When I started my PhD, a common piece of advice was to read some other people’s theses to better understand how they work and what might be expected. I glanced at a couple but couldn’t find any that seemed particularly relevant so I moved on to other things. I wish I’d searched a little harder because recently I’ve come across quite a few that have been immensely helpful. In the four that I’ve looked at, I’ve found new theoretical frameworks and ideas and some descriptions of methodology that have helped a few things click into place.
The first of these is from Adonis Amparo, of the University of Southern Florida. While it focuses on a group of people that I’m not covering in my own research (blended librarians), the challenges they face and the work they do aligns nicely with the edvisors that I’m looking at. To paraphrase, Blended Librarians are librarians whose work includes the role of instructional technologists. I take this to equate to educational technologists in the Australian context, based on the description in the dissertation.
Amparo, also a blended librarian, uses a mixture of autoethnography and ethnography in three case studies of himself and two others working in these roles. Additionally, he uses a Narrative Research approach, which makes use of something called “wonderments” instead of conventional research questions to create a little extra space to play.
“Wonderments allow for exploration in research, whereas research questions provide a more limited frame. In narrative research, narrativists design their questions around one or several “wonders” or “wonderments” rather than devise ‘A priori’ research questions (Clandinin, 2016). This allows for “a sense of a search, a ‘re-search’, a searching again,”…”a sense of continual reformulation” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p.124) “Amparo, 2020
I’m not altogether sure what the difference is or how this works or even if it suits the direction that I’m currently taking but I do like the broad idea of it.
There were a few other ideas that grabbed my attention. Apparently there is this concept of “identity stretch” in Celia Whitchurch’s seminal 2008 work on the Third Space in Higher Ed that I have completely missed until now and Amparo has a nice line when he says
As with any new position, the role must be created from the institutional space providedAmparo, 2020
Another potentially valuable find was the use of Role Theory. According to Amparo, “Researchers use Role Theory to explain social interactions built on behavioral expectations and social positions defined by these behaviors (Biddle, 1986)” This is a concept dating back to the 1950s in social psychology, meaning that there has been plenty of time for a backlash but Amparo seems to navigate the criticisms of Role Theory well enough to extract some useful insights. Given that my work leans heavily on status and perceptions in institutions that seem tied to roles, I have to wonder whether there is something in here of value to me as well. It may be that my own use of Social Practice theory might knit with some of these ideas. At the very least, it seems to have some potential. The terminology alone, which includes role strain and role ambiguity seems relevant.
The second lens employed by Amparo is Identity and Social Identity Theory, which again is something new to me but which seems to offer some promise in terms of considering how edvisors develop the confidence in their abilities to ‘edvise’ academics.
A final point of interest in this work (spoilers) is that the three Blended Librarians examined all seem to develop or arrive at their professional identities from three relatively different perspectives. One from the objects they create, another from the work relationships they develop and the last from the service they provide to students.
Definitely worth a read if you’re working or researching in this space.