the application of theory in practice.


That’s the thesis at this time! Next are blog posts that cover a couple of the initial thesis chapters: the literature reviews.


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