Research update #50: Thesis proposal feedback day

I got some rich, detailed feedback on my thesis proposal from Peter. Given that this was firmly entrenched in my mind as a first draft, I was prepared for the worst – I think – so I was fairly happy that some of the key issues were things that had already been concerning me.

I need to go over the comments again in more depth but the biggest areas for improvement so far seem to be the fact that I got a little repetitive in the latter section (and I know this is true) and I focused too heavily on building and supporting my argument in the literature review rather than just describing the current state of scholarship in the field. That I had been less aware of (or perhaps didn’t quite understand at the time), I think maybe because I’ve been concerned about snooty examiner academics looking at my idea and saying – so what? I probably also liked the flow that this  – making a case – gave me in that it made it easier to look at the connections between a range of ideas but I’m sure there’ll be other ways to do that that will be less, I don’t know, needy?

One thing that was interesting was the fact that I had been concerned that I was trying to cover too many things and needed to reel it back in a little to come to an achievable project. On the contrary, Peter suggested a couple more avenues that might be interesting to explore and noted the virtual absence of students. I think it’s more about teaching than learning but I also had a great discussion with a friend last week along the lines of ‘you can learn without a teacher but you can’t teach without a learner’, so there’s some room to move there when we look at the practice of teaching (If that’s what I’m going to do)

One thing that I was perhaps a little wrong about was my sense that older literature might carry more weight or have more gravitas or something. I’ve read a lot and must confess that some of the more recent work has been particularly valuable in some ways (probably that whole standing on the shoulders of giants thing) but I guess I was concerned that overemphasising this might make it look as though I’d only taken a shallow step into the pool. Just picked up a handful of recent journals and gone ‘this’ll do’. I do still think that the older literature has value in demonstrating that these issues aren’t new and that, in spite of much discussion of them, little seems to have changed. Room for both I guess.

There were also a few minor things – formatting and heading size, indenting quotes etc – which I’m always fine with because these are the easiest to fix and the more of this there is, the less there is to improve in the actual writing and arguments and ideas. I also need to be a little more mindful of my broad declarations that a thing is a certain way and claiming knowledge of things I couldn’t possibly know. That’s fair too. Sometimes you just get caught up in an idea and go too far.

So there’s still a fair bit to be done but there doesn’t seem to be anything majorly wrong with my key ideas, so I’m happy.

Also, hooray, 50 research updates. I have no idea if anyone reads these, I seem to get maybe 10-15 hits on these posts on average but I have no idea how much people read. If you’re still here, I hope you get something from this. It’s a weird form of public personal writing really, blogging, when you think about it.

Research update #49: Thesis Proposal writing day 18. Done and sent

Who has 12570 words, 2 thumbs and just sent in the first (ish, let’s say version 1.5) draft of his thesis proposal?

This guy, that’s who.

Just in time for my completely arbitrary yet somehow meaningful 2018 deadline.

Might be time for a beverage.

Research update #48: Proposal writing day 16 – Hitting paydirt

So you know how they say that you’ll never feel like you’ve read enough for your lit review and there comes a point where you just need to stop and work with what you have? Well I’m glad that I ignored that advice, the stuff that I’m finding now just keeps getting richer and richer.

I came across some work done a decade ago that took a deep dive into the nature of academic developer roles, practices, units and everything else here in Australia and brought together the heads of most of the teams to thrash through the ideas.

The good news is that this backs up a lot of what I’ve found and experienced, I guess the bad news is that with all this data, little seems to have changed. Now it’ll be interesting to see what has and hasn’t been achieved since then and I’d say it also offers an opportunity to conduct similar research to get a longitudinal sense of what’s gone on.

That said, I will stop looking for new things for now as I’m keen to rewrite / revamp the existing lit section and want to give myself the time needed to get this done before 2018.

Research update #47: Proposal writing day (I don’t know, stuff, like 15 or something) – Tinkering and tweaking

I’ve reached that glorious part of holidays where you have to check which day it is. I’ve been pecking away at the proposal on most days to different degrees and the biggest realisation that I had in this time was that in giving myself permission to write the lit review section badly, I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. It is all over the place and parts of it make me feel like I’m being a petulant whiny child, railing at the many injustices dumped on the edvisor class.

Fortunately, this is ok because there are still some good salvageable bits and it’s given me something that I can reorganise into a more coherent discussion of the literature. Working backwards through my scattered but semi-organised notes to fill in the gaps is also bringing up a few ideas that I’d missed and I have a much clearer sense now of what I’m looking for in the various papers and articles and books spread around the (digital) house.

The revised target to send draft 1.5 off for feedback is now a hard end of year – but ideally 30/12. Estimates always blow out a little, it’s just the nature of the beast. Back to it.


Research update #46: Proposal writing day 11 – improving the good sentence

Another pretty decent day of writing, I think (hope). I’m still possibly procrastinating the research methodology section, which really is kind of small and I’m not sure why I’m avoiding it but the background and significance bits are done instead. (Well the first draft is done, lets see)

After banging on about how happy I was with a particular sentence yesterday (here and in tweet form), I shared it with a trusted friend who has just submitted her PhD. She noted that it would probably read better as two or three separate sentences and I must admit that she’s right. So I fixed that up and I do like it more now.

I think I’ve stepped slightly into the trap of feeling that ‘proper’ academic language needs to be dense because it seems as though a lot of the literature that I read is written that way. (I’m also currently reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which probably isn’t helping my style). But it also seems to be dense at the expense of readability or accessibility, which had always seemed like a much more important thing to me, not least politically. I suspect that I may be trying to write more ‘academically’ to fit in, so that there’s less chance that I’ll need to re-write big swathes of the proposal. The reality is though that this is a first draft and it’s basically designed to be re-written. And the re-writing is an important part of learning to be a researcher/scholar/thoughtleader/whatever.

I did have a sudden flash of fear that everything that I’ve been writing here in the blog as part of my thinking and quote capturing and early drafting might ultimately see me accused of self-plagiarism. Fortunately the nice people of #phdchat Twitter (thanks Stephen and Penny) were able to put my mind at rest.

I think tomorrow should be a good day to finally hit the methodology section.

Research update #45: Proposal writing day 10 – that’s a good sentence

It’s true. I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve written today. After spending a lot of time digging around in the literature and then discussing my theoretical frameworks, today was about aims and research questions and then the intro and background. It’s kind of refreshing just being able to talk about why I’m doing this and what I’m hoping to achieve.

I’m still conscious of the fact that the proposal now has to go through Turnitin as part of the submission process but I’m going to share my sentence anyway because I think I’ve summed up the guts of what the research methodology will actually look like.

The research itself will involve triangulating data collected in surveys and interviews relating to the perceptions held of edvisors by edvisors, academics and institutional managers with other primary sources including job advertisements, position descriptions, academic literature, and organisational structures and strategies that reflect the reality of these relationships and understandings in practice. (me, today)

I’m not saying that I think this is the only good sentence that I’ve written but my methodology is something that I’ve struggled with and it’s nice to have a reasonably clear view on it. (I know that even this sentence is pretty light on for detail, there’s nothing about how I plan to code or analyse the data, but this is just for the introduction so that’s ok.

Now that I’ve been writing every day (more or less) for the last two weeks, I’m feeling like I’ve got some flow going on. I’m very conscious that this is only a first draft and there is a lot of room for improvements and make it sound more ‘proper’ in academic terms – though I’ve managed so far not to use any personal pronouns, which is apparently a thing – but the ideas are there and everything seems to be connecting kind of nicely.

Peter, my supervisor, expressed some fair concern that using a neologism like edvisor may not be everyone’s cup of tea and I can appreciate that. Even this though, I’m feeling like I’ve handled relatively well with an explanation in the opening pars of the introduction. (I could have just said newly coined word instead of neologism but the latter is a cool word in itself)

Research update #44: Proposal writing Day 8&9 – Why use just one theoretical framework?

Why not use three? The last two days have been spent discussing how the different facets of my research into how the roles and value of edvisors in Higher Ed (I have been vacillating between Higher Ed and Tertiary Education in case I want to include VET but I’m thinking it’s messy enough as it is now) might be informed by three different theoretical frameworks

These are:

Third Space theory
Social Practice Theory
Whatever Bourdieu’s theories/ideas are called

Fortunately they do all kind of tie together thematically and the first two certainly draw on Bourdieu’s ideas so it’s not as though I’m simultaneously heading off in three radically different directions but I am conscious that the hard part is working out how they are actually applied to the methodology and particularly the analysis of the data when it comes in. Eh, problem for another day, surely.

This section of writing has had to be a little more precise on the first pass than the discussion about the literature because it draws on far more specific sources and I needed to not get things wrong. That said, I think I’ve done a pretty sizeable amount of paraphrasing that I’m hoping doesn’t veer into the oversimplified – particularly when it comes to Bourdieu – so it will be pretty interesting to see what kind of feedback I get on that. Try this one for size:

Finally, the work of Bourdieu in relation to power and practice provides a descriptive framework to explore the ways that, put simply, a complex mixture of ‘doxa’ (established societal norms) and ‘habitus’ (a person’s defining traits) affect their position in a given societal context or ‘field’ (such as Higher Education).

Personally I feel that this gets to the core of what the theoretical framework is about but I also know that it is invariably described in far more complex language and in far far more words. On the subject of words, I’ve been meaning to copy paste in here the work that I’ve been doing as a part of documenting my process and progress but I’m also mindful of the fact that we need to run our thesis proposals through Turnitin as part of the submission process. (At least I’m pretty sure that I read that). I guess my self-quote there might be flagged now so hopefully this makes it clear why it’s appeared as a match. As a first draft, the odds that this will survive intact have to be pretty low though, so it’s probably nothing to worry about.

I have enjoyed getting into the weeds of the theory. It’s always been at the back of my mind and the times that I’ve delved, it’s been interesting but it never quite seemed as important as ploughing through the endless literature. I did one thing that may be iffy – rather than linking the theory to the actual research questions, I linked it to what I really want to know. Which is kind of the same thing but the research questions narrow the focus and make this slightly more practically achievable. The questions that I’ve tied it to are: Where do edvisors currently sit in higher educational institutions in terms of status and understanding of their roles and value? Why are they there? What can be done to improve this?

The actual, current questions relate more to the strategies used in H.E to promote understanding of the role and value of edvisors, as well as how edvisors, academics and the insitutional leaders see edvisors. This to me feels like it misses a lot of juicier stuff – I think I already mentioned that yesterday – but I need to remember to design an achievable research project first and foremost.

I’m still slightly concerned that I haven’t used enough different citations in my discussion of the theories but I’m kind of interested fairly specifically in particular people’s applications of them. I could say blah blah says this about it but I think that’s dumb because xyz I suppose – maybe I’ll keep that in mind for the next draft, based on feedback.

I’ve also noticed that I lean pretty heavily on certain words. These include focus/focussed, particularly, specifically and differentiates. I think adverbs are often regarded as crutches, so maybe they can go.

One more tangent before dinner – I lived with a PhD student for a few years and she mentioned that early on, she went through a phase of obsessively listening to one band over and over. (Throwing Muses/Kristen Hersh). I think I’ve found that space – albums by Warpaint, who were on the line up for Meredith Music Festival (I didn’t go but like to see who’s playing) have been on very high rotation for the last week. I finally succumbed to Spotify with a 3 month premium trial and found their Warpaint and related bands channel/station/thing which is broadening the range at least but currently, overall, it’s all slightly moody, sweet female vocals with cool guitar, all the time. Enjoy.

Research update #43: Proposal Writing Day 7 – strategies for overcoming barriers and MOAR LITERATURE. MOAR MOAR.

Edit: Yeah I took out that story about the bitcoin scammer because it was fake. Guess it’s one of those cognitive bias things where you want something to be true enough that you drop your critical reading. It was still a good story though.

I got up early today and smashed out a quick 1000 words on what I think the literature has to say about some potential solutions to the barriers to collaboration issue. After that I managed to find a few more rich veins of literature about education/instructional designers. I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news but it does seem more and more as though the questions that I’m asking are now particularly new ones. Miles Allen did some great work in 1996 where he survey 99 instructional designers about their practices and experience. Given that most of the problems that I’m exploring still haven’t been resolved, I think it’s still ok and this state of unresolvedness (it’s probably a word) in spite of so much research raises some useful questions of it’s own. I also managed by sheer blind luck to stumble across someone’s PhD thesis about instructional designers in Higher Ed from 2012. It made me realise how pleasant double spaced text is and I’d say there are also many other useful things in there to think about.

One thing has been bugging me a little about the structure that I’ve set up for my lit review. My research questions are pretty tightly focused on understanding of the roles and value/s of edvisors but a good chunk of the literature that I’m interested in goes beyond that to explore the barriers to effective collaboration between edvisors, academics and institutional leadership. Now this is a structure that both of my supervisors have looked over and provided feedback on and neither of them seemed to feel that this was a concern but I’m not sure whether I need to rewrite my questions or reframe what I’m reading so that it addresses this more closely. I think the latter is doable, particularly if I take value (worth) to also mean ‘deserving a place within the institution’. All the same, it’s given me a little pause for thought.

Research update #42: Proposal writing day 6. hmm

Yeah this is really going to need a few drafts. The words and the ideas are coming out but it feels less like a review of the literature and more like I’m describing the context and the issues with some supporting citations and quotes at this stage.

It’s ok, there’s time. I think I might take a quick refresher on how lit reviews really work though. One thing I haven’t done enough yet I think is talk about gaps in the literature and also which bits of the literature I question and why.

In looking at the barriers to collaboration, I added a small section discussing why and how edvisors can also create challenges – I’ve certainly known a few people who either didn’t know anywhere near enough or thought they knew far more than they actually did and would just barge in and tell academics that they needed to change without taking the time to understand why they used their current practices. Looking at this section in the context of the whole ‘barriers’ section, it seems disproportionately small and is making me wonder whether I’m being objective enough. Then again, this isn’t something that I’ve really come across in the literature and that’s what I’m meant to be discussing so maybe it’s ok. But it doesn’t feel ok.

Research update #41: Proposal writing day 5 – barriers to collaboration and the McDonald’s solution

I’m feeling uncertain about the structural advice that I got from one of my supervisors – and also about some of my own decisions. I’d initially thought that there was a lot to say about the nature of edvisor roles as well as some of the internal tensions in the community between professional and academic ones and that 2000 words would enable me to have a sufficiently rich discussion of this in the literature. (Because I’m still on the lit review). I was advised to cut that section down to 1000 and to reallocate that to the other sections. I’m kind of feeling that there is still a fair bit to discuss that doesn’t sit well elsewhere. My quandary is whether I trust the advice from someone with far more experience in academic writing or trust my own (I believe) richer understanding of the material, which to me says that the discussion of the nature of edvisors in the literature needs a deeper dive. I’ll go with the former for now and ask for feedback based on that but I have a feeling that this section will end up needing to be bigger.

My second issue is that in looking at the relationships between edvisors and institutional leadership and edvisors and academics, I think I’ve already touched on several of the issues in the next section about barriers to collaboration. It feels a little like I’m repeating myself in this section, although given that this question is pretty much at the heart of why I’m doing this research, maybe that doesn’t matter and it’s ok to reiterate it.

Ultimately I know that the solution is simply to shut up and write and save these bigger questions for editing and redrafting. I read of a problem-solving approach to decision making once that I’ll call the McDonald’s solution. It is essentially that if you are in a group trying to work out where to go for lunch and nobody is offering suggestions, throw up the worst option (McDonald’s) so that people are forced to commit to something better. I guess this is what the first draft needs to be.

I was given a certificate once in a script writing workshop that I went to giving me permission to write badly. I should dig that out and stick it up on the wall.

One other thing I should note is an interesting blog post from one of the PhD candidates at my uni who is looking at the anthropology of higher education (to paraphrase). It discusses a lot of issues surrounding the nature of work and exploitation based on love of the career but also delves into the onion layers of reasons and excuses that people use to not own responsibility for this sub-par situation. I’ll admit that I’ve found it fairly easy to ascribe ultimate responsibility for a number of problematic ideas and decisions to the upper echelons of institutional leadership but this blog post has reminded me that even they will pass the buck along to macro level neoliberal governmental and economic policy positions and this isn’t entirely untrue. I won’t accept that ultimately nobody should be accountable or that nobody has the capacity to make change for the better and there is still a lot going on at the top end that seems to drive some of these issues but it is handy to remember that everyone has their masters.