Thesis Abstract

Thesis Streetmap
“Visual ToC” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license [click image for a larger version]
Before I write further posts as part of my viva preparation, I thought it might be helpful to provide a quick overview of what my thesis involves. The sensible way to do that – and the one requiring least effort – is by sharing the …


“BEST. PD. EVER!” Some teachers make bold claims for the way that Twitter supports their professional development, yet research into this area is rather limited. This study sought to gain a better understanding of the practices involved and the part that Twitter plays. It uses a sociomaterial sensibility informed by actor-network theory (ANT) to unravel the complex webs of relations which form, break apart and reform when knowledge practices are enacted in the mediated arena of Twitter.

To explore this rich but messy environment, I evoke the spirit of the Parisian flâneur to develop an ethnographic approach I refer to as ‘flânography.’ Characterised by purposeful wandering, the approach coupled participant observation and interviews, with emerging methods involving a bot and a ‘walkie-talkie’ app. Adopting the sensibility of the flâneur consistently through data collection, analysis and presentation resulted in traversals which render pathways of experience. This led to me presenting the findings in three ‘Gatherings’ (Law, 2004a), each taking a tweet or other data snippet as a point of departure. Through the Gatherings I present the activities of both human and nonhuman participants, establish how they came together (or didn’t) and gain a better appreciation of the outcomes of those interrelationships.

In reading across the Gatherings, two interlocking dimensions emerged through which teachers’ learning practices on Twitter might be conceptualised. ‘Compound learning’ describes how practices can be understood through three meanings of compound: framed chemically (through formation of bonds and associations), financially (like interest which grows cumulatively) and as a mixture (an assortment of actors engaged in activities). The second dimension describes how compound learning can be enacted across three ‘scales:’ acts, activities and practices.

By extending previous research, this thesis contributes a richer and deeper understanding of what ‘Twitter Professional Development’ involves, thereby helping to legitimise it within broader professional development discourse. Adding to the current literature on teachers’ professional learning, this thesis reveals how significant personal-isation is in two senses: that teachers can exercise choice in what, when and how they learn; and secondly, the importance of being able to forge socio-professional connections with fellow educators in different ways. The flânographic approach and the new methods which arose within it offer wider contributions for studies exploring activities which range across online and offline spaces, and through time.

Table of Contents

Like most theses mine too includes a table of contents, however, taking another cue from the flaneur, I chose to go a step further and produce an appropriate visualisation – the ‘Streetmap.’ Of course, one might ask why, and there are a number of reasons. Over the course of several posts I explained the part that visualisations played within my study more generally; for data collection and recording, for data analysis, and for data presentation. Visualisations for me were never solely about producing an artefact for someone else’s consumption, though that might indeed be part of the function they served. Instead, it was more about the thinking processes which were catalysed during their composition. As I explained here, producing a visualisation helped me see things differently, or sometimes see things which hadn’t previously been apparent.

A conventional table of contents is set out in the same order that the chapters and sections appear within the thesis. It provides a quick reference guide of the topics to be discussed, together with shortcuts (in the form of page numbers) to each section should you wish to jump from one to another. Unlike a novel, readers are unlikely to read a thesis from start to finish, despite the ToC outlining the suggested reading order. Why then is it necessary to provide an order when it is unlikely to be followed? Furthermore, it’s no simple matter to compress all that information onto a single textual page in order to provide an overview snapshot (the ToC in my thesis straddled six pages for example). Producing the Streetmap therefore served a number of functions:

  • It provides a one-page overview, condensing the contents of the thesis onto a single page.
  • It retains a sense of location, maintaining spatial proximity between closely related or sequential topics, but partially disrupts the sense of order that is so fundamental to a ToC.
  • The imagery reminds the viewer of the city and (introduces or) reinforces the notion that this is a flanography.
  • Consistent with a flaneur’s sensibility, it encourages exploration by tracing pathways of interest along whatever streets take your fancy. Of course it is quite possible to miss out a ‘block’ which contains information you might need later, but so too would jumping back and forth using a ToC.

Having produced an A4 version of the image to fit in the thesis, as I suspected, much of the text was too small to read. I figured it would be technically possible for an A3 version to be folded, but still be bound within an A4 thesis (it was!), so settled on that image size as a compromise. Had I been able to go larger, I could have incorporated page numbers as well as section names and thence do away with the textual ToC altogether. Alas, foiled by the physical constraints of print media! If I’d had the option of an even larger version, the street width would have been sufficient for me to suggest some possible pathways through the thesis, similar to those found in some tourist guides. What would have been even better would have been if the Streetmap was interactive, with pop-up summaries and links to quickly whisk the reader to whichever location they wanted … but that’s for a future post.

4 thoughts on “Thesis Abstract

  1. Aaron Davis: Ian, I am excited to read both your findings, as well as your flânographic methodology. I am intrigued to what it might have in other areas beyond Twitter.
    I also really like your reimagining of the traditional linear table of contents. I wonder what implication that this might have for something like the IndieWeb, especially the organisation of the wiki. At the very least it might be useful for Greg McVerry and his investigation of the IndieWeb for education. via


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