PhD theory thesis

Research update #63: Where to put theory in the thesis

Spreadsheet describing name, key points and structure of doctoral theses

Hi everyone with an interest in Research – I’ve spent a few days poring over theses related to edvisor themes trying to work out how people talk about theory (and methods) and where they actually put this stuff in the structure. So I figured that I’d share what I found in the attached spreadsheet.

There are more than a few theses from the US – I guess just by virtue of population – and my notes may be scratchy (ID is instructional designers, by the by) but maybe there is something of value for people in this community in there. (I highlighted in blue the ones that I thought might be most useful in my research but you may have other interests)

In brief – mostly people (in my sample and my area of interest) put information about theory in the introduction chapter and they may expand on that a little in the subsequent lit review. Very few people at all have a separate theory chapter – though if some people are very theory focused or developing their own they might. A few people also checked back in on theory in the discussion section – sense checking their findings against what the theory suggests.

As I worked through these 40+ theses, I wished that I had done this many years ago but I also suspect that, at the time, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and it might have been a little overwhelming. (Also I feel that there were fewer options in my specific area of research interest, which seems to have exploded in recent years)

Instructional Designer narrative research PhD readability thesis

Thoughts on: Leading the way: A critical narrative about the creation of an online professional development program (Wilder, 2020)(thesis)

I really struggled with this thesis at first because it is written in a very conversational, narrative style. I realised that this was a significant part of the point of the research – the first research question is actually:

How does the format of this dissertation address the accessibility of knowledge created for instructional design and curriculum development practitioners?

Wilder, 2020

So it is clearly a very deliberate and mindful approach that is being taken, with the aim of questioning the dissertation/thesis model and its accessibility to “average” readers. There is some worthwhile discussion of this throughout the thesis and also in a related conference paper in the appendix. Wilder uses a Narrative based approach drawing on Invitational Rhetoric (Fass & Griffin, 1995) and Invitational Learning Theory (Purkey & Novak, 2015). Questions about scholarly writing conventions are valid and I think there is much to think about overall, so I may well come back to this at a later time. My first impression, perhaps as someone that has learnt to parse academic writing, is that it was hard to take the work as seriously as it deserves.

So I’ll focus on the things that I was able to take away of particular relevance to my own work. The perspective of an Instructional Designer is always welcome to me and particularly descriptions of how they are working in their contexts.

“The designer and their expertise is always secondary to faculty design choices, even when those choices are at odds with best practices”

Wilder, 2020 P.39

“In fact, faculty must become certified to teach online at my university by Spring 2021”

Wilder, 2020 P.39

“On a less cynical note, my department has made significant inroads by establishing
relationships with our faculty. We have made conscious efforts to professionalize our online learning department by providing professional development, presenting at regional and national conferences with faculty, and doing research in online learning directly with faculty. I believe our approach has yielded positive results. As the number of online courses has increased over time, faculty have become more informed and experienced in online learning, fundamental design principles, and best practices. The requests for consultation have more frequently become focused on refinements and more advanced topics in learning design, learning activities and
assignments, as well as assessment.”

Wilder, 2020 P.39-40

Again, I see that edvisor involvement in research in the U.S. is not seen as the big deal it seems to be in Australia. Raising the profile and prestige of the ID unit also appears to have enhanced the sophistication of the collaborative work they do with academics. (Mandatory certification to be allowed to teach online probably doesn’t hurt though)

The nature of edvisor units has been a common theme in this space but for some reason I’ve never explicitly identified that the size of the unit greatly affects the nature of the work being done. Similarly, changes in organisational structures might mean that professional development work suddenly becomes the responsibility of another team.

“Since we are a smaller group compared to most major research universities, we wear more hats than most”

Wilder, 2020 P.41

One final section really stood out for me, not the least because it let me catch up with the work of someone in this space that I lost contact with a few years back.

A few years back, Carnegie Mellon University invited a researcher to investigate why the professoriate at the university failed to implement its own leading research on how students learn best (Herckis, 2018). Despite having access to the best research in the world, fellow academics at Carnegie Mellon consistently resisted employing that knowledge. The author found faculty were generally enthusiastic when implementing their own ideas but balked at adopting what others tried and tested. Faculty also had personal views of what constituted good teaching that were often the product of their own experience as a student. This example speaks directly how important it is for practitioners to produce knowledge that is contextual and is designed for the audience it is intended to reach. In this case, even academics well versed in the idea of searching literature for new knowledge are resistant to applying theoretical knowledge in their practice.

Wilder, 2020 P. 126-127

There’s much to consider about this on the epistemological side of things – most clearly why some forms of knowledge are valued and others aren’t. I have a whole theory about the hierarchy of knowledge in Higher Ed institutions – discipline > pedagogy > technology in a nutshell. We (edvisors) are often advised to present academics with evidence based research in support of the learning and teaching approaches that we advocate. Personally, I’ve found this to be wildly variable in effectiveness. In some cases it is embraced and in others I have seen people whip up and disseminate terrible and self-serving research of their own to avoid having to make small changes to their preferred practices. Definitely an area for more exploration at least.

Herckis, L. (2018). Passing the Baton: Digital Literacy and Sustained Implementation of eLearning Technologies. Current Issues in Emerging ELearning, 5(1 Special Issue on Leveraging Adaptive Courseware), 17.
Wilder, O. (2020). Creating Knowledge Equity Through Accessible Dissertations for the Education Doctorates. 10th Annual Conference on Electronic Theses and Dissertations. USETDA 2020 Conference, Online.
Wilder, O. (2020). Leading the Way: A Critical Narrative About the Creation of an Online Professional Development Program [Ed.D., University of South Florida].

methodology PhD research

Research update #53: Methodology or Messodology?

I have identified around 17 different types of data that I want to collect for this research. I have been waiting for people who know more about this than I do to say – ‘you’re out of your mind’ – but as yet, nobody has.

It looks a little something like this.

More than a few of these things (edvisor numbers, quals, entry points, unit structures) don’t even necessarily answer my research questions but seem important in the journey towards them. The I.T bit in the corner is more of a stray thought because I’ve been spending a LOT of time in my own edvisor practice lately chatting to them and there is wealth of research to be done on their role in edutech projects that nobody seems to have touched on yet.

Determining how, where and from whom to gather this data is my first stage and will involve working closely with a set of key informants across institutions. I would assume a mix of edvisors, edvisor unit managers (or higher level types – DVCAs maybe?) and I’d imagine teachers but that seems slightly hazier right at the moment. One of the edvisors on the review panel did note that there is a major difference between types of edvisors and while I believe I have acknowledged that, I can probably give it a lot more thought in terms of considering the relationships between edvisors (academic developers, learning designers and learning technologists) and our perceptions of each other. So that’s fun.

For now, the logical thing to do seems to focus on the interviews with key informants, which are intended (amongst other things) to provide some insights into how to go about collecting the rest of this data. I’d like to get a reasonably representative cross-section of people in a range of different types of unis (I considered TAFE and private providers but that’s just too much extra), so I figure I need Group of Eight, Australian Technology Network, Innovative Research and Regional ones. But maybe that’s overdoing it. I do think there is something to be seen in comparing teaching oriented vs research oriented ones and perhaps also (though maybe this is the same thing) well resourced vs less well resourced institutions. Then again I haven’t considered any of these things as factors in my proposal so far, so ??? Anyway, I guess that falls under the research apprenticeship side of this whole endeavour.

But, be honest, this still seems like way too much to be trying to do right?

PhD reflection research Uncategorized

Research update #52: holy shit, I’m a researcher

I mean, I guess I am anyway. After a great deal of panic and uncertainty about my methodology (particularly), I flew through my thesis proposal review/confirmation thing a few weeks ago and it was signed off by the panel with no changes, there and then.

All that remains now is to actually do the research, analyse it, make sense of it and write it up. (Oh and get ethics approval and maintain a healthy work/life/study balance and…)

While I was feeling pretty good about my review of the current literature and ideas about what I’d like to achieve in this space, my lack of research training and experience and my incredibly scatter-shot approach to what I actually plan to capture as data (and how) had me deeply concerned that I was going to be sent away to do major revisions before resubmitting my thesis proposal. (Also the fact that it weighed in at 15,000 words – a lazy 5,000 over the recommended word count).

I’ll save the full description of my methodology for another post – suffice to say that I’ve counted 17 different sources of data that I want to collect and a good 4 or 5 of them I find I’m completely unable to link them to my research questions. (Also I think my research questions are not quite what I want to do but I was damned if I was going to mention that. I mean, they’re close but the wording  isn’t quite right.)

Getting this thesis proposal accepted has been my only real goal for the last 2.5 years, with everything else largely sent to the carpark to deal with later.

But I guess later is now. On with it, I suppose.

I would like to thank the friends and colleagues who have helped me to get this far and been generous with their time, support and advice – Peter, Lina, Kerrie, Mischa, Carol, David, Kate, Chie, Kym, Pam and anyone I’ve missed.

feedback PhD proposal reflection

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.

PhD writing

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.

academic developer PhD research writing

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.

Ling, P. (2009). Development of Academics and Higher Education Futures. (Volume 1 Report March 2009; pp. 1–68).

organisation PhD writing

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.


PhD research writing

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.

PhD writing

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)