PhD log

Research subject

Digital shifts in teaching and learning. A qualitative study into staff conceptualisation of digital practice in UK higher education.

Research questions

  • How do staff in UK higher education conceptualise teaching and learning in the digital age?
  • How do staff who teach and support learning negotiate digital shifts in their attitudes and behaviour?
  • What are the key influences on the development of digital practice for staff teaching and supporting learning?
  • What more can higher education institutions do to support staff as digitally literate practitioners?

This page is a monthly record of the ups and downs, highs and lows, of my research progress.


This month I put the thesis to one side.

The viva is booked. I wanted it to take place in July but it proved logistically impossible so it will take place in early September and I’ve taken  the opportunity to have a few weeks away from it all. After six months of continual writing it felt good to take a break.

This coincided with dealing with the redundancy process and all that entails. The plan is to return to it in August and take advantage of having an additional month to prepare.

Taking a break feels useful. My mind is still whirring with the implications of my findings and how they fit with my experience of digital practice shifts in higher education over the past few years. I’ve drafted some papers and considered a number of ways in which to use the results. The review and restructure process is now behind me and there’s just under six weeks to get ready for the final stage.

I’ve had a month to reflect and am ready to return to the 300+ pages of my doctoral research.

I’m looking forward it.


The mock viva was a excercise in how not to do it.

I’d recommend the experience!

If you’re going to make mistakes, the mock is the right place. Far better to get it wrong before hand than to mess up the defence itself.

My biggest error was to talk around the thesis rather than focus on it exclusively. The viva panel want to know what you actually did and why, the rationale for your methodology and your research conclusions.

Full stop.

In short, if it isn’t in the thesis then don’t talk about it.

I submitted the thesis two weeks after the mock. Almost immediately I noticed two errors. They were presentational; in one place there was an incorrect font for a quote and a cross reference was repeated.

Proof reading is essential but it’s going to be a massive document and no matter how much you look at it, there will inevitably be typos you’ve missed. Asking someone else to read it is often suggested but in practice it’s not always possible and not always an infallible solution.

If you spot errors, make a note of them. There will be one last opportunity for change before the final publication.


April is the cruelest month…

So begins the poem The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

April has been the month I’ve seriously considered giving up. Never mind the three years of data collection plus subsequent months of analysis. Forget the literature review and writing the methodology chapter. I’ve never felt so inadequate as I have while trying to format and layout the thesis.  I thought I knew my way around Word but it seems I don’t. As for colons and semi-colons, don’t go there, while in-text citations and cross referencing sections, figures and tables has made me want to pack the whole thing in.

Taking a step back, I can see this is symptomatic of wider issues. For the past six months, we’ve been undergoing a review, resulting in my leaving my post this summer.  No matter what people say about it being roles and not people who are excluded from new structures, it’s impossible not to take it personally. The difficulty is the mismatch between my research, publications, presentations etc and the review situation where the outcome was made clear from the beginning. On the one hand I have something positive to offer, while on the other my work is being rejected.

So – April has been difficult.

But, the thesis has been submitted for a mock viva in May. The end is in sight and I have to stay positive. Apparently, wanting to abandon it all and lie down in a darkened, Phd-free room, is quite normal.

Now, to prepare for the mock viva….


The pain continues….

Never mind the research – Word section breaks are breaking me!

The thesis is now one single document – nearly 300 pages and well over 80,000 words but that includes the Bibliography, which on its own is the size of a small novel. Am finally able to switch from portrait to landscape and back again, and insert new pages, all without losing the page number sequence. I didn’t realise my word processing skills were so lacking as for the grammar – I need to take more care with the use (and absence) of commas in non-defining relative clauses throughout. 

My excuse is I was never taught grammar and have no idea what this means. Hello google…

Am now editing the Findings and Discussion chapter (again) and polishing the original claims to knowledge.

Writing up is is easily the hardest part of the whole PhD.

I’m exhausted.

The end might be in sight but it’s not finished yet.


If April is the cruelest month what does that make February?

Usually I struggle through this time of year and 2019 is no exception.

I want to give up the PhD.

It’s too big, there’s too much data, it’s taken over my life for too long and I’m not even sure it says anything worthwhile, never mind makes an original contribution to knowledge.

There – I’ve said it.

Apparently this happens often.  Thesis Whisperer addressed the subject back in 2012 in Should you quit your PhD? but the comments are still appearing and the majority make for difficult reading. Ditto this My grief lies all within” — PhD students, depression & attrition I’m sure there’s many more examples out there but there’s limits to my empathy.

I feel their pain too much!

So what happens now?

I wish I knew 😦

Happy New Year

Data Analysis done.

Thesis chapters drafted.

Working through supervisor feedback on chapters 6 and 7.

We’re talking external  examiners and a mock viva.

This week I’ve been drawing models of digital practice and visualising digital shifts, in particular how they’re negotiated by staff who teach and support learning because pictures paint a thousand words etc

exciting times….

Data Analysis and supervision September 2018

I’m not sure if it’s NVivo or the laptop but there’s something to be said for paper and highlighter pens! I’m not getting the problem free, seamless experience as promised by colleagues. Insted NVivo is an endless source of frustration.

Only the text being edited enlarges. Everything else remains impossibly small. A laptop screen isn’t really big enough to work with NVivo but a laptop is all I have – or a Surface which is even smaller and the letters have worn off the keys.

I have three years of data. Each year consists of the contents of each Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) course plus semi-structured interviews with participants. It’s a lot of data and I won’t use it all for the PhD. I’ve chosen the interview transcripts, reflective journals and course evaluations. This triangulation of data is an opportunity to confirm or challenge findings.

Nvivo locks my file on a regular basis. I try to open it and it tells me it’s already in use. The only way round it is to shut down the laptop and restart it. Frustrating but nothing compared to what happened next.  Staff admin rights were removed this year. So when it comes to downloading anything with an .exe file it’s a no go. I get the need for security but I also get frustrated with the need to visit the ICT Support Desk because the temporary admin rights system never seems to work for me. No surprise there then!

All university devices now have a bitlocker security system and mine needed updating so the last time I visited the Support Desk they commandeered it for a new desktop image. Which wiped Nvivo 11. Which needed admin rights to reinstall and the ICT Desk insisted I use Nvivo 12.

You can guess what’s coming.

I’d already talked to my local NVivo guru and expert about NVivo 12 and decided to stay with 11 but ICT thought otherwise. I spent a week coding Year Two of data noticing that NVivo was crashing with increasing frequency. Like before, each time I had to shut down the laptop and restart to be able to open the file. Then it happened. Every time I selected Edit to be able to code a transcript or write a memo, NVivo crashed. It was effectively unusable. I managed to select All and copy the Memo text but couldn’t see a way to save all the data I’d coded.

I contacted QSR who helped me identify the issue was with the data file. They offered to look at it but even with their permissions process I didn’t feel comfortable sending it off.

Back to the ICT Support Desk to ask for NVivo to be reinstalled.

I saw someone different who was perfectly ok with me using 11 and not 12.

If only I’d seen him first time around.

The problem being you can’t work back from NVivo 12 to NVivo 11 so I lost all the coding I had done that week. It had been a productive week.

With highlighter pens and paper it wouldn’t have happened.

What is it about me and technology?

August 2018

The only consolation is all the guidance and text books advise that when it comes to coding, you’ll get it wrong before you get it right.

It was exciting to finally sink into the data. I coded here, there and everywhere before realising here were tens of dozens of nodes and lots of themes – but no direct connections with the research questions. I’d expected the answers to emerge but it became clear the process needed more structuring so I’ve started again, this time beginning with the research questions, which I’ve linked to the interview questions, and now it’s all starting to come together, hopefully within a more meaningful framework.

Unfortunately. the version of the NVivo file with all this work disappeared. I make a back-up copy every time, as evidenced in the image below.

image showing a list of backed up Nivo files

But – the version with all the Node changes was nowhere to be seen.

I hate technology some days!

NVivo is a challenge because you do all the coding before you start to use it. What does this mean? Well, it’s a bit push-me pull-you to start with. If you’re new to Nvivo, yand unfamiliar with what the Queries function can do, it’s easy to spend hours coding but not make progress. Several times I realised I’d coded in ways which were not helpful for answering my questions.

This is part of the wider problem of being a distance learner and not having access to support and guidance around research tools and techniques. I read the coding manuals, consulted Nvivo-Help and watched You Tube videos – but they all come from places of knowledge and expertise – no one seemed to have empathy for the novice coder with too much data.

to the query content tools for  but by then you’ve already got the codes –


….a quick scrub and polish of the research questions prior to the annual review…

Research title

How do staff who teach and support learning in UK Higher Education conceptualise their practice in a digital age?

Research questions

  • How do staff negotiate digital shifts in attitude and practice?
  • In what ways does the ‘experiential’ design of a PG teacher education course influence the development of digital literacies?
  • How does the Community of Inquiry model of course construction (combining teaching, cognitive and social presences) contribute to the development of digital presence?

A reminder of the interview questions

  1. Please tell me something about your attitude towards and use of virtual environments for teaching and learning. (conceptualising practice)
  2. Which factors have influenced your behaviour in respect of virtual learning environments? (digital shifts)
  3. How has your experience on TELEDA made a difference to your understanding of virtual learning environments? (experiential learning)

July 2018

This is the month of the Annual Review.

How quick the year passes.

Also, a reminder I haven’t had a tutorial with my supervisory team since the transfer.

Finding time  is so hard. I’ve been reading my reswarch diary, all 5 years, 1000 pages, hundresd of thousands of words and the theme of time comes up over and over.

It’s so bad this is the first time in 8 years I’m not growing tomatoes in my greenhouse. The whole allotment is neglected, the grass nearly as tall as I am. It’s never looked this bad, not even the year I took it over.

And I’ve got RSI in my arm and hand.


I’m deep in to the data analysis at last!  I have 20 interviews transcripts, 37 reflective journals, and a dozen sets of learning block and course evaluations. Using Nvivo, I have Case and Source Classifications and full  memos for each partipant. I’ve paused after the first five interviews and a couple of journals to review my nodes and contruct a provisional hierarchy. I’ve done some word analysis and also revised the Methodology Chapter and drafted a Data Collection one.


I’m not as far on as I should be.

I lost a year when I changed insitutions, took another year to reduce the mass down to something managable and this year has been difficult work wise – each year takes me further away from when the data was collected and my supervisory team keep telling me this is not good.

So I’m PhD stressed and the amount it’s costing to feel like this is not good either.

All in all, while the data is a genuinely unique insight into how staff conceptualise their ractice in a digital age, and fills a gap in the literature of education technology, I’m not sure this is currently a good place to be.

June 2018

Research wise, this is the month of the EDEN Conference. Reflections on the event and some photos from Genoa are in this blog post.

The 27th EDEN conference brought technology and research together. I haven’t seen the phrase ‘scholarship of technology enhanced learning‘ before so am claiming authorship because #EDEN18 was research, pedagogy and technology all rolled into one.

May 2018

Work rules.

A part-time PhD feels impossible. It doesn’t help to have so little support in my full time role. Yet I work in a Directorate of Learning and Teaching Enhancement. I’m a Teaching Enhancement Advisor. In my mind, a research project looking at how staff who teach and support learning conceptualise their practice in a digital age, and how they negotiate digital shifts in attitudes and behaviours, is a perfect alignment, but I seem to be speaking to an audience of one, myself 😦

Except for the UCISA Digital Spotlight Conference where I got to speak about my research to a room full of people which restored some of my confidence. Not a lot but some – which is better than nothing every every time. Blog post about the event here

April 2018

Easter weekend = 48 hours to work on the data but it didn’t happen. I’ve been busy but on other tasks so  Nvivo remained dormant on the laptop.

Launching Design 4 Active Learning (D4AL) across the university coincides with the start of the Learning and Teaching Enhancement blog,  so it seemed a good opportunity to finish a number of half written blog posts around a Pedagogy-First approach to my work. This is the list:

  • Blogging for student assessment (why and how blogging can work as a student centered activity)
  • Student Who? (consumer, customer, researcher, producer, partner etc)
  • Digital Bloom (critique of Bloom if used without context but revising it for online T&L)
  • Back to Basics (reading Vygotsky for the origins of socially situated learning)
  • Communities (inquiry, practice etc – a natural framework for SS learning)

The idea is a set of blog posts taking a fresh and updated look at the ‘pedagogic classics’ with a digital twist.

Then there were the links colleagues were posting in my research forums, some of them too good to pass over.  For example, I was distracted by a BERA blog in which David Scott addressed discourse construction in relation to inequality and how ‘…reality, as we know it, is always concept-dependent.‘  Its a plug for a new book Scott D and Scott B (2018) Equalities and Inequalities in the English Education System, London: Trentham Books. This epistemological approach aligns with my research paradigm it gives me comfort to see it replicated in this way. MAke me think I can’t be totally wrong!

Even more relevant was Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial Assemblages By Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver. I’m not sure exactly what sociomaterial assemblages refers to and felt this obscurity, alongside the hefty price, risks excluding readers rather than drawing them in. Once more, the digital agenda is divided into those who get it (minority) and those who don’t (majority) from both technological and academic practice/research points of view. The review suggested the book topic aligns closely with my own PhD:

‘While engagement in online learning environments is often reduced to sets of transferable skills or typological categories, the authors propose that these experiences must be understood as embodied, socially situated, and taking place in complex networks of human and nonhuman actors.’

It’s always heart-stopping when you think you’ve been preempted and someone’s filled the gap in the literature for you – help! – but in this case rather than replicate my research, I feel it actually reinforces it. The book is all about students whereas my topic is staff who teach and support learning because, as my argument goes, when it comes to developing digital capabilities and confidence, they have always been excluded. this seems to be another example of privileging students over staff.

So far so good. Inspection copy ordered from Routledge.

These links were sent to me. I don’t deliberately go looking for distraction, honestly….

Distraction finds me and because it’s all relevant to the conceptual framework, it all helps with building the PhD space I need to step into. The more I build it the easier it gets to identify what belongs and what can be discarded,  but the size increases incrementally so whenever I have allocated time, like this Easter, it takes longer to find and wear the PhD head.

Colleagues have described how they do a bit here and a bit there and I can’t work like that.

Then there’s a couple of presentations coming up soon.  Digital Rifts to Digital Shifts is for the  UCISA Spotlight Conference in May at the University of Warwick and followed by Connect or Disconnect: Academic Identity in a Digital Age which I’m presenting at the 27th EDEN International Research Conference in Genoa in June. Busy times ahead!

In the meantime, there are new Design for Active Learning (D4AL) workshops to be prepared, plus sessions on Inclusive Approaches to Teaching and Learning and Impostor Syndrome from a Digital Perspective.

This is all on top of the day-to-day work. My poor allotment remains neglected and to say I’m tired is an understatement.

After looking back at this list, I think I need to lie down but that option won’t get any of this done 😦

March 2018

The data analysis begins…

and stops!

Research question: how do staff who teach and support learning in UK Higher Education conceptualise their practice in a digital age?

Research sub-questions:

  • How do staff who teach and support learning negotiate digital shifts in attitude and practice?
  • In what ways does the ‘experiential’ design of a PG teacher education course influence the development of digital capital?
  • How does the Community of Inquiry model of course construction (combining teaching, cognitive and social presences) drive digital engagement?

Before, During and After the Transfer blog post for the blog

transfer cropped

February 2018

An easy drive down to Northampton on 18th February meant the transfer got off to a good start.

At the beginning of the month I’d posted on the closed PhD Northampton Facebook group a request for information about the transfer, from a personal perspective.  Lots of supportive replies reinforced how this was meant to be a developmental activity aimed at improving your research and providing support and a boost in confidence.

The night before, I revised my notes for the presentation slides, and read through the draft chapters with all their comments and replies.   On the day, buoyed up by all the positive online comments which reinforced the value of online community and support networks, I was even more cheered to meet up with colleagues from Northampton who’d made the time to come along in person. Transfers are open and research students encouraged to participate.

I presented and took questions for over two hours. As a part-time distant student, discussion is what I miss. I’m not entitled to access any research facilities at Hull where I work and am too far away from Northampton to be a regular participant of their supporting doctoral resources. I do a lot to build and maintain online networks but they are limited to those with the digital literacies and confidence to communicate and collaborate in online spaces. A number of issues were raised; in particular the research questions which are still too broad and undefined. The problem with this research is its size. At the time I remember thinking I might never get the chance to collect ethically approved data around the impact of technology and how staff who teach and support learning conceptualise their practice in a digital age, so I’d make the most of this opportunity. As a consequence, my thesis could answer a range of different research questions and the process of narrowing down the data for the PhD while letting go of everything else for presentations and papers afterwards has taken a considerable amount of time.  I’m not sure how it happens, but each time I turn my back it seems to grow again. Like an amoeba it changes shape and heads off in a different direction. getting it under control is a challenge and one I haven’t yet got to grips with.

Due to a mix up the External Examiner was not present at my transfer meaning I have to go through the process again before the end of the month. Which means I need to hone these research questions and match them with the conceptual and theoretical frameworks, the methodology and thematic analysis of data.

The transfer process is not over yet .

27th February – Transfer Viva with External Examiner 

Ale, Rachel, Cristina and my External Examiner Simon Sneddon met online via Collaborate.  The technology worked well and reinforced how people from multiple places can meet virtually in real time. The session went well too. It was advantageous to have another  opportunity to defend my decisions and discuss about the rationale for taking them. It reminded me how much I miss having people to talk to about my research.

A follow up session with Ale and Rachel on 2nd March was equally positive and settled several outstanding points I was unsure of. Of particular use was the suggestion to focus on the research questions for coding the data and dropping all other potential themes into a separate folder. I have so much data from so many different places, collected over a three year period, and the early first brush work through had produced a huge number of themes , I was nervous about returning to it. I hadn’t considered narrowing the focus in this way and it immediately feels more manageable. Rachel reminded me of what I said at the first transfer; how I’d been advised to use the PhD for learning about the research process and save the topics I really wanted to research for another time. The aim is to answer the RQs. The rest of the data can wait.

The RQs have been tweaked again to make them tighter and more precise.

  • What is the impact of education technology on staff who teach and support learning in UK higher education?
  • In what ways does the ‘experiential’ design of a PG teacher education course influence the adoption of blended approaches to teaching and learning?
  • How does the Community of Inquiry model influence the development of digital shifts in attitude and pedagogic practice?

I’m now ready to face the Data Mountain.

January 2018

Another year!

This has to be the year of completion.

It started well.

Draft chapters for the Literature Review and the Methodology written and commented upon.

Date booked for the Transfer – 19 February 2018 – to take place in Northampton.

Feedback on my chapters reinforced the some of the problems of part-time distance learning – namely lack of contact with other researchers and staff who teach and support research which makes it easy to misunderstand and misinterpret the processes. It turned out that resources and guidance for the Transfer don’t exist – other than a page in the Research Handbook and a document hidden in the depths of a password protected environment I hadn’t accessed before.

I think January was the lowest point.

For example – the transfer process has undergone change but the available resources don’t reflect this. As a consequence some of us (despite starting on the same cohort) are following different transfer procedures. I was asked to write two chapters while others are submitting a ‘substantial piece of writing’. I presented at the Research Student Conference last June at Northampton, which was attended by one supervisor plus my Director of Studies as well as being recorded. My understanding was this constituted the seminar part of the Transfer but three days before 19th February I was asked to present again. One of those three days was to attend the Learning Design Network (LD-CIN) meeting in Leeds and another to drive down to Northampton – so time was tight for reviewing and updating.  Also my chapters were well over word length. I’d interpreted draft as in draft versions of the thesis and, using the standard layout, allocated 20,000 words for the Lit review and 10.000 for the methodology. The guidance I finally found was 5,000 – 10,000 words for each chapter. I still don’t understand how a draft can be so much less than the final artifact but duly removed 10,000 words from the Lit Review. This will form most of the Introduction Chapter so all in all, not a bad ending.

However, when you submit papers to peer reviewed journals its rare for reviewers to share the same comments and so it was with the drafts. Three separate sets of comments and suggestions to work through then at the last minute I discovered I also needed a 1500 word Case for Transfer document,

So January was busy. Alongside picking up the Learning Design module of the PCAP (postgraduate certificate in academic practice), supporting a new professional practice module for postgraduates who teach and joining a new forum to represent inclusive approaches to learning and teaching – all on top of an increasingly intense workload with no time allocated for research or scholarly activities – my evenings and weekends were taken up with the PhD. I had youngest son in hospital in Manchester for major surgery, brother in hospital in Hull for complications to do with the family’s inherited Apha Trypsin disease. mother in law in hospital after a fall and then I went down with one of the nasty strains of flu which are going around.

Yes, January was pretty rough!

December 2017

Christmas is cancelled, for this year at least!

I’ve counted out 8 commitment-free days and plan to finish the redraft of the Lit Review, rewrite the methodology and get shifted into data analysis mode. My New Year resolution is to apply the bite-size approach to the data analysis. My 4.00 am study time will be offered up to NVivo.

In the meantime I have a reward system in place consisting of Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Work all day. Watch all night.

What can possibly go wrong?

November 2017

November passed in a blur of work activity and no PhD time. The problem is getting serious. It’s tough enough to work f/t and do a doctorate p/t, but even harder when there is no support for your studies within your workplace. My aspirational Fridays as research days have ended – although I haven’t had a Friday working from home since the summer – while workload continues to increase putting me in a difficult situation re PhD progress. So near yet so far.

When I describe it out loud it seems completely doable.

  • redraft the literature review and methodology chapters,
  • complete the data analysis (admittedly there’s three years worth when with hindsight  and reading the theses of others – one would have been more than enough but I always have problems with boundaries!)
  • write the data analysis chapter
  • redraft the Introduction chapter
  • write the summary and conclusion.

I have a conceptual framework (critical realism) and theory (situated social practice) – oh and the methodology is Participatory Action Research and I have all the rational for my insider, home-grown decision to research where I was working, The jigsaw pieces are on the table. It just needs some concentrated time to put them all together,

My colleague and fellow p/t doctoral buddy Lee Fallin, has written about making progress through bite-sized chunks of time. This approach doesnt work for me. I can read and reflect for example my 4 a.m. study time this week has been spent looking at ‘The Dynamics of Social Practice: Everyday Life and How it Changes’ by Elizabeth Shove.  I’ve also found the third edition of Academic Tribes and Territories which looks interesting. I’ve been thinking about the way TEL People inhabit their own Tribes and Territories – it’s not just academics who live in a world of their own.

I like Social Practice Theory. For me, it offers explanations for resistance and reluctance to change. My 20 year review of the education technology literature reinforces the mismatch between the potential promise and lived reality of VLE while the research itself focuses on those whose voices are less represented; staff who teach and support learning.  Like I say, I have all the pieces. What I lack is time. I aim to be working by 4.00 a.m. most days of the week., The problem is my best PhD intentions are usually smothered by deadlines and email and preparation for the day ahead. Manage your workload, Organise your time. Been there, done the workshops, read the books. The hard reality is for most of the time I have to prioritise a high workload and I don’t have the answer to finding more time.

October 2017

I’ve been called a Slactivist (in the nicest possible way). It make a change from Procrastinator. Truth be told, my problem is less procrastination due to something more interesting instead – it’s the sheer volume of external work load which causes the problem with research focus.

This week (w/b23 October 2017) is Postgraduate Induction week at the University of Northampton. Last year I was getting inducted. This year I’m beaming in on Skype on Friday. I don’t have the time or the finances to be there – having just self-financed my second year – but shall miss seeing research colleagues from Year One. Also I’m thinking why isn’t induction for Year Twos? It’s like you’re all right now. You don’t need it.

I’m embarrassed by my lack of progress. On the one hand I’ve achieved the seemingly impossible task of identifying my research questions. This is research on a colossal scale. It’s had five supervisors (four with their own ideas of what it should be) and three years of data collection – I have enough words for multiple PhDs – but finally my research plan is refined and relevant.

So what’s the problem?

I can’t find time to complete the rewrite of the literature review. I’ve done the hard work – have 50.000 words of notes on all the papers I’ve read, have the time line (1997-2017) and the chapter sections; digital shifts through an institutional pedagogical and individual (digital literacy) perspective. I love writing. I love the topic. I love my PhD.

So what’s the problem?

I don’t have time.

It’s my annual PhD review next week. The following day is my work Appraisal. I suspect a gin and tonic week! Don’t get me wrong – if I was to write my ideal job description it would look like the one I have. The problem is – too many peripheral roles detract from the core. This results in doing everything at a surface level, constantly running to stand still.

My PhD transfer is early in 2018. It needs two draft chapters and I’m struggling to produce one. The annual review needed the lit review. What do I do?

How do you find time when your week is already full of work commitments. My team of four has been a team of two all year. We’re now a team of three but that’s still one short. Then there’s the restructure. I’m really looking forward to being faculty aligned but it’s a new role with a steep learning curve.

I’ve thought about giving up the PhD but I’ve come too far – it’s not a viable option. My life plan involves the D word and besides so much ha been done.

I’ve been working since 3.00 this morning, it’s now 8.00 and I need to get ready for work or there’ll be no parking spaces and I have meeting notes to read, workshops to plan, sanity to find and so on…..and so on…..

September 2017

Research summary x 3 

It’s been quite a task reducing the research into something manageable this year – my literature review file alone contains over 100,000 words – I’ve always had problems with boundaries!

The decision to rewrite the draft thesis chapters has been a massive task but a welcome opportunity to make the research into what I always wanted it to be – how staff who teach and support learning approach digital shifts in practice  Looking back, the greatest challenge to my confidence was the supervisors who didnt get it. It was like each one saying my ideas were not relevant.  With hindsight I can see this simply reinforced how adoption of digital practice is the proverbial elephant. No one talks about the on-campus divides between the digitally fluent and the digitally shy. Thanks to all the wonderful colleagues at the University of Lincoln who came onto the TELEDA courses, I’ve a one-off opportunity to collect data on a diversity of digital shifts as they happened. The challenge is to write it up in a readable and accessible format.

Rachel suggested a summary of the whole research project might be a useful activity – it was! Even more so when I challenged myself to keep reducing the wordcount.  I’d recommend it – especially producing the 200 and 100 word versions. The decisions about what to take in/leave out etc make you examine the core elements in minute detail.

cartoon on two faces and a scribble of lines connecting them

Research summary (100 words – exactly!)

The literature of education technology research fails to address the diversity of digital shifts required for staff adoption of blended learning. This practice based PhD fills the gap with data from the Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age course. Structured around the teaching, cognitive and social presences of the Community of Inquiry model, data analysis suggests a fourth overarching digital presence is essential if teacher education courses are to build digital fluency. The research concludes greater attention to the diversity of digital shifts for staff who teach and support learning is required for more meaningful adoption of blended pedagogies.

Research summary (under 200 words)

Over the past two decades, educational technology research has been dominated by innovators. Demonstrating high levels of digital fluency, they’ve focused on the experiences of students as e-learners with less attention to the digital shifts of staff as e-teachers. One particular gap has been the later adopters of blended learning, who tend to follow traditional lecture/seminar models and use VLE as a resource repositories. This practice based PhD seeks to fill the gap. It tracks the experiences of three cohorts of staff enrolled on Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA), a course which aimed to increase digital fluency and build confidence with the adoption of blended approaches to learning and teaching. Research data was collected from course journals, activities, evaluations and semi-structured, recorded interviews with participants. TELEDA was structured around the teaching, cognitive and social presences of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model of learning online (Garrison and Anderson, 2003; Garrison 2013). Research findings suggest a fourth overarching digital presence is essential. Without specific research attention to digital shifts for the later adopters of blended learning, a diversity of digital practices will continue to be unchallenged.

Research summary (under 600 words)

Over the past two decades, educational technology research has been dominated by innovators focusing on the experiences of students as e-learners rather than staff as e-teachers. Later adopters of blended learning, who tend to follow traditional lecture/seminar models and use VLE as a resource repositories, are missing from the literature. The embedding of VLE and other education technologies into higher education has required all staff who teach and support learning to make major changes in practice. According to the Diffusion of Innovations model (Rogers, 2002, 4th ed) the late adopters (along with the early majority) of any new way of working amount to 68% of the population while both innovators and early adopters together only amount to @16%.

This practice based PhD seeks to fill the gap. It tracks the experiences of participants on the Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) course where they were enrolled as students on the institutional VLE. Prior to the course, those who perceived digital skills and literacies as ‘troublesome knowledge’ found this experiential approach offered useful scaffolding to move from a periphery of engagement to more central participation in digital ways of working.TELEDA

TELEDA offered an alternative to traditional workshop based ‘training’ approaches, which interpret digital shifts as a competencies. TELEDA was more closely aligned to a growing body of research suggesting digital literacies are better understood as situated and contextual practices. Participants worked through collaborative activities and critically reflected on how these might inform their own teaching practices. Research data from journals, activities, evaluations and semi-structured, recorded interviews was analysed using key themes identified in the literature review.

TELEDA was structured around the teaching, cognitive and social presences of the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model of learning online (Garrison and Anderson, 2003; Garrison 2013). Research findings suggest a fourth overarching digital presence is essential. Without specific attention to digital literacies and skills, opportunities to develop blended approaches to practice in ways which are inclusive and meaningful will continue to be absent from the literature.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) was used to construct the TELEDA courses. PAR forces attention to power dynamics and the risk of bias influencing the research design and data collection, while its continual processes of evaluation created a bottom-up approach to developing digital shifts in practice. Giving voice to the lived experiences of the digitally shy and resistant not only fills a gap in the existing  knowledge base, it also offers valuable insights for supporting the building of pedagogic and digital confidence.

The research was embedded in a critical realist conceptual framework. This suggests both physical and social realities have causal effects. It interprets individual attitudes and practices as emergent properties of the socio-cultural systems in which they are located and supports the understanding of digital shifts as situated and contextualised practices.

The research concludes the most effective support for blended learning requires attention to the lived experience of the later adopters of education technology, in particular those more likely to exhibit digital resistance. Without attention to digital shifts from both pedagogical and individual perspectives, educational technology research risks increasing rather than reducing on-campus divides between the digitally fluent and the digitally shy. Future research trajectories should take a greater interest in the diversity of ways in which staff conceptualise their practice in a digital age. Without such a change in direction, the risk is the work seeking to enhance student learning may actually be contributing towards preventing the desired digital shifts in practice from occurring in the first place.

Supervision 2oth September 2017 (notes and reflections)

Annual Review 30th October 10.00 – requires literature review chapter to be shared before plus a discussion – nearly there!

cartoon person pushing a brown cog wheel representing the gears of digital shifts
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Research title: Digital Shifts. How staff in UK HE conceptualise blended approaches to learning and teaching

Research questions  

  • What influences the attitudes and practices of staff who teach and support learning in UK HE towards education technology?
  • How can the ‘experiential learning’ design of a postgraduate teacher education course influence the adoption of blended approaches to practice?
  • How does the Community of Inquiry model influence the development of digital capital?

Research aim: 

Investigate the influences on staff attitudes and practices with regard to adopting blended learning practices.

Research objectives:

  • Utilise the Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) courses to examine staff attitudes and practices towards education technology.
  • Explore and critically assess the value of experiential learning for the adoption of blended approaches.
  • Investigate and identify how the Community of Inquiry model supports the development of digital capital for the enhancement of teaching and learning.

Research Deliverables

  • A model for developing digital fluency in learning and teaching
  • Revised model of CoI model (Garrison and Anderson, 2003)
  • Revised adoption innovative practice curve (Rogers, 4th ed 2002)
  • Revised digital capabilities model (Jisc, 2015)

Gaps in the literature

  • Research is led by innovators and digitally fluent while the experience of late adopters, the digitally shy and resistant is missing
  • Research about how students learn as e-learners but less about how staff teach as e-teachers
  • Research around student digital experience but less around supporting staff to develop digital pedagogy and confidence with digital ways of working


We agreed the literature review is ‘out of control’ which feels like an understatement – I can’t stop – there’s still a dozen papers I have to read because they’re relevant. The problem being I’m still covering too large an area.

I’ve started work on the narrative. It needs a more coherent line of argument, one which highlights the gap in knowledge which the research attempts to fill….but I’m too easily sidetracked…there’s so much more to read, to explore, to discover…

I’ve called my research Digital Shifts. The process of moving from digital shyness to digital fluency and reimagining it as non-linear. It’s more like a network. Ale drew quadrants mapping the process, a 2D model which could be 3D – and including some digital shifts elements.

model of digital shifts in quadrants

Using the Diffusion of Innovations descriptors (Rogers, 2002, 4th ed), my research participants were early and later adopters of educational technology, those who amount to 68% of the population. All staff involved in teaching and supporting learning, they wanted to become more digitally confident so had signed up for my Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) courses, designed to support digital shifts.  Enrolled on the institutional VLE as students – for many this was the first time they’d had the student view – they worked through blocks of learning designed to develop digital skills and confidence – taking part in collaborative activities and writing personal reflective journals which were used to record how they might transfer their new learning to individual practice.

The influences on the attitudes and practices of the later adopters with regard to educati0n technology represents a gap in the literature.  I’ve heard blended is the new normal but am not convinced – not yet. The late adopters, those who are neither visitors nor residents but the NAY’s – the Not Arrived Yets – who continue to follow traditional timetabled lecture/seminar models. Mostly in isolation. Self-excluding from digitally themed events. Research attention is on those who are digitally active. Like attracts like and never more so than on the subject of on campus digital divides where innovators and laggards have taken up positions on either side.

The quadrants diagram is an attempt to move away from a conception of TEL or blended as something you move towards in a linear fashion.  Blended is not about only online – which was the subject of early eLearning literature – it’s about blending the two, extending the on campus experience to include independent student learning which is interactive, collaborative and online.

How do you make sense of what blended is? TELEDA was completely online for that reason. Staff, enrolled as students on the institutional VLE, not only had the student experience (something new for most of them) they were in the unique position of  being able critically reflect from both positions. For the majority this proved to be a powerful influence on attitudes and practice.

Ale and Rachel spoke of having anecdotal evidence of people describing taking an online module (e.g. for PCAP) as transformational. Martin Weller has just this week blogged on the value of being an online student  This was reinforced during the #lthechat on  teaching excellence last week.

tweet from #lthe chat about the advantage of experiential learning

I see experiential learning – and my data – (perhaps unsurprisingly) – confirms this – as a threshold. Before then, the digital was often perceived on as ‘troublesome knowledge’. TELEDA became the scaffolding required to move from the edges to more central participation, to make more shifts in digital practice.

TELEDA was structured around teaching, cognitive and social presence as per the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison and Anderson, 2003; Garrison 2013). In the literature review I’m exploring how CoI model is underpinned with participatory, situated-learning theory. I’m reading Engelstrom on Activity Theory as a conceptual framework for understanding how individual attitudes and practices are emergent properties of the socio-cultural systems in which they’re located. There’s also a body of literature which interprets digital literacies as situated, contextualised practices. It all fits with my wider conceptual framework of critical realism which suggests both physical and social realities have causal properties.

I’d really like to include the concept of virtual learning environments as third space, a duality of existence supporting presence in two places at the same time, the fluidity of postmodernism, Bauman’s liquid reality etc but even I accept this is going several steps too far –  have to reduce what I have never mind include more!

Back to the PhD reality – where two decades of literature since the 1997 Dearing Report shows the dominance of a technology-first approach, accompanied by a discourse of transformation, while those calling for attention to learning design through a pedagogy-first approach have had less impact. This is where digital shifts become more about learning design than technology but still require the development of digital skills and confidence – this is where the tensions can be found.

Critique of the research in the education technology field (add references) suggests the need to rethink approaches to what has variously been called  e-learning,  technology enhanced learning (TEL),  blended and flipped learning etc. There’s also need for shared consensus of what blended learning means. At the moment a range of understandings exist from guided independent learning (i.e. uploading resources for students to access) to the ABL (Active Blended Learning) approach at UoN which is about activities linking both online and f2f time.

In 1997 the literature was focused on the VLE. Today it’s about recording lectures, using social media, polling tools, mobile devices – the technology has changed but the influences on attitudes and practices has stayed much the same. Some do. Most don’t. Until research moves on from innovation and early adoption to focus on the later majority, from digital fluency to digital shyness and reluctance, those who teach and support learning will continue to resist making digital shifts in attitudes and practice.

The educational technology literature is dominated by the innovators and early adopters who are digitally fluent in comparison to the more digitally shy and resistant late adopters. It also focuses more on how students learn as e-learners than how staff teach as e-teachers. This research brings together a model of learning design (Community of Inquiry), participatory action research and critical reflection on how later adopters experienced their own digital shifts. Data collected during and after their first hand experiences of learning and teaching in a digital age offers valuable insight into the influences on their attitudes and practices. This will not only contribute to the existing education technology knowledge base, it will also help fill the gaps in how best to support staff to develop pedagogic confidence with digital ways of working.

Where next?

During the supervision session we also discussed the role of learning technologists/educational developers. In the early days of elearning (aimed mostly at distance learning and led by the OU) teaching teams included learning designers and  technologists. There was a division of labour which continues to this day in various egress in different HEI. Inconsistency is a result of HEFCE’s elearinng strategies which left it to individual HEI to decide what digital shifts looked like and how to support them within their own institutions.  From the start this risked academics feeling they don’t have to adopt changes in practice. They could continue being the subject experts and the techies would take care of everything VLE shaped. To this day, the majority have not made any significant digital shifts in attitude or practice. Even more worrying – as my data is beginning to suggest, the digital is being seen as detrimental rather than enhancing for student learning.

What could have been done differently? How can those tasked with supporting digital shifts best move forward?

Would a baseline of digital capabilities help. I agreed with Ale that you wouldn’t want to go back to seeing an ECDL tick box competency model as the answer but – for many digitally shy – this is the first step towards grasping the concepts of becoming more digitally literate. Often SMT etc see digital competence as a skills issue hence a ‘training approach’ is the answer (e.g. etc).

It’s not idea but you have to work with what you have. If there’s funding for ‘training’ in digital skills then I’d suggest using this as a platform for the broader discussions around how to create digitally enhanced blended learning. I think we need an answer to the question what does a digital baseline look like, something more than a vague definition of the skills you need to work effectively in a digital age – what does that look like anyway?

My digital baseline includes elements like using Word Headings and Styles + ToC for accessibility, the value of transcripts and knowing how to edit them on you tube, collaborative working eg turning a canvas page into a wiki, or creating a google doc for student interaction and engagement with the subject, being able to use tools for curation etc in order to make practical use of the mass of content returned in response to a click of the key.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this – so long as it isn’t interpreted in isolation from the broader issues of learning and teaching design and enhancing the student experience – which has to include graduate attributes of the digital kind. If staff who teach and support learning haven’t made the necessary digital shifts, how can students be expected to.

Reviewing the educational technology has reinforced the extent to which it is biased towards the point of view of the innovator and early adopters and those with digital education development as integral parts of their role. It would be ironic  (but maybe not so surprising with hindsight) if the role created to help HE make digital shifts in learning and teaching was the same role which is actually contributing towards preventing them.

19/09/17 Like the enormous turnip, the literature review grew and grew and….

story of the enormous turnip
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If only the story of the PhD were as easy to tell!

I’ve always had problems with boundaries, but even I could see it was too big to manage. So I revisited the research questions and extracted the relevant sections.

Now the literature review fits (albeit still in note form and needs writing up), there’s a draft Methodology chapter and I’m ready for the data analysis.

How did September arrive so quickly? The last meaningful PhD log entry was in June! It’s not like I’ve been anywhere, no travel, no airports 😦 Supervision next week.  The good news is I’ve been writing. The bad news is there’s too many words in all the wrong places – and I haven’t submitted anything yet. Running out of time. Always chasing time. Never enough to do everything for work never mind my research…stop moaning, always moaning!

wordcount from literature review 32412 words

The Literature Review is massive. A brilliant opportunity to track the development of education technology in UK HE over the past 20 years, since the Dearing Report 1997, and be an evidence base for future writing. The problem is – I realise in the early hours of the morning – it isn’t a literature review. Not yet…

ladder stretching across a gap
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The intention was to send it to the supervisory team so they could see progress. My DoS said stop writing and sent what you’ve got. But I didn’t. I kept writing. Now I wish I’d listened. With supervision on Wednesday, whatever I send it’s too late for the team to read it.

Somewhere in those 32,000+ words is the 20,000 I need for the chapter. I hope!

It doesn’t help that I’m signed off work at the moment. The dreaded inflammatory stuff is back. Uveitis in my eyes and pain everywhere else. I’ve learned from experience it’s not wise to ignore it. The only solution is rest. My GP is unsympathetic in terms of medical support. Surrounded by all his buddhist prayer wheels and flags (no disrespect to Buddhists intended, but meditation isn’t codeine) he tells me I need to learn to manage stress. I’m sure he thinks he’s right but the advice is counter-intuitive. I do as I’m told and sign up for a stress management workshop (can’t fit me in till mid-October).  The stress mountain just got bigger and the pain ratchets up a few more notches.

How many other p/t distance learning PhD students are out there struggling with the commitments of full time work and life? I’m lucky. My nest is empty. Outside of work the hours are mine. I’m lucky my research (digital shifts for staff who teach and support learning in UK HE) is also my passion. We don’t talk enough about the social impact of the internet – not just in HE but culturally – it’s one reason I blog – so I can get it all out there but enough! All roads lead back to the PhD including this one.

The saga continues…

Chapter Two: The Literature Review

Part One Digital shifts from an Institutional Perspective

  • Introduction
  • Positive discourse and approaches
  • Critique and discourse of failure
  • On the Ground – voices from above and below
  • eLearning policy within HEI
  • Academic Teaching Qualifications
  • Web 2.0/Social Media
  • Open Education, OER and MOOC
  • Digital Inclusion
  • Surveys and other grey literature

Part Two Digital Shifts from a Pedagogical Perspective

  • Structural and organisational drivers
  • Pedagogy and learning design – discourse and approaches
  • Grey Literature on pedagogic digital shift

Part Three Digital Shifts from an Individual Perspective

  • Digital Skills Agenda
  • New Literacy Studies

July 2017

The month of the redraft of the draft literature review chapter…

June 2017

I presented at the 8th Annual Research Students Conference, Faculty of Education and Humanities, University of Northampton, 23rd June 29017. The presentation, called Digital Shifts, also formed the seminar part of the PhD Transfer process. The second part, the transfer viva, will take place in September/October.

The phrase ‘Digital Shifts’ sums up this research. A blog post entitled ‘brick walls crack but don’t fall‘ explores some of the rationale for this and records my reflections since the conference.

Am trying to get to the literature review. It shouldn’t be so difficult to add at least one paper a day/week to Nvivo – but it’s proving to be a challenge. Tomorrow is the first day of July. Another weekend, another month, another opportunity to try and make progress. 

Supervisory meeting with Ale and Rachel 8th June 2017 – log and reflections

It began as so many online meetings do – despite using institutionally supported systems there were technical issues to overcome. I’d started with Big Blue Button on the Surface Pro but the sound was lagging and breaking up. We tried Skype, each of us calling the other but the sound remained poor. Finally we spoke via mobile phone. I still don’t know why the sound was bad but it isn’t uncommon.  Webinars frequently involve participant problems with video, audio, sharing screens etc.  This is the reality of using the technology which is going to transform education and student learning.

I’d promised a revised draft of the Literature Review chapter but hadn’t delivered. All I’d sent was the Abstract from the Research Student Conference proposal (which doubled up as the seminar part of the transfer (attached) and yet another revised framework with research questions etc. It’s like being at school and not having done your homework. There are no excuses other than I simply coulodnt find the time. The creative writing degree has finished (awarded a First and won the prize for best portfolio – hurray!) Now (in theory) I have much of my evenings and weekends back – so am feeling hopeful J Time to put theory into practice.

The different supervisory influences, being rejected for a PhD place at Hull, losing a year, these have all shaped my doctorate and now I’m more settled it’s time to pin it down and be specific about its purpose. I have a mass of data about attitudes and practices of staff in UK HE about teaching and learning in a digital age. It was never my intention to use it all. I collected data because I wasn’t sure I’d get the opportunity again. I’m a social scientist with a primary interest is the social shaping of reality and a specific interest in how this plays out in UK HE.  I believe the postmodern lens offered a valuable interpretative tool but like all apparatus of social change (think feminism, widening participation, Disability Discrimination Act) there’s been a positivist backlash. We’re currently seeing a return to measurement and standards, (think SATS, NSS, REF, TEF), we’re seeing a dilution of focus on disability to the wider (and thinner) protected characteristics of the Equality Act as well as the move towards a core curriculum reflecting hegemonic culture and values. Diversity and difference are being marginalised while the internet – a key platform for communication and collaboration – is replicating and reinforcing traditional structures of status and privilege alongside increasing controls over citizens digital footsteps and journeys  (think Charlie Brooker’s Back Mirror series and look up Investigatory Powers Act 2016, Government Digital Strategy Bill, and Government Digital Economy Bill (2017) still going through Parliament )

The PhD is so huge there is hardly any aspect of internet enabled HE it does not cover!

RQ1 How do staff conceptualise the pedagogic shift from face-to-face to online environments?

Ale pointed out how the use of ‘from’ and ‘to’ in the question implies a continuum – a shift in a single direction from one place to another which is misleading. (Digital Shifts are in all directions not just one) Ale suggested these travel across a plain rather than a line and are flexible – Ale’s model (from 2002) is of quadrants on two axis of proximity and synchronicity

The paper is in Spanish which raised the issue of the reach of non-English speaking journals which can only be read by smaller number of people.  

Each Quadrant describes a type of learning

  • Blended learning
  • Distance learning
  • Face to face
  • Broadcast, radio, TV etc

Rachel said there are also pedagogic implications of moving between digital and f2f and between different types/scenarios of teaching/learning. The design of learning has to include finding what is most conducive and appropriate in terms of environment, subject, level etc for all parties (this reminded me the Cairo workshop Ale ran in Hull where you establish the rationale for the activity before deciding which/if technology is involved. In most people’s designs technology was there but Ale didn’t once refer to it and  by titling the session Learning Design we saw new faces who might not have booked onto a workshop labelled Technology or Digital)

Ale suggested keeping the words from and to but adding something like ‘from traditional f2f to a variety which might or might not included blended or online’

Digital shifts are not a one directional process – arriving at the most appropriate learning environment is what matters most  

RQ2 – How can an experiential approach to online teacher education influence the adoption of technology enhanced learning design?

On reflection there is an assumption  T does EL – at which point do I bring in the critique of dominant TEL discourse? This is a loaded RQ!  

Ale suggested being prepared for the reader not understanding or misinterpreting ‘an experiential approach. Adding reference to a model like Kolb model might reduce risk of misunderstanding and Rachel suggested adding a strapline/additional information eg ‘For purposes of this approach an experiential approach refers to…..’

This forces me to revisit the rationale for adopting an experiential approach and deciding if – with the benefit of hindsight – it still stands. The original idea was to give staff the student experience of active online learning – to show rather than tell – to experience rather than be a passive receptor. I also perceived my choices around experiential learning and PAR  as breaking down traditional teacher/student barriers. I would still support the raitnale and decisions but my expectations have changed and are maybe more realistic in the light of the outcomes.

RQ3 – How does the Community of Inquiry model of online education support the development of digital capital?

Ale approved of this questions saying it’s explanatory, tight, well written and clear. Hurray!

Research Title – Digital Shifts; how staff in UK HE conceptualise learning and teaching in a digital age. 

Still working on this – needs to be concise and memorable. Aims, Objectives and Deliverables will guide its final form, it doesn’t need it to be precise at the moment. After the meeting I added Digital Shifts – and am currently using this as a summary phrase

May 2017

The University of Northampton Faculty of Education and Humanities holds its 8th Annual Research Students Conference June 23rd/24th. The plan is to use this as the seminar part of the transfer. The Viva by Skype will follow in September/October. The deadline for proposals is today so better get on with it!

I went to an Nvivo User Group this month. When describing what I’ve done, I realised my three years of data collection could have been a single year and I would still have more than enough. In fact, it might have been easier to triangulate over a single 24 week course than try and bring together all the data x 3 courses.

The key data set is the interview transcripts and I want to continue the analysis of these. Course participants who volunteered to take part were my sample.  There is much more data than the interviews and I’m not sure of the most effective way to manage it all. At the moment it feels like I’ve all the pieces of a jigsaw with a range of potential pictures and  have been trying to decide which is the most appropriate direction. Thanks to a number of conversations with the supervision team to help clarify my thinking, it’s falling into place.

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of supervisors within your subject area. It makes so much difference to all be on the same page. This is where I am so far…and it feels like a good place to be.

The title/research questions are still being tweaked but the fundamental components are all in place.

Title: Digital Shifts; how staff in UK HE conceptualise learning and teaching in a digital age. 

Research questions  

  • How can an experiential approach to an online teacher education course support staff in UK HE to make the pedagogic shift to  technology enhanced learning?
  • How does the Community of Inquiry model of online learning design influence the acquisition and development of digital capital?

Research aim: 

to investigate the influences on staff attitudes practices with regard to technology enhanced learning (TEL)

Research objectives:

  • Utilise the Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) courses to examine staff attitudes and practices towards technology enhanced learning ,
  • Explore and critically assess the value of experiential learning for reaching late adopters of technology enhanced design and practice
  • Critically analyse the effectiveness of the Community of Inquiry model for building a collegial network of digital knowledge and support
  • Investigate and identify how the Community of Inquiry model supports the development of digital capital for the enhancement of teaching and learning.

Research Deliverables

  • An agile ‘toolkit’ supporting the development of technology enhanced pedagogic design and practice.
  • A model of digital capabilities appropriate for activity-based teaching and learning in a digital age
  • Suggestions for reconstructing:
    • CoI model (Garrison and Anderson, 2003)
    • adoption of innovative practice (Rogers, 4th ed 2002)
    • Jisc Developing Digital Capabilities model in relation to  learning and teaching (2015 – check date)

April 2017

PhD wise, April has been a cruel month (with apologies to T S Eliot) I attended a set of Nvivo workshops and chose Mendeley as my referencing tool. I even began to set up my literature review in Nvivo but that’s all folks. Progress-wise it hasnt been good. There are real world genuine excuses. We’re suffering a review and restructure, I haven’t had a reserach Friday for seven weeks and there’s the matter of the other degree!

March 2017

This month I joined the new Nvivo User group, booked a set of Nvivo workshops for April and picked back up on RefWorks. At least I tried. It’s a digital truth – universally acknowledged – that what happens in the workshop rarely transfers to individual practice. This translates as I haven’t changed my citation practice and can’t find Cite and Write on my laptop! Also, I was reminded of the assumption that digital databases are the student’s starting point and I wonder how true this is compared to a Google-first approach.  Being with the ‘experts’ showed me I’m less digitally gifted than others might believe! Information Literacies are part of the greater whole of being a digitally capable person but in the same way TEL-People tend to exist in TEL-World, do Librarians and Learning Developers also exist in isolation from what really goes on?

Digression point!

Back to my own research literacies (which are not looking too good).

I didn’t transfer my Refworks account from Lincoln but tell myself starting again is a useful refreshment activity. I also lost access to my account (long story – easier to restart although I haven’t yet done so). However, I did manage to transfer Researchgate (Yay!)and get regular notifications that someone somewhere is coming across my publications. The downside is I haven’t anything currently in the system. My last published paper was mid-2016 and although I’ve a couple of half-finished drafts plus a few more at the idea stage, I’ve fallen behind and need to address this. An eight day week might help.

Revisiting and choosing research tools is a challenge because there’s so many different ones. Maybe I should be using Endnote because it links with NVivo which I have for data analysis or can Refworks can be exported to Endnote? I’m not a great user bibliographic software and this is a weakness which needs sorting. It’s not easy to do a PhD with no support. My Outlook calendar has Fridays marked for research but this has to be flexible and all too often the day is used for catching up on work rather than being the research day it needs to be.

I’ve acquired a Surface Pro for the Office 365 experience and make use of digital ink. The university is moving to 365 anytime now and there is much talk about going paperless. Also, I thought a new device might stimulate some research motivation – as in this is primarily for work on the PhD. It’s been sat on my desk for over a month. There’s something to be said for plug and go with everything you need already there. It sounds like an excuse but I simply haven’t had time to install 365 and everything else needed to use it effectively plus the wifi isn’t connecting. In the meantime the keys on my laptop continue to wear off – the letter A now another bright light since this photo was taken.

It has to be said re-engaging with research tools has been a useful digital capabilities exercise while workshop participation reminds you of the range of digital diversity. I think it’s fair to say the majority of people make limited use of digital tools. If you were there at the start (i.e. have analogue feet) you may have more baseline knowledge but most people seem to use digital ways of working to achieve specific aims so their knowledge consists of bits and pieces here and there – with nothing to join them up.

Also, I’ve been trying to fit my new research knowledge into the Jisc Digital Capabilities circles and finding the model  works in theory on paper but applying it is less easy and reveals the difficulties of separating practical engagement into the different elements.

On the subject of being digital, I received an email from a colleague (academic) describing how difficult it was to keep TEL and DC on the agenda. For the majority of people working in HE they are not priorities.  The majority of staff on TELEDA were neither innovators nor early adopters. They came on the course for different reasons, mostly to do with enhancing student learning and the majority were not great fans of the technology. It can become problematic when those taking lead roles in digital education don’t come from an L&T  background – which may well contribute to the digital adoption divide.

However, there’s a definite shift in the air. I’m hearing more and more from colleagues, both within my institution and across the sector, how L&T has become digital by default with the expectation staff working in L&T have to address this. Get digital or get out is one expression I’ve heard recently. Are expectations changing so so much? Is HE on the cusp of making radical change to employees terms and conditions, demanding evidence of digital capabilities at interview and in appraisal?

I look through my dairy – the detailed one I keep every day – to remind myself what else have I’ve done this month e.g. a re-dabble in phenomenology – a research method which tries to access and interpret individual perceptions. It deals with lived experience and is often referred to alongside ‘experiential’ so always grabs my attention. My research examines influences on attitudes and behaviours so is concerned with discovering the subjective pov – personal perceptions from individual perspectives –  i.e. deeper, richer and thicker data than statistical numbers (he stories behind the numbers) but phenomenology has a distinct methodology. OU’s Open Learn have a free course The body: A phenomenological psychological perspective which highlights the different ‘bodily’ ways of knowing –  a physical epistemology through which we interpret ‘social construction’ as a shaping mechanism.  How to apply a phenomenological approach to virtual interaction (with regard to learning and teaching) where we are physically absent – although ‘knowing’ via digital  media can range from plain text to synchronous video – is an area I’d like to explore. I suspect it can’t be retrospectively applied because of its specific approach to data collection – but I’m still attracted to the literature – and see the PhD as being as much about learning to use the tools of research (including different conceptual frameworks) as much as the research experience itself. So for now, I sort of collect conceptual frameworks – they’re becoming  a habit – I find it difficult to narrow them down – they all have different strengths – although critical realism’s concepts of fallibility and emergence are still near the top! Since being told my philosophical approach was too deep, I’ve been taking the opportunity I’m not sure how deep to go. Is being interpretative, qualitative and experiential enough? This will be the subject of my next supervision.

Also been looking at the similarities/differences between a PhD and professional doctorate. This was stimulated by a post from Pat Thompson Professional Doctorates, what are they good for?   Having looked at the literature on action research approaches to doctoral research, I know my PhD sits on the borders. It’s likely I’ll need to defend this so am working on a blog post which has the key arguments for both sides.

These are all reasons for keeping the blog and the value of having space for recording and sharing progress, reflections and ideas 🙂
PS I’ve also used this page today to check some references and been reminded we didn’t discuss my proposed structure for the literature chapter or my list of most influential papers. Need to add memory jog to the ‘reasons for blogging‘ list!

Supervision 7th March: we’re still working on the title, questions, aims, objectives and deliverables, not changing them but aligning them with the shift in emphasis. Looking back (hindsight is useful) I can see this this research has been positioned within different aspects of digital education or TEL (need to point out the differential use of language over the past two decades (my starting point is 1997) in the thesis – maybe another appendix). There’s been four approaches:

  1. the phd began outside education – my aim was to focus on digital exclusion in the community
  2. it was bought into education to make it more manageable alongside a f/t job – was interested in identifying influences on  attitudes and practices around VLE – it was aligned with the TELEDA courses which were being piloted with the aim of examining how their design supported VLE engagement.
  3.  I was told my PhD couldn’t be about staff use of VLE (Know your limits) and TELEDA showed how VLE related to digital confidence and competencies, in particular within Roger’s (Diffusion of Innovations) categories of late adopters and laggards – so I shifted to the development of digital capabilities within TELEDA
  4. Another supervisor had an EdD looking at staff development/CPD with no technology background. TELEDA was suspended and the EDEU disbanded. My new role as Academic TEL Advisor offered opportunities to focus on more pedagogical use of technology while the change in institutions highlighted the embeddedness of traditional teaching by lecture. Having my application to complete the PhD at Hull rejected was in hindsight a good move. Although I had a year disconnected, registering at Northampton (16/17) has enabled me to highlight the key element of the research –  what it was about all along – learning design.

Hence the need to revisit and revise how the research is presented through the title, questions, aim, objectives and deliverables. Leaving Lincoln meant plans for follow up research were lost. I knew participants were applying the TELEDA learning to their own teaching practices but didn’t get chance to evidence this.  However, Hull offers opportunities for developing more agile and longitudinal approaches to TEL involving iterative loops of feedback. TELEDA has its own legacy. Doors may shut but others will open if you refuse to give up.

At the moment the revisions are as follows:

Title: The conceptualisation of learning and teaching in a digital age; a study of technology enhanced learning designs in a UK higher education institution/university.

Research Questions:

  • What value can participatory action research contribute to online learning design?
  • How do staff conceptualise the pedagogic shift from face-to-face to online environments?
  • How does the Community of Inquiry model support staff adoption of digital technologies for learning and teaching?
  • What can technology enhanced learning designs contribute to the development of individual digital capital?

Research Aim: To investigate the value of an experiential learning approach to the adoption of technology enhanced learning designs in UK HE.

Research Objectives: 

  • Evaluate the design and delivery of an online teacher education programme through a participatory action research methodology
  • Assess the effectiveness of the Community of Inquiry model for adopting technology enhanced learning designs.

Research Deliverables:

  • Develop an agile ‘toolkit’ for technology enhanced learning designs.
  • Construct a model of digital capabilities which supports the design of technology enhanced learning and teaching.

Next supervision 25th April with a catchup with Rachel TBC before them.

Tasks set – rewrite the literature review chapter of the thesis for 15th May. This will need a fresh look – take out some of the depth of the philosophy and reintroduce the literature around learning design.

I was concerned at the suggestion to stop blogging and focus on concentrated writing instead. I understand there are different styles of writing and time is limited but the Digital Academic blog has so many different functions e.g. a networking tool, a writing discipline, a CPD activity, a research log etc. It’s a little worrying that it was perceived by my supervisor as an activity I would want to stop – sort of suggests it isn’t very good and doesn’t do what it set out to do – which bothers me  –  but  I wouldn’t want to stop so will need to find a way to take it forward alongside rewriting the draft thesis chapter.

February 2017

25/02/17 postscript to entry below – typically after writing the Facebook group has died, our DoS posted this  – Chapter 5: Constructing Conceptual Frameworks – Building the Route from  The Research Journey: Introduction to Inquiry by Sharon Rallis and Gretchen Rostom (2012).

From the Forward –  one of the challenges to developing nquiry-mindedness is ‘a commitment to fallibilism‘ and ‘taking seriously the notion that one can be wrong about one’s beliefs or position and being open to new evidence and arguments‘ (p.ix). One of  the tenets of critical realism (from a social science perspective) is how external ontological reality can be known (i.e. perceived and/or experienced) but epistemologically, this knowledge is always fallible (i.e. it is relative depending on whatever influences we are under e.g. historical and contemporary location, background, cultural references etc).  

With this in mind I will re-examine my prejudice against education research from the US (i.e. Tony Bates) and – in the light of Rachel’s application of his book Teaching in a Digital Age (2015) blog post to pedagogical process and practice at Northampton (see Getting started with Quality Blended Learning) to uncover the roots of my own prejudice while also being prepared to accept I might be wrong. Ii might be interesting to compare Teaching in a Digital Age (2015) with Bate’s Technology, elearning and Distance Education (2005). I also have Randy Garrison’s  Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines (2007) which uses the CoI model and is dated midway between elearning in 21st century with Terry  Anderson (2002) and its second edition without Anderson (2011). Other literature from US includes the critiques from Feenberg, Friesen and Reeves et al who call for a more rigorous research design approach to using TEL.

24/02/17 – plan for supervision 7th March 

The Facebook group has died a death. The further away we get from meeting last October the more we are slipping back into our individual worlds. FB worked well, for me. I liked having papers to read and feel this absence of online activity has resulted in no triggers to force me to prioritise the PhD over everything else. At the moment the only push is from supervision and the next meeting is in a few days time. Here is my plan for the session…

Key to areas to discuss listed below:

  1. research questions (pasted below) – since discussing shifting the emphasis to ‘learning design’ rather than supporting  the development of digital capabilities a LD approach seems a much better fit with the literature and the research design. I’d like to adjust the questions slightly – suggestions in red italics. Also is ‘educationalists’ (as suggested by Rachel) an appropriate substitute for ‘staff who teach and support learning’. I need a way of referring to staff working in professional services i.e. library, staff development, academic and learning development etc as well as academics. (During supervision Ale explained this was not appropriate because many academic staff are not educationalists – teaching is not the same as education research)

Research Title: How do academics and staff who teach and support learning (educationalists) in UK Higher Education conceptualise teaching and learning (learning design/design for learning) in a digital age?

Research Questions 

  • What can a participatory action research approach to the development of an online teacher education programme contribute to the knowledge of learning design in UK HE?
  • How do academics and staff who teach and support learning (educationalists) perceive/understand (conceptualise) the pedagogic shift from face-to-face to online environments?
  • In what ways can a teacher education programme based on the Community of Inquiry model support academics (educationalists) with their adoption of digital technologies?
  • What influences the acquisition of digital capital amongst staff new to education technologies (and online learning design)?

Research Aim: To use an experiential learning approach to shift (support) the (development of) digital pedagogic practices of academics and staff who teach and support learning (educationalists) in UK HE.

Research Objectives 

  • Evaluate the construction and content (learning design) of an online teacher education programme through a participatory action research methodology
  • Assess the effectiveness of the Community of Inquiry model for teaching and learning online.

Research Deliverables

  • Develop an (agile approach) online programme which introduces academics and staff who teach and support learning (educationalists)  to pedagogic to learning design in a digital age (21st century?).
  • Construct a model of digital capabilities (academic/pedagogic literacies?)  which supports staff (educationalists) with their (learning designs) and development of online interaction.

2 research field 

We discussed via email where my research is located following on from the David Bridge paper (see below) re pedagogical research and the REF.

Ale’s response – This topic deserves a bit more time for discussion and recommended reading the papers by Kirkwood and Price (2014) Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is ‘enhanced’ and how do we know? A critical literature review and Bayne (2014) What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’? Ale also wrote

I would say that TEL research is one of the many subsets of educational research. I don’t agree with the wholesale accusations of TEL being less rigorous than other disciplines within Education. It is possible that the term TEL (which assumes enhancement by default) is unfortunate. One could argue that technology-mediated learning is more neutral, but TML is perhaps a much less sexy term. Personally, I’m more comfortable with learning technology research, or educational technology research, the latter being broader than the former

I’d like to discuss this as Ale suggested.

3 Literature review

Relevant literature discussions via email are documented in this PhD log (see January 2017 – emails with Ale and Rachel) below. I’ve started to restructure the areas covered in the literature chapter. This initially addressed developing digital capabilities rather than using a learning design for TEL and literacies of digital/academic/information/data etc kind.

Suggested areas to cover within the lit review

  • digital scholarship and digital literacies – eg Cristina Costa, Martin Weller Sian Bayne, Martin Oliver, Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea
  • impact of openness, mooc, oer eg Ale Armellini, John Daniel,
  • digital learning design/TEL eg- Grainne Connole, Gilly Salmon, Yishay Mor, Diana Laurillard,  Garrison and Anderson (CoI), Peter Knight, Gilly Salmon, Diana Laurillard
  • curriculum design eg Biggs (curriculum alignment, deep and surface approaches), Prosser and Trigwell, Trowler, Knight plus Brookfield and Moon (critical reflection)
  • TEL/e-learning research critique eg Adrian  Kirkwood and Linda Price, Cathy Gunn and Caroline Steel, Neil Selwyn, Norm Friesen US, Reeves & Harrington US (calling for educational design research) Phillips & Kennedy Australia (role of theory) Sian Bayne, Sue Clegg
  • influence of big data and learning analytics eg Bart Rienties and Lisette Toetenal
  • VLE critique from early years eg Mark Styles, Oleg Liber, Colin Latchem, Andrew Whitworth, Bernard Lisewski, Wendy and Malcolm Bell, Grainne Conole, Martin Oliver, Gilly Salmon

Does this need any critique of HE – WP, student fees, marketisation in neo-liberal times etc?

  • pedagogical research status eg Paul Trowler and Malcoln Tight on theory and practice (arguments of weakness similar to critique of TEL) plus David Bridges, Ann Edwards and Patti Lather papers (see further below for notes)
  • online teacher education/CPD eg Gregory and Salmon, Bennett and Lockyear, Sherward and Hamilton
  • educational action research eg Diana Laurillard, Sue Clegg
  • doctoral action research – to follow
  • conceptual framework – interpretative, qualitative, critical realist eg Archer, Cochran-Smith and Lytle, Campbell and Groundwater-Smith, Coghlan, Brannick, Elliott, Herr and Anderson, Hammerskey, Somekh, Schostak etc

Lastly, I said I’d produce a list of papers which have influenced me i.e. I keep going back to them – these include (in no order and without Harvard referencing) –

  • Publishing or Perishing; the critical importance of educational design research by Reeves, McKenny and Herrington (2011)
  • Flying not Flapping by Gilly Salmon (2005)
  • The Emperors New Clothes, globalisation and elearing in higher education by Sue Clegg (2003)
  • The Information Society Revisited by Frank Webster (2005),
  • Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning by R Saljo (2009)
  • Critical theory – ideology critique and the myths of elearing by Norm Freisen (2008)
  • Sociological Imagination by W Wright Mills
  • Digital Scholarship by Martin Weller

January 2017 – emails with Ale and Rachel

In response to asking for recommended ‘classic’ literature around learning design:

From Ale

Your question about classic texts is very broad. I would suggest that you review some well-known stuff written by Tony Bates, for instance. The first 3 from this list are very useful. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Rhona Sharpe papers and edited books on rethinking pedagogy for the digital age – different from the above, but relatively recent and relevant. Of course you’d need to use Diana Laurillard’s papers too, and you may also wish to change tack and refer to Curtis Bonk’s ideas from Indiana

  • Beetham, H and Sharpe, R (ed) (2007) Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age; Designing and Delivering eLearning. London: Routledge.
  • Sharpe, R, Beetham, H. and de Freitas, S. (ed) (2010) Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How Learners are Shaping their Own Experiences. London: Routledge.
Papers by Diana Laurillard  Plenty to choose from. I’d already referenced the following:
  • Laurillard, D. (2008) The teacher as action researcher: using technology to capture pedagogic form. Studies in Higher Education, 33 (2) 139-154
  • Laurillard, D. (2001) Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies. London: Routledge.
  • Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a Design Science. London: Routledge.

Ale also recommended Tony Bates

Ale suggested ‘you may also wish to change tack and refer to Curtis Bonk’s ideas from Indiana. In my reply I explained how for me US education seems more focused on instructional design from the teacher point of view than learning design from the student perspective.

From Rachel

A link to the Higher Education Whisperer blog by Tom Worthington who reviews Tony Bates’ Teaching in a Digital Age

Tom was a respondee in the ALT mail list query I posted about evidencing the impact of TEL research. I liked Tom’s comment how he – as a student of education –  has read many works from ‘US authors who do not seem to realize that the rest of the world exists’.

Tom sent a link to No Significant Difference  (2009) – a meta analysis of ‘more than 1,000 empirical studies of online learning published from 1996 through July 2008 by the (US) Education Department – where a small number (51) of independent studies met criteria of contrastiing an online teaching experience to a face-to-face situation, measuring student learning outcomes, using a “rigorous research design,” and providing adequate information to calculate the differences.’

One of the FAQ  on the site is this:

Question – do the “significant difference” articles tend to show greater achievement in face-to-face or in mediated instruction?

Answer – in the great majority of studies compiled for this website, the “significant difference” articles show greater achievement in technology-mediated instruction. However, it is also important to note that in most of these cases, courses were adapted to the technology being utilized for mediated delivery. It is likely that this very adaptation created a course that allowed students to achieve higher outcomes, rather than the technology itself resulting in the higher outcome.  Quoting Mr. Russell from the introduction to his book, “These (NSD) studies tell me that there is nothing inherent in the technologies that elicits improvements in learning. Having said that, let me reassure you that difference in outcomes can be made more positive by adapting the content to the technology. That is, in going through the process of redesigning a course to adapt the content to the technology, it can be improved.

Exploring NSD further I came across this from Inside Higher Ed (2009)

‘These results demonstrate why more research is needed – broadly based research that moves well beyond case studies conducted by distance education practitioners, research focused on student retention in online environments and especially research that looks behind the instructional medium to isolate the characteristics of instruction that produce positive results. Successful education has always been about engaging students whether it is in an online environment, face to face or in a blended setting. And fundamental to that is having faculty who are fully supported and engaged in that process as well.’

An alternative view from Chapter 9 Modes of Delivery in Teaching in a Digital Age – Tony Bates suggests there is ‘growing experience of the strengths and limitations of online learning’ … and evidence shows online learning is at least as good as face-to-face and what is missing ‘is an evidence-based analysis of the strengths and limitations of face-to-face teaching when online learning is also available.’

I wonder how many learning technologists and advocates of digital approaches to learning and teaching have sought evidence of what works face to face. Too often academic practice and digital practice are divided – see papers on issues when PCAP/PGCert etc go online (add here…) There is also literature suggesting pedagogical research suffers from similar weaknesses to the critiques of TEL research and is not well represented in the REF for this reason (See Bridges and Bennett papers from Cristina below – also Trowler on Wikedity of Educational Research and others (add here…)  

Rachel advised on retaining a balance between teaching and learning perspectives as staff tend to focus more on their practice than what students are doing.  This duality will be useful to discuss. Rachel also included a link to her own blog Getting Started with Quality Blended Learning Here Rachel applies  Tony Bates 9 steps in Teaching in a Digital Age to ways of working at Northampton. The Nine Steps are (links to original posts)

Lastly I was intrigued by the CLEO workshop

The CLEO (Collaborative Learning Experiences Online) workshop that forms part of our C@N-DO staff development programme is a g ood way of putting yourself in the shoes of the online learning and experiencing first hand some of the obstacles that online learners face, in order to prevent your own students facing similar issues

This sounds very much like TELEDA so I’d like to know more!

January 2017

Happy New Year.

Continuing to work with my Director of Studies Cristina Devechi who has suggested three educational research papers so far

  • Bridges, D. (2006) The disciplines and discipline of educational research. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 40 (2) pp 259–272. 
  • Edwards, A. (2002) Responsible Research: Ways of Being a Researcher in British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Apr., 2002), pp. 157-168.
  • Lather, P. (2006) Paradigm proliferation as a good thing to think with: teaching research in education as a wild profusion. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Vol. 19, No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 35–57
  • Also last week we looked at the inaugural professorial lecture from Kate Runswick-Cole, MMU (Re)imagining the research assemblage: towards scholar activism.  10th January, 2017.
  • My notes on the Edwards and Bridges paper are further down the page.

Kate Runswick-Cole

#ScholarActivism takes me back to my work with digital inclusion for service users and social work teams as well as my co-authored book Social Work in a Digital Society

At a time when the government moved information, welfare and services to online delivery it seemed clear this risked increasing digital divides and exacerbating existing instances of exclusion and disempowerment. If you were already marginalised and in need of support the research data showed you were also likely to be unable to participate in accessing the services you previously relied on. As the platforms of the public sphere moved online so those without internet access or the means to use it effectively were being silenced – but invisibly so.

The presentation linked to videos and in one of them Rob (wheelchair user) explains how he likes to be independent enough to do his own shopping but the attitude of the council was he should be doing online shopping instead of expecting to go to the supermarket.

Rob’s videos haven’t had many views so here are the links – please watch and share, bearing in mind the every day things we take for granted are not available to ever one in our society.

As well as assuming Rob had the means to shop online, the council also failed to recognise the issues raised by a social model of disability where barriers to access are in the built environment. The internet has become an increasingly exclusive environment, in particular for users of assistive technology who rely on inclusive design practices. This conflicts with the aims of the early pioneers who believed it would constitute a digital democracy.

The invisible nature of digital exclusion is a different topic to the presentation but a similar philosophy.  #ScholarActivism is about participating in meaningful, socially relevant research.  The first year of my PhD was about digital exclusion in the community. Unfortunately I realised my research had to align more closely with the day job or would be un-achievable – plus my supervisors didn’t get it – after all everyone can go online can’t they? Er, um – no – after reading this presentation I could feel the soapbox being dragged out and a blog post coming on!

Cites Colin Barnes (2003) emancipatory disability research aims to disrupt the usual power relations and demands that academics give up their power within research and give it to disabled people to control and shape the research agenda.

Cites Rod Michalko (2002) disability as ‘part of the natural variation’

activism has been abandoned in the neoliberal university -#scholaractivism aims to reinstate it

Justice for LB (laughing Boy) campaign.  Example of #scholaractivism in memory of Connor Sparrowhawk died in an NHS Assessment and Treatment Unit. Connor had learning disability and epilepsy, was left alone in a bath and drowned. LB (laughing Boy) campaign aims to raise awareness of unexpected deaths of people with learning disabilities and mental health. People with learning disabilities in the UK are not seen as fully human leading to careless care resulting in preventable deaths that go uninvestigated as well as to acts of hate crime and exclusion that haunt the lives of people with learning disabilities.

It is shocking that we still need to educate people to understand that people with learning disabilities are fully human too.

Cites the sociological imagination (C Wright Mills (1959) making the familiar strange – critically questioning taken for granted understandings of the world around us and everyday experiences – looking at their origins and being prepared to change our minds as we see they are mechanisms of social control.

Cites Deleuze and Guattari on assemblage as an ontological framework (A Thousand Plateaus (1980)) where everything is fluid and temporary therefore if nothing is fixed, everything is receptive to change

Patti Lather – summary

Approaching educational research as being for the public good was also the topic of Patti Lather’s paper.

Lather, P. (2006) Paradigm proliferation as a good thing to think with: teaching research in education as a wild profusion International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. Vol. 19, No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 35–57

Summary: the Postmodern turn has caused a crisis of authority and legitimisation and provided opportunities for positivist binaries to be challenged by views which supported diversity and difference. Lather teaches a PhD course in educational research so is concerned with issues of epistemology and ontology – ways of being and seeing in the world. Lather also appears supportive of a postmodernist lens on uncovering and interpreting the nature of social reality.

Lather cites a number of authors associated with postmodernism years including Foucault (who denied he was a PM) for showing how dominant discourse can be challenged by identifying ‘ruptures, failures, breaks, refusals’ to illuminate ‘the play of discursive formations’ (Foucault, 1972, p. 195) and Butler on how variation, divergence, deviation, even subversion – all displace and interrupt the norm (Butler, 1993, p. 120).

Against this ‘paradigm proliferation’ and ‘proliferating epistemologies’ (which I think just means different points of view) and also ‘colouring epistemologies’ (I wasn’t sure if this was bestowing difference via colour or colour specifically as in race) the US National Research Council called for a return to evidence based practice. In order for educational research to ‘contribute to the solution of education problems and to provide reliable information about the education practices that support learning and improve academic achievement and access to education for all students…rigorous training in research methodology and statistics’ was needed.

Lather is concerned this is a return to positivist binaries and suggests if educational research is to be ‘a knowledge-making project that requires work at the level of basic assumptions about the world and the knowledge we might have of it.’ (p48) PhD students should examine 5 aphoria of objectivity, complicity, difference, interpretation, and legitimization.

  • Objectivity – examine both sides of paradigm binaries
  • Complicity – examine and ‘trouble’ (Butler phrase from Gender Trouble) statistics as a reliable producer of knowledge
  • Difference – see binaries as complex contingencies of intersectionality
  • Interpretation – explore ‘let the voices speak for themselves’ approaches to qualitative approaches because researchers and methodologies can unknowingly be deeply representative of dominant discourse even if on the surface they claim to challenge it
  • Legitimisation – validity or making scientific knowledge credible – thinking in complicated ways about validity and asking where authority comes from to construct and evaluate knowledge claims

The language of this paper is difficult and took some breaking apart to understand it within my own vocabulary. In places I had to take it a sentence at a time! Lots of reference to external texts e.g Foucault, Butler, Nietzsche, Deleuze, Lyotard and Spivak. I was relieved to see familiar names and realise how research is cumulative – you build up knowledge in layers and compartments – the more you can link these together the more the world begins to make some sort of theoretical and practical sense.

As advice to PhD students I thought the message was sound. We should be critical about the nature of knowledge and ask where its validity comes from. Table 1 and Table 2 were useful summaries of key approaches but it wasn’t an easy read. The Anne Bennett paper referred to educational researchers needing to be aware of social inequality and questioning dominant discourse. Lather was addressing the wider philosophical questions of ontology and epistemology, but I was left thinking there must be easier ways to get a message across. For me the skill of academic writing is to say complex things in accessible language – otherwise it can come across as being too obscure and difficult.

11th December 2016

Supervision One – you’ve done too much. There’s enough here for two thesis and this is only three chapters!

I sort of knew that. It’s what happens when there’s too many supervisors, each with their own subject discipline and conflicting views on what my research was about. Early on I was told it couldn’t be about how academic staff use educational technology when throughout the years it was the only subject I was sure it was about. Know Your Limits on Thesis Whisperer said it all. Now my task is to review, revise and reduce – but first of all I need to realign the research questions.


These have been problematic.  How do you disguise TEL so it looks like something different? I’d ended up with bland statements which could be applied to anything within the the social sciences. It’s time to fix this. I was asked what excites me and what makes me get out of bed in a morning. That’s easy – apart from coffee, it’s making a digital difference; bridging digital divides and seeing staff who teach and support learning develop confidence with online tools and techniques. I’m convinced my experiential approach to supporting digital design works and the data suggests this too. Now after a few more attempts, the research questions align more closely with the heart of the research project. It’s been a useful reminder of what it was all about in the first place.

After hours of jigging and tweaking, never have seven little words sounded so good!

‘looks and feels better now, well done’

Phew – here are the final results…

Research Title

How do academics and staff who teach and support learning in UK Higher Education conceptualise teaching and learning in a digital age?

Research Questions 

  • What can a participatory action research approach to the development of an online teacher education programme contribute to the knowledge of learning design in UK HE?
  • How do academics and staff who teach and support learning perceive/understand the pedagogic shift from face-to-face to online environments?
  • In what ways can a teacher education programme based on the Community of Inquiry model support academics in their the adoption of digital technologies?
  • What influences the acquisition of digital capital amongst staff new to education technologies?

Research Aim

  • Using an experiential learning approach to shift the digital pedagogic practices of academics and staff who teach and support learning in UK HE.

Research Objectives 

  • Evaluate the construction and content of an online teacher education programme through a participatory action research methodology
  • Assess the effectiveness of the Community of Inquiry model for teaching and learning online.

Research Deliverables

  • Design and develop an online programme which introduces academics and staff who teach and support learning to pedagogic design in a digital age.
  • Construct a model of digital capabilities which supports staff with the development of online interaction.

4th December

Last Thursday was the first Graduate School Research Day. Workshops included Setting out on your Research Project and Writing and Structuring your Thesis. As a self- funding distance student my intention was to join in as much as possible remotely. Via Collaborate and a fixed camera I followed the slides and presentations during the morning but was excluded from the activities and in the afternoon the sound was lost. The recordings haven’t yet been posted but I’m hoping the sound will be ok on them. Not the most successful of days but it triggered the research process back up the priority list.

I uploaded my Ethics approval from the University of Lincoln to the Gateway system. It was accepted but the decision made that I still had to take and pass the mandatory Ethics module. As well as completing the Research Skills Master programme. These online courses are from Epigeum and hosted on Nile, the University of Northampton Blackboard. Epigeum is expensive and considered by some to be the gold standard but they’re fundamentally click your way through a read, watch and listen sequence of content. I worked through the Ethics in a couple of hours over the weekend and passed the test. I’m about half way through the research skills. I’m not a fan of the language of skills and training. We had words about this at the TEL-Team meeting this week. I think it matters. Others don’t agree.

Also this weekend we were given another paper on Educational Research for the Discipline workshop this week.

Edwards, A. (2002) Responsible Research: Ways of Being a Researcher in British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 28, No. 2. (Apr., 2002), pp. 157-168.

Edwards does three things – calls for a more interpretative social science approach to educational research (ER), calls for greater awareness of the reality of teaching practice as it takes place in the classroom and calls for BERA to provide relevant space and support for more interpretative approaches to ER

– a more interpretative social science approach to ER, this is about the move from positivist intervention to more interpretative ‘engaged social science’ approaches. Edwards is saying ER’s need to be ‘responsible researchers’ and adopt a ‘social practice-driven view of innovation rather than a simple knowledge-driven one’ p 162. Says the purpose of ‘…interpretative educational research’ is to ‘…provide insights into motivations and actions in policy and pedagogy. These insights will enrich understandings of accepted practices and may challenge them.’ P160

ER has not only been too much influences by scientific approaches to research it has also been too isolated from the complexity of social reality and the diverse nature of students in 21stcentury. ‘…we have not done enough to explore how poverty shapes educational opportunity, how race interacts with gender and how these interactions are amplified by poverty. We certainly have not done enough to encourage and enable non-white and non-Anglo-Saxon researchers to contribute as interpretative researchers.’ P160

Referring to the divide between science and social science. Edwards says the scientists have had the monopoly and now she wants to give attention to the interpretivists – citing Taylor (1985) ‘the correlators’ and of the ‘interpreters’ do not speak easily to each other. Indeed, he terms their interaction ‘the dialogue of the deaf’ (p 124).

I come from a social science background where critical sociology was the norm so it’s useful to be reminded how brave ERs like Edwards were in stepping up and calling for more  interpretative approaches.  

– calls for greater awareness of the reality of teaching practice as it takes place in the classroom – I think this may be referring to the theory-practice divide within ER as people like Stenhouse, Winter and Eliott et. al. called for more teachers to also be action researchers because they had valuable amounts of tacit knowledge about what works well and less well in the classroom which professional ERs in university were often less well informed about. Edwards says research and the application of research should not be separated; socio-cultural arguments highlight the world as a complex reality so the application of research-based knowledge cannot be applied to practice like paint to a wall. P 161

Learning happens everywhere – not just in formal educational establishments. ‘The cultural spaces within which educational research has been located are being disrupted.’ so ER needs to step outside its traditional home within the university and go into the community and wider society where learning is related to parameters of social inclusion and poverty.

Interesting reference to Communities of Practice as being ‘over-worked’ phrase but Edwards accepts their basic premise that knowledge is distributed within communities of shared interest and goals (Lave & Wenger, 1991) I hear CoP used a lot on a surface level – often without deeper engagement with the CoP literature or reference to the original texts. Edwards warns how these communities themselves can also work in reverse and get stuck in a fixed way of thinking so while it’s useful to explore other communities it’s also necessary to self-reflect on our own.  Edwards says reflection is also an over-worked word BUT it ‘enables us to label concepts…which demonstrate our meaning making and enable us to share our meanings’ and also ‘…reflection allows our learning to impact on the world through our reflexive examination of the taken for granted

There are several references to Vygotskian viewpoint e.g. research and the application of research should not be separated – to me this sounds like the action research in education approach and how a Vygotskian view of the social formation of mind is one where ‘conceptual tools develop when we participate in activities with others and that new understandings are the result of engagement in activities’ p 162

Again, I think this refers to social constructivist approaches to learning and may be asking how educational theory can be developed in isolation from the classroom where learning takes place. Where Edwards says ‘…schools should have permanent call on professional researchers as resources for school development’  and research should be more available to practitioners P162 it sounds like she agrees with ER in HE constructing theory but then says teachers may ‘…seek a solution for a professional problem’ and may have ‘recognised the need for a change in practices. They must be interpreting the familiar in disconcertingly fresh ways.’ I’m less sure what this means – is it teachers not expecting to theory to work unless it incorporates the social dynamic for example sharing their tacit knowledge which researchers don’t have?

– calls for BERA to provide relevant space and support for more interpretative approaches to ER  Edwards says BERA is a community which contains multiple tribes (uses the word tribes but doesn’t cite Becher – I think this in reference to multiple disciplines) this gives the impression of BERA predominantly supporting traditional positivist – quantitative – approaches to ER and the need for more interpretative – qualitative – stances.

Edwards says P 164 ‘I am clearly no postmodernist but do value being pulled up by the cross-grain readings they offer (Stronach, 1999)’ Not sure why she is clearly not a PM? Have read Stronach with regard to calling for research to be more critical of underlying political and socio-economical structures which reinforce and replicate existing categories of discrimination and disempowerment rather than challenge them. I think maybe Edwards is referring more to alternative approaches concerned with diversity.  For me, coming from a social science rather than a science background and appreciating some of the insights of postmodernist viewpoints, I think PM has strengths as well as weaknesses and like Edwards. I’ve valued some of the insights PM has offered.

27 November

This week I’ve continued to read around disciplines. This is relevant because of the disciplinary influence on research questions and research design as well as claims to truth. It also matters because I’ve never known where to situate my own TEL based PhD. See this week’s blog post Being on the Edge of things  for more about my search for a disciplinary home. My reading has raised a number of questions including

Does a lack of disciplinary home give me more freedom within my research designs?

Will make it more difficult to have my research accepted?

How large or small is my prospective audience?

Who will be my external examiners?

In the literature, disciplinary difference (DD) discussions include Biglan (1973) who identified four markers of DD in research – hard pure, soft pure, hard applied and soft applied (Biglan, A. (1973) The characteristics of subject matter in different scientific areas, Journal of Applied Psychology, 57, pp. 195-203) and Kolb (1981) who claimed intellectually enquiry could be abstract reflective, concrete reflective, abstract active or concrete active (Kolb, D.A. (1981) Learning styles and disciplinary differences, in: A. Chickering (Ed.) The Modern American College, San Francisco, CA, Jossey Bass. (Somewhere I have a link to a link to a Chickering paper on T&L in HE plus need a link to fuller explanation re Kolb).

In the research informing Academic Tribes and Territories (1989).Becher examined 12 disciplines; biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, geography, history, law, mathematics, modern languages, pharmacy, physics and sociology as well as their influence over graduate education in six of them. In his paper ‘the significance of disciplinary differences (1994) Becher says disciplines exist within the five overall categories; natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, science-based professions and social professions. For Becher, disciplines are the ‘organising base’ and main ‘social framework’ of HE. Aa well as their knowledge domains, they contain knowledge communities. These have their own cultural points of reference which often extend beyond the HEI to sector-wide and national/international identities. DD cannot be understood without closer attention to context and how disciplinary culture influences attitudes and behaviors while imposing expectations on teaching and research practice.

Becher quotes Geertz (1976) “to be a Shakespearean scholar, absorb oneself in black holes, or attempt to measure the effect of schooling on economic achievement–is not just to take up a technical task but to place oneself inside a cultural frame that defines and even determines a very great part of one’s life”. (see Geertz on ethnography – Geertz, C. (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture  – thick and thin descriptors of social life and culture where a thin description lacks contextual analysis and a thick one examines pre-ascribed cultural meanings through semiotic expressions, signs and symbols eg a wink (as a Saussaurian sign with multiple signifiers). See this site Geertz, C. (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture for additional information re Geertz.

Becher suggests examine DD through macro, meso and micro levels of enquiry. These involve looking at DD internationally, nationally, institutionally and individually (see paper for more detail – Becher is looking at DD from a research and HE policy development POV) For Becher there are advantages in an interdisciplinary approaches which would alternative (and possibly stronger and more beneficial) ways of being and seeing, teaching pedagogies and research methodologies. This was written in 1994. Since then HE has become more diverse, complex and practice based with a greater emphasis on T&L (TQEF, TEF) and more interdisciplinary programmes and research (see Bridges paper re Educational Research).

Becher asks why DD has not been addressed and offers one possible explanation. ‘….higher education is a field of study, but not a discipline in its own right, researchers in that field are not naturally conscious of disciplinary issues.’

Is this still the case? Faculties and Schools of Education still appear to focus on early years and the compulsory sector. Looking at the Universities of Lincoln, Hull and Northampton it isn’t clear where my TEL research fits in any of them and, where I’ve tried to find a home, it hasn’t been wanted. There’s no TEL discipline that I know of so I’m not sure where my research belongs. It’s educational research but not as traditional ER knows it!

This week I’ve also read Trowler, P. (2014) Depicting and researching disciplines, strong and moderate essentialist approaches. Studies in Higher Education. 39:10. 1720-1731. Trowler claims strong essentialist approaches are too reductionist and simplistic for the complexities of HE. He critiques the notion of disciplines containing epistemological essentialism and being seen as Becher and Bridges suggest – unique entities containing their own distinct cultures – instead Trowler concludes with a need to shift towards more postmodern perspectives on DD.

I need to return to this paper for a deeper read – not only for a better understanding of what Trowler means by ‘postmodern perspectives’ but also his reference to Bernstein’s concepts of vertical and horizontal structures and discourses. I first came across Bernstein through a paper by Laura Czerniewicz in Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2010) titled Educational technology – mapping the terrain with Bernstein as cartographer. Looking back at my notes on Bernstein from that time I found I’d looked at Bernstein, B. (1964), Elaborated and Restricted Codes: Their Social Origins and Some Consequences. American Anthropologist, 66: 55–69. The paper is about language and how class influences the way people speak and describe.

This taps into my underpinning interest in media studies – in particular the shifts between oral, print and digital cultures, McLuhan’s statement ‘we shape the media and then the media shapes us’ and the application of this to VLE in HE. While my PhD is a critique of the CoI model of learning design and the development of digital capital, the influence of TEL on HE and pedagogic innovation are essential areas of research.

My notes on Bernstein also had a reference to Ron Barnett’s suggestion that ‘…the discipline (or knowledge field) constitutes the largest claim on the identity of academics’ in Supercomplexity and the Curriculum (Studies in Higher Education Volume 25, No. 3, 2000). This links directly to the papers by Becher, Bridges and Trowler. Both Barnett and Bernstein write about the nature of knowledge, the role of the HEI in changing times, curriculum reform, disciplinary difference and the construction of pedagogic identities, in particular the influence of the social and cultural contexts within which education is located.  (Bernstein writes about retrospective, and prospective ‘official’ pedagogic identities in Bernstein, B. (2000). Official knowledge and pedagogic identities: the politics of recontextualisation. Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield).

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All this takes me back to Foucault’s work on discursive structures of social power and control plus Bourdieu on the individual acquisition of social and cultural capital. For me no one has bettered Foucault’s interpretation of the structure/agency debate (this week I can across a Foucault site with an interesting page on the Crime, Punishment and the Panopticon)  Bourdieu has added to this debate while critical realism builds on the solidity (i.e. power) of social institutions and their influence on agency. However, for me it’s Foucault’s insight into the historical construction of institutional power (legislature, penal system, medicine, sexuality etc) and the imposition of (self) disciplinary practices which is my baseline (all against a shift to viewing the world through a postmodern lens although Foucault always denied his classification as a postmodernist) .

Lastly – this week I came across Social Practice Theory described by (dare I say) Wikipedia as ‘a framework for social science researchers to describe how individuals in different societies around the world shape and are shaped by the cultural atmosphere in which they live. It attempts to articulate the ways in which identity and individual agency rely on and produce cultural forms.’

It doesn’t sound new but it seems to encapsulate my research. I found Bourdieu is associated with Practice Theory i .e. ‘habitus’ which is used to explain the internalisation of social order (building on Foucault’s self-disciplinary practices). So it’s familiar ground. I need to revisit my writings on critical realism to see if there is a more contemporary alignment with these structure/agency texts.

20 November

The reality of a p/t PhD is the f/t work often takes over. It’s the 4th week since induction and apart from writing up notes from the Bridges paper and revisiting Foucault, I haven’t done any reading.  My next supervision is in two weeks. By then I need to produce an overview of my research so far and my first thesis chapters. The problem is my focus has shifted. It’s now exactly where it needs to be within TEL, learning design and digital capabilities – but the chapters don’t reflect this so some revision is required.

Also I have a task list of things to do:

The Research Skills Programme

RES001 Researcher Development (NILE)

The Research Integrity Course (Epigeum)

Discipline based seminar programme (joining in online)

The Graduate School Research workshops (f2f Northampton – not sure how this will work from a distance)

Ethics Approval process (submission of existing documentation via Gateway)

Transfer Application (via Gateway)

Supervision programme (Ale and Ming)

There are a variety of online places to log into and keep up with.

Gateway online postgraduate research (PGR) management system

NILE hello Blackboard, it’s been a while!

Research Support Hub

Vitae Researcher Development Framework

Research Student Toolkit

There’s also a confusion of email. At Northampton I’m student and staff member and haven’t quite worked out which is which and for what. Add to this the admin are using my gmail account, I need to be in Outlook to redirect but am locked out and Outlook web does not contain the redirect function.

There’s no experience as powerful as the experiential one. All staff in HE should know what it’s like to face a wall of digital places and information – all of it new – then find their way around!!

I’m reminded of the loneliness of the long distance learner…

13 November 2016

This week was the first Discipline Based Training workshop facilitated by Cristina Devecchi, Director of Studies in the Centre for Education and Research (Faculty of Education and Humanities). Seven of us met up via GoToMeeting with four accessing remotely. The aim was to discuss an educational research paper

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

Bridges was a REF evaluator and the paper emerged from discussions among REF reviewers about the discipline of educational research (ER). Cristina says finding a disciplinary home is part of our own research process. Once we’ve identified our ‘community’ this will guide us towards appropriate methodology and approaches as well as define the literature review.

Traditionally aligned with Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy or History of Education, Bridges says the RAE shows how ER has become linked with a combination of disciplinary inquiries. (maybe a consequence of the postmodernist challenge to dominant narratives, hierarchies and world views – introducing possibilities  for more pluralist approaches and interdisciplinary approaches to the field of ER e.g. anthropology, literary studies, economic theory).

Bridges defines discipline as the academic and intellectual theory and practice of a subject. All disciplines form communities which contain different rules and expectations – these govern the production and validation of research and production of new knowledge. This ‘common language’ constitutes ‘shared recognition and reference to some common rules of intellectual and creative behaviour’ (p265)

What is ER? Bridges cites Stenhouse who merged existing philosophical and psychological approaches to define research as ‘systematic and sustained enquiry‘ made public (p263) Bridges says this ‘rigour‘  lifts inquiry above popular opinion.

(Stenhouse was instrumental in bridging the theory/practice divide in ER at a time when HE managed ER research and school teachers followed the outcomes. Stenhouse promoted Action Research (AR) approaches to ER saying no classroom should be an island and the tacit knowledge of teachers should be curated into case studies (as was done in medicine) which professional researchers would then examine ‘An introduction to curriculum research and development, 1975′ After Stenhous came the work of Eliot and Winter. Because I’ve used AR my reading has included the history of AR within UK education).

Bridges also refers to disciplines as being Communities of Inquiry (CoI). I’ve used the CoI model of online education – both to develop my courses and to critique its absence of digital presence (alongside teaching, cognitive and social presences)  so its interesting to see CoI used in a disciplinary sense. 

Bridges compares ER as a single discipline or multiple one and asks if interdisciplinary approaches weaken the distinctiveness of a subject.

Cites Giroux; an increasingly complex world needs complex ways to understand it (p261)

The reference to Giroux reminded me how my own PhD research experience was colored and influenced by the disciplinary approach of the Centre for Educational Research and Development where I worked. The centre had a strong Marxist ethos and anti neo-liberalist stance.  

I was introduced to the work of Giroux because he used a critical pedagogy lens, called for educators to be more political in their approaches, claimed neo-liberalism created disenfranchised young people and educators should confront questions of equality, racism, class and social justice. I was interested in the influence of postmodernism (although my supervisor was not) and read Slacking Off: Border Youth and Postmodern Education and Border Pedagogy and the Politics of Postmodernism alongside Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed – revised as Pedagogy of Hope) and bell hooks (teaching to transgress; education as the practice of freedom) I liked how Giroux came into education through a WP route (like myself) initially via basketball (not like myself), then teaching social studies in High School before going back to HE to study critical educational theory and practice. Giroux wrote Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism The Zombie theme was repeated in Zombies in the Academy: living death in higher education This continued the pessimistic themes from ‘The University in Ruins (Readings 1996) ongoing discourses around massification, Macdonaldisation and managerialism were continually used to frame my fledgling research.

So discipline matters!

Back to Bridges….

Giroux called for complex ways to understand the world and Bridges says this is echoed by The New American University which encourages interdisciplinary teaching because ‘…knowledge does not fall within strict disciplinary categories‘ and convergence of the disciplines might be ‘...more accurately described as ‘…intellectual fusion.’ (p262)

I’ve always had concerns about citing US publications because of cultural differences – a topic for future discussion? 

Bridges acknowledges fields like ER need multiple approaches so containing them within disciplinary boundaries is not helpful  but the disciplines themselves are not fixed. They are structures of enquiry and understanding – they emerge from the  ‘continuous process of epistemic development.’ (p262) This fluidity sounds a little bit like a postmodern concept where nothing is fixed – although I think Bridges is referring to the processes always being open to reinterpretation like the scientific method is an iterative process of hypothesis. Bridges compares this lack of reliable borders and boundaries to Schon’s ‘swampy lowland’ of research and practice. He also cites The Rise of the Network Society by Castells who suggests nature and society are self organising so the rules continually changing. Bridges says we need to consider continuities as well as change when looking at disciplines of ER. I breath another sigh of relief because I’m familiar with Schon and Castells. 

Schon focused the day-to-day messiness of practice (in ER this is the place where teaching and learning is designed to happen rather than the HEI where ER is carried out). Practitioners need to be able to cope with practical real-life situations (far removed from the clean theories put forward by ‘experts’) and Schon advocated critical reflection (ie asking questions) both In Action and On Action (during the moment and afterwards) Problematic situations are unpredictable, often unexpected and require instant decisions which make use of tacit knowledge based on prior experience, intuition or trial and error approaches.  This is  “The swampy lowlands, where situations are confusing messes incapable of technical solution and usually involve problems of greatest human concern” (Schön, The Reflective Practitioner, 1983: 42). The swampy lowlands are messy compared to ER which is carried out at a distance from where practice takes place. Within ER the reflective practitioner model is similar to the action researcher model – whereby teaching practice is given a higher status and teachers are acknowledged as experts in their own right.

In the Rise of the Network Society (volume 1 of 3) Castells describes the information revolution (following the agrarian and industrial – see Tofler’s Third Wave model) and examines the social impact of a data driven, information based economy and culture. This is more of a deterministic approach than a socially constructed one – using a positivist rather than interpretative ontology – but is being used by Bridges (I think) to reinforce how rules might appear to adapt but underneath exists a continuity of deeply entrenched attitudes and behaviours (may need to revisit Castells) e.g. MOOC are not transforming HE and OER repositories without quality checks and controls quickly become a mess e.g. Jorum closing down.

This dialogue (and maybe these notes and reflections) alongside the challenging and validating of truth claims are all part of the research process of each discipline but the disciplinary rules are tacit and accepted without there being a rule book to refer to (this is part of the ‘getting started’ problem with a research PhD (compared to a taught EdD) because it was so hard to know how to get started – 99% of my problems arose from being within an ER discipline which did not fit my research topic i.e. digital pedagogy and capabilities from the perspective of staff – e-teaching rather than e-learning – in UK HE

Claims to truth must use methodologies and make ontological and epistemological claims which are appropriate to the discipline. Inferences drawn from evidence must be credible and have emerged from appropriate processes. The analytic and explanatory concepts must be appropriate for the research task and evidence. 

Bridges is saying epistemological considerations are discipline related (I thought they belonged to the researcher- I hadn’t quite seen them as disipline related) and cites Becher  Academic Tribes and Territories – saying Becher examines relationship between the social and epistemological practices of academic tribes where the epistemological  drives social and cultural relationships rather than vice versa. Bridges says a Foucaultian response is to say you can’t separate the epistemological from the political – any attempt to find a position ‘outside the power-knowledge nexus’ will fail. However Bridges says he sees discourse as framing a form of enquiry rather than discourse as ideology which frames how people think and that discourse analysis only has a narrow place in educational research (is it more appropriate for social sciency cultural studies, media studies etc?)

Acknowledging the difficulty of separating your research from ‘entanglement with structures designed to maintain and legitimate certain orders of power‘ (p269) Bridges says more sophisticated practitioners try to reduce their influence to a minimum. One of these ways being to submitting to ‘methodological and epistemological requirements which force critique of their taken-for-granted assumptions, expose the ideological underpinnings of their work and enable non-participants to challenge structural bias in the enquiry or in its conclusions.’ (p269).

This is the political environment I spent three years of my research in. The Ethics Committee wanted specific details about how I’d deal with issues of power within my action research approach but the impression I get from Bridges is this ‘critical pedagogy’ approach is not overly common in ER – yet I find it hard not to frame my thinking within issues of social power and control – I still find Foucault’s work useful for understanding agency/structure dualities with regard to conformity, self-discipline and normalisation. 

Bridges asks if there is any point in trying to escape from a Foucaultian framework where the epistemic is so tightly merged with the political and comes to the same conclusion I have done – it is possible to identify systems of control and take steps to challenge them  – for example through participatory action research as a form of legitimate enquiry. Raising awareness of the social construction of knowledge, ideas and beliefs is the first step towards challenging them as is investigating where beliefs come from through qualitative research methodologies which focus on the individual and their lived accounts of practice.

There are certain features of enquiry which command more confidence in findings than if those features weren’t there and Bridges calls these features the ‘disciplines’ of educational enquiry. The paper concludes with a question -should we be improving what we already have within the discipline of ER rather than continue to bring in new inter-disciplinary ways of working.

Reflection on Bridges

Establishing my own research discipline has always been a challenge. Different supervisors, located within different paradigms, have had different approaches to philosophical attitudes, the nature of truth and knowledge and what they saw as relevant literature. This has resulted in my introduction to a range of topics I might not otherwise have encountered. I try to see this as a benefit but the lack of a TEL discipline has led to colleagues interpreting my investigation into the relationship between academics and VLE/digital capabilities through their own lens rather than mine. I’ve never felt my research had a ‘home’. My experience of ER has been f2f L&T within schools whereas I was investigating online L&T within higher education. My sample was staff as students so there were elements of CPD/staff development and the VLE/digital tools could align with ICT/Computer Science/HCI but none of these fitted. I found the Bridges paper reassuring. It outlines ER as a discipline and although Bridges does not seem to support inter-disciplinary approaches, it is clear these do and can exist. I need to find the place where TEL and ER come together.

Summary following the postgraduate induction week

6 November 2016

It’s been a week since I was in Northampton. I’ve spend most of today (Sunday) going over my notes, reflecting and drawing up an action plan.

There are two strands to the research ‘training’. One is through the Graduate School and consists of the RES001 Researcher Development module on NILE which includes Epigeum’s Research Skills Master Programme and two Epigeum courses on Ethics. The other is Discipline Based Training through the Centre for Education and Research (Faculty of Education and Humanities). I’m yet not sure how this will happen remotely.

There are five key sources on online information. NILE, Gateway, The Research Student Toolkit which is on the Student Portal and the Research Support Hub. I think there are other online resources like Vitae and plus there is NELSON, the electronic library database.

As well as complete and pass the mandatory Researcher Development module on NILE I need to use Gateway to upload a description of my research project with confirmation of Ethics Approval (including the documents) and a statement of where I am and where I am going with my research.

For my next supervision session (6th December 3.15 via Skype – can Skype calls be recorded?) I need to rethink and tighten up my research questions, revisit my draft thesis chapter with new adjustments to my research focus in mind and produce a reflective document or mind map of progress for submission a week before.

The volume of content and resources is overwhelming. I wonder if staff at Northampton realise the size of the information wall which hits us, in particular those new to the university who have no previous experience of their online sites and structures. Even the list of folders on the Research Module on Blackboard felt too much. What is most interesting is having the student perspective again. In the same way my TELEDA courses enrolled staff as students on the VLE, giving for many their first taste of the student view and experience in order for them to review their own online teaching practice, so I am reminded once again of how it feels when everything is unfamiliar and strange. It’s a not a bad lesson but it is a tiring one!


Postgraduate Induction Week

October 2015, University of Northampton


My home for the week was Sunley Conference Centre at the University of Northampton Park Campus.


Both Park and Avenue Campus are outside of the town centre, well away from train and bus stations. A student card gives you free travel on the pink university buses (with stops outside Asda and Waitrose!) Once the new Waterside campus opens in 2018 it will be different but for now I’ve found my way around. Northampton is an interesting mix of old and new. Once a center for shoe making, the university has the only on-campus tannery in the world – the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies Maybe I could visit next time.


The PostgraduateWeek is a mandatory component of the programme and a useful introduction to PG research at UoN. As a distant learner I’ll be unable to make the workshops and events.


Instead, I’ve offered to explore possibilities for online delivery and equivalents. The first workshop is next week – Doing research in, on and for education – which asks the questions 

What is educational research?

What does it do?

What is its purpose?

How does it achieve it?

It will be useful opportunity to revisit the educational research reading and notes I already have and see how they compare.

Induction week offered a full progamme of events.induction-programme-october-2016 with opportunities to meet staff and peers. It intrigues me how universities and those who work there are so different yet similar. It’s healthy to visit other institutions and observe not only how these differences and similarities play out but how we’re all involved in the same projects. The VLE is Blackboard disguised as NILE, Northampton Interactive Learning Environment. Hello Blackboard. I’ve missed you – genuinely.

Questions discussed and taken away from my meeting with Ale and Ming…

Is Siemens correct in his 2004 paper  Connectivism; a learning theory for the digital age paper to say knowledge is in the network?  No. the network might support and enable the construction and distribution of knowledge but when I leave the network or switch off my connection  i retain my knowledge.  Knowledge is with the people not the network.

On TELEDA the induction activity was to critique Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants by Mark Prensky (2001), then read Digital Native the myth and the reality by Neil Selwyn  (2009) and finally Connectivism which. I still find useful for introducing the concept of cycles and flows of knowledge.

Is my conception of digital presence within the Community of Inquiry model separate or interlinking? I’m still considering this. I think it may be both – a separate circle for the essential literacies for effective communication and collaboration online but also an outer circle representing digital culture or capital.

community_of_inquiryjisc digital capabilities model

Maybe there is scope for overlaying the Jisc Digital Capabilities Model with the presences or revising it with links to the profiles. I’ve been trying this on paper – needs working on I think.


Can digital capabilities be seen as layers e.g. Literacy to Competency to Fluency? I’m currently working on establishing a baseline of digital skills which would equate to digital literacy. These are necessary to be able to use a computer and the internet safely and professionally. Competency is where TEL begins. The focus is primarily on the learning design and the digital tools are seen as enablers of learning and teaching rather than barriers. Fluency is to move seamlessly between a range of environments both digital and non digital and adopt for specialised use of tools e.g. 360 virtual reality or gaming, 

Rather than layers can the circle theme be continued? I like circles but I like spirals and labyrinths even more. How cool would it be to link my labyrinth work with my PhD?!

Is becoming digitally capable like learning a language? We should aim for digital bilingualism where transfer between f2f and online is seamless and the choice driven by which ever is the most appropriate option. 

See my blog post Why don’t I speak French. Also worth linking here to the other blog posts about the TEL-Tribes and Territories. TEL-People, Language and Poetry and The Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL-People

There is a relevance. Culture and language play a large role in digital resistance which in turn creates digital divides on campus. TEL-People are in a good place to observe and raise awareness of these. Why don’t more TEL-People do this? The divides are largely invisible. The digitally shy are less likely to attend digital events such as conferences and seminars, or to read the TEL literature or apply for TEL funding and are not going to voluntarily attend your workshops.

I digress…

Can higher levels of digital fluency unlock more doors? Yes. Like speakers of other languages the greater the levels of competency the more you can participate in complex conversations. 

I’ve considered digital capabilities as language but not gone far with it. ICT at UoH are writing a Digital Strategy which I found out about by accident through an external. How ironic and typical is that! I contacted them to ask if I could be involved from the TEL viewpoint and discovered one of the sections is called digital fluency. This was back in the summer. We never did meet. there is only so many times you can ask.

What will my your research generate which is portable, transferable and deliverable?

Possibly a new model of learning design which incorporates digital presence and knowledge  for staff who teach and support learning. See CoI notes above.

What do I need to do next?

I still have to work at my research questions. This has always been a problem area.  I know what I’m doing but can never seem to get approval for my suggestions.

I need to consider the TEF, what we mean by excellence in blended environments and how to support achievement of that excellence. At least I have the QAA subscriber research 2015/16 as a starting point. Digital capability and teaching excellence: an integrative review exploring what infrastructure and strategies are necessary to support effective use of technology enabled learning 

I need to take stock of where I am, tighten up and rethink research questions, revisit my draft thesis chapters, produce a reflective document ready for our next meeting on 6th December 3.15  via Skype.

Lots to do before then…

And so it begins – again….

October 2016 

For the past year I’ve been settling into a new role in a new institution and taking the time to find a home for my PhD. I’m delighted to be completing with the University of Northampton with Prof Ale Armellini, Director of their Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

There are a number of reasons for this choice. Academic staff at the University of Northampton are moving to a blended model of learning and teaching through the Programme Design for 21st century Learning and Teaching Project while ChANGE (Changemaker Attributes at Northampton for Graduate Employability) looks at enhancing students digital capabilities through their learning experiences in order to develop key transferable and lifelong learning skills for the 21st century working environment. Ale, along with my second supervisor Ming Nie, worked at the University of Leicester at the time when Gilly Salmon was setting up the Media Zoo. They both have digital provenance, something which has been absent from my supervision so far. It’s been a year since Know Your Limits appeared in Thesis Whisperer detailing tales of supervisory woe. What a difference it makes to have conversations where everyone is working in the same subject discipline. Both Ale and Ming are experienced with the Carpe Diem workshop approach to team-based learning design and currently run the CAIeRO Module redesign workshops for teaching teams or individuals alongside a range of supporting CAN-DO opportunities supporting staff to move their teaching online and develop their own digital skills and confidence.

what do i need to do next?

I still have to work at my research questions. This has always been a problem area.  I know what I’m doing but can never seem to get approval for my suggestions.

I need to consider the TEF, what we mean by excellence in blended environments and how to support achievement of that excellence. At least I have the QAA subscriber research 2015/16 as a starting point. Digital capability and teaching excellence: an integrative review exploring what infrastructure and strategies are necessary to support effective use of technology enabled learning (TEL) 

I need to take stock of where I am, tighten up and rethink research questions, revisit my draft thesis chapters, produce a reflective document ready for our next meeting on 6th December 3.15  via Skype.

Lots to do before then…

My research so far… 

My research is a three year action research project which tracked the development and delivery of two 24 week teacher education/CPD courses called Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA), and their influence on the development of participants digital skills and capabilities.

The courses were delivered and assessed entirely online through the institutional VLE* with participants enrolled as students. For many was their first experience of the student viewpoint and this experiential, immersive approach proved to be instrumental for influencing their attitudes and practices to interactive learning via a VLE. TELEDA was built on the Community of Inquiry model of online learning which was an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of social, teaching and cognitive presence. For me, what was missing was digital presence i.e. specific attention to the underlying digital skills and competencies necessary for confidence with blended learning. This might involve Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), making the most of mobile devices and apps,  or simply moving away from a repository model of VLE use.

A key driver for my research was how teacher education programmes could support the development of digital capabilities for staff who teach and support learning in 21st century. There is literature on how students learn as e-learners but a gap around how staff teach as e-teachers. The dominant model of VLE use remains a ‘digital document dump’ and while there a pockets of digital innovation and excellence across the sector, take up of VLE and TEL has been differential . My literature review goes back to Dearing Report into the Future of Higher Education in 1997 which informed the embedding of MLE and VLE and was driven by how, nearly two decades on, much of higher education still follows a transmission m0del of education rather than the transformation by technology model which was predicted.

* TELEDA was delivered through Blackboard, the institutional VLE, but involved additional digital tools throughout and participants were encouraged to use, or refer to in interviews, any other technology used for enhancing learning and teaching.