post-viva reflections

sunflowers and orange roses
Flowers from Cristina Devecchi after the viva

For six years, there’s been a V-shaped light at the end of the PhD tunnel. Now the viva is behind me.

Post-viva is a new experience.

What next?

I have amendments, which were to be expected. Chapters 1-6 are ok but Chapter 7 needs restructuring. The feedback is explicit and it’s good to know the precise areas which require attention. This is also a welcome opportunity to fix the embarrassing typos and broken cross-referencing links which appeared on the printed copy!

There’s a post-viva tunnel. This one has a light at the end too.

image showing a row of light bulbs with the centre one lit
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/light-bulbs-light-bulb-light-energy-1125016/

The viva is a critical part of the doctoral process and since agreeing the date, all future decisions have depended on them being ‘Before-viva’ or ‘After-viva’. Across the summer everything has been focused on V-day.

Coming out the other side is to pass a landmark in the doctoral journey but truth be told, it felt a bit disorientating. The adrenaline-fueled push was suddenly over and no one really prepares you for that.

What was it like?

image of a rollercoaster loops
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/roller-coster-fun-theme-park-171798/

When you press the thesis submit button, there’s no going back. The viva is a similar experience. The days leading up to it felt like a rollercoaster with no stopping or changing ahead. The inevitability was almost comforting. This was it. Then, within a few hours, that was that.

You can’t change anything.

What’s said in the viva stays in the viva.

This creates a sense of liberation.

Your thesis has been taken apart and reconstructed. You know what to do next. In comparison, the writing-up stage was a constant state of uncertainty. Change this. Move that. Rephrase the paragraph.  Post-viva is different. Someone else has told you what’s required.

It’s another step in the letting-go process. For years, you’ve been creating this unique work. Now, you’re getting close to the end point.

photo showing a woman holding her phd thesis wrapped in a shawl like a baby
image from https://tfln.co/phd-thesis-maternal-photoshoot/

Viva-prep

Two leading academics in your field have been invited to read and give feedback on your work. Preparation for this is essential.

You can assume you’ll be asked to talk about what you did, alongside the background and rationale, but you can never be sure of the other questions. Everyone’s viva will be different. The focus is on ‘your’ research, so the questions will be unique to this. With hindsight, I’d recommend the following viva-prep activities:

  • Work through the Tiny book of viva prep from viva survivors and the Top 40 viva questions (just a few of many similar resources online)
  • Ask your supervisory team to arrange a mock viva; the opportunity to ‘practice’ is invaluable
  • You can take your thesis and notes into the viva so:
    • Read the chapters, from start to finish, and highlight key points
    • Use coloured stickers to mark the beginning of each chapter
    • Proof read and check references again; there will be errors!
    • List the typos and take them with you to show you care
  • Print out key images (models, tables etc) and annotate
  • Use PowerPoint for notes (great tip from Chrissi Nerantzi); the slide size ensures conciseness while larger text is easy to glance at
  • Talk to others face-to-face and online; colleagues will be happy to share a range of viva experiences
  • Twitter can be a useful source of advice/support (e.g. #phdforum  #phdlife #phdchat #phdweekend @AcademicChatter)
image showing questions asking what, where, how, why
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/questions-font-who-what-how-why-2245264/

Be prepared

The viva is a formal academic process. It’s steeped in tradition and focussed on validating original contributions to knowledge. This is an opportunity to ‘defend’ your research decisions and outcomes.

A viva demands respect as well as confidence in your work, and its this challenging combination which adds to the uniqueness of the experience.

Any PhD journey has pivot points and the viva is one of them. Even with amendments, it brings with it a sense of achievement. Afterwards, I felt the knowledge thresholds I’d crossed over the years were becoming more defined and consolidated.

What did I learn?

A PhD is about mastering the tools of research. Sometimes it felt possession of these were taken for granted. My postgraduate degrees hadn’t prepared me for the rigours of a doctorate and there were times when it was assumed I knew what I was doing – when I didn’t.

It takes time to understand what ‘taking ownership of your research’ means. It requires stepping out alone and finding your doctoral self. Nothing can prepare you for that. You have to do it to know it, and the process can be messy.

Looking back, the early years presented some anomalies. If you lack knowledge and experience for progression, you can make mistakes. While these offer valuable insight, it can be disheartening at the time. For example, at the start I struggled to understand the difference between critique and criticism. I mistook invitations to defend my point of view with thinking it was wrong and needed changing.

I learned it takes confidence to make and justify original contributions to knowledge.

When it comes to the PhD, many students are embarking on something new and unfamiliar. They have to make their tools as well as use them. The process can be supported, but it needs to be experienced to be fully understood and I didn’t anticipate how confusing or potentially alienating this could be.

Know this…

The PhD will take over your life. Friends and family will be neglected. You’ll either be working on it, or feeling guilty because you’re not.

image showing lego figure sat at desk surrounded with lego stormtroopers, making him feel guilty
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/office-people-accused-accusing-2539844/

The going will get tough but when it does, hang on in there. Take it a chapter, a page, or even a sentence at a time. When the whole seems too much, it helps to break it down into smaller parts. If that doesn’t work, walk away.

It may sound counter-intuitive. There were many times I needed to stop but thought if I stayed with the laptop a bit longer, the problem would work itself out. I learned taking a break (walk to the park, down the river, round the block) often meant the solution suddenly appeared in my mind. This almost always happened so take a notebook!

image showing a walking path by a river
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/bank-river-landscape-nature-water-4402103/

When it gets tough, tell yourself it’s perfectly possible – because it is.

Here I am. Post-viva and so close to finishing, it feels realistic to start planning for post-PhD.

More than anything, I’m looking forward to reading again. The Tsunduko pile at home is onto its second column. There’s fact and fiction relating to Greek myth, poetry and prose on the Trojan War, and fantasy of the Philip Rothfuss kind.

i;es of books

image from http://www.openculture.com/2018/07/tsundoku.html

I’ve forgotten what it feels like to read for pleasure, without thinking it should be a research-related book or journal. I’m looking forward to experiencing the sheer joy of losing yourself in the pages.

Then, there’s the writing. Plans are already underway for performing some of my work in the new year. To have cognitive space for creativity again will be a total joy.

That’ll do well for starters!

image showing an open book with 3D pictures emerging
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/narrative-history-dream-tell-794978/

The Cinderella Paradox

Cinderella, having tried on the glass slipper, produces its fellow. Etching by George Cruikshank as an illustration for Grimm's "Aschenputtel." (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
image from https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/cinderella-having-tried-on-the-glass-slipper-produces-its-news-photo/3322408

Research based on teaching and learning has been named the Cinderella of higher education. As a result, the scholarly endeavours of practitioners have less status than those associated with traditional disciplines.

This was suggested by Jenkins in Pedagogic Research at Brookes: Achievements, Opportunities and Questions (2002). Cinderella status was further supported by Cotton, Miller and Kneale in The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment? (2018) while Bridges Disciplines and Discipline of Educational Research (2006) explores the its poor representation in the REF.

With my viva in six weeks, I’m preparing to defend the rationale for a practice-led doctorate. With this in mind, I challenge the notion of pedagogic research having lower status.

One way to achieve this is to revisit the story of Cinderella itself.

Image from https://picryl.com/media/cinderella-fantaisie

In the Uses of Enchantment, Bettelheim claimed Cinderella was the best known but least liked fairy tale (1976: 236). The exact origin of the story is unknown but it appears to have evolved from different locations and times. There are many versions, such as Perrault’s Cendrillon and the Grimm Brother’s Aschenputtel alongside multiple Disney renderings; each full of increasingly stereotypical images and ideas.

At its core, the Cinderella character is rejected and excluded. Living in ashes, her domestic role is unappreciated and degraded. However, without the work Cinderella undertakes, the running of the house and the welfare of her father, step-mother and step-sisters would suffer. Cinderella’s situation is presented as menial and lowly, yet she has responsibility for ensuring the basic components in life are firmly in place. Think the physiological foundation of Maslow.

image showing an open fire
Image from https://pixabay.com/photos/wood-fired-oven-fire-cook-heat-1960099/

The assumption is readers will equate the kitchen and scullery as inferior places which Cinderella needs to escape from. But her work really matters and this is the paradox. When the slipper fits and the handsome prince claims her for his bride, Cinderella is removed from domestic duties, thereby reaffirming the association between household chores and lowly status.

Yet in the unwritten future of the story, when Princess C lives in presumed royal luxury, somewhere in the lower levels of her new palatial habitat, there will be others like she once. Those with the role of keeping the home fires burning and raking through the ashes.

Cinderella will be replaced because the work she did was essential.

image showing loaves of bread
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/bread-bake-flour-food-eat-bakery-4046506/

If the value of academic development activities were recognised in these changing and challenging times, then research into these practices might well increase in significance and status. Once this occurs, resources are more likely to be redirected into ensuring equality and longevity of opportunity.

If the analogy of practice-based research with Cinderella is to be considered robust, it requires rethinking. We should reconstruct the tale as being less about escaping from the hearth and more about re-establishing the heath as the heart and life force of the higher education institution, without which it would fall apart.

To survive, structures need solid foundations. Those who work and conduct research into their practice provide the evidence-based corner stones on which teaching and learning are based.

Cinderella is a rags to riches story. Regrettably, too often in the field of education and learning development, practitioners are seen as wearing rags. These compare poorly to the shining crowns of the academic disciplines.

This is unfair.

image showing a carnival mask
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/carnival-mask-venice-disguise-2999783/

In reality, we are chameleons, skilled in adapting to the environment of the day, frequently working across disciplines, and in close collaboration with colleagues from a range of professional services. However, it’s the eclectic nature of what we do which can contribute to lacking a recognisable identity. We e have to carve our own, but are too often remembered for what we did rather than who we are.

We offer unique combinations of experience and knowledge from a variety of different sources.  Our work creates bridges between academic theory and practice. We deal with pragmatic day-to-day problems while often supporting essential digital shifts with the later adopters of digital practice.

We’re full of tacit knowledge and practical wisdom but frequently lack the time and resources to convert this into theoretically informed writings and research projects.

All this reinforces the Cinderella paradox.

image of cinderells in front of the fire with the fairy godmother appearing
image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cinderella_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19993.jpg

Cinderella might be a useful way to draw attention to the inequality of status around practice based research but the analogy needs to be used with care. The original story is dark, full of jealousy and vindictive relationships. In earlier undisneyfied versions, the sisters hack their feet to pieces to make the shoe fit.

While it’s a story which has multiple versions, I’ve yet to see one which challenges the assumption that kitchens and sculleries are not good places to be. It seems unfashionable to suggest that in reality they constitute the central heart of any household, and those who work there should be praised for tending the hearth and keeping the flames alive.

old style kitchen
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/castle-palace-kitchen-scene-palatial-2516837/

Most of all, the risk of devaluing a place, is seeing its inhabitants as being less. With regard to educational practitioners, this is especially not true. In my 20 years in higher education, its been colleagues working in these areas who’ve had the broadest understanding of the student experience, the most eclectic knowledge of issues around teaching and learning, and the greatest problems in having their scholarship recognised and valued.

Supporting research into practice is a viable way to give these practitioners a voice.

We have interesting ideas and important things to say.

Every day we stoke the higher education fires and more support with capturing and disseminating our own evidence-based stories would be greatly appreciated.

room full of books
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/books-door-entrance-culture-1655783/

References

Bridges, D. (2006) The disciplines and discipline of educational research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40(2), 259-272

Cotton, D. R. E., Miller, W. and Kneale, P. (2018) The Cinderella of academia: Is higher education pedagogic research undervalued in UK research assessment?, Studies in Higher Education, 43:9, 1625-1636,

Jenkins, A. 2002. “Pedagogic Research at Brookes: Achievements, Opportunities and Questions.” Teaching Forum 50 (Autumn): 3–6

A PhD is a thing of joy

image showing a brick wall
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/backdrop-block-brick-building-21534/

Since seeing the quote ‘a PhD is a thing of joy‘ at last week’s Research Conference at the University of Northampton, I’ve been reflecting on the possibilities of my doctoral research creating joy.

I’ve come to the conclusion joy is a very real possibility. However, there needs to be certain criteria in place for it to manifest. A PhD should be memorable for the right reasons. It requires strong motivation for when times get tough and it can be hard to feel joyous when you’re conducting research part time, at a distance and reliant on digital communication with your host institution.

lighouse from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/images/search/lighthouse/

Today, with my viva booked for September and light shining at the end of the doctoral tunnel, it would be easy to gloss over the tough parts and present it as a thing of joy. But that wouldn’t do justice to those negotiating the challenges of part-time distance study. At the end of the day, it’s supporting the remote part-timers which I think matters most.

I’m not sure expecting the process to be a ‘thing of joy’ is as helpful as offering practical support from an insider experience.

The loneliness of the long distance learner is hard to anticipate – which is good.

If I really knew what lay ahead, would I have still applied?

Unequivocally…

Yes!

Because…

A PhD is about making original claims to knowledge. That’s a privilege but one which shouldn’t be underestimated. Your research outputs need to be meaningful to an external audience. They have to be authentic, valid, and rigorous. This means your PhD will possibly be the most challenging and rewarding academic experience of your life but it will be worth it.

Say it again.

It will be worth it!

image showing a handshake
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/hand-greeting-agreement-819279/

In 2014 I posted my top tips for surviving a part time phd. More recently (November 2018) I revisited them. Looking back, I believe they’re still applicable so here’s my advice for anyone thinking of going down the part-time doctoral route.

  • If your early research interests lie outside work, re-consider a work-related subject. The chances of completing are increased by the connections between research and daily practice.

The first year of my doctorate was spent planning to research digital exclusion in the community. It was based outside higher education and failed because it was not linked to my day-to-day work. Once I shifted to researching an area within my own practice it became achievable.

  • You need passion for the subject so to stay the course it helps to make your research personal;
  • There will never be enough hours in the days, weeks and months ahead, so ensure the topic informs what you do. Your chances of completing are increased by the number of connections between research and daily practice.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for making small but meaningful changes.
  • A doctorate is about learning to use the tools of research as much as the research outputs themselves.
image showing stonehenge
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/stonehenge-architecture-history-1590047/

A PhD isn’t a mystery. There are set rules underpinning the process. Learning these will lay the foundation for research in the future.

  • The regulations of doctoral research are laid out in your institutional guidance. Find this. Re-read often.
  • There are dozens of books containing research guidance. Find the book which ‘speaks’ to you.
  • Don’t be afraid to keep looking. When you find it, you’ll know it’s ‘yours’. Mine was the Action Research Dissertation by Kerr and Anderson. Reading this gave me the confidence I needed to move forward.

View the component parts of your research holistically. A doctoral project is elastic. Like a cat’s cradle, its shape can move and shift so the component parts are best understood as linked rather than separate. Also, it takes time to understand how the most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box.

  • Doctoral research contains permission to be creative but this is also about being brave.
wizard of oz characters
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/the-wizard-of-oz-bert-lahr-516687/

Know that your research doesn’t take shape at the beginning. It develops as you read and reflect, then read and write some more. Most of all, it emerges from conversations, with colleagues, family, friends – because only by talking about it – getting it out of your head and into reality – can it become clear. Answering questions from others surfaces what you’re doing.

  • Have courage to put yourself in the public domain with all the risks of negative feedback. It’s part and parcel of being a doctoral researcher but part-time PhD students often lack opportunities to practice defending their choices.
  • Practice talking about your research. Learn to explain succinctly to anyone who’ll listen.
  • Take every opportunity to present. Feel the fear and do it. The experience of putting your research out there and inviting feedback from colleagues, friends and strangers will be invaluable.

I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.

  • You have to own your research therefore its worth repeating that confidence and courage are two essential attributes.
  • As is being brave enough to be original. Try out ideas with your supervisors. Your research deals with what’s new rather than what’s already known. The end conclusions may differ from early thoughts and directions. That’s ok. A Phd is a journey where the destination is not always known at the beginning.

It’s no exaggeration to say a part-time Phd will dominate your life. At some point you have to let it move in and take over.

This might mean neglecting other areas to give it space to grow. Family and friends may suffer your absence but it will be temporary.

image showing PhD highs and lows
image from Chrissi Nerantzi https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/heblogswap-by-chrissi-nerantzi-for-sue-watling/

Remember doctoral study can pose a trap you fall into. The walls get higher until the light disappears and it’s just you and your data. No one else can do the analysis for you.

  • Create deadlines with targets and give yourself rewards for reaching them.
  • Develop the sense you have something worthwhile to say. Your subject is unique, otherwise you wouldn’t be researching it.
  • Join a research group. If you can’t find one, set one up. There will be others in similar positions to yourself. Seek them out.
  • Write a blog. Even if the writing is for an audience of one – yourself – make the process of regular reflection on progress an exercise in conciseness.
  • Remember the viva is time limited and you need to defend the core of your findings, not the peripheral externalities.
image showing a fence boundary
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/fence-style-wooden-barrier-1670087/

Research needs boundaries. At the beginning, there’s no horizon and I’ve always had problems with boundaries as described in Know Your Limits, Whenever I felt stuck, I revisited Lincoln and Guba’s advice on trustworthiness, in particular their evaluative criteria. Establishing these can offer an authentic framework within which to work.

  • Credibility – confidence in the ‘truth’ of the findings
  • Transferability – showing that the findings have applicability in other contexts
  • Dependability – showing the findings are consistent and replicable
  • Confirmability – neutrality or, in other words, the extent to which the findings are shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest.

The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.

image showing a key and a lock
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/key-gold-door-white-isolated-314676/

And therein lies the heart of doctoral study.  Academic practice at Level 8 is a leap forward and working at Levels 5-7 doesn’t always prepare you for presenting and defending original claims to knowledge.

Your PhD is yours. Own it and be prepared to defend your findings. They belong to you. They’re totally unique and that’s a powerful position.

If you’re thinking of doing a doctorate, I hope this helps.

A PhD needs time and commitment. It might not always bring you joy but it will be worth it.

The Other Side of Lurking Part Three – rethinking digital practice

image of a pile of stones
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/zen-stacked-stone-meditation-1412305/

As I prepare to leave my current role, my visible digital participation has reduced to an occasional retweet. I’m now watching from the sidelines, observing and thinking about future directions.

I’ve become a lurker.

The Other Side of Lurking: Part Three follows others* on the Digital Academic blog, all addressing the issue from a range of different perspectives. You might think there isn’t much more to say, but if lurking practice is more common than active engagement, there’s a need to focus on what digital silence means for the future of online education.

The OER19 conference at Galway included a workshop titled Three Lenses on Lurking. It was facilitated by my online colleagues Leo Haverman, Suzan Koseoglu and Caroline Kuhn.  Along with Aras Bozkurt, we’ve been discussing lurking for some time. Participating in this investigation into lurking behaviors was valuable experience but over the past few months I’ve become the lurker in the group. Distracted by an institutional review and the final stages of my PhD, my active participation faded. Lurking made it possible to continue to follow discussions and reflect on ways forward, but it excluded my voice.

image of a padlock
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/locked-gate-padlock-security-2143493/

Yet, we know lurking is common practice. Applied to online participation, Neilsen’s  90-9-1 rule (2006) and the 80/20 Pareto Principle (1971), quoted in Sarah Honeychurch et. al.. (2018),  reminds us how more people adopt lurkish stances than proactive ones. Other papers such as Preece and Shneiderman (2009) reinforce how reading dominated leading, with passive access more frequent than interaction. These authors cite Kollock (1999) who calls lurking an activity which does not produce a visible contribution. Like watching and listening.

Can these practices still be as influential as active participation, here and now in 2019?

From decades of experience supporting online education, alongside all my research into digital practice, I would say No. Yet many can give examples where passive engagement has been valuable. My education developer head underpins effective pedagogic practice with social constructivist theory, but the reality suggests there’s times and places where access-only appears to be enough. If digital shyness is more common than digital participation, then clearly it should not be ignored. Rather than perceive it as resistance, we need to work with it instead.

image of a jigsaw with a missing peice
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/puzzle-missing-particles-654963/

I’d suggest lurking matters because it highlights the under-addressed gap between theory and practice in online education. For the past two decades, learning and teaching has been filled with the promise of technological transformation. However, all too often the digital experience remains a case of ‘I set up a discussion forum but no one used it, so I didn’t bother again‘.

For many years I’ve believed finding ways to encourage and support online interaction lies at the heart of effective teaching and learning. But it seems regardless of what you do to encourage online activity, digital practice remains a personal choice and lurking the majority response. Maybe instead of trying to change this, we should find ways to reconceptualise it as having value.

image showing a cats eye peering out from behind grasses
image from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/cat-eye-grass-view-lauer-position-1367000/

I lurk. You lurk. We all lurk. Lurking has intention and purpose. If lurkish behaviors are to be understood as legitimate choices, do we need to review the construction of online resources and rethink pedagogic practice to support less visible activity?

This would involve exploring the causes of silence and accepting not everyone learns best through active engagement. Contribution should not be mandatory for those who feel less comfortable with online collaboration. Lurking might result in digital absence but as digital developers and facilitators of online learning, maybe we have a responsibility to listen and understand the ways this silence can contain its own messages.

If we need to design for legitimate lurking, what would this look like?

It seems a problem with advocating lurking as legitimate learning is how the approach challenges digital education theory. We’ve been told education is social and been offered communities of practice and inquiry, zones of proximal development, conversational frameworks, social, cognitive and teaching presences, all requiring interaction, the binary opposite to inactivity.

image showing a person isolated on a mountain top
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/isolate-top-mountains-alone-cliff-1209275/

21st century digital practice has called for cognitive shifts. Promoters of online learning have advocated adopting models such as Salmon’s Five Stage approach to moderation and the establishment of e-tivities, Laurillard’s Conversational Framework or Garrison and Anderson’s Community of Inquiry. All based on the theory of social constructivism but as frequently happens where change is involved, these processes are situated within liminal spaces, where new approaches and knowledge can be perceived as troubling.

My doctoral research suggests digital practice is diverse and troublesome. Participants teaching and supporting learning, in particular the later adopters of learning technologies, need to make fundamental conceptual changes alongside the acquisition of digital capabilities and confidence. These involve shifts from didactic transmission to student centred co-construction of knowledge, approaches which contradict the suggestion lurking as valid  learning.

image showing a library
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/library-books-education-literature-869061/

However, without opportunities to watch, listen and read, those who are nervous and hesitant about online interaction are less likely to engage. The divides between the digitally confident and the digitally shy are wide and deep. My research findings suggest digital practice is more troublesome than the digital advocates might realise. The use of the internet challenges existing ways of working. It attacks academic identity and beliefs about knowledge in the way open education challenges the conception of publishers as gatekeepers. Individual response to these approaches cannot be assumed to be positive.

Digital practice is like other forms of physical skill such as riding a bicycle. It needs practice. But if you’ve been doing it for years its difficult to remember how it feels to be a novice. It’s the same with virtual environments. If you’re comfortable with online navigation and interaction it’s easy to forget what it feels like to lack digital confidence and be nervous about venturing into online spaces.

image showing digital interaction
inage from https://pixabay.com/photos/social-media-digitization-faces-2528410/

Advocating lurking as valid learning can feel like a backwards step. Everything I’ve done since entering higher education at the turn of the century has been focused on promoting and supporting online interaction. The literature speaks of developing relationships with students and building curriculum designs around collaborative approaches. We believe higher education is about more than acquisition. Using Laurillard’s six types of learning experiences, adopted by UCL in their ABC Currciulum Design work, it involves collaboration, discussion, investigation, practice and production.

How can this be achieved online where lurking is the preferred behavior?

If you can take a horse to water but not make it drink, maybe we need to begin looking at the water rather than the horse.

image from https://pixabay.com/photos/horse-waterhole-rural-farming-3552781/

*  previous blog posts addressing lurking


 

 

 

 

On the development of digital practice…

black and white image showing piles of paper files and documents
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/files-paper-office-paperwork-stack-1614223/

241 pages (without the front bits and bibliography)

77298 words (and rising)

My thesis is now in a single word file and beginning to look serious. But never mind the research; it’s the section breaks and captions which are defeating me.

In case you’re wondering, don’t rely on cross references transferring when you merge chapter files. The table links broke. Why? I have no idea but I have to recaption them again. As for trying to insert landscape pages within portrait ones or an Abstract page without messing up existing numbering or heading styles  – it isn’t happening.

My advice?

Good luck!

Each thesis will be different and if you don’t have a pre-formatted  template which expands and adjusts as you add content, then you’re on your own.

image from https://pixabay.com/photos/typewriter-mechanical-retro-vintage-407695/

I’ve been word processing since the DOS version of Wordstar and WordPerfect 5.1. Pre-windows. I thought I knew my way around the ribbons and menus of Word which I’ve been using since Windows 95 but I don’t.

l couldn’t achieve my aims, couldn’t keep asking colleagues for help, and could feel my confidence levels dropping. This reinforced how digital literacies are situational. We know what we need to know and this knowledge is only transferable if we want to do the same thing somewhere different. Even with the help of google, and years of working with programmes like Flash, Dreamweaver, and WordPress, I’ve struggled to format this document the way I want it.

Because I’m dealing with editing tools I havent used before.

I used to proofread research papers for medical journals. I didn’t understand the words but was good at spotting inconsistent spelling and although my supervisor might be surprised, I always thought my punctuation and grammar was good enough. When it comes to text I know my way around the alphabet but give me a page of numerical data and I break out in a cold sweat.

image showing black and white numbers
image from https://pixabay.com/photos/calendar-date-time-month-week-660670/

We know what we know.

When it comes to something new, education theory suggests effective learning comes through applying new knowledge to what is already known, in ways which make sense to us as individuals. Success comes from situations which are contextual.

I believe experiential learning is key to becoming digitally fluent.

For some time, I’ve been immersed in data. NVivo has been another challenge. Anyone whose used it will be familiar with ‘Environment Change Down East’, This is their in-package training programme. It’s well made and shows what can be done with regard to data analysis. However, the chances are your data will be different and applying the principles from these tutorials is not always as seamless as they suggest.

I never want to see NVivo again!

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My research is practice-led. Participants were enrolled on my online teacher education courses; Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA). This meant researcher and researched were all embedded within the environment being studied, which was digital practice. How do staff teaching and supporting learning conceptualise higher education? What influences their attitudes and actions? I was particularly interested to work alongside the later adopters of learning technologies, whose voices and experiences are often excluded from a literature privileging the innovators and early adopters. How did participants negotiate shifts in their digital practice? What could I do to encourage engagement in the digital world of teaching and learning in 21st century?

A 12 month HEA Change Academy programme exploring the adoption of open educational resources showed me how the most resistant of colleagues found new ways to engage with digital tools and platforms. Approaching digital development from a contextual position, and directly working alongside students, rather than an isolated technology-first training approach which focused on the how rather than the why, proved to be transformative. TELEDA emerged from seeing first-hand the power of experiential learning to support change.

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In these days of review and restructure, it seems investment in the digital practice of staff teaching and supporting learing is first to go. There appears to be a growing assumption that digital literacy is a given. After all, we live in an increasingly digital society, where public services are digital-by-default and everyone is going online to manage all the aspects of their lives. The need to address digital skill sets seems to be less of a requirement.

I get this.

My research suggested participants were in possession of digital capital. The later adopters could communicate and collaborate in online environments and were aware of the advantages for students of any-time, any-place access through devices of choice. But specific application of this digital capital to pedagogic development was not seamless.  My recent experiences with NVivo and formatting a large and complex document appeared to reinforce the situational nature of digital practice.

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If, with all my digital experience, I was struggling with section breaks and cross referencing because they represented areas I was unfamiliar with, then how can institutions expect their staff to make use of virtual environments for anything other than what they already know.

The literature of digital education speaks of independent student-centred learning through the construction of activities which support the co-production and co-construction of knowledge, but the scholarship of teaching and learning appears to be lacking a digital domain.

It seems there’s a gap between what could be done and the reality of day-to-day practice, while investment in the development of digitally confident practitioners appears to be returning to technology-first approaches.

There’s an increasing focus on measurement of engagement through counting logins and downloads of recorded lectures rather than creating time and opportunities to explore questions such as what do you want your students to do and which pedagogic approaches are best suited to achieving this – with or without technology but it’s 2019, the tech is going to be in there somewhere. It just needs a more situated view of developing digital practice, one which is embedded within individual context.

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Experiential learning works but it takes time and resources. It needs a sociological imagination, one which makes the familiar strange through critical, reflexive questioning. We’re all digital citizens but with citizenship comes a responsibility for  to ensure equality.

I think the principles of inclusion can be usefully applied to digital development within higher education. Access appears to be a given but what’s too often missing is relevant and meaningful opportunities to critically examine the ways in which access is used.

In the meantime, I have section breaks to return to…

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digital presence as an indicator of digital capital

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The Community of Inquiry model suggests successful online education requires cognitive, teaching and social presences.  I’d agree that designing around this combination is a useful starting point for any online activity.

However, I’d also suggest another presence is essential.

Digital presence.

In a Community of Inquiry context, including digital presence would ensure staff and students were prepared for the digital dimensions of teaching and learning online, and in possession of the prerequisite digital capabilities.

But I see digital presence as more than practical knowledge because how we work online influences access to other resources. Opportunities for networking, publication, research, teaching and learning can all happen in ways which privilege those with digital connectivity and the confidence to use it. I’m still thinking it through – hence this blog post – but suggest digital presence can be aligned with digital capital.

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I use this in the Bourdieusian sense to extend his ideas around social and cultural capital to the digital domain. A digital society requires increasing amounts of digital practice, but how often do we stop and think about what is happening? How many times do we automatically log on without considering the implications of our actions, the extent of the divides being created or what might be missing through being digitally disengaged?

I have analogue roots. This means I don’t take connectivity for granted but I do appreciate the affordances of digital access at a time, place and device of choice, in particular how this offers genuine opportunities to widen participation. For all the ways in which higher education is changing, I still believe in its capacity for making a positive  contribution to individual lives, which in turn will influence the future society our graduates will make.

My career has been built around supporting digital education development. The lack of attention to the ways in which digital practice is understood has always concerned me. Digital diversity risks differential student experiences at a time when the development of digital graduate attributes should be at the heart of curriculum design.

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Considering digital presence as an indicator of digital capital may be one way to address this.

Digital difference has multiple layers in particular the ways in which online activity enhances or diminishes social and cultural capital, described by Bourdeiu as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.’ (Bourdieu, 1983: 249)

In other words, capital is the knowledge and skills which bestow status and power. Digital capital creates digital presence and in today’s society, this matters. Having digital presence creates tangible outcomes which relate to other forms of capital.

Society privileges the digitally fluent and marginalises others.

So digital presence is attitudinal as well as behavioural. It involves tangible qualities like identity and performance but also the ways digital practices are embodied, cumulative, transferable and potentially transformative.

Transformation in relation to digital practice is contentious. Claims which conflate them are risky. For too long, virtual learning environments have been presented as having transformational qualities when actual usage is more about management and control of administrative functions. In higher education, risk derives from focusing on technology-drivers rather than pedagogy-first pathways.

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Teaching is a complex, socially situated activity, dependent on multiple perspectives, skills and experience. Transfer the requirements of effective teaching and learning online and they multiply in ways which are not always fully addressed. The practical wisdom associated with the literature of educational practice requires digital dimensions which are too often excluded from traditional  approaches to supporting academic development.

Understanding and building digital presence could be a way to address this.

Bourdieu suggests the ‘peculiarity of cultural capital’ exists in forms which are ‘embodied, objectified, or institutionalized.’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 119). The word ’embodied’ always makes me think of Foucault and his conception of coercive power. Individuals appearing to willingly conform to social discourse through the adoption of daily practices and routines or ‘technologies of the self’ (Foucault, 1982).  even where these repllcate and reinforce disadvantage or disempowerment. Practice, in particular digital practice, is inextricably linked to the possession of social and cultural capital which in turn relates to power.

Back to Bourdieu who used the terms ‘habitus‘ and ‘field’ for this interplay between structure and agency. These relationships are often internalised. Like a fish takes water for granted, social and cultural positioning can be accepted because it operates below the level of consciousness. However, it can be known through critical reflection and analysis, which should be the heart of a higher education experience. .

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In 21st century, all social theory has digital dimensions and structures of power and control contain within themselves the possibility of change. Understanding the origins of discourse creates opportunities to challenge it. A society with increasing digital dependency should have equitable access at its heart. Teaching and learning is a great place to embed digitally inclusive practice which is not limited to accessing technology but is about the ways in which it’s used. Digital capital is made visible by degrees of digital presence.

Rather than assume everyone has the skills and confidence of the innovators and early adopters, we should pay more attention to the later adopters and the parameters of resistance. There is much to learn from studying the diversity of digital practice and the extend to which digital presence is developed may be a useful conceptual tool for supporting these discussions.

 

References 

Bourdieu, P., 1983. Forms of capital. In: Richards, J.C. (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. Greenwood Press, New York.; Coleman.

Bourdieu, P., Wacquant, L.J.D., 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Foucault, M. Technologies of the Self.” Lectures at University of Vermont Oct. 1982, in Technologies of the Self, 16-49. Univ. of Mass­a­chu­sets Press, 1988.

 

 

 

The value of research into practice

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The requirements of a PhD are straightforward. It should produce robust claims for an original contribution to knowledge. In other words, what does the research show which wasn’t known before?

I seem to be having a problem with articulating my findings. I don’t usually struggle with text but at the moment it’s hard to find the right words!

Often a side-step from stuckness can be useful.

To help find a path through the challenges of crafting a viable conclusion, I sidestepped and wrote about the defining characteristics of the research instead.  Initially, they seemed to be strengths which would contribute to the validity of the findings. Now I’m having doubts. Despite the extensive review of the literature alonside a methodology which appears appropriate, what if I’ve produced nothing original at all?

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The first defining characteristic of this research is it’s situated within a qualitative paradigm. Qualitative research is interested in individual practice, the ways knowledge about practice are constructed and understood, and the processes through which practice is replicated or reconstructed. Qualitative data should be rich and deep with analysis leading to new insights.

So far so good.

Denzin and Lincoln, in the 5th edition of the SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research suggest ‘critical qualitative inquiry inspired by the sociological imagination can make the world a better place‘ (2018: xi).

I’ve always believed changing the world is a tough call but we have the capacity to change our own little part of it.

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I wanted to address an issue I’d worked with for many years, as an ICT tutor for Adult and Community Education and during my time as Senior Lecturer in Education Development at the University of Lincoln.

The issue was digital diversity. At a time when teaching and learning was undergoing huge technology-supported shifts to more student-centred learning, I wanted to know what influenced the adoption of virtual environments. I believed this would inform my role with supporting staff as they negotiated shifts in digital practice, while also producing evidence-informed guidance which could be disseminated more widely.

Why did this matter?

The literature of digital education focuses on the impact of technology on student learning from the perspective of staff who, using Rogers Diffusion of Innovations model, could be described as innovators or early adopters.

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The digital practices of staff who are later adopters appears to be under-addressed. Yet the majority of my work depended on encouraging the digitally shy and reluctant to not only take early digital steps, but to continue on digital pathways. I thought contributing to this knowledge gap might lead to useful insights for the development of digital education, in particular from the late-adopter perspective which seemed to be less well investigated or understood.

A qualitative paradigm appeared to offer the potential for deeper insights. However, I knew from experience how inviting participants to talk about digital ways of working risked a skewed sample of self-selectors i.e. those who were already early adopters. I needed a way to reach a broader proportion of staff, in particular those wanting to explore change but lacking meaningful or timely opportunities to do so.

This led to the second defining characteristic of this research.

It’s practice-led.

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Participants were invited to take part in Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age (TELEDA). These were my online courses built on the principles of active and experiential learning. Driven by pedagogy rather than technology, staff were enrolled on the VLE as students and encouraged to reflect on the transfer of new knowledge to their own practice. In true qualitative style, participants were immersed in the environment being studied and I was immersed in the world of my participants. On TELEDA we could all be described as action researchers.

Research into practice is well established within schools of education. It was Aristotle who distinguished between making action (poiesis) and doing action (praxis). Within the social world, praxis involves making judgements, in particular for the human good (phronesis). This has been called ‘practical wisdom’ (Carr, 1987).

My analysis suggested new forms of practical ‘digital’ wisdom were needed alongside a better understanding of the constituent parts of digital capital. My research seemed to fit requirements in terms of literature gap and methodology. Rich, deep data was collected from TELEDA while the use of Braun and Clarke’s stages of Thematic Data Analysis supported the emergence of several dominant themes, alongside answers to the research questions.

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But are my findings original?

What constitutes originality in the first place?

I consulted Patter which I’d recommend to anyone who feels they’ve lost their postgraduate way.

I’ve been there often!

Pat Thomson suggests originality might be where PhD researchers present their own ‘…interpretations and categorisations. These arise from their particular question, sample, methods and analytic/theoretical approach. It is in the thinking-for-myself process that their originality lies.’ What is an original contribution? 

But is this enough?

I was influenced early on by the Illustrated guide to a PhD. This shows the size of an individual doctoral contribution compared to the sum total of knowledge. You need to look closely to see it!

visual guide to the knowledge prdocued during a PhD
image from http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/ 

Your research doesn’t have to change the world, but it needs to produce original findings.

So where am I today?

A 2015 paper by Ana Baptista et.al. looked at the relationships between originality, creativity, and innovation in the doctorate as an original contribution to knowledge. They suggest originality is not a  commonly understood concept. This didn’t help much, nor did the reminder of how ‘students at times work independently in an uncertain environment‘ (2015:57). Definitely a component of part-time distance learning! However, I found this useful.

‘Doctoral theses are expected to make not just an original but also significant contribution to the field, the implication being that there is little value in originality if it is not also significant. However, the determination of significance is context-dependent.’ (2015:58)

It was nothing I hadn’t read elsewhere but was maybe the right words at the right time. Context-dependency lies at the heart of qualitative research, which recognises the influence of positionality, as does my research framework which applies a critical realism lens and the use of social practice theory.  Contextuality is a thread running throughout. There’s something in there which I can’t quite articulate.

I think I’m stuck in the what, how and why of it. I need to put aside what I did methodologically and focus more on alternative ways to present the outputs which include two new models of digital practice. But on their own, the production of new forms of practical digital knowledge, alongside the evidenced value of practice-led research for understanding digital capital, are not enough.

I need different ways to describe my original contribution to knowledge.

How have others coped with this stuckness?

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