Research update #56: Tying theory to methodology

While I’m waiting for faculty approval to submit to university ethics, I have time to consider some of my bigger questions sitting in the ‘later pile’. A big one relates to how (if?) my theoretical framework relates to my methodology in a meaningful way. There are a couple of theories that I’m drawing on for this research, though to be honest I’m not sure how officially ‘theoretical’ they are.

There’s work by Whitchurch and others about the Third Space as it relates to Higher Education, the liminal space between admin and academic that edvisors occupy. And there’s work relating to Social Practice theory by Shove and others that I feel may be helpful in defining the different kinds of edvisors by the work edvisors they do. It may also reveal something about how we/they work with academics and management in terms of the ways practices are disseminated and evolve. This seems to crossover into the realms of change management, which I seem to be hearing a lot about recently in this space and which perhaps seems like a useful angle to take, strategically. (Truth be told though, I think that too much weight is probably given to change and not enough to maintenance and sustainability of existing good learning and teaching practices, so who knows where I’ll land on that)

There are a couple of concerns that I have – are the theories that I’m looking at robust enough to inform the research that I’m doing? Are they even really theories, as such? Shouldn’t they be providing me with some ideas about how I should be designing my research data collection? To date, I’ve been largely assuming that they will come to the fore when I eventually get onto data analysis and trying to make some meaning from the things I’ve collected.

Nobody seems to be jumping up and down about this though – which has become my default indicator of whether I’m going horribly wrong – so I guess I’ll just keep meandering along. I have reached out to a couple of academics in business faculties now though, with an interest in the way organisations work because I have a strong feeling that this is an important factor in successful edvisor/academic/management collaboration but I have no idea what the language is that I need to describe this or what models or frameworks will best help to understand it. I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I like about doing this PhD study is the opportunities that it creates to reach out to people who have done interesting work, who, for the most part seem willing to share their expertise.

It draws into sharp contrast a comment yesterday from one of the academics on my progress review panel. I asked whether my blogging here, as a way of getting my ideas straight, might prove problematic down the road with my thesis – i.e. are there risks of being pinged for self plagiarism or something? I’m pretty sure that my writing style here is far more casual than my academic writing style but we do also have go-to turns of phrase and words that we favour. (I know I really overuse ‘particularly’, ‘however’, ‘interesting’, and a few others but I struggle to find replacements that feel as much like me). Anyway, the academic seemed just as concerned about people stealing my ideas. Which I guess it was nice that someone thinks I might have ideas worth stealing but, given that my entire aim with this research (as far as I know currently) is to improve and change practices and relationships with edvisors, I’m mostly of the opinion that I want my ideas to circulate and evolve. But maybe I’m naive.

Anyway, more things to think about.