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.

University of Northampton Research Conference June 2019

images showing university of northampton

I love a good conference!

Themes running through the Annual Research Conference were around research being creative, inclusive and applicable. It needs to make a difference to the lives of others, either within  communities aimed at supporting more effective research practice or ensuring impact in the wider society.

There were many examples of creative approaches to postgraduate research.

The ‘Bake your Research’ invitation resulted in some amazing creations. I missed the judging so by the time I arrived the cakes were under the first stages of attack.

results from the Bake your Research competition

But, thanks to Twitter, the winning cake from Chetak Nangare has been digitised and uploaded to social media.

winner of the bake your research competition

Creativity was the theme of Julia Reeve’s keynote which addressed ‘Becoming a Creative Researcher‘ through the use of storytelliing, visualisations and Lego.

storytelling dice and activitiy instructions

I first encountered Lego through a workshop with Chrissi Nerantzi at MMU and the following year invited Chrissi to facilitate a session at Hull. This led to funding for bricks and the addition of model building to our programme of events supporting teaching, learning and research. Julia’s presentation reminded me of working with PhD students in the Graduate School where the opportunities to build and share their research models reinforced the power of stepping outside traditional academic boundaries and trying alternative approaches. The outputs can offer surprising insights and the technique is well worth trying.

image from twitter showing Kieran Fenby-Hulse

Speaking of alternative, Kieran Fenby-Hulse bought his unique ‘academic cabaret‘ to the conference. Titled ‘On Difference and the Academy‘ Kieran explored notions of privilege and outsider theory to question approaches to equality and diversity in higher education, and to challenge academia as being a conservative and exclusionary environment.  Original and provocative, Kieran disrupted traditional keynote expectations in ways which were both entertaining and hard hitting, through his talent for words and performance, alongside quick-fire changes of genre and clothes, all combining to make it an unforgettable event.

Postscript – Kieran’s keynote can now be seen on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29mqaIWoq1g

Images showing Kieran Fenby-Hulse performing his academic cabaret

Inclusion was a thread running through the presentations.

For me, the most memorable included Jay Batchelor who spoke about ‘Sound Communication? Language Preference for the Deaf Community‘, Introducing herself in sign language (reinforcing how l’ve have forgotten most of mine through lack of practice!) Joy addressed the need for inclusive approaches to communication. We often we take for granted the ability to participate in the built environment and Joy demonstrated this with a comparison of information text from a train station and an airport. I took away a useful reminder of how accessibility of content, often focused on vision impairment, needs to incorporate equal attention to hearing loss as well.

Joy Batchelor presneting on communication for hearing loss f

I also liked Lucy Atkinson’s work on student transition. It demonstrated how much transition support has developed since the Getting Started initiative at the University of Lincoln which I faciliated many years ago. This addressed the student experience in the months and weeks prior to enrolment but Lucy’s work is breaking new ground by researching and facilitating support at Level 3 through the Foundation Student Framework at UoN. Lucy also spoke about Urb@n Research at the University of Northampton, an undergraduate bursary opportunity similar to UROS at Lincoln.

Lucy Atkinson presenting on student transition

Lucy showed a great example of the use of social media on her concluding slide. So often at conferences, you want to follow up presentations and adding a slide like this makes it easy.

Lucy Atkinson contact information

Current developments with supporting researchers to get the most from their postgraduate experiences, and building a PGR community, was introduced by Melanie Petch, Research Developer in the Graduate School at UoN. As a distance learner, doctoral research can often feel like an isolating and exclusive environment. It was lovely to meet Melanie in person after having corresponded for so many months, and good to see how the Grad School is very much aware of the need to include all students, regardless of location and mode of study.

Melanie Petch presenting on reseatcher development

The issue of language was frequently raised, in particular the word ‘training‘ and its potentially negative influence when used to refer to research events. There are parallels here with digital practice where programmes of development are so often labelled as ‘training‘ sessions. I noticed in many groups there was still an association of digital practice with ICT and technology rather than pedagogy or learning design. Language matters and a huge advantage of research conferences is with providing places with time and space to discuss the appropriateness of the words we commonly use, often without considering their wider meanings and interpretations.

Student identity was another subject of debate relating to language.  As well as undergoing doctoral research, Anthony Stepniak is the Student Research Student Officer for Northampton Student Union. The presentation on the ‘Ethical implications of staff/student research‘ addressed ways in which student roles are understood and reinforced.

Are students partners, collaborators, co-constructors or paid assistants? Language choices influence attitudes which in turn alters approaches to student engagement and active participation in learning experiences. Blurred staff-student boundaries can create ethical gaps in partnership work which projects like this are highlighting in order to inform the necessary questions which need to be asked.

Anthony began his PhD the same time as I transferred to Northampton. We shared induction so are part of the same cohort and I’m intrigued by his research which looks at portrayals of the wicked queen in fairy tales. I remember discovering Bettelheim’s ‘Uses of Enchantment’ many years ago. I was fascinated to discover how myths, legends and folklore all contain elements of universal truths and am looking forward to reading more about Anthony’s work in the future.

It’s impossible to cover everything.

The universal conference challenge is one of choice.

Parallel sessions give more researchers chance to present but also mean audiences are split between the different strands. This was a conference with variety and vibrancy. I’ve missed the ‘Feminist Research Feminist Scholarship’ Roundtable which deserves a blog post of its own.

feminist research and scholarship round table

Ditto the ‘Three Minute Thesis’ where participants condensed years of work into 180 seconds.

winners of the three minute thesis competition

Oh – and ‘a phd is a thing of joy‘.

I’m still reflecting on the truth of that statement.

Another blog post in the making….

In the meantime the Waterside Campus was looking lovely in the summer sunshine.

images showing the waterside campus of the university of northampton

Final words in this post come from the presentation ‘Knowledge mobilisation in higher education’ by Hala Mansour and Cristina Devecchi. Evidence has to be applied in three ways; it needs to be exchanged, transferred and mobilised. Research is not just about producing knowledge. It’s about using and applying it.

cristina devecchi and hala mansour presenting

Research conferences remain valuable opportunities for the first step of mobilisation which is exchange. Every conference has a presentation which stays with you. Speaking from the experience of being there, Cristina also led the session addressing ‘Being a Refugee Child in Lebanon: Implementing Children’s Rights in a Digital World through the Blockchain Educational Passport‘.

cristina devecchi presenting

Displacement from home and country has led to the rise of mobile transient populations. Refugees leave with nothing except their minds. They have no possessions and in a world where digital identity is essential, they are digitally destitute. Cristina is reseraching the use of blockchain technology to make permanent records which can travel independently online and confirm educational achievement.

This issue is at the heart of shifts to digital societies. Those excluded are marginalised, silenced and made invisible. For refugees this is a digital divide on a scale which most of us with easy internet connections cannot even begin to understand.

This presentation exposed the millions living lives we can’t imagine. But as Cristina and Hala said previously, knowledge on its own is not enough. It needs mobilisation if its to have any real and lasting effect.

Events such as Northampton’s research conference can provide the first stepping stones to making this happen.

 

…..

 

 

Troubling boundaries (cats and imposter syndrome)

Where my research is concerned, I have trouble with boundaries

I’ve said this before (Know Your Limits) and am likely to again. It’s nowhere more prevalent than this blog. I start new posts all the time but don’t finish them. Too many ideas and not enough boundaries.

There it is again!

It’s getting worse as the research progresses. The more I reduce the data for analysis, the more I need to give contextual background. I save in one place but increase elsewhere. On reflection, this might show digital shifts are linked to all aspects of higher education. Show me what isn’t digital and , I’ll eat my blog.

baby wearing a large hat
image from pixabay – no attribution required

This week I’ve taken leave. Allocated PhD time with at least one research-related (and completed) post. The boundary issue is critical. This blog was about Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS). It’s not core to my research but is related (I rest my case!) in that I’ve a partially-generated theory which suggests DIS might underpin digital shyness and resistance.

afternote: 6 weeks later I return to imposter syndrome, realise it’s populat pyschology rather than hard science, or self-efficacy by another name and  abandon the idea of using it.

Reluctance to engage in online activity is well documented. Colleague Patrick Lynch and I facilitate Module Two of the PG Cert in Academic Practice (PCAP). We introduced it as a blended module because the group only meets 5 times in 10 weeks but our online activities were – I think it’s fair to say – not widely adopted. We want to explore why.

We’re told there’s too many competing pressures but a 200 hour Level 7 module with only 15 hours contact time? Why not develop an online PCAP community. My previous TELEDA courses (Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age) were experiential (offering staff a student view of the VLE) and although successful, it feel a similar approach may not work this time.

Again – why not?

cartoon of single person facing a wall of technology

At this stage, I’m not suggesting the answer is Digital Impostor Syndrome (DIS) although the idea is hovering. PCAP Evaluation may well reveal we set about it wrong or made errors we’re not yet aware of. But generically, it seems something prevents staff and students from contributing to online forums, blogs, wikis or other google logo under a magnifying glassplaces set up to enhance or extend face-to-face education. Why? When the discourse is digital technology transforms – even revolutionises – higher education.

Houston – we have a mismatch.

Is it nerves about negative responses?

A recent seminar on student’s being asked to blog revealed blog URLs being deliberately obscured to prevent them being found by google, and read by strangers. Tthe rationale being to reduce potential trolling or flaming. Someone else went through their student posts, editing out typos to prevent the department being associated with poor writing.

Where is the digital literacy here? The critical reflection on teaching and learning in a digital age? But, aeast the students are blogging, they have an output and will have learned some digital skills.

Digital attitudes and practices tend to be unique to individuals.  To become ‘digital’ is to change behaviours in a hundred different ways. For my research I gather these up into the phrase ‘digital shifts’.

Collecting themes for my data analysis hierarchy, I thought about Digital Impostor Syndrome. Of all the reasons for keeping a blog (another post!) reducing large to small can be a challengem one which forces critical reflection on how to ensure it becomes a useful reference.

So I began a post on DIS. Firstly, it needed an explanation of what Impostor Syndrome was, then ‘digital’ in that context. This involved ‘literaries’ as socially-situated practice. Situated learning segued into communities of practice (I’d been wanting analyse Lave and Wenger in the original rather than through third party accounts). Before you could say Tweet, 500 words were written but I found myself with the Browne Review of HE and the subject of teaching accreditation, which led to the teaching/research nexus and ‘professionalisation’ debate – definitely a post for the future, if only I could stay on topic!

blue twitter bird

The HEA are now ‘Advance HE‘ (Why? Who decided  to choose that?)  and have a new Academic Professional Practice Apprenticeship Standard (outlined here). Having done some work around Degree Apprenticeships (which are effectively Work Based Learning), and the use of  VLE (they’re also blended learning) I found this video which includes an outline of Epigeum’s new resource University Teaching: Core Skills: a new online training programme.

I have a thing about the word ‘training’. Definately another blog post! Put ‘Skills’ and ‘Training’ into T&L in UK HE and I spontaneously combust. 500 words later my thoughts on marketisation, neo-liberalism, metrics and competency checklists are splattered across the page.

With a deep breath, I return to the concept of professional academic development. Comparing the Epigeum content and our Design 4 Active Learning (D4AL) reminds me the rationale blog for D4AL is long overdue (draft outline here).

By now I’ve Tweeted , uploaded photos to Facebook, watched the grandcat playing a board game (a few times) and am so far from the starting point I have to go through my notes to see what it was.

I think the boundary problem is self- evident.

I also think it can be explained.

My work has always been eclectic. Senior Lecturer in Education Development was to be in a third space for professionals, I’ve had a variety of responsibilities; been teacher, student and researcher, often at the same time, while also writing for publication and generating external income. If I had to identify areas of expertise I’d suggest transition, open education, blended and distance learning, digital literacies and inclusive practice, the other DED of digital education development – digital divides, exclusions and diversity. i bought this together in the TELEDA courses, which in turn became the primary instrument for data collection on my PhD, which I titled Digital Shifts and is – surprise surprise –

the subject of another post unpicking what ‘digital shifts’ might cover. Here’s the one I began earlier Digital Shifts

So – my problem with boundaries…

Work responsibilities and interests overlap and blur. Colleagues say you can’t talk about T&L in 21st century without the ‘digital dimensions’ but does ‘digital’ mean in different contexts? We have to stop assuming or taking for granted ‘digital’ is what everyone does. I’s not and positivist, non-critical approaches will miss the mark every time.

letter tiles spelling digital shifts

The complexity of digital shifts are partially to do with language, where the same phrases mean different things to different people and there’s no central guidance or structures.

I’ve been exploring how much this is generated and reinforced by those working in technology enhanced learning areas. Can academic tribes and territories (going their own subject-specialist ways) be contributing to the confusions by creating TEL-worlds which are mutually exclusive, see The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People and TEL People, Poetry and Language  for first thoughts on this.

We have to get a better understadning of the relationship staff who teach and support learning have with digital technologies and literacies. It’s complex. Have I mentioned digital identity? Did I tell you I don’t know where I belong?

jigsaw peices in the shape of a brain with some missing

Is it a school of education because of my res?

Is it a technology enhanced learning team through my CMALT accreditation

Or a CPD/academic practice unit via my Senior Fellow status with the HEA (Advance-HE) or Module Two Lead for PCAP?

I’m Pedagogy-first with D4AL which is how technology can be used rather than how it works or what to do when it breaks. At least I know I’m not in ICT!

Lack of confidence in my identity brings me back to Digital Impostor Syndrome – which takes me back to the themes for my data analysis – and hey presto – my research.

Did I tell you – I have a problem with boundaries…

barbed and wire fencing

#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

it has to happen this summer

text from Richard III by Shakespeare

Now is the summer of our research
made glorious by missed deadlines and our failed
attempts to keep aside the time required
so clouds have now descended oe’r our desk
and darkened sunlight’s warmth from mine own eyes.

apologies to Richard III

It’s been an interesting week…

Booking Thursday and Friday as leave (aka research time) I find myself at my desk both days. My time management skills seem poor – but they’re not. They’re good thereby enabling me to juggle multiple tasks and commitments.

I’ve been trying to make research space for some time. For me, it isn’t something you can dip in and our of. Your head needs to be in a different place and it takes time to adapt.  But (always a but) every day something new arrives and it’s not always appropriate to say no. My diary is full. I’m lucky. Most of the time I love it.

We work in an environment where impact is measured by achievements. Started – finished – full stop. Unfortunately most of our work doesn’t fit into such neat categories. It involves conversations (we need to talk – find time to talk) and this is good. As newly restructured Teaching Enhancement Advisors, talking helps construct and establish our multiple roles. We are Signposts. Guides. Facilitators. We also have areas of responsibility. Mine include inclusive approaches to teaching and learning and  developing a digital capabilities framework. We’re trying to establish the need for central and local support to make more effective use of virtual technologies and systems. The aim is to promote the advantages of digital shifts in process and practice. The university is supporting an institution wide survey of staff which is a fantastic opportunity but full time challenge – in particular balancing the practicalities and philosophies of changing ways of working. Development time is not always measurable. We’re Advisors.  To advise needs preparation which is not always easy to quantify. Take reading for example. This week I’ve picked up the documentation around  TEF3, the subject level pilot and critiques,  the new Improving Digital Literacy report from the NHS, and a piece on Active Blended Learning There’s a piece on Dearing in the House, 20 years on. As my research timescale is 1997-2017 with Dearing and Gilster as starting points. I need to read this – but havent done so yet.,

Underpinning everything is our new Design for Active Learning approach to Teaching Enhancement. This is an evidence based, scholarly way of working (which might or might not involve technology) which puts pedagogy and the student experience first. It’s been designed to bring together all the eclectic elements of our new roles, fit in with university strategy and curriculum design, and underpin an annual programme of events which in turn are connected to potential red data flags. The hours spent discussing, sharing and evidencing (the diagram below is version 11) is development time which can’t be so easily translated onto a checklist on a project management board. When it happens, impact can be transformational, but it takes time to build the underlying structures needed to make it happen.

Draft diagram for Design for Active Learning approach to teaching enhancement

In the meantime…

…..my uveitis has kicked in. I spent Tuesday afternoon at the Eye Hospital – sat there for hours – until I was the only person left. That’s a statement not a complaint. The NHS is amazing. They commit to seeing me within 48 hours and while reception might have closed shop by 6.00 the nurses and consultants were still working as was the pharmacy. All free at the point of delivery and unlike A&E not a single drop of alcohol in smell or sight.

Just me and Phil.

There’s lots of Larkinalia.

Round the corner is a wall mounted box full of pairs of his glasses. Heavy framed,  thick lenses, while on the wall of the waiting area are the b/w photos he took alongside lines from his poems.  I sat watching them blur as my eyes dilated and vision clouded over to the familiar point where crossing the road is dangerous and bus numbers no longer visible.

Then there’s the allotment.

The home nest is empty.  Babies became adults busy building lives of their own, but I have children of a different kind. The cucumbers are ready, artichokes flowering, broad beans at the pre-red pink I like best and the last raspberries need picking.

 

   

I have identity-confused courgettes. Am I green or yellow?  This is a first!

The greenhouse is full of peppers and tomatoes. Marigolds on pest control look blooming happy but apart from some beans and sweetcorn the beetroot, rainbow chard, fennel, spaghetti squash and butternut are all missing.

 

Most of the beds are covered in multi shades of canvas to control the weeds. Morning glory and couch grass is taking over the borders and the strawberry patch while I feel sorry for Stan next door who carefully steps around my overflowing borders while tactfully observing ‘looks like you’re busy luv’.

Stan, ex Harrogate Flower Show Judge, is retired. Stan grows chrysanthemums. Across the way is Alan, newly retired, who grows and shows dahlias. The colours are fabulous as are the bunches they bring me in September.

None of this – some would say – are genuine excuses for falling behind with the PhD.

What makes it even worse is I’m self-funding so all the angst comes at a hard price. Family are puzzled. They keep asking why I need this bit of paper.  It’s a good question. Times have changed since I started my PhD. At Lincoln research into education development was valued; all the team involved in PG study of one form or another, or applying for PSF or CMALT accreditation.

It takes one to know one and you have to be involved with f/t work and p/t study to understand the pressures of giving up evenings and w/es to read and write. So why?

As colleagues, friends and family set off here, there and everywhere, why have I planned August as the Summer of my Research. I love travel. It’s been 11 months since my last trip – the longest time (since starting traveling again in 2009) since I last sat at an airport.

Why?

  • First – practically – too much time, energy and money has been invested
  • Second – a PhD is about learning to do research and the processes of knowledge construction – it’s a privilege to be involved.
  • Third – three years spent working collaboratively with staff who were mostly late rather than early adopters of ed tech and incredibly generous with sharing their experiences will, I hope, produce useful findings.
  • Fourthly – the doctorate focuses on teaching and learning in UK HE but the social impact of the internet is an under researched area in particular how it mirrors positive and negative culture and reinforces discrimination. Those already socially excluded and disempowered are likely to be digitally excluded as well which has relevance to all online and blended education initiatives.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

I could go on but am already way over my word limit. It’s time to conclude.

Paying for stress is not my idea of fun but here we are. I have data to analyse and a thesis to write. Digital shifts; what are they, when they appear, where they’re found, who they affect, why they happen and how we support them matters to everyone working within UK T&L

It’s 2017. How can you not have technology as part of your day-to-day practice?

I hope my research offers a deeper, thicker approach to how staff conceptualise teaching and learning in a digital age. This is something I beleive is relevant.My task is to convince the knowledge gatekeepers to see it in the same way.

letters spelling goal

So this is the summer of my research.

I’ve booked 13 days leave over August with the intention of completing the revised Literature Review chapter and analysing the interview data. Seeing it in b/w like this is scary. It feels like an impossible task but I have a plan to work in the university library and at the end of each day produce a condensed paragraph of text summarising progress. This will then be posted here. This is my public commitment because I’m running out of time. It has to be done!