Category Archives: PhD

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

Before I say anything else, I’d just like to share this. It’s the fact that he was A) just selling them to random people on the street and B) able to sell a million dollars worth that tells me how insane our current crypto-currency craze is. I guess I’m also pretty curious about how much he was selling them for – with the price floating around $25k AUD, you’d think he’d need to ask at least $5k to seem vaguely plausible – and even at $5k he’d have to sell 200 to get to $1m. What kind of person is happy to drop that kind of money to some guy on the street? Must have been down the high finance end of town, around happy hour. Also I’m just going to put bitcoin in this post to see what it does to my views. I read about a seed – like plant seed – business that announced they were going into bitcoin and their stock jumped 800% that morning. It’s mad.

Moving on. 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.

 

Research update #40: Proposal writing day 4: Edvisors and teachers

scrivener screenshot

 

 

 

 

 

I really didn’t expect to but I’ve caught up to my schedule. It’s largely because I decided that I needed to write words rather than write well although there is also the fact that I decided to trust my recollection of the broad ideas in the literature. Rather than painstakingly find each citation and quote on the fly as I write, I’m going to trust that they are out there and that on my next pass I can take the time to put them in. I think this will also help because I’m building a basic scaffold that seems to be flowing nicely and which should make it easier for me to find and compartmentalise the citations and quotes. I’m also fairly confident that I’ll also rediscover richer ideas that I can use to flesh out what I’ve already said. I’ll need to spend a little more time thinking about what the literature doesn’t say, and how to explain that and why it matters, but it’s been nice being able to put the pedal to the metal and just let the words come out as they want to.

In a nutshell, I covered the fact that the way that edvisor teams are structured and placed in institutions – centrally/college-based and also functionally – can be a barrier to effective work and particularly because of the tensions that exist between institutional and academics’ priorities. (Trying to remember that most good edvisors also have their own values conversation going on about ensuring the best possible learning and teaching amongst this). I moved on to the relationships between academics and edvisors and noted the difference between those from academic vs professional backgrounds. Touched on disciplinary silos, pressures faced by academics to be the experts in all things and the fact that many of them don’t really know what we do – or can do. This can be evident particularly in the research that they write and I think this will be a rich primary source to explore when I move into the research phase.

So I guess there is going to be a little more work than I expected when I’ve written draft one but the words are coming and draft two should not be far behind at all.

Research update #38: Proposal writing Day 2 – more on edvisors, less on edvisors & institutions

I’m kind of just staring at the screen now with 27 different tabs open across two browsers so I guess it’s time to take a mental break at the very least. Going by my schedule, I was meant to have knocked out 750 words on the relationship between edvisors and institutions – or my precisely I guess institutional management/leadership. I currently have 129.

But that’s because I only wrote about 500/1000 yesterday on edvisors more broadly. I think part of my challenge is that, first draft or not, I still like to try to turn out a moderately elegant sentence that flows smoothly into the next one and advances the story or idea. What I need to do is worry less about this and just get the brutish ugly ideas down so that they might be prettied up later.

The bigger issue though is that I didn’t put enough time into getting all my sources, quotes and ideas into a single location before I started writing. I’ve spent enough time with the literature to know broadly what it says and how I want to bring it together and I know I have the citations to support this but I didn’t put them all into the notes document. They are instead, scattered through this blog, Zotero and assorted stacks of paper with pencil notes scrawled all through them. The point of blogging about many of these papers was to create a searchable archive of these ideas but with the way that the question has changed over time, the way that I have tagged these posts has not quite kept pace.

I’m still enjoying the writing and being forced to commit to particular ideas and language, I’m just slightly up in the air about whether it would be more beneficial to stop and spend the time assembling everything before I proceed or if I should just press on, write what I can as a first draft and then come up with a much improved second draft by bringing all the stray elements together. The latter seems the way to go as I’m well versed in the fine arts of procrastination and preparation, endless preparation is absolutely one of my go-tos in this regard. The other advantage of just writing is that it will let me work out the structure a little better which should make the process of searching for and gathering the quotes and citations a lot simpler.

I hit the 1000 word target for the edvisors section just before lunch but later felt that a discussion of the place of credentialing might sit better in the edvisors and institutions section. I was also a little concerned that I was discussing literature without really explaining why or what I was looking for in particular, so once more I spent a little more time than planned on that section. I had initially planned on 2000 words for my discussion of edvisors in the literature but revised this to 1000 on advice from Lina. I have a feeling that I could probably hit the 2000 without too much trouble as I dig deeper into the tensions between academic and professional edvisors.

Most of my thinking until recently revolved around the bizarre love/hate triangle between academics, institutional management/leadership and edvisors and how this impacts upon collaborative relationships. I’d kind of put aside the internal tensions both between academics and professional staff – particularly in the academic developer space where there’s a big question about where scholarly research fits into edvisor practices – and also between variously located teams within institutions. Most commonly central vs college/faculty based but there is also some toe-treading that occurs between rival disciplinary teams. The good news is that it’s all just more material to work with.

So while I’m not hitting my perhaps ambitious writing targets yet, the ideas are flowing.

 

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 #32: ‘Pen’ to paper

Not literally pen to paper clearly because who uses pens for anything other than signing things and as a left-hander the side of my hand dabs onto the still wet ink and turns into a big fleshy rubber stamp – but it is time to start putting down some words.

I can’t remember where I saw it – probably Twitter – but someone was talking about the need to write the SFD, the shitty first draft. It will be awful but it’s only by forcing ourselves to commit to some words that we start to make decisions about what we want to discuss. (That said, I did map out a loose structure for feedback because I do like to have a sense of where a thing is going and how it all links up)

Also, it’s ‘just’ the thesis proposal – the 10k-ish document that kind of determines whether or not I get to continue with this research project. Looking at some of the longer of these blog posts, I’ve knocked out 3000 words just banging on about one particular paper, so I’m not worried about writing enough words. Just writing enough good ones.

I can’t really see much on my Pat Thomson PhD topic list – pretty sure that “I can best organise my time by…” won’t be coming up too soon, nor “The PhD goals I’ve already reached are…” – unless one of my goals is boring everyone I know to death because this is what I think about night and day kind of now. Probably not a goal.

Digging in to the methodology needs to be a priority. I have a reasonable understanding of what I want to look into – the perceptions held by edvisors, the institution and academics of edvisors and how this is manifested in their actual practices (e.g. job ads, position descriptions, academic papers, edvisor team structures and place within the uni) as I think it’ll be interesting to be able to compare what people say/think they believe and what their actions indicate. The analysis of this I think I can nut out, being surrounded by smart people doesn’t hurt but it is pretty vague right now.

I surprised myself the other day when I was putting the outline of the proposal together and I got to the theory section by realising that there is actually probably some legitimate space to include the ideas of French sociologist thinker Pierre Bourdieu. His work has come up in my reading but, to be honest, drawing on a French intellectual felt a little pretentious. The fact is though, that his main thing is cultural capital, the markers that indicate belonging or prestige (I’m paraphrasing this terribly) in particular cultures/social groups. I’m not sure where I want to go with this yet but given that edvisors struggle to achieve status in HE yet possess significant knowledge of education, it seems like possessing an education or knowledge may not always carry the cultural capital that Bourdieu believes. Or, I assume and hope, he’s dealt with this question and has a handy solution. Either way, it offers a lens to discuss culture in HE, which more and more seems to be a major factor in the questions that I’m asking. I almost feel like I’ve earned my first leather elbow patch. (No jacket yet, I’m not getting that far ahead of myself)

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 #17: Making connections, learning from others

I’ll write a fuller post on this but I’ve recently helped launch a SIG (special interest group) for TEL edvisors through ASCILITE. I have a lot of different reasons for doing this, chief amongst them is the fact that there are a lot of incredibly smart and talented people working in this sector (education designer/developers, learning technologists, academic developers etc) doing fantastic work but it’s largely in isolation.

Given that I’ve chosen to focus my research on this area, because I believe that we can do a lot of good, I do hope that being a part of this community will make my research better and make it more practically useful. (I get that a PhD is a research apprenticeship but the thought of spending years working on something that is then only read by 3 people and buried deep in a library really scares me, particularly when I don’t know that further post-doc research is the direction I want to take afterwards. It might be, I just don’t know)

Anyway, a lot of the last month has centred around kicking the SIG (I prefer network) into gear. We held our first monthly webinar last week, with a great discussion about minimum standards for online course design (to put it in overly simple terms) and had three contributors – Lynnae Venaruzzo from Western Sydney Uni, Leanne Ngo from Deakin and our own Kate Mitchell (one of the co-founders and organisers of the network) from LaTrobe sharing their work and ideas.

Between this and the usual busyness of the start of a semester, there wasn’t as much other work on my studies – specifically reading – but I am getting back into it and am happy to have passed the hump of the most complex chapter of the Dynamics of Social Practice Theory book.

I haven’t heard anything from my supervisors and don’t have much to report or discuss just yet, though I feel as though I’m close to being able to write up a post about what I’m hoping to explore that will give us something to discuss. I’m still caught in this dilemma of what to talk about when I meet/Skype with them – I don’t want to ask them what I should do because surely this is for me to work out and I’m a grown-arsed adult. But when I tell them what I’m doing, the response is generally just keep going with a reading suggestion or two. (Reading material I am not short of, though I do need to remember that if I’d followed the advice to explore SPT sooner, I might be further along. Then again, maybe I wasn’t ready for it until I was. )

Next of the list of Pat Thomson’s PhD journalling topics:

How stress affects my ability to get things done.

Not well, really. Not well. Between being told the owner of my house is selling up and discovering that I’m kind of too old (or have too much furniture – seriously, almost every share place now is fully furnished) to share a house any more (I like living in a house and in the inner ‘burbs and it’s cheaper) and also having a close friend waiting on health news, I haven’t been feeling the study love. Progress is being made here though – just signed a lease on a flat, it’ll be my first time living alone, which will be interesting – and I’m slowly getting back on with things. The distance of the finish line makes it easy enough to say “tomorrow” – though there’s still the proposal itself to write and have accepted which is far sooner.

Garbage (sugar) stress eating definitely doesn’t help – it just smashes my ability to concentrate, so taking steps in the right direction there has been a positive move.

So yeah, stress and studying, not great allies. (Surprise)

Research update #16 – Narrowing focus

I had a Skype chat with my supervisor and told Peter about my refined direction shifting the research question to What can TEL edvisors do to better support TELT practices in Higher Education. This moves me along from universities as a whole but still allows me to draw on the relationships between TEL edvisors and different stakeholders in the institution.

I also told Peter that I’ve been reading Shove et al (2012) – The Dynamics of Social Practice – and this seems like a theoretical framework that can underpin my research. I think Shove’s approach to SPT might be a little simplified so I’ll need to explore other takes – Schatzki stands out so far.

I mentioned my work with the TEL edvisor SIG and that it might be a useful source of data. I asked about the ethical issues of this and Peter thinks that it’s ok to gather material that helps me to get a broader understanding of issues but I’ll need ethics clearance to more structured research.

I also floated the idea of using STELLAR in some way, though I don’t really know how just yet and whether is too much of a diversion.

Peter’s had some stuff going on so I hope this is why he doesn’t seem particularly engaged. I think next meeting I might ask him for some broad guidance. I’ve felt that I don’t want to be told what to do (in the sense of being spoon fed) so I tend not to ask him many questions but at the same time, I don’t feel like he volunteers much in the way of feedback or ideas. Maybe it’s that my topic is still far too broad. He certainly doesn’t seem to think that I need to be in any kind of hurry, so maybe I should just take this at face value.

His follow up suggestions were as follows:

The book Ray Land did, based on his PhD research, is
Land, R. (2004). Educational development: discourse, identity and practice. Maidenhead: SRHE/Open University Press.

The system that Anna Janssen has been working with is called Qstream. https://qstreamhealthcare.com

Coming back to my Pat “Patter” Thomson list of things to PhD blog about – let’s try:

Am I too competitive? 

No.

This seems like a very personal and individual journey and so competition seems kind of irrelevant.

This question does make me mindful though of the fact that I am basically disconnected entirely from my Sydney Uni PhD peers (that I shared the PhD proposal workshop with) and I should probably try to plug back into that community. I had been following what was going on through the Slack groups but have refreshed both my work and home computer and haven’t reinstalled that. So this is a thing and it actually seems kind of helpful. (Which is funny because I initially just chose this question because I thought it would be short.)