#phd shelfie-blog challenge

image showing top ten books being written about in this blog post

The image is a bit of a spoiler!

#PhDShelfie has appeared on Twitter. Followed by shelfie-blog and an invitation from Julie Blake @felthamgirl to join in. I’m easily distracted, especially when challenged with words. I’d contributed a #phdshelfie, extended to tablie and floorie, so why not a blog post too? Would be rude not to and technically it’s no distraction – the letters P H and D are in there – somewhere – a bit.

image showing piles of books on shelves and tables and paper piles on the floorSo here’s my top ten books choice from the research corner of my room.

  • Starting with the field of education technology, I offer Rethinking University Teaching by Diana Laurillard (2002). The book suggests the socially constructivist Conversational Framework for harnessing its communicative and collaborative potentials. I find the book more accessible than the later Pedagogical Patterns while the focus on how students learn earns it a place on every educational developer/researcher’s shelf.
  • Moving from the potential of TEL,  pause a moment for Distrusting Educational Technology by Neil Selwyn (2014). A critical attack on technology determinism, the book shines light on the relationship between digital platforms and the wider society in which they’re developed and used. Agree with him or not, Selwyn offers a PoV well worth consideration.
  • Staying with digital media, the next book is Amusing Ourselves to Death; Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. You’d think it was the result of an internet click-binge on a wet bank holiday weekend, but oh no – this prescient account of cultural transformation was written in 1985. Postman is responding to the rise in US cable TV and subsequent lack of serious news in the public domain. My goodness, what would he say today?
  • So how has technology got such a hold over us? Try Propaganda, a slim volume by Edward Bernays, first published in 1928. If you haven’t come across Mr B you’ll have heard of his uncle, Dr Sigmund Freud. Using the application of Uncle Siggy’s psychoanalytic techniques, Bernays developed what came to be known as Public Relations (which he tellingly named the ‘engineering of consent’).  Achievements included persuading young women to smoke Lucky Strikes which he’s renamed ‘Torches of Freedom’ and convincing all of America the best breakfast in the world was bacon and eggs. I’d also recommend watching Century of the Self by Adam Curtis. This uses archive film to document the cultural influence of Bernays across the 20th century.

  • To help deal with a world full of devious advertising and rogue technology, I offer The Consolations of Philosophy by Alan de Botton (2000). Some academics may look down their purist noses but I loved how this friendly, accessible book introduces philosophers such as Seneca, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and my favourite, Montaigne. If education is about different ways to see the world, then here’s a great example. The human condition is universal and this book is full of ageless advice on how to cope. Read from front to end or simply dip in and out if you’re having a bad day. You won’t be sorry.
  • Feeling better? Shh….. nothing is quite how it seems. The Sociological Imagination by C Wright Mills was written in 1959 and stayed in print ever since. Demanding we ask questions to ‘make the familiar strange’ it applies the principles of Socratic questioning to the social world. Today we’re more likely to call it ‘thinking outside of the box‘ but whatever phrase we use, Mills’ advice never ages – it gets more relevant as time passes.
  • One of the problems with a critical lens is it can make the world seem a bit wobbly (when it’s too early for wine) so why not sweep away everything you relied on as a truth and start again. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge by Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984) questioned the legitimation of truth claiming grand narrative explanations were no longer credible. Instead, knowledge was situated, diffuse, fractured and worst of all, unreliable. All researchers have to grapple with the nature of truth and knowledge while  postmodernism went a bit overly pretentious, it still deserves more credit than it gets. We owe much to the PM years, not least drawing attention to diversity and structured inequalities. PM threw the rule book out of the window. It legitimated parody and pastiche. Introduced identity performance while troubling and collapsing binaries. It promoted the subversion of anything which could be deconstructed and then reconstituted it in more challenging ways. Sometimes that’s not such a bad thing – is it?
  • Phew, ready for some light relief? I wanted to include some poetry but that’s a different bookcase – maybe a blog for a different season? This call was related to research so I’ve chosen The Action Research Dissertation by Kathryn Herr and Gary L. Anderson (2019).  The full story of the difference this book made is on Thesis Whisperer Know Your Limits. Suffice to say it helped validate my PhD choices and gave me the confidence to stick with it when the going got tough – which it did – very tough…
  • This week I’m reading The Digital Academic; Critical Perspectives on Digital Technologies in Higher Education by Deborah Lupton, Inger Mewburn and Pat Thompson. Hot off the press (July 2017) it deals with the digital as in social media and MOOC while reinforcing (maybe not intentionally?) the existence of on-campus digital divides between those who do technology and those who, often with pride, announce they don’t. For the latter, who may be less likely to find anything familiar in these well researched chapters, the book raises the question – how long can academics in 21st century HE continue to avoid issues of digital scholarship and practice?
  • To finish I’ve chosen Learning with the Labyrinth; Creating Reflective Space in Higher Education edited by Jan Sellars and Bernard Moss (2016). I’ve been involved with the use of labyrinths as creative spaces and meditative walking experiences for some time e.g. Walking the Labyrinth and was delighted to review this book for Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. The origin of the labyrinth symbol and shape is unknown and it’s this ‘not-knowing’ has always intrigued me. Labyrinths are not mazes , despite the linguistic confusion in dictionaries and encyclopedias. With no dead ends, their circular path winds round and round into the centre and back out again. Walking a labyrinth offers the experience of pressing the pause button, taking time out to focus on the journey and maybe reflect. You don’t realise until  afterwards how you’ve stepped out of the world for a few moments, something we don’t do often enough. The book takes you on a fascinating journey around the use of labyrinths within student learning and educational development.

Note to the University of Hull – the space outside the library cafe would be perfect for a permanent labyrinth installation. This is the one Jan Sellers facilitated at the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent. Looks lovely. Just saying…

empty space outside of the university of hull library  labyrinth in the grounds of University of KEnt Canterbury Campus

Now the challenge is for anyone reading this to select their own top ten books from their research bookshelf #phdshelfie-blog

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weed and write this bank holiday weekend

piles of paper across a floor

Am all Ph-Deed out and the allotment is a mess.

The photo above is my floor at home. Is it familiar? Does anyone else have a floor like this? I seem to have forgotten the slip/trip lesson resulting in a broken ankle and cancelled New Zealand trip two years ago.

The photo below is my allotment, taken last night. The wildness of the chives and limnanthes is lovely but the couch grass has taken hold since my last broken ankle (another one – last year).

I love my allotment. It’s sunshine, exercise, food, therapy, catharsis and sheer delight – most of the time.

allotment full of chives and weeds

It’s also hard work and when everything grow’s like crazy, falling behind can  be stressful.

allotment with flowerong sage aallotment with blue forgetmenots

A blog is many things; recording events, reflection, observation, memory jogger, research diary… This blog is all of these and – today – a statement of intent.

A part-time doctorate alongside full-time work feels an impossible challenge. Months pass. The amount of available time decreases as the amount to achieve (research wise) increases.  I have  my data – far more than I need. In terms of the research model I built ages ago and now sits on an inaccessible server rather than in the cloud (lesson learned!) I’ve moved into the third quadrant. Transferring to Northampton has led to a slight shift in emphasis – for the better – which requires a re-review of the literature. Much of the taken-out initial reading around learning design is coming back in – hence the floor. It might be a digital age but hard copy annotation is how I work best. I need all the help I can get!

It’s a bank holiday weekend. For the next three days this is the plan:

  • plant tomatoes and get early morning reading onto Mendeley
  • weed pond area and write up notes from said papers (currently Bart Rientes on learning design)
  • sow barlotti and purple beans (it’s late – I know!) and revisit the recommended adjustments to an accepted ALT paper submitted with colleague Patrick Lynch (who you gonna call? )
  • tidy raspberry canes hidden by weeds and mark PCAP assignments (PhD deviation but deadline is Tuesday)
  • replant  pots in the respite area and write/submit proposal to Research Student Conference (deadline Monday)

Allocate time they say.

Rule off blocks of hours for working they say.

Give up all semblance of a social life or R&R.

They’re not joking!!

Research is like an allotment. It needs time. You have to fit it into your life – or build your life around it.

Without attention is gets a mess – like this…allotment showing weeds

With attention it looks better, you feel better, and progress is achieved. What’s not to like? All it needs is time and commitment.

So this is my statement of intent.

Bring on the bank holiday weekend.

Lets weed and write!

allotment showing fence and greenhouse]

 

words, words, words…

Two supervisions in 72 hours. How did I manage that? Not enough to be finishing a degree and a Phd at the same time, I booked meetings with both supervisors in the same week. Supervisions are not dates you mess with. Like the sun, everything revolves around them. Appointments are sacrosanct. I’ll be fine, I said, there’s a day in-between, it could be worse.

There’s also the full-time job. A team of four is currently two. I call us 50%. To say we’re stretched is an understatement. Fortunately  we like what we do. Also (again) we’re under review and have a rare opportunity to influence the future direction of our work.  We’re going to be ghostbusters but shh….. we haven’t told anyone yet. It’s a secret. Watch this space. Or choose the Learning Design and Learning Analytics session, 11.15, Day Two at Jisc Digifest next week. Back to the supervisions.

ghostbusters logo

One

For some time I’ve been working on the doctoral questions. Explaining has always been an issue; the elevator pitch escaped me. I wanted to bridge transitions between face-to-face and digital pedagogies and practice but an early supervisor told me my research was not about helping staff  use the VLE, it was about academic labour. I disagreed so it all became confused for some time. However, the TELEDA courses remained the core of the data collection and now, having transferred to the University of Northampton with Prof Ale Armellini, it’s fallen beautifully into place. It was about learning design all along.

This week we examined the questions in fine detail, down to the level of individual words. An interesting experience which hit the heart of previous TEL people blogs and how TEL language can pose issues with interpretation. When it comes to influencing attitudes and behaviours, search language for potential barriers and change agents.

magnitic words for making poetry

Two

It’s the sixth year of my p/t degree in creative writing. For the past five years I’ve managed to hang on in there. It supports my lasting love for words, in particular the art and craft of poetry. To be picked up for incorrect use of words in my research questions, and actively re-think the possibilities of meaning, was the point where both supervisions collided. Both involved stepping back to analyse potential impact of text.

Bourdieu’s concept of social capital can be partially understood as embodied beliefs and biases which we don’t recognise. Seemingly inherent advantages and barriers can generally be deconstructed to show social roots of imperatives and influences. Language is where these come together, how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Research questions have to avoid potential misunderstandings. Poetry has to strip language down to the essentials yet still create resonance and impact. Both need to avoid disappointment.

sad looking puppy

We don’t consider language as much as we should. This week I also swapped sides for a supervision meeting (research module of the pg cert academic practice) with a colleague looking at developing visual literacy in students. Again, this involves social capital and opening up often unchallenged beliefs. For me, this is integral to the heart of the HE experience. As well as the ‘what’ of learning it should be the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ alongside lifelong skills of critical and reflective thinking. Image is a great place to start but at some point we have to turn to text.

Some blog posts percolate for weeks. This one arrived ready made. During the first supervision I was told to get back to the thesis, produce some extended writing rather than ‘blog’ style posts, but I don’t see why they can’t coexist. The blog serves multiple ends. Friday posts are generally about some aspect of life as a digital academic, recording events and exploring ideas. The log pages are a record of my research progress since it all began. Blogging is a useful form of CPD as well as a writing discipline. Producing 600-800 words a week about some aspect of my work shouldn’t be too hard to do.

It’s all about words. Things as disparate as dreams, American Art and T. S. Eliot are still understood via language yet how often do we stop to consider it. I’ve had a week of words and ahead of me a Friday To Do list which includes producing even more of them. I still love words and rarely admit to word-overload but there are times – and I think this may be one of them – when I just want to close my eyes and listen to some music instead!

head phones and sheet music


All images from pixabay except ghostbuster logo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostbusters_(franchise)#/media/File:Ghostbusters_logo.svg

Start the day with a TEL Breakfast

finger pointing to the word blog
image from https://pixabay.com/en/blog-blogging-touch-hand-fingers-769737/

There’s no better way to start the day than breakfast with the TEL Team and invited speakers. This week the bacon and sausage butties were accompanied by Dr Helga Bartels-Hardege from the School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences who talked about student blogs.

Blogging is being used to encourage students on school placements to reflect on their experiences. The expectation is one blog per week over 20 weeks and to comment on the postings of their peers. The first thing most students do is turn off the commenting function. Helga’s question was how to encourage science students to engage in reflection. It’s an interesting question.

While most (but not all) students were making posts, they were more descriptive than reflective, as in ‘this is what happened’ rather than a ‘what I did, why I did it and what I might do differently next time’ approach. Science students are used to dealing with facts but should this preclude the self-directed process of analysing and evaluating understanding of individual learning processes.

What always works well are opportunities to get together and share practice and points of view. Suggestions from the TEL Breakfast included putting students into smaller groups, mixing school ages within the groups (primary, secondary, 6th form) and using model comparisons of stronger and weaker examples of reflection. If changing from summative to formative assessment mighty encourage students to share their posts was discussed and if changing from a flat text-based environment to a more multimedia supported blog might create an increased sense of value and ownership.

Reflection seems to be a bit like technology enhanced learning. Promise and expectation don’t quite match the reality. It’s one thing to theorise about the strengths of TEL or reflective practice from an academic or learning development perspective, but another thing to transfer the potential value where the prerequisite digital capabilities are absent or students are unused to the processes of personal review. Mindset is a powerful predictor of behaviour and perceptions of higher education can be firmly fixed. These are the real challenges to be faced.