PhD 2016/17


June 2017

I’m presenting at the 8th Annual Research Students Conference, Faculty of Education and Humanities, University of Northampton, 23rd/24th June 29017 https://annualresearchstudentsconference.wordpress.com/   The presentation will form the seminar part of the PhD Transfer process with the transfer viva taking place in September/October .

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. https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/me-and-mendelay/ 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 Academia.edu 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 https://digitalacademicblog.wordpress.com/phd-201617/ (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 https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/browse/profile?upi=DMLAU06  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) http://www.imprs-demogr.mpg.de/courses/01ws/TSI.pdf) 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.

know-your-limits-image

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).

  • panopticon

image from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault-disciplineandpunish-panopticism-html

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 Lynda.com 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!

tired

Postgraduate Induction Week

October 2015, University of Northampton

october-2016-induction-3

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.

img_1835

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.