On the case

flickr photo by Helene Valvatne Andas https://flickr.com/photos/helenevalvatneandas/6203704278 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I’m currently working on a longer document (which may need a couple of posts) which will outline my analysis strategy. As I read through Miles, Huberman and Saldaña (2014) to explore background material and underpinning concepts, the notion of the ‘case’ came up and it struck me that I’ve not yet articulated clearly what for me will constitute a case. Perhaps this is an extension of the omission I discussed in a previous post where I’ve also failed to mention what I’m conducting an ethnography of? Time to attempt put things right.

Miles, Huberman and Saldaña define a case as

a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context.

They list possible cases as being an individual, a role, a small group, an organisation, a space, a community, episodes or encounters (one-night stand, voting), an event, a period of time, a process, a culture, a nation. This set me wondering therefore what my case might be, and also returning to my perennial problem of what in my study provides the boundedness! But one step at a time.

My research is on teacher professional learning using Twitter, so starting at the front of the list of possible cases, mine could be the individual participants in my study; those who consented to being interviewed or producing audio arcs. I wonder though whether the second item in the list, ‘role’ might also be pertinent, since my research does focus on teachers. Perhaps then my cases are individuals in a particular role?

I could have chosen to focus on a group, such as the #mfltwitterati, who coalesce around that particular hashtag, although I suspect that if I had, I’d need to be devoting far more blog inches to discussions of what constitutes a group. Maybe they’re a community rather than a group? (Another deep discussion!).

Since Twitter also comes into the equation, I guess space could form a case for me, although does that then presuppose other spaces? Maybe, if was considering Facebook or Google Plus, or offline spaces … which in a sense, I am, but more as extensions from the point of entry – Twitter. So Twitter won’t be a case on this occasion. How about episodes, encounters or events? Arising from my observations potential candidates for cases have become apparent, but it would be difficult to know what those might be prior to ethnographic meanderings. A Twitter hashtag chat might be an event for example, although since they often take place on a regular basis, episode might be a more apt description. Use of Twitter by teachers at a conference might constitute an event for, or if something sparks from two (or more) individuals coming together, then that might identify as an encounter.

My case could be the process of learning, at least it could if I side-step the argument that it can also be considered an outcome … or both! People come to Twitter for a host of reasons and the research into Twitter covers a range of processes – spreading news, finding love, composing poetry, trolling. My interest is solely in learning, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a process as a case. Learning is a complex process composed of other processes (like seeking information, asking questions and engaging in dialogue), so I could usefully explore those more elemental processes as cases, then relate those findings to the whole.

Finally, I’ve neglected nation as a possible case (not appropriate here) and culture. I’m getting better at spotting the sociological red flags and, whilst it might prove an interesting approach – Can teachers on Twitter be considered a culture? – it’s not a direction I’m currently minded to take.

Having considered the people as participants and cases, and also different types of case which might arise within fieldwork, that leaves me with my final method – blog posts. Here I’ll be analysing the posts themselves, but also attempting to engage the authors in a dialogue using the comments feature. Which prompts me to consider where the case is here. A text isn’t mentioned in Miles, Huberman and Saldaña as a potential case, although documentary analysis is of course a common element within ethnographic research. Can a blog post be a case, or should that be reserved for the author? Is it even possible to separate them? Putting on my actor-network theory head for a moment, author and blog post form an association in which they bring each other into being – the post does not exist until the author ‘pens’ it, and the author is simply a person until they enact the process of authorship. They remain interwoven as readers engage with the post. If someone chooses to make a comment, the post cajoles the author into reading the comment and possibly even responding. The actor-network now expands as comment(s) and secondary author have been translated … and the wider network to which the new members belong may draw in others. I guess I’m (once more) leading towards pushing beyond the apparent boundedness of this as a case; a blog post and author (s and comments) are fluid, expand and often link out intertextually.

I began writing this post with a fairly clear idea of what a case was in general terms, and within the context of my study. I now find that by adopting an actor-network sensibility, I’ve blurred the lines and that my ‘cases’ are more likely to be constructs used to begin and conduct the process of analysis. They will expand, extend, flow and adapt, partly as dynamic entities in their own right, but partly through my attempts to better understand them. An observer effect, or actor-network at work?

Miles, M., Huberman, A., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis : A methods sourcebook (Edition 3.. ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Dissonance between teachers’ beliefs and practice … and what that might cause

I was reading an edited collection over the weekend (Teachers Learning: Professional Development and Education, McLaughlin, 2012) and a connected pair of papers particularly struck a chord. Authored by Darlene Opfer and David Pedder, they discuss observations arising from the large-scale State of the Nation review of teacher CPD, and in which they explore teachers’ likelihood of change as a consequence of their orientation to learning. In particular, whether dissonance between teachers’ values and beliefs, and their experience and practice acts to stimulate or repress the need to undertake professional learning. This was precipitated by the observation that, though we know quite well now those features associated with effective professional development, we still find occasions where even when those features are present, some people don’t learn, yet at other times, in absence of those features some people still learn.

An appropriate place to start might be to explain what Opfer and Pedder mean by ‘professional learning orientation’:

We consider ‘orientations’ to be an integrated set of attitudes, beliefs and practices as well as the alignment of oneself and one’s ideas to circumstances and context. That is, learning orientations are heavily context dependent.

Opfer, Pedder & Lavicza (2011)

They go on from there to discuss some of the shortcomings of the different models which have previously been used to conceptualise professional learning. They suggest that instead of the process being linear in the way that some models describe, it is much more complex and that the changes which result may be reinforcing of, related to or reciprocal of one another. In other words, that changes in beliefs or practices occur reciprocally.

The contention is that teachers’ willingness to learn is influenced by dissonance between what they value or believe, and the evidence they encounter from their experience or practice. For example, a teacher observes a colleague practising a particular pedagogical approach successfully, one which is at odds with the way they would usually approach the same circumstances. Does that conflict cause them to reevaluate their beliefs and delve more deeply into the potential that new knowledge might offer, or does the gap seem too large and cause the teacher to reject the new knowledge as being inappropriate to their situation? This is where the teacher’s orientation to learning comes into play.

The authors used a dual-scale survey, where a particular proposition related to practice was provided, then respondees were invited to both state the extent to which they identified that within their own practice, and the extent to which they felt it was important to them (indicative of their values). Four dimensions of teachers’ learning orientations were identified:

  • Internal orientation – “I try out new things based on what I see happening in my classroom”
  • External orientation – “I use what I learn from colleagues and elsewhere to improve my practice”
  • Collaborative orientation – “I learn better when working with other colleagues, observing each other and feeding back.”
  • Research orientation – “I bring what I learn from research reports into my practice”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was more common for people to indicate an ‘internal’ orientation, with ‘external’ orientation fairly close behind. Rather disappointingly, but again unsurprisingly, distinctly less common was ‘research’ orientation.

The research team then undertook a cluster analysis which identified five different groups of teachers, each with similar practice scores, which were termed:

  • Engaged learners – high levels of engagement in all four teacher learning dimensions. (Scores for all factors were above or well above the sample average)
  • Infrequent learners – lowest values and practice scores and highest values-practice gaps for all four learning orientations.
  • Moderate learners – close to the sample average for for research, collaborative and external orientations [and suggestive of being representative on teachers in England], but well below sample average for internal orientation
  • Individual explorers – high practice and values scores for both internal and external orientation. They combine exploratory and reflective approaches to learning.
  • Solitary classroom learners – highest value and practice scores for internal orientation. Their predominant mode of learning tends to be alone with their pupils in the privacy of the classroom.

The findings indicated further that the most significant gaps between practice and beliefs occur for the research and collaborative orientations. Levels of research orientation are particularly low for three of the five clusters and a collaboration orientation tends to be low across for all five clusters. Collaboration and attending to research are activities associated with effective professional learning, so these findings give some cause for concern. Unfortunately the scope of the study did not extend to exploring some of the reasons why the research and collaboration values are lower than one might hope.

As a friend  (with a self-confessed internal orientation) with whom I was discussing this remarked, ‘but how can this be useful?’ As the authors noted, from a school perspective, if you know what the profile of your staff is, in terms of their orientations, you might be better placed to make targeted provision which addresses their needs. As an individual, once you are aware of your orientation(s) and the type of learner you are, then you might consider how or whether there might be value in challenging your predisposition.

Naturally this set me wondering how this might map across onto my own research. I wonder how a teacher claiming Twitter supports their professional learning might be classified? Might they be more likely to have an external orientation, perhaps also more collaborative? Or looking at things the other way around, are ‘engaged learners’ (or individual explorers?) more likely to use Twitter as one of the ways in which they learn? I’m not yet sure how or if this research might be helpful in informing my own study, however, when I return to Research Question 4 on my original proposal which asks ‘What attitudes and dispositions do teachers need, to use Twitter for their professional learning?’ I’m minded to think that learning orientations might provide one perspective. But might I then be losing ontological coherence? Aaargh!

Opfer, D., & Pedder, D. (2013). Teacher change and changing teachers via professional development. In C. McLaughlin (Ed.), Teachers learning: Professional development and education (pp. 93-117) Cambridge University Press.
Opfer, D., & Pedder, D. (2013). Values practice dissonance in teachers’ professional learning orientations. In C. McLaughlin (Ed.), Teachers learning: Professional development and education (pp. 119-142) Cambridge University Press.
Opfer, V. D., Pedder, D. G., & Lavicza, Z. (2011). The role of teachers’ orientation to learning in professional development and change: A national study of teachers in England. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(2), 443-453. Chicago
Storey, A., Banks, F., Cooper, D., Cunningham, P., Ebbutt, D., Fox, A., … & Wolfenden, F. (2008). Schools and continuing professional development (CPD) in England-State of the Nation research project (T34718): Qualitative Research Summary.

Sometimes it’s the simplest questions …

flickr photo by caseorganic https://flickr.com/photos/caseorganic/4079953848 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

In the Q&A following my Confirmation seminar one question floored me, perhaps because of its simplicity.

‘What is your ethnography an ethnography of?’

The answer to me was obvious, but because it was being asked by someone much more experienced and acknowledged than I, I assumed there must be more to the answer than the obvious. But perhaps it was more a case that I hadn’t actually stated that anywhere in my presentation and it simply needed laying out. So here’s my attempt to set that record straight.

It’s worth saying from the outset that the ‘Digital Ethnography’ I described in my presentation ought to be more accurately described as an ethnographic approach. I make the (subtle?) distinction since I will not be immersed in the ‘culture’ under study in the anthropological sense, and though I will be aiming for ‘thick description’ (Geertz, 1973), this may or may not be written as a traditional ethnography. That might be a good place to unpick the origins of the term:

The word ethnography comes from the Greek—ethnos means “folk/the people” and grapho is “to write.” Ethnography is the writing of the people, the writing of society, the writing of culture.
(McGranahan, 2015)

So yes, I’ll be writing about people, at least in some sense. I’ll also be involved over a long period of time, during which I’ll be bringing multiple methods to bear, so my study can be classified as ethnographic on Miller and Slater’s (2000) terms:

Ethnography means a long term involvement amongst people, through a variety of methods, such that any one aspect of their life can be properly contextualized in others.

I haven’t yet however, answered the questioned posed to me in the Q&A. My ethnography is ‘of’ teachers, but more specifically teachers using Twitter, and even more specifically teachers using Twitter for professional learning. So the focus is on the teachers and the practice in which they’re engaged, which happens to be mediated by a particular tool. It’s important to note at this point that I don’t see Twitter as a bounded field site where all the action takes place. Despite the claims that teachers make about how Twitter provides them with professional learning, I feel it is important to be open to possibilities, to allow the field site to unfold and to track the phenomenon as the participants perform it (Burrell, 2009). It is an ethnography of ‘connection and mobility’ (Hine, 2007), rather than of a predefined field site where all the action takes place.

I’ll conclude by stating what my ethnography is not. Despite the connections that participants make and despite the collaborations in which they participate, this is not an ethnography of a culture, community, collective or group. I’d argue that that would presuppose the existence of those structures and I’d find myself looking for evidence of them.  I’m not sure that would sit coherently with an actor-network theory approach, which for me is much more about asking ‘what is happening here?’ Any structures or groupings will become evident as they are performed into being. Perhaps then my ethnography is not of people after all, but the actor-networks or sociomaterial assemblages which are performed into existence through the practice of professional learning … whatever that might be.


[Footnote: I’ve used the word ‘practice’ a number of times here and I’m becoming increasingly aware that some words carry more semantic weight than others. I was tripped up in my talk through using the terms space and place too loosely, and in the past, I’ve let ‘affordance’ slip out. So as a note to myself, at some stage I’m going to need to clarify what I mean by practice.]


Burrell, J. (2009). The field site as a network: A strategy for locating ethnographic research. Field Methods.
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays (Vol. 5019). Basic books.
Hine, C. (2007). Connective Ethnography for the Exploration of e‐Science. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 12(2), 618-634.
McGranahan, C. (2015). What is Ethnography? Teaching ethnographic sensibilities without fieldwork. Teaching Anthropology, 4(1).
Miller, D., & Slater, D. (2000). The Internet: an ethnographic approach. Berg.

Confirmation Q&A – #1

The Confirmation of Candidature process I mentioned in the last post is partly about monitoring your progress and strength of your work, but also about exposing your thoughts to academic scrutiny – another manifestation of the peer review process I guess. After presenting for half an hour, the remainder of the seminar was given over to Q and A and it is through these that you get a better sense of how your work and your ideas hold up. When added to the formal feedback provided  by the rapporteurs, the areas which are robust and those in need of further development become clearer. In this post then, I want to catalogue the feedback people were kind enough to provide through their observations and questions.


As an experiment (there’s nothing like living on the edge!), I gave Google Slides Audience Q&A a try. A URL is posted at the top of your presentation, and when audience members visit it, they have the opportunity to submit questions or make observations. I’m going to open with these first, since there wasn’t really time to address them in the ‘live’ Q&A:

Am wondering about the differences/similarities between professional learning and current discussion of formal/informal/non-formal learning in/out the classroom/school.

This is an area which I addressed later, though all too briefly. The slide where I discussed this in more detail didn’t make the final cut, but is a topic of great interest to me. I also acknowledged the fact that I have perhaps concentrated my reading (and therefore my interpretations?) too heavily o the more formal aspects of professional development … so far!

Do Twitter educators constitute a community?

Now that’s a loaded question if ever there was one. I’d argue it’s a question deserving of an ‘it depends’ reply, because how you define community matters. Is it prescribed by place? Or by interests? Is it somehow people drawn together through shared values, norms and beliefs? Is the community defined by those who are in it, or by those who aren’t … and what are the criteria for being in or out? On top of that, does the notion of being online add an extra layer of complexity? Are virtual communities (Rheingold, 2000) possible, and are they inherently different from offline ones? I suspect I could make both cases; for Twitter being or not being a community, but I suspect that’s not going to be a thread I pull.

You said that ANT is not a theory and one reason it is not a theory is that it does not allow you to explain things? What do you mean by explain here? And if it doesn’t explain – what’s the point?

A good point, although what I think I said was that the proponents of ANT don’t claim it be a theory. I did say however it doesn’t have explanatory power, and by that I mean it doesn’t allow you to take observations (like the behaviour of a gas) and explain it using theoretical concepts (like kinetic theory) (Or using symbolic interactionism to explain people’s behaviour). The point, I think, is that ANT provides descriptive power by asking researchers to attend closely to details that other approaches might miss, or deliberately ignore. They are then able to tell the stories of the messy associations and interactions between social and material actors as their practice unfolds (Law, 2009).

What is it about Twitter specifically?  Or is it about twitter specifically?

If the question is why is it Twitter that I’m studying, rather than other social media, then the answer is that that is where teachers are … mostly. It’s rare for teachers to make claims with professional learning and Facebook (or SnapChat or Pinterest) in the same breath. If the question was more about what is it that attracts teachers to twitter specifically (rather than other social media), then that’s one of the questions I’d like my participants to answer. I did ask that in one particular exchange, but received a rather unsatisfactory answer, which I wasn’t sufficiently skilled to tease out further.

Is ‘the field’ the same thing as the text (the tweets)?  The question arises wrt you taking us to the field and then going back in time? Were you really taking us back in time or back into the archive? To put it another way is the ethnographic gaze on the users or the textual traces they leave?

This is a really helpful question when put alongside one I was asked in the post-presentation questions – ‘what is your ethnography an ethnography of?’ Let me start first though by attempting to address what ‘the field’ means to me. It’s the setting where people are engaged in the practices and activities which are of interest for the study. So for me the field (usually) begins with Twitter – the place where teachers claim their professional learning is (mostly) occurring. In another sense however, that might only be the point of entry and in order to ‘follow the actors’, visits to other online settings are warranted. The tweets are in one sense a manifestation of the activity taking place and having taken place – they provide the visible traces. In another sense however, they are also the mediators and intermediaries which initiate and prolong further associations. I suspect I’m going to need to untangle that much more in the coming months.

Perhaps my comment about being able to go back in time was somewhat flippant (Note to self – be wary of making off-the-cuff comments), but that’s what it feels like, rather than simply accessing an archive. As you roll back a twitterstream, you see the action as it had happened, but more crucially, unlike an archive, you have the capacity to rejoin past action and bring it (pause, whilst you wait for the inevitable…) back to the future. By replying to a tweet made earlier, you breathe life back into that earlier event in a way you would never have the opportunity to do in an offline setting, where physicists have yet to find a way to jump back to earlier in the timeline.

On the final point, I’m not sure that is an either/or answer, so much as a both. Dissociating the user from their textual traces is not so easy when each tweet is accompanied by their avatar, which for me links them intimately with it. I think what I need to do here is to imagine what my answers would be were I conducting a traditional, offline ethnography – a further post devoted solely to this issue perhaps needed?

Interested in the distinction between professional development and ‘personal’ use of twitter by others… can you / do you make this distinction, in the way you did about your own twitter use at the beginning?

I’m going to first make an assumption that ‘personal’ means social, since professional development on Twitter is arguably inseparable from the personal. My answer then becomes yes and no. If someone is using Twitter solely for social use, then they wouldn’t be of interest in the context of the study, since this isn’t about Twitter alone; it’s Twitter and professional learning. However if social interactions are an important element within professional learning, then they are not to be ignored.

What impact is PD from Twitter having in the classroom of those engaged?

I’m not sure I’m in a position to answer this yet; the early data is far from conclusive and classroom impact isn’t strictly the focus of my research questions. However, from the literature (and tentatively from my pilot study), teachers are claiming they find resources, inspiration and new ideas they can use in their classrooms. That they do so is sometimes evidenced by the photos they subsequently post. The ‘impact’ then is arguably that new resources, new practice, new pedagogy have been implemented where they might not have been otherwise. If the impact you’re looking for is change in pupil outcomes however, that is a different matter and one where I (as yet) have no evidence.

The likeminded talking to the likeminded?……Trumpism  for teachers?

Absolutely. The echo chamber effect is a valid point to make and undoubtedly does happen; one of my participants even remarked on it. They were aware that it was prevalent, confessed to being susceptible to its effects, but having that awareness also meant they took steps to mitigate them. Perhaps we should ask though, what is the significance of the echo chamber and is it always a negative thing?

These questions raised through the Slides Audience Q&A tool raised several issues that I need to address more fully in my research. In the next post, I’ll reflect on the questions which were asked verbally.

Law, J. (2009). Actor network theory and material semiotics. The new Blackwell companion to social theory, 3, 141-158.

Rheingold, H. (2000). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. MIT press.

Confirmation of PhD

I’ve been rather quiet on the blog recently; my energies have been focused towards writing the report and designing a seminar to fulfil the requirements for my Confirmation of Candidature (RF2 in local parlance). As I discussed earlier, this is the final hurdle to overcome before you can call yourself a PhD student. Essentially you are providing a panel of assessors with evidence of the progress you have made during your first year, and that your study is of a standard likely to lead to you being able to fulfil the requirements of a PhD.


I submitted the report just over a week ago and delivered my oral presentation yesterday (the slides are above, though may not mean a great deal without the commentary). Rather than the small panel that would usually be involved (your supervisory team plus two ‘rapporteurs’ – academics not associated with your research, but familiar with the field and PhD supervision), I agreed to present a seminar. As it happened, this was the first on this year’s programme of the Institute’s Research Seminar series, so rather than half a dozen people, there were over thirty – academics, PhD students and Masters students. I’m sure some would have found this intimidating, but for me, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Rather than speaking to a small, incredibly intelligent and necessarily critical panel, it felt more like talking to a class and helped me to relax. The audience was not solely those obliged to be there as part of their duties, but was mostly people who were sufficiently motivated  to give up some time to come and listen to me talk, based on the title and abstract I had provided.


I freely admit that I spent hours preparing the session, drafting, redrafting and editing, but also in rehearsing the presentation. I find that rehearsing what I want to say mentally isn’t adequate and as soon as I try and speak to my slides, things fall apart. By delivering the presentation to no-one in particular and speaking out loud, I find that after five or six attempts, I’ve usually got to the point where I think it flows well enough. It also provides a sense of timing and meant I that over those repetitions, I was able to trim 15 minutes of ‘fat’ out and get the presentation down to the 30 minutes it needed to be, to leave enough time for 30 minutes Q&A. I never read from a script and use brief notes to remind me of the areas I want to cover, though I go in with the attention of not referring to them – hence the rehearsals. Whenever I can, I always try to make one of those rehearsals in the room where the real event will be taking place. That helps avoid simple stumbling blocks you might not otherwise be aware of; like the software (and add-ons) you need being on the computer driving the projector; knowing where you will stand to be able to meet your audience eye-to-eye and still be able to control the computer; whether your visuals display correctly on the screen.

I wonder why I feel the need to rehearse presentations like this, in a way I never do when I’m teaching? A couple of hours before the seminar, I had my first teaching session with a second year undergraduate group. Having planned my lesson, I felt no need to rehearse, knowing that when the session opened, I would know what to say. Is that because I was in a domain I’ve become familiar with over decades – physics teaching? My research seminar is in an area which, by its very nature, I’m only just becoming acquainted with … but then even when I was just starting out teaching, I don’t remember ever working to a script. Perhaps then it’s a power imbalance? With a group of undergraduates, I’m (possibly) the more knowledgeable and experienced one. When presenting to an academic audience, that balance shifts in the other direction entirely. I think this becomes most apparent during the Q and A, where I’m much less settled. Intellectually demanding questions (as indeed they should be) prove incredibly taxing for my small brain; I need time to process and formulate a response … much more time than in a Q and A. I wonder what the implications that has for my viva?

The outcomes from the seminar were doubly rewarding. The seminar was well received by the audience which came along to learn about the topic, but most importantly, the rapporteurs’ comments during the subsequent feedback session were very positive. Their comments helpfully highlighted areas I might need to tighten or reflect on more deeply – suggestions for consideration, rather than indicative of the need for an overhaul. I hope this is indicative of a successful Confirmation, but need to await the approval of the Faculty Panel and endorsement of the University Research Degrees Sub-Committee. We shall see.

Pilot error?

flickr photo by Keenan Pepper https://flickr.com/photos/keenanpepper/543546959 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

For my Confirmation of Candidature Report, I’m currently drawing together the findings from, and reflections on, my pilot study. In a meeting a few weeks ago, I’d mentioned to my supervisor that I’d analysed the findings from three of the methods, as assessments for the Research Masters modules I’d been studying. When I mentioned the remaining three methods, he suggested that full analyses for them might not be a good use of my time. That bothered me at the time, because I’d begun a preliminary analysis and had initially coded the data in NVivo. Now that I think more about things however, as usual, he was probably right. I have indeed taken things as far as I need to.

A pilot study can serve a number of purposes, depending on your methodology. In a natural science or clinical study, you might want to test the apparatus you intend to use or the logistics surrounding the processes. In the social sciences, you might be wanting to design your research protocol or verify that it was realistic, test the adequacy of your research instruments or establish whether your recruitment strategies are appropriate (van Teijlingen and Hundley, 2001).

Although a pilot study can be used to collect preliminary data, consideration has to be given to how they will be used. The methods I used to collect data clearly weren’t preceded by a preliminary study to establish that they were appropriate. This means those data may be at best unhelpful, or at worst, misleading. What I wanted from my pilot study was to reveal issues and barriers related to recruiting potential participants, explore the use of oneself as a researcher in a culturally appropriate way and test and modify modifying interview questions (Kim, 2011).

Let’s now look at the methods in turn:

  1. Interviews – the in-depth, semi-structured interview went as planned, and provided indicators regarding which question areas were more informative than others (for this particular interviewee). It revealed a few omissions I will need to remedy when I move forward, and also that my interview protocol might need adjusting from one interview to the next. This is one amongst many reasons for transcribing and beginning the analysis immediately following each interview, rather than waiting until all interviews are complete.

I found the blog interview much harder to gauge. Perhaps this was due to having little access to how questions were affecting the participant – were they confused, irritated, excited by my questions? Even though the s-s interview was conducted by phone, being able to hear a voice, in real time, allowed a better sense of the participant’s reaction to the questions. On the other hand, the blog commenting format allowed the participant to respond at their leisure, and afforded them greater thinking time; time to ruminate and perhaps craft a response which reflects a particular discourse, rather than your own initial reaction, some might argue. Nevertheless, it doubtless takes longer to type out a response, than to do so verbally. As a researcher however, you also have access to the post itself as data in its own right. The post can also serve as stimulus material for interview questions, in much the same way a participant research diary might do.

  1. Participant observation – this really stretched me somewhat, and I’m not at all convinced the method I chose to conduct the observations worked well at all. Such is the value of a pilot study! Although my field notes produced some data I could doubtless have used, what it achieved much more significantly was to alert me that I needed better access to richer data; that the fieldwork will need to take place over a longer period than just 3x one hour slots; to use a variety of routes into ‘the field’ and to try to visually capture some sense of where I’ve roamed – a map to give an overview, rather than reams (kBs?) of fieldnotes alone.

I was also aware that this wasn’t precisely participant observation. Although I was active in the way I normally would be in Twitter, I didn’t ask the searching questions that an ethnography in a community might do … but I’m OK with that for the pilot. Ethnographers do need time to orient themselves before leaping in. In the full study however, I will need to remedy that and attempt to engage people who are tweeting things pertinent to the study. (I also need to ensure that I do not lose the context of those encounters)

  1. Focus group – my intention had been to seek permission to conduct a hashtag chat as a focus group, but with ethical approval only coming through as the summer holidays (northern hemisphere) just started, that proved problematic. I did try a couple of moderators of chats in the southern hemisphere, but received no response to my contact (perhaps they were on midyear break too?). However, in the course of casting around for appropriate chats (there are a lot to choose from!), I came across a recent chat which discussed the areas I would have wished to cover. Although I might have used slightly different phrasing, and I didn’t get the chance to follow up any responses that participating in a live chat would do (wondering whether it’s appropriate/meaningful to reply to a tweet that was made several months ago?!), at least there was a corpus of tweets captured in Storify that was available for me to analyse. There are clearly ethical issues of privacy, consent and the expectations of the uses to which one’s tweets might be put here. I discussed these at greater length in a series of posts, prior to making my ethics submission.

There were technical challenges to overcome to capture the tweets from Storify in a form which lent itself to analysis – another tick in the benefits column for conducting a pilot study. However, having seen the responses in the chat I captured, I’m now less convinced that a hashtag focus group would be able to produce sufficiently rich data, so this may be a method I drop. If however, during the course of my fieldwork, I come across chats which are discussing the areas of professional learning, then I’ll drop by and attempt to participate.

  1. Focused observation – this involved collecting the tweets of a single person (Twitter advocate), with their consent, for a fixed period of time; one month in this case. Given that this was a pilot study, I could only conduct a preliminary analysis to establish the feasibility of the technique. Technically, there were no problems, but I’m not sure the data revealed anything more than earlier studies have done, either the one which used a similar technique (King, 2011), or others which used similar corpora of tweets. I’m starting to wonder whether ripping the data from its natural setting loses much of the context and whether this technique answers the questions I want to ask. If I want to confirm that teachers share things, that they communicate or collaborate, that they reflect on their practice and so forth, then I could probably do that, but all that’s been done in earlier studies. I’m starting to think that the emphasis of my study is shifting subtly away from simply providing evidence that teachers are learning professionally … but I’ve much more thinking to do on that yet.

Overall then, what have I learned from the pilot?

flickr photo by popular17 https://flickr.com/photos/65498285@N08/6040732669 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I think I learned that recruitment of participants may not be as simple as chucking a shoutout on Twitter and waiting for the responses to flood in. Of the dozen or so blog posts discussing professional learning I approached, only one followed through with a full set of responses. Over half never even replied, though I appreciate there might have been mitigating circumstances on some. This has encouraged me to think far more carefully about my participant recruitment strategy. Bound up in that is also my choice of sample; where initially I thought they would be self-selecting from the population of educators to which I have access through Twitter, I now feel I might need to be more direct in my approach and as a consequence establish a set of criteria for choosing potential participants. Should I cover different phases of education, teachers from different disciplines, different geographic regions and educational systems, and perhaps even some from outside the classroom, but who have a particular interest in Twitter for professional development?

For the interview I naturally developed an interview protocol, but prepared nothing for the other methods; they were after all more open, but I wondered whether it might be wise to have a set of pre-prepared generic questions that I would like answering, even though I might not use them without adapting them in each set of circumstances. It might also help me see which aspects of my study are being answering in most detail and where the gaps are.

Although I didn’t perform a full analysis, I was grateful for the opportunity to test out NVivo and see what might be the best strategy for bringing together the different forms of data from different sources. This also encouraged me to think more carefully about my coding strategy and how I build that into my NVivo project.

It was only when I began to draw things together however, that the sociomaterial aspects of my research began to become apparent. Not those in the fieldwork and findings, but in my activities as a researcher. Choosing the twitter.com interface as my window on my field brought me to particular elements of data and led me to behave in a particular way in making field notes. I was also ‘tied’ to the desktop computer (and the desk!) in a way I wouldn’t normally be; how did those actors influence my actions? Reading back through my methodological comments, my frustration with the experience is clear, and how different this was from my usual, but less formal, wanderings in the field. This highlighted for me an area I’d not really considered – the emotional response to events as they unfold, and how that response might influence subsequent events or behaviour. After three fieldwork sessions, and trying a couple of tweaks to make them more fruitful, I later recognised that the interface did not suit my needs and as a result will use Tweetdeck for this kind of fieldwork – a different interface, with different materiality which will doubtless affect me (and the results?) in a different way. I also decided on a completely different method (more about that in a future post) which might provide insights on a part of the field, hidden from the ethnographer in these circumstances.


Kim, Y. (2011). The pilot study in qualitative inquiry identifying issues and learning lessons for culturally competent research. Qualitative Social Work, 10(2), 190-206.

King, K. P. (2011). Transformative Professional Development in Unlikely Places: Twitter as a Virtual Learning Community.

Van Teijlingen, E., & Hundley, V. (2001). The importance of pilot studies. Social Research Update. Issue 35.

But it’s only 300 words”

flickr photo by Chrispl57 https://flickr.com/photos/chrispl57/5321817498 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’ve spent a substantial part of this weekend writing less than three hundred words … and I’m still not happy.

In addition to the report I need to produce as part of the Confirmation of Candidature process (more to come on that!), I also need to give a verbal report. Usually this is in the form of a presentation to a small group composed of your supervisory team and a rapporteur, followed by a Q&A. A mini viva in effect. My supervisor asked if I’d prefer to do a seminar; much the same format, but invitations would be extended more widely within the Institute. That seemed like a good opportunity to speak to a wider audience, perhaps people I’ve not met before, and possibly attract a wider range of feedback. So I went for it.

We’ve now reached the point however where that seminar needs to be publicised, so I need to produce an abstract, which is where this weekend’s three hundred words came in. This is my first abstract proper and I think it’s safe to say I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much over so few words … even when writing job applications. In order to plan and develop what I needed to say, I followed the advice of my supervisor and turned to the abstract writing section in Rowena Murray’s ‘Writing for Academic Journals’. She points in particular to Brown’s (1994) advice consisting of an eight questions framework. I’d come across these before at some other time and saved them for future use, so it looked like that future had arrived. Although Brown suggests that the task should be completed in 30 minutes, it took me twice that … at the first pass. I then needed to take that and redraft it into a format suitable for an abstract, which is where the ‘fun’ really started. Struggling to find my mojo, I turned to more experienced people than me; those whose writings had already passed scrutiny and been published. I must have looked at fifty or sixty abstracts in academic papers and tried to pull out some themes and similarities. To me, the best ones seemed to be the simplest – here’s the problem, this is my context, here’s what I did, here’s what I found and these are the implications. Simple.

I tried to take what I’d learned from the literature and apply it to my answers to Brown’s questions, but really struggled to get a writing flow. This then turned into worrying about whether I was struggling to articulate what I’d learned because what I was researching had little value or meaning. Or maybe it had, but I wasn’t good enough to be able to express it (now I see why they say Imposter Syndrome never really goes away!). So I found myself agonizing not just over sentences, but phrases and even words!

Well I said I would have it ready by Monday (tomorrow), so despite my reservations over the standard, I also believe that it’s important to ‘ship.’  Whatever the shortcomings, if it stays in my digital folder, it achieves nothing, so getting something out there is better than nothing. Here it is:

What should we make of teachers’ claims that Twitter provides them with powerful professional learning?

Social media have become a significant feature of many people’s everyday lives; teachers are no exception and some are using those media in educational contexts.This preliminary study explores the ways in which teachers have appropriated Twitter to support their professional learning. What are they doing, why are they doing it and what are they getting out of it?

With much of the activity taking place online, a digital ethnographic approach was chosen; this incorporated a semi-structured interview, participant observation within Twitter, and analysis of blog posts and tweets. Consistent with previous research, the findings confirm that teachers share (resources and ideas), discuss educational issues and their practice, develop and maintain connections with one another which combats isolation, and grow professionally. In addition, the study also indicates they celebrate the work of their peers, cultivate offline contact and activity, appear to have a predominantly positive outlook and are emotionally invested in their experience. Adopting a sociomaterial sensibility yielded insights into the enabling technology. The Internet, wireless access, portable devices and the applications which run on them were working together to enable teachers to personalise their professional learning. The previously silent materiality now ‘pings’ for attention. In association with technology, some teachers have become more self-motivated, self-organised  and able to exploit informal opportunities for their professional learning.

Schools may need to consider how to acknowledge, accommodate and nurture the learning some colleagues are undertaking of their own volition. Those experiences may represent an untapped resource which could be harnessed for the wider good of school communities.

Despite the fact that I’m posting this ‘in public,’ I know the reality is that few people will read it. I think I’m particularly concerned about it being ‘right’ because this will  be the first thing I am putting out to a local academic audience. It’s important for me to have the respect of my peers, so if my abstract is naive and poorly constructed, how will they view me, let alone whether they’ll feel sufficiently interested to give up an hour and come to listen to me talk. What I perhaps ought to remind myself is that I’m still only in my first year and have much to learn … but unfortunately that’s not making me feel any less queasy!

If you have any advice to offer on how I might improve my abstract, do please add a comment. Thanks.


Brown, R. (1994). Write right first time. Literati Newsline, 95, 1-8.

Tracing the field

In the preceding post, I was casting around for a tool to trace and display the paths I take through ‘the field.’ My search came up short and it became apparent I would need one tool to record the places travelled and another to display those traversals. In my search for contenders, and looking for mind/concept mapping tools, I came across Draw.io. Although there are other similar more fully featured applications, they are often desktop-located or limited (in the free versions). Draw.io seemed to suit my needs, so I thought I’d give it a try with a few of short visits to the field to see how it functioned in context.

The field configures itself in different ways depending on the approach you take, so I elected to use a couple of Twitter searches as springboards, then to simply follow the twitterstream I normally see, but using the TweetDeck application. In the latter case, I also hoped to see whether the different material environment of TweetDeck (compared with the standard twitter.com interface) might influence what I see, or how I see it. With raw twitter.com, tweets entering the timeline are put in a queue and await your click to release them. As I found during one of my pilot studies, if it’s taken a few minutes to read and process a few tweets, there can be a substantial number in the awaiting queue. These all then drop in on your click and processing this next batch can be a challenge. In contrast, TweetDeck is a more dynamic interface, allowing tweets to appear in your stream at the moment they have been posted. The effects are twofold: firstly it makes the task of processing them at least appear to be more manageable; and secondly you get a better sense of the flow of the ‘stream. TweetDeck also has the additional feature of allowing you to view filtered versions of the ’stream in different columns – these could be your notifications, a person’s posts, general hashtags or other search terms.


On three separate occasions then, I spent about an hour ‘in the field’ and followed interesting threads by recording them on a Draw.io canvas. The features of Draw that proved useful in representing those threads included symbols to indicate the nature of the point of interest (tweet, blog post, website, article etc); being able to add the url of each point to the symbol as a hyperlink, so I or anyone else could revisit in the future; and being able to add a ‘tooltip’ with either the tweet or a brief summary, to give a flavour of the content. Importantly, each of the points of interest on the growing map could be joined by a connector – a dynamic line which moves with the graphic if it is moved. This makes the process of  editing and appending to the map so much easier. The following image will give you an idea of what the map looks like, though doesn’t provide the interactivity. However, Draw.io also also allows files to be downloaded as html files, so I’ve posted the full-fat, interactive version here.

flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/28898253850 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

If you hover over the interactive online version, you can follow the links to the places I visited. In addition, you should also see (depending on your browser) a menu at the top which, for simplicity, allows the three different visits to be shown individually. You can also zoom in and out should you need to. (You might find the visualisation of the connections in a #chat in the bottom right quite interesting).


The perennial question we then always pose is ‘so what?’ We need to first bear in mind that these were only relatively brief sessions, simply as a proof of concept. However we are immediately aware of the visual element the graphic brings and the capability to quickly see the complexity of the paths traced and what led to what. We can also compare the depth of exploration with the breadth – was this a single topic being pursued relentlessly, or a skim to capture the zeitgeist? Were the stopping-off points similar or varied? How is the materiality expressing itself? These are some of the elements the map is telling me, but how does it stand as an artefact to represent my journeys to someone else?

I found myself inexorably drawn to attempting to use the map as an analytical tool to assist in interpreting the data. But is this fair? That wasn’t the purpose behind its creation, and anyway the points of interest weren’t chosen with analysis in mind. What that did make me wonder though was how useful a similar map might be of the activity of a potential participant. As a researcher, the process of analysis and interpretation might then take on much greater significance. The map you see above is unique; no-one else would have produced an identical one and at a different time, the map I would have produced would have been completely different. It transpires that this is a research method that is already, if not widely, used (Emmel, 2008) – maps are drawn by participants, usually during an interview where they narrate the map as they produce it. To do this in my online context would need some adjustment I feel, and because potential participants would be remote, there would be greater technical overhead for them. Since they would also be flicking back and forth (as I did) between different spaces, might that interfere with the paths they would usually have taken as part of their natural activity? So perhaps I inadvertently stumbled on an appropriate technique for capturing participants’ journeys when I discussed the audio method in an earlier post? Maybe I can learn something from the literature on Participatory mapping that will help me firm up my technique. I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list.


Emmel, N. (2008). Participatory mapping: An innovative sociological method.

Is there a digital ethnographer’s Strava?

flickr photo by splorp https://flickr.com/photos/splorp/357376583 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

As I was rewriting my ethics submission and reviewing the methods I had used in my pilot study, I got to thinking about being ‘in the field.’ When I undertook more formal participant observation and made meticulous field notes, I wondered how they might be viewed as data. I also found myself wondering about the process itself and how effective it was in providing me with something from which to make meaning. I was convinced that I wasn’t following the actor-network theory exhortation to ‘follow the actors.’ With all that in mind, I felt I needed a better way to record, trace out and make visible the paths I was taking whilst in the field. Who or what were the actors I was following? Where did they go and what did they do?

Although the starting point for most of these expeditions was Twitter, wanting to record where things flowed from there essentially meant capturing the sequence of hyperlinks or prompts … not unlike the instructions a sat nav system provides. It was important too to record the forms and natures of those links and details about the stopover places. Would there be destinations or endpoints in the paths traced, or would they simply be the places where particular expeditions came to a close? If this just meant capturing hyperlinks, then a bookmarking tool of some sort might do the job … and there are plenty of options from which to choose there. What I also wanted however, was to:

  1. capture some sense of what was at each location; a snapshot if you will
  2. capture the whole set of interlinks, and be able to represent it as a pathway
  3. capture metadata which would later allow me to search, sort and filter the results
  4. present the results visually, allowing an over view and to be able to drill down to the detail

Most of the contenders (like Diigo, Delicious, Symbaloo, ScoopIt, NetVibes) do one, two, or perhaps even three of these, but since none do them all, I was then faced with using two tools in concert to fulfil my needs list. That’s when things got complicated.

The really tricky bit is when it comes to visually representing the paths taken; this began to lead towards a concept or mind mapping tool of some sort. Again there is a whole raft from which to choose, but the crucial thing is I didn’t want to have to build the map from scratch; much better, quicker and more accurate to have the process automated – clicking on a button should capture all the aforementioned data and add a node to the map at the right point, but also link it with the node from which the jump was initiated. Perhaps there were some mindmapping tools which in addition to visualising the data, could also capture the extra information I wanted? Errr … no. Although there are plenty to choose from, when you begin to dig down into their features, the field soon gets whittled down. Crucially, the missing link is in fact … the missing link i.e. that getting the data from a bookmarking application directly and dynamically into a mind map is distinctly non-trivial. One possibility, which only a scant few feature, is to import an xml file. Plenty export xml, but few offer the import option.

Whilst I was casting around for options, I came across a potential contender. The mind mapping application VUE (created by Tufts University) could be linked directly with Zotero, through the Zotero FireFox plugin. The good news is that I have the latter enabled already and am familiar with it; the less good news was twofold: firstly that VUE is an offline application you need to download and install, which for a bunch of reasons is less than optimal); and secondly that Zotero is, strictly speaking, a bibliographic application for managing references, rather than for bookmarking. Short on options, I decided to give it a shot. Whilst working at uni, and therefore within an enterprise environment with things generally locked down, it wasn’t going to happen, but at home I made much better progress. Download and install VUE – check. Create a new Zotero account so I don’t foul up my current references – check. Capture some typical data to make sure Zotero will work to manage bookmarks – check (even tweets can be captured!). Set up the link from my Zotero library into VUE – computer says no!

Unfortunately the straightforward instructions in this video were made before the architecture of FireFox changed, rendering the plugin which performs the setup redundant. As an open source project, VUE (FireFox and Zotero) relies on volunteers to update applications to accommodate changes like this and I guess the will, the expertise or the inclination was no longer there.

At that point, all was not entirely lost however. VUE can be configured for incoming RSS feeds to generate and update mind maps., or import a csv file, both of which Zotero can provide. I found that both work, although less than optimally. The RSS feed brings all the data in, which will update as the data in Zotero updates. Unfortunately some of the field metadata seems to get lost on the way, so turning the feed into a map doesn’t work quite so well, especially where the interconnections between nodes are concerned. The csv import is much better in this respect, though of course, it won’t update automatically. And in fact neither method pulls across the ‘relations’ created between the sources in Zotero.

It appears then that there is no ideal solution and that if I want a visual representation of my activity in the field, then I’m going to need to generate it manually, from data I’ve captured and stored in Zotero. When recounting this tale to Chris, a fellow student, his first observation was ‘Well what have you learned?’ There’s no doubt I’m now more familiar with VUE and can see how powerful it can potentially be in helping to manipulate, filter, sort and visualise data. The process you go through in doing that becomes an integral part of your analysis. Whilst the technical issues mean I probably won’t use VUE, that principle of analysing and interpreting as a function of constructing a visualisation seems to have some merit. It’s that I think I shall take forward as I attempt to map the field.

Green light

flickr photo by My Buffo https://flickr.com/photos/mybuffo/311483225 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

If potential research participants gave their permission, what would be the implications of posting interview recordings online? That was essentially the theme of the preceding post. I wasn’t so sure of which way to jump, but the encouraging and supportive comments I received there and on Twitter prompted me to take the trickier route of writing a new ethics submission. In addition to rewriting the University pro forma submission document, I had to rewrite a couple of consent forms and their associated participant information sheets, in order to accommodate the possibility that participants might give their permission to ‘publish’ their recording. I also had to write a consent form and participant information sheet for an new, additional method I want to use. I then had to amend and extend the matrix I composed which summarises the ethical issues for each method. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, I felt it was important to attempt to justify the rather radical notion that interview recordings might be posted as podcasts. Here then is that supplement to my ethics submission:

Why am I proposing a change?

The usual position is that interview participants are afforded confidentiality and anonymity – that the data they provide will only be available to those specified, and that all features which might identify them will be removed before making the findings more public. In the interests of speed and given the small scale of my pilot study, I adopted the aforementioned approach. As I move forward into my main study, I would like to propose a different stance, building on those issues discussed in Appendix 02(?): Anonymity. This also contributes to the University’s and wider Open Access policies.

The arena from which potential participants will be drawn is highly participatory, where members generally adopt a performative approach. The norms of the space include a sense of sharing what you have and what you know; where people acknowledge and give credit to those who have supported or helped them. I’d like to suggest that this participatory space invites a more participatory research approach. As Grinyer (2002) noted, researchers have to balance the need to protect participants from harm by hiding their identity, whilst preventing loss of ownership ‘on an individual basis with each respondent.’ This is manageable, provided the sample size is small, as it will be in this study,

It’s perhaps helpful at this stage to reiterate that the topic of this research is not sensitive, participants are not vulnerable and the data they share will not be ‘sensitive personal data.’

How this differs from the interviews in the pilot study

In the pilot study, the participant was assured confidentiality, anonymity, that the transcript would be deleted at the end of the study and that the findings would not be reported (only used to inform the next stage of research).

For the main study I propose a shift in emphasis from ‘human subject to ‘authored text.’ This would be achieved by allowing interviews to contribute to the participatory agenda, by releasing the interview recordings as podcasts (streamed online audio files), if participants give their permission. Links to the audio files would be embedded in a web page associated with the research project, the interviewees would be named and their contribution credited. This represents an attempt to move beyond the notion that participants are merely sources of data to be mined. In Corden and Sainsbury’s (2006) study, participants responded positively when offered a copy of the audio recording of their interviews and were given the option to amend their responses, though few chose to exercise that control.

This is a very different approach to that found in most studies, but is not without precedent. The ‘edonis’ project, part of an EdD study by David Noble, included a series of interviews with teachers on the theme of leadership in educational technologies. The interviews from those people who gave permission were posted online. It could be argued that this proposed approach is only one step further on from conducting ‘interviews’ in visible online public spaces like blog comments, forums, and some chat rooms.

Risks and benefits

Once participants’ identities are no longer disguised, both potential risks and benefits become more significant. Table xxx summarises possible risks and benefits:

Risks Benefits
Loss of privacy which could lead to exposure to ridicule and/or embarrassment. Direct: Increase in participant agency, moving beyond the notion of participants merely as sources from which researchers abstract data.
Change in future circumstances which renders what participants originally said to be viewed in a less-positive light. Direct: Makes provision for participants to amend or extend what they said in the original interview.
  Indirect: Increasing the awareness and understanding of the wider community of issues associated with professional learning and social media.
Increased attention through increased exposure.
This could be perceived as either a risk or benefit and would depend on the participant’s preferred online behaviours.


As with conventional approaches, in order to make an informed decision, potential participants would need to be made fully aware of:

  1. Purpose and potential consequences of the research
  2. Possible benefits and harms
  3. The right to withdraw
  4. Anticipated uses of the data
  5. How the data will be stored and secured and preserved for the longer term.

With items 4 and 5 the circumstances will be different, depending on whether participants accede to their interview recording being released. This distinction needs to be made absolutely clear at the outset so participants are able to decide whether to be involved at all and whether they want to take that additional step.

At the start of an interview, participants who agreed to allowing the interviews to be posted would be reminded of the above once more and their verbal consent captured in the recording. In the debriefing after the interview is complete, participants will be asked whether they wish to change their minds, and reminded that should they do so subsequently, how they can make those views known.


As in the pilot study, potential participants would be provided with a participant information sheet, but one extended to include the additional considerations (see Appendix xxx). The form through which they provide their consent will also be amended to offer options for the different levels of involvement (see Appendix xxx) and whether they are prepared to allow the recording to be released under a Creative Commons license (see next section)

Given the small number of interviewees (<5), coping with different levels of involvement should be a manageable process.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

These issues will also need to be made clear to participants through the participant information sheet.

…for data collected via interviews that are recorded and/or transcribed, the researcher holds the copyright of recordings and transcripts but each speaker is an author of his or her recorded words in the interview.

(Padfield, 2010).

Rather than seeking formal copyright release from participants, it is proposed that the interview recordings will be released with Creative Commons, Attribution – NonCommercial – ShareAlike 4.0 International licensing. Participants will be asked at the point of providing consent to state whether they agree to that release; if they don’t, then the recording would not be released. Once more, potential participants are likely to be familiar with the principles of CC licensing; many of them release their own materials under these licenses.

Eynden et al (2014) recommend the use of Open Data Commons licenses for data released through research, however this licensing system is more appropriate where data is stored in databases and the database itself need licensing separately from the content. CC licensing was chosen since the content will not be wrapped within a database; at least not one which the public will be able to manipulate (copy, remix, redistribute).


Corden, A., & Sainsbury, R. (2006). Using verbatim quotations in reporting qualitative social research: Researchers’ views University of York York, UK.
Eynden, V. v. d., Corti, L., Woollard, M., Bishop, L., & Horton, L.,. (2014). Managing and sharing research data : A guide to good practice SAGE Publications Ltd.
Grinyer, A. (2002). The anonymity of research participants: Assumptions, ethics and practicalities. Social Research Update, 36(1), 4
Padfield, T. (2010). Copyright for archivists and records managers (4th ed.). London: Facet Publishing.


flickr photo by mherzber https://flickr.com/photos/mherzber/500917537 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I’m delighted to be able to report that my revised submission has passed the ethics review process. It’s highly unusual for interviews to be allowed to be published in this way; standard practice is to afford anonymity to interviewees. Perhaps it’s indicative of the need to make our research more open, or the more performative behaviours of potential participants … or perhaps a bit of both. Whatever the case, I’m chuffed to bits, as we’d say up here in the ‘North.’ Now all that remains is to find participants sufficiently confident and generous enough to give it a shot. Know anyone …?