Discourse … or datcourse?

flickr photo by ianguest https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/22211177233 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

My brain’s still spinning from Friday’s full day session; the first of three which comprise the Research Masters Module on Discourse and Linguistic Theory and Analysis. I once more find myself on new ground, both methodologically and conceptually. Arising from linguistics, DA has developed into a series of interdisciplinary approaches, drawing from sociological and psychological domains. Although discourse analysis may involve the analysis of texts (and that term can be rather broadly applied!), it is not merely that and encompasses the ways in which those texts are socially constructed. Although I’ve flirted with DA previously, I feel we’re about to become somewhat better acquainted.

Discourse analysis involves a bewildering array of approaches arising from a variety of paradigms including realism, positivism, marxism and post-structuralism. Some of the approaches like content analysis, critical discourse analysis and conversational analysis I’ve at least heard of, but others like Foucauldian analysis, narrative analysis and interpretative repertoires are completely new to me. Some of these will be introduced over the next two sessions, but yesterday afternoon centred on semiotics. But with only a month or so to have completed and submitted an assessment, I need to get cracking. Ever the pragmatist then, I need to find some resources which will give me an overview of the area, sufficient to allow me to choose an approach which will be appropriate for my chosen text. But what text? We were asked to start thinking about that immediately, with a view to submitting a project outline for approval.

To make the most efficient us of the opportunity this module presents for informing my research, I need to choose a text wisely. There’s little point in this being merely a supplementary exercise; instead I need a text which when analysed will contribute to my thinking, either conceptually or methodologically. Whilst I could analyse the interview transcript I produced for the QR1 module, or the field notes I made for QR2, since I’ve already analysed them, albeit it in a different way, it would be repetitious to return to them. Instead, it would make more sense to choose a different form of text, but one that I was considering as part of my study anyway. That way I’ll know a little more about another strand of my research, plus I’ll have learned an alternative methodological approach.

Recently I came across a tweet linked to a post entitled ‘So you have a Twitter account. Now what?’ With my digital ethnographer’s head on, this struck me as an example of a genre of posts and documents we might put under the heading ‘How to’s.’ There are numerous examples out there, but I’m interested to know what part, if any, they play in teacher professional learning. I’m not sure yet, but perhaps these texts might benefit from an ‘interpretative repertoires’ approach. They also exists in different forms – blog posts, presentations, videos, more ‘traditional documents,’ infographics, so maybe a comparison might be appropriate? This might take me into the realm of multimodal analysis.

The ‘medium is the message’ some say, so my next option was to think about tweets themselves. Although that could be on any topic, sticking to the theme of professional learning seems to make more sense. The analysis could be at the micro-level of individual tweets, the way they’re structured and how they achieve their intended purpose … or indeed what is that purpose? I’ve been favouriting/liking tweets that do that for some while now, so have plenty to go at. (Content analysis?) Alternately I could take a wider or meso-level view and perhaps apply a conversational analysis to a hashtag chat on the topic of professional learning; there are plenty of archived chats out there.

flickr photo by metaroll https://flickr.com/photos/metaroll/6952245920 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Another method I’ve been considering for analysing #chats is social network analysis, in which we explore the web of interconnections between the people participating. Perhaps a multimodal analysis could examine that analysis on a meta level of sorts. There are the original tweets as found in the twitterstream, the corpus of tweets captured by software such as NodeXL, in spreadsheet form; and the sociogram(s) produced. Might a multimodal analysis have something to say about the method?

The final thought I had was still on the topic of #chats, but this time a comparative analysis of the different windows different participants use. You can follow a #chat using the browser-based Twitter interface on a desktop computer. Perhaps you prefer to use a smartphone and app to follow the conversation. Many people prefer to use Twitter clients like Tweetdeck, Twitterfall or Hootsuite. Whilst they may support ‘live’ participation, the chats are often archived for those unable to be present live, or perhaps for future reference(?). This is often done with Storify to preserve the sense of flow, but some people also summarise chats in blog posts. Do they all bring different levels of understanding, different forms of participation or different forms of representation?

I’m not yet clear which way to go and before discussing this with my course tutors, might be best served by revisiting my research questions and see beyond this assessment as solely a methodological exercise, and one which should make a wider contribution to my overall research.

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