Category Archives: research

SOCRMx Week #7: Qualitative analysis

I’m nearly at the end of Week #8 in the Social Research Methods MOOC and while I’m still finding it informative, I’ve kind of stopped caring. The lack of community and particularly of engagement from the teachers has really sucked the joy out of this one for me. If the content wasn’t highly relevant, I’d have left long ago. And I’ll admit, I haven’t been posting the wonderfully detailed and thoughtful kind of posts on the forum or in the assigned work that they other 5 or so active participants have been doing but I’ve been contributing in a way that supports my own learning. I suspect the issue is that this is being run as a formal unit in a degree program and I’m not one of those students. Maybe it’s that I chose not to fork over the money for a verified certificate. Either way, it’s been an unwelcoming experience overall. When I compare it to the MITx MOOC I did a couple of years ago on Implementing Education Technology, it’s chalk and cheese. Maybe it’s a question of having a critical mass of active participants, who knows. But as I say, at least the content has been exactly what I’ve needed at this juncture of my journey in learning to be a researcher.

This week the focus was on Qualitative Analysis, which is where I suspect I’ll being spending a good amount of my time in the future. One of my interesting realisations early on in this though was that I’ve already tried to ‘cross the streams’ of qual and quant analysis this year when I had my first attempt at conducting a thematic analysis of job ads for edvisors. I was trying to identify specific practices and tie them to particular job titles in an attempt to clarify what these roles were largely seen to be doing. So there was coding because clearly not every ad was going to say research, some might say ‘stay abreast of current and emerging trends’ and other might ask the edvisor to ‘evaluate current platforms’. Whether or not that sat in “research” perfectly is a matter for discussion but I guess that’s a plus of the fuzzy nature of qualitative data, where data is more free to be about the vibe.

But then I somehow ended up applying numbers to the practices as they sat in the job ad more holistically, in an attempt to place them on a spectrum between pedagogical (1) and technological (10). Which kind of worked in that it gave me some richer data that I could use to plot the roles on a scattergraph but I wouldn’t be confident that this methodology would stand up to great scrutiny yet. Now maybe just because I was using numbers it doesn’t mean that it was quantitative but it still feels like some kind of weird fusion of the two. And I’m sure that I’ll find any number of examples of this in practice but I haven’t seen much of this so far. I guess it was mainly nice to be able to put a name to what I’d done. To be honest, as I was initially doing it, I assumed that there was probably a name for what I was doing and appropriate academic language surrounding it, I just didn’t happen to know what that was.

I mentioned earlier that qualitative analysis can be somewhat ‘fuzzier’ than quantitative and there was a significant chunk of discussion at the beginning of this week’s resources about that. Overall I got the feeling that there was a degree of defensiveness, with the main issue being that the language and ideas used in quantitative research are far more positivist in nature – epistemologically speaking (I totally just added that because I like that I know this now) – and are perhaps easier to justify and use to validate the data. You get cold hard figures and if you did this the right way, someone else should be able to do exactly the same thing.

An attempt to map some of those quantitative qualities to the qualitative domain was somewhat poo-pooed because it was seen as missing the added nuance present in qualitative research or something – it was a little unclear really but I guess I’ll need to learn to at least talk the talk. It partly felt like tribalism or a turf war but I’m sure that there’s more to it than that.  I guess it’s grounded in a fairly profoundly different way of seeing the world and particularly of seeing ‘knowing’. On the one side we have a pretty straight forward set of questions dealing with objective measurable reality and on the other we have people digging into perspectives and perceptions of that reality and questioning whether we can ever know or say if any of them are absolutely right.

Long story short, there’s probably much more contextualisation/framing involved in the way you analyse qual data and how you share the story that you think it tells. Your own perceptions and how they may have shaped this story also play a far more substantial part. The processes that you undertook – including member checking, asking your subject to evaluate your analysis of their interview/etc to ensure that your take reflects theirs – also play a significant role in making your work defensible.

The section on coding seemed particular relevant so I’ll quote that directly:

Codes, in qualitative data analysis, are tags that are applied to sections of data. Often done using qualitative data analysis software such as Nvivo or Dedoose.

Codes can overlap, and a section of an interview transcript (for example) can be labeled with more than one code. A code is usually a keyword or words that represent the content of the section in some way: a concept, an emotion, a type of language use (like a metaphor), a theme.

Coding is always, inevitably, an interpretive process, and the researcher has to decide what is relevant, what constitutes a theme and how it connects to relevant ideas or theories, and discuss their implications.

Here’s an example provided by Jen Ross, of a list of codes for a project of hers about online reflective practice in higher education. These codes all relate to the idea of reflection as “discipline” – a core idea in the research:

  • academic discourse
  • developing boundaries
  • ensuring standards
  • flexibility
  • habit
  • how professionals practice
  • institutional factors
  • self assessment

Jen says: These codes, like many in qualitative projects, emerged and were refined during the process of reading the data closely. However, as the codes emerged, I also used the theoretical concepts I was working with to organise and categorise them. The overall theme of “discipline”, therefore, came from a combination of the data and the theory.

https://courses.edx.org/courses/course-v1:EdinburghX+SOCRMx+3T2017/courseware/f41baffef9c14ff488165814baeffdbb/23bec3f689e24100964f23aa3ca6ee03/?child=last

I already mentioned that I undertake thematic analysis of a range of job ads, which could be considered to be “across case” coding. This is in comparison to “within-case” coding, where one undertakes narrative analysis by digging down into one particular resource or story. This involves “tagging each part of the narrative to show how it unfolds, or coding certain kinds of language use” while thematic analysis is about coding common elements that emerge while looking at many things. In the practical exercise – I didn’t do it because time is getting away from me but I read the blog posts of those who did – a repeated observation was that in this thematic analysis, they would often create/discover a new code half way through and then have to go back to the start to see if and where that appear in the preceding resources.

On a side note, the practical activity did look quite interesting, it involved looking over a collection of hypothetical future reflections from school leavers in the UK in the late 1970s. They were asked to write a brief story from the perspective of them 40 years in the future, on the cusp of retirement, describing the life they had lived. Purely as a snapshot into the past, it is really worth a look for a revealing exploration of how some people saw life and success back in the day.Most of the stories are only a paragraph or two.

https://discover.ukdataservice.ac.uk/QualiBank/?f=CollectionTitle_School%20Leavers%20Study

And once again, there were a bunch of useful looking resources for further reading about qualitative analysis

  • Baptiste, I. (2001). Qualitative Data Analysis: Common Phases, Strategic Differences. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2/3. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/917/2002
  • Markham, A. (2017). Reflexivity for interpretive researchers http://annettemarkham.com/2017/02/reflexivity-for-interpretive-researchers/
  • ModU (2016). How to Know You Are Coding Correctly: Qualitative Research Methods. Duke University’s Social Science Research Unit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL7Ww5kpnIM
  • Riessman, C.K. (2008). ‘Thematic Analysis’ [Chapter 3 preview] in Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences. SAGE Publishing https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/narrative-methods-for-the-human-sciences/book226139#preview Sage Research Methods Database
  • Sandelowski, M. and Barroso, J. (2002). Reading Qualitative Studies. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 1/1. https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/ijqm/index.php/IJQM/article/view/4615
  • Samsi, K. (2012). Critical appraisal of qualitative research. Kings College London. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/policy-institute/scwru/pubs/2012/conf/samsi26jul12.pdf
  • Taylor, C and Gibbs, G R (2010) How and what to code. Online QDA Web Site, http://onlineqda.hud.ac.uk/Intro_QDA/how_what_to_code.php
  • Trochim, W. (2006). Qualitative Validity. https://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qualval.php

Research update #34: Learning little things

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted about my research and that’s not great. I seem to be finding a lot of legitimate seeming reasons to do other things – also getting sick – and things feel a little out of control.

There is an overall plan – I’ve booked in December to write the first draft of my research proposal, including most importantly the lit review and I think I’ll spend most of November getting ducks in a row for that. The SOCRMx MOOC is helping me to understand research concepts and language a little better and I feel like it will give me enough to get through.

One thing that I have been excited to find is what p means in statistical tables. As I’ve surely mentioned, I’ve not spent a lot of time studying research methodology and pretty well no time at all working on stats. I managed to work out that n is the number of participants in a study – however it was only this afternoon that I learnt that this is referred to as the frequency. But I’ve always been baffled by what the p column meant.

Turns out that it is the probability that the two associated variables in the table have no relationship – also known as the null hypothesis. So a p value of 0.623 means there is a 62.3% chance that the relationship between thing in the column and the thing in the row just happened by coincidence. I still have no idea how that score is calculated but little steps. 

This information came from a particularly user-friendly guide to research concepts at https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_principles-of-sociological-inquiry-qualitative-and-quantitative-methods/index.html (Chapter 14) 

This I found through the SOCRMx MOOC, which is still kicking goals. I’m getting into some of the assessable work now. Given that I’m not formally taking the MOOC – as in not being accredited for it – I’m toing and froing about the next piece of work, reading a 17 page paper about food and culture and then taking a quiz about my understanding of the research methodologies but I’m here now so I guess I might as well.

Reading some of the other student work – several people here are doing this as part of their coursework – I’m highly conscious of the fact that I still really don’t write in an ‘academic’ style and I worry that this makes me look dumb. For the most part it’s a political or ideological decision – I read something by John Ralston Saul a long time ago about how language is used by technocrats to exclude people and it’s been important to me ever since to be accessible in my communication. I realise that there is a need to be mindful of one’s audience as well and I know that when I do formal academic writing, I will be more ‘proper’ but for the here and now, I really just prefer natural language.

Week #2 SOCRMx – Surveys

Week 2&3 of the EdinburghX Social Research Methods MOOC sees us starting to dig into a couple of methods from a list of about 8. Being a nerd who really wants to get my head around 4 or 5 of them (surveys, discourse analysis, interviews, focus groups and social network analysis) I think I’ve already over-committed but the readings and the activities are great.

For surveys, I now need to design a simple survey of 6-8 questions exploring some aspect of the use of social media by a specific group of people. Big surprise, I’m going to delve into how TEL advisors (academic developers, education designers, learning technologists) use social media as part of their participation in a community of practice. Given the nature of the participants, I am assuming a reasonable level of understanding of the concepts.

I think some of these questions might be more complex than I need them to be but I figure they’re a work in process. (And now I’m wondering if WordPress has some kind of cool survey building tool that I can put them into. Ok, looking for plugins is a rabbit hole – text is just fine.)

  1. Do you use social media platforms as a part of your professional community of practice as a TEL advisor?

[ ] Yes  [ ] No

2. If yes, which of the following social media platforms do you use to participate in your professional Community of Practice (CoP). (Choose as many as are applicable)

[ ] Twitter  [ ] Facebook [ ] LinkedIn [ ] Google+ [ ] Instagram [ ] Tumblr [ ] Wechat [ ] other ___________ (please list)

3. Of the social media platforms that you use in your professional CoP, rank them from 1 (most useful) to (least useful) where is the final option

[ ] Twitter  [ ] Facebook [ ] LinkedIn [ ] Google+ [ ] Instagram [ ] Tumblr [ ] Wechat [ ] other ___________ (please list)

4. Approximately how long have you used social media as part of your professional CoP

[ ] 0 years (I don’t) [ ] Less than 1 year [ ] 1 – 2 years [ ] 3-4 years [ ] 5 or more years

5. Approximately how many people are you connected with in the social media platforms that you use for your professional CoP? (Including people that you follow and those that follow you)

[ ] Under 20 [ ] 20 – 50 [ ] 51- 99 [ ] 100 – 500 [ ] 501 – 1000 [ ] More than 1000

6. Rank in order of importance to you from 1 (most important) to n (least important) the reasons why you use social media with your professional CoP

[ ] To get help [ ] To promote your work [ ] To belong to a community [ ] To keep up to date [ ] To share ideas [ ] Other ________________ (please list)

7. How important is it for you to separate your professional life from your personal life when you use social media platforms?

[ ] Highly important [ ] somewhat important [ ] neutral [ ] somewhat unimportant [ ] highly unimportant

 

Ok, overall I’m reasonably happy with these questions – they’re possibly a little wordier than I’d like but I’m trying to be pretty specific. Bringing ranking in is possibly also more complex than it needs to be, particularly when I’m not asking people to rank all the options, only those that they selected or find relevant. May be overreaching there.

All in all though, I think this could result in some pretty rich data. Not sure what to do about people who don’t use Soc med – maybe that’s a screening question? Though it would kind of be useful to get a sense of the proportions

Research update #33: Making it my own

There’s been something about the updated research questions that I’ve been working with that just hasn’t been sitting right. These are the questions:

What strategies do edvisors in HE use to promote understanding of their role and value(s) among academic staff, and more broadly within their institutions?

What are the roles and value(s) of edvisors? (as seen from their perspective)

How are those roles and value(s) seen from the academics’ and institution’s perspective?

Which among these strategies are particularly successful?

It’s only a small thing perhaps and maybe it’s important in sharpening focus but it bugs me that there is an implicit assumption that it is the sole responsibility of edvisors to make academics and the institution value them and their work. I can understand that this isn’t the job of academics – though it would be nice if some of them made more of an effort – but surely the institution itself, and by that I guess I mean institutional management, has a part to play as well. After all, why provide expert support if you don’t intend for it to be used and for it to work as effectively as possible.

So I’m changing the question. This is partially also because I think it will be valuable to gather some data about how different institutions organise their edvisor support units and what impact this has on their efficacy. With the old questions, there isn’t really room for this.

I’ve also found the sub-questions a little clunky and while I think that the value/values issue is interesting, I can still cover that in the survey and interview questions.

Which brings me to this.

What strategies are used in HE to promote understanding of the roles and value of edvisors among academic staff, and more broadly within the institution?

How do edvisors see their role and value in Higher Education institutions?

How are edvisor roles understood and valued by academics and HE management?

Which among these strategies are the most effective and why?

The ordering still seems slightly odd and while it’s been suggested to move the main question (what strategies…?) to question 3, this seems to miss the main point of the research. (Which is a worry in itself but maybe that indicates that I need to communicate a little more with my supervisors)

All of this brings me to the Pat Thomson journal question suggestion du jour – “The best advice I’ve been given about the PhD was…” that it’s My PhD and I need to own it. This doesn’t mean that I won’t change things based on advice but I need to believe in what I’m writing and I didn’t believe the promoting understanding was the sole responsibility of edvisors.

I attended the ASCILITE Spring in Research Excellence School this week – 2 solid days of workshopping and discussing research ideas. I was hoping to pin down a methodology – I think I know what I want to do but I’m not sure if it’s the best way because I don’t know what all of the options are and what the language is surrounding my approach. I now have two well regarded books on the matter though – Creswell’s Research Design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (2014) and Saldana’s The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2015) so I’m hoping that between the two of these, I can figure it out.

Research update #31: Commonalities and differences

Coming back to the ever-reliable Pat Thomson list of things to PhD blog about:

Things that I have in common with other PhDers

We’re all on the same kind of journey and I assume are facing the same questions and concerns about how to go about doing it and what it’s all for.

We have a deep enough interest in what we’re researching to be able to stick with it.

Things that I don’t feel that I have in common

I’m doing this part-time (while working full-time) and at a distance. This means that I don’t have that at-hand network of peers and the opportunities to participate in the many and varied seminars, presentations, workshops, social events and whatever else happens when you’re a full time PhD student studying on campus. This means that I need to bore my friends and some trusted colleagues stupid with questions, thoughts and ideas that are more often met with blank looks than engagement. There is also my wider online community of peers in practice and I am thankful for them and their wisdom every day – but still, sometimes it would be nice to have those personal conversations too. Particularly when I’m still not quite good enough at expressing the nuance of what I want to say in online discussions and it all comes out a bit wrong.

Not much to do about that other than press on really though.

On the plus side, I think I’ve read enough now and teased through my ideas sufficiently to put some kind of research proposal together – the next step in progressing the PhD research. I had a structure and a project plan that went hopelessly awry as I realised that it wasn’t really about what I need to explore, so I guess the next step is to nut out the outline and create a new plan.

My former housemate is hopefully today nutting out the very final tweaks to her thesis before she submits it on Monday. Even though she’s in an entirely different discipline, we had some great chats about all aspects of PhD life.

Thoughts on: Strategies to win: Six steps for creating problem statements in doctoral research (Blum & Preiss, 2005)

I thought it might help to get back to basics with my research and dig into some of the papers and articles in my “how to PhD” reading list. This paper by Blum & Preiss in the Journal of College Teaching & Learning describes the process that they use at the University of Phoenix for creating problem statements – essentially the first stage of developing research questions.

As an institution they’ve had some problems in the last decade but I liked this guide because it offers a pretty straightforward (and brief) overview and I was able to quickly knock together a first pass at a statement that reasonably sums up what I’m trying to do. They also cite some fairly reputable sources, including Creswell (2004) and it all seems to align with things that I’ve heard before.

In a nutshell, they suggest beginning with the problem. “The problem is… what… for who… where” (p.48). Then select the research design needed to explore the problem – “this type of design (qualitative, quantitative) will do what (explore, describe) what (topic) by doing what (interviewing, observing) who (subjects or population) where (location). If the study is qualitative, students should explain how research patterns would be triangulated (p.49)

From here they offer advice on ensuring relevance and citing research to strengthen ideas and theory. Now maybe this all seems slightly cookie-cutter (one of their problems institutionally) but I’ve still found it useful as a structure to organise my core thoughts. After each described section they offer an exemplar that shows that you don’t have to follow the model precisely and they finish with a basic checklist to ensure clarity, relevance and methodological rigour.

This is what I ended up with:

The increasing sophistication of TELT practices in Higher Education that are afforded by emerging technology (add citation) has necessitated a new class of support staff to assist academics in this space. Whitchurch (2008) labels this domain, sitting across professional and academic roles, the “third space” (p.378) and it is inhabited by workers carrying a plethora of titles (add citation) that might broadly sit under the umbrella term of ‘educator advisors’ (edvisors).

The problem is that edvisor advice about implementing better TELT practices often goes unheard by academics and institutions in the Australian HE context because they don’t understand the roles, benefits or values of these workers.

This mixed-methods study will survey and interview edvisors, academics and institutional managers in Australian Universities to gather information about the perceptions held of edvisors, their roles, benefits and values. It will also gather data on institutional practices relating to the employment of edvisors and placement within organisational structures to triangulate this evidence relating to perceptions.

This research will seek to clarify understanding of the roles, benefits and values of edvisors and identify strategies that edvisors can (and do) use to establish greater understanding of these things which can result in more effective collaborations between edvisors, academics and the institution.

Looking at it now there is still plenty of room for polishing but it does seem to capture the broad ideas and aims of my research. So that feels like something. For a five and a bit page paper, it has helped me feel that I’m slightly more on track.

Research update #27: The reframe

Just a quick note this time about the rather helpful feedback that I got from my supervisors about my evolved research question.

I was considering something like:

How do and should edvisors in H.E. ensure that their work in introducing, supporting and developing TELT practices is understood, valued and supported by academics and the institution?

Peter suggested that ‘ensure’ adds a certain amount of pressure, which is a fair call as after all, one of our ongoing challenges is achieving this and there are no guarantees that it will happen. (But I think it will eventually because it has to happen)

He proposed the following:

What strategies do edvisors in HE use to promote understanding of their role and value among academic staff, and more broadly within their institutions?

With a sub-question of:

Which among these strategies are particularly successful?

Lina chimed in with a couple more examples of sub-questions that might offer some additional directions for the research to follow.

What are the roles and values of edvisors (as they seen from their perspective)
How those roles and values are seen from the institutional (aka client) perspective?

Pretty hard to escape those perspective-oriented questions but in this context, where so much seems to be about perspectives shaping a workplace reality, it makes sense.

On a separate note, our short paper was accepted for ASCILITE 2017. One of the reviewers seemed to expect a lot of detail from something that we had to cram into 5 pages (down from 17ish) but the feedback was helpful and offers some ideas about ways to expand the work. (The second reviewer didn’t seem to share any of their concerns, so that’s a good lesson perhaps about the nature of the review process). Overall, I take the feedback to be a good sign that we’re exploring an area where there is some interest and something of a gap in the literature.

 

Research update #15 – Pat Thomson’s tips of journalling your PhD

There are two people that I’ve heard about repeatedly in beginner PhD student circles as goldmines of advice – Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson. I’m lucky enough to work at the same institution as Inger and occasionally get the chance to chat in person but her blog – Thesis Whisperer – also carries a wealth of ideas and experiences from across the scholarsphere that help me to remember that I’m not alone and anything that I’m facing has been overcome by far smarter people than I.

Pat Thomson is regarded just as highly and her blog, Patter, has been just as helpful. She recently posted some suggestions for keeping your own PhD journal/blog/thing that have struck a chord with me. Happy to see that some of them I’ve already touched on but I think I’ll make an effort to work through this list in future updates.

This week I’ll go with

  • Dealing with things I can’t immediately change means I need to…

Dealing with things I can’t immediately change means I need to learn from them, reflect on how (or whether) my actions have contributed to the situation and consider what I need to do to get/keep things moving again. I also need to make a decision about whether I just let go.

I’ve mentioned my ideas and work on STELLAR, a gamified academic professional development program here before – I had planned to run a semester long version this semester (starting mid Feb) but college priorities haven’t aligned and this has now been put on hold. What I’ve learned is that I need to get better at making my case clearly and navigating institutional politics. I’ve also been told directly that academics would find it insulting to be taught how to teach (I think the subtext there was ‘by a professional staff member’) which I don’t 100% accept. While I recognise that some academics have no/little interest in teaching because research is still the source of status in the university, there are plenty who take a scholarly mindset and understand that developing one’s craft in this area is a life-long endeavour. I also need to remember that just because an idea is rationally (and empirically) sound, this isn’t all that is needed to sell it. There is a whole other set of complex emotional factors that sway decision making and simply being (or believing oneself to be) right about something is far from enough.

Coming back to my research, I’ve also been diving into Social Practice Theory and am kind of kicking myself for not taking advice better and pursuing it earlier. I’m not 100% sold on all facets of it yet – there seems to be a lot of discounting of more complex aspects of practice for the sake of making the theoretical model work – but there’s more than enough to be able to use in shaping a framework for what I’m hoping to do. Currently this seems to be talking to a lot of ‘at the coal-face /screenface’ TELT Advisors about what they do in their day to day work. (Oh and in the process of developing a Special Interest Group through ASCILITE for this community, I’m edging towards TEL edvisors as an umbrella name that seems to flow better. This is still up for discussion but it looks better I think.)

My much amended project plan is once more out the window but it is also based on an arbitrary deadline of July/August to get my proposal in.

In a nutshell though, I think I want to narrow focus from what universities can do to support TELT practices to what TEL edvisors do (and can do), which seems like a positive step. Viewing this through a social practice theory / sociomaterial lens helps to focus it a little further too.

Hopefully my supervisor agrees when I chat to him in a week.

 

 

Research update #13

One of my principle reasons for using this blog in my research/study is that it offers an effective and searchable way to put my first-draft thoughts and quotes/references down in a central and searchable space. I found this very useful when I did my Masters and hope that it will prove equally useful now.

My main challenge is the overwhelming amount of ideas and information that I’m currently swimming in. By taking on – at least for now – the challenge of developing an holistic understanding of the factors influencing (positively and negatively) the use of TELT in Higher Ed, I’ve opened myself to trying to understand the nature of H.E itself and how all of the pieces work together (or don’t, depending on how they seem to feel in the morning)

This has meant that I had a virtual bombsite with (digitally) jotted down questions and ideas for my job and quotes and scattered references and issues. I think I’ve now put this into some kind of triage/processing system. In brief, I’ll read the paper/book/etc, scrawl barely legible notes on it in pencil, highlight (it seems) every other word and then convert that into a blog post here.

From there, useful quotes (all annotated and properly cited) go into a quotes/refs page in Scrivener under the broad factor heading (e.g. Teachers and teaching). Simultaneously I have another page (organised by factor) with appropriate citations that is for my questions and ideas. These get filtered down to key points which go into a Notes for Lit Review page (again organised into factors) and this will give me the structure of the Lit Review itself and help me to make some semblance of order of my thinking.

I’ve just finished updating the Questions/ideas and Quotes/Ref pages and am up to transferring that to Notes.  All of which means that it’s been a little while since I’ve actually read something new however revisiting the range of papers that I’ve already looked at was interesting in terms of seeing which areas my thinking has progressed in. (not many but some)

Going by my project plan, I should be moving on now to looking at Universities as Organisations as a factor – which I’ve never been 100% sure what I mean by but it seems relevant and like a handy catch all for a lot of spare influencers.

Generally still feeling ok about things.

Research update #11: It wasn’t procrastination after all

Half-way in to the slightly manic process of reorganising my Scrivener notes for my PhD thesis proposal, I wondered if I wasn’t using it to avoid to actual work. I was painstakingly working through a host of references (some with annotations – mainly from the abstract I suspect) – that I had added early on from my initial proposal and largely just dumped into my broad categories without much further thought. I haven’t since come back to them or considered how relevant or useful they are or what I plan to do with them.

My larger goal in this exercise was to try to find some kind of structure for my thinking – I’m increasingly aware that the Higher Education ecosystem is intricate and complex and most if not all of the moving parts impact on each other far more than the current literature seems to acknowledge. I’m still not sure what the best way to represent this is, but I’m hoping that creating some order will help me to place the myriad random thoughts and questions that I’ve come up with so far in something more manageable.

Which seems to be a point that I often reach in large projects (none as large as this, admittedly) before losing interest and moving on to something new. As I thought about this, I worried that I was doing this exact thing here.

Fortunately, I wasn’t. I eliminated a number of papers that seemed relevant on the surface but really weren’t, I found a few more that I’d completely forgotten that I have put into the high priority reading list and I think that now I have a place for everything and everything in its place. There’s a section for the actual writing (broken up by broad topics), a section for notes (broken up by broad topics which I’d say will get more and more subtopics), a section for quotes and references (with sub-sections for individual papers) and some general miscellaneous pages for ‘other’ stuff. What works best about this for me is the way that it lets me quickly jump around the proposal when something useful needs to be jotted down and the side-by-side structure of Scrivener lets me easily copy-paste chunks. It looks a bit like this.

scrivener screenshot

The other part of this process that was useful was finding a brief paper that has the same focus as my research, which gave me some assurance that I’m on track with my ideas as well as check whether I’m missing anything vital. (Turns out that I think that they are missing a few things, which is obviously good for me. I’ll post about this one shortly)