Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 1 introductory graphic

I’ve introduced each chapter of my thesis with a brief textual snippet setting out what the reader can expect. However, as you can see above, I’ve included it within a graphic to refer back to the ‘Streetmap’ and provide a reminder that the study is built around a flânographic approach.

The opening sections help to set the scene. First I outline what drew me to this study; how I first came to Twitter then became increasingly curious about the way people make bold claims for the way it supports their professional learning. I go on to discuss the research context within which that topic currently sits; that teachers’ professional development is a mature field of research, whilst Twitter has understandably only recently begun receiving attention. The gap that I’m aiming to fill is that no-one appears to have looked at teacher PD on Twitter from a sociomaterial standpoint. Given how highly mediated this practice is, I argue that adopting a sociomaterial sensibility might help contribute to our understanding of this phenomenon.

For readers who may be less familiar with Twitter, I provide a brief introduction covering how it works, its history, development, growth and precarity. I go on to consider how people have used it in general: for becoming informed, staying in touch, conversing … and that they largely do so on mobile devices. I then cover the emerging research which has found that teachers use a variety of social media through which they form learning networks, exchange resources, enter dialogues and reflect. Twitter in particular allows connections between an eclectic mix of fellow educators from different and similar contexts. Having control over their level of interaction at times of their choosing are important factors for teachers.

With the background established, I’m then in a position to lay out the aims of the study, namely to explore what learning practices are taking place and where; how professional development is being enabled and who/what is involved. Three specific research questions sought to get to the bottom of ‘what’s going on here’:

  1. How are professional learning practices of teachers on Twitter manifest?
  2. How does the Twitter social media platform support the professional learning practices of teachers?
  3. How does professional learning practice extend beyond Twitter into the wider social media ecosystem and the ‘real’ world?

Before moving on from scene setting, I present my ‘personal hinterlands’ in which I lay out the background I bring to the study. Providing this detailed view is important, since I’m not seeking a single, objective truth, but one in which the researcher is an actor contributing to the reality which is enacted. My positionality as declared is relational, dynamic and contingent on circumstances. For some, I may be an experienced teacher, yet for others a former teacher. Having an edtech background might suggest an unduly positive leaning towards the topic of study, so it’s important to declare that from the outset.

In the ‘Rough Guide to the thesis’ section I provide a brief synopsis of each chapter, thereby setting out how the thesis unfolds and the arguments which are made. Using the term ‘Rough Guide’ nods once more to exploring as flaneur. This is the first opportunity to illustrate where some of the statements made in the abstract and foreword are likely to be underpinned. After the Rough Guide I introduce some of the conventions I adopt throughout the thesis, such as ‘Twitter professional development (TPD),’ a catch-all term to cover all the different ways teachers refer to what they do on Twitter – CPD, professional learning etc.

The final section of the Introduction in which I set out my ‘Approach’ is quite important. I located it at the end so it remains at the forefront of the reader’s thinking as they move onto the rest of thesis … assuming of course they began by reading the Introduction!

Recent research is making it plain how complex teacher professional learning is. Adding Twitter into that mix does not simplify matters and I contend that these novel circumstances might be better addressed through a less conventional, more adaptive, responsive approach. Rather than working from a methodology which makes certain epistemological assumptions based on our current understanding of teacher professional learning, I wanted to remain open to different possibilities and hopefully produce fresh insights. For this reason, I assembled an approach which incorporated sociomaterial, ethnographic and ethical sensibilities to guide and frame the study during each of its phases. I explore these more deeply in a later chapter.

As I mentioned earlier, interactions on Twitter are highly mediated as teachers, smartphones, apps, hashtags, tweets, timelines, and terms of service are entangled together. One might separate the social and technical elements and explore how they interact or influence one another. However, a sociomaterial approach disrupts that dichotomy, so I elected to bring to bear actor-network theory (ANT), which Law (2009) describes as:

a disparate family of material-semiotic tools, sensibilities and methods of analysis that treat everything in the social and natural worlds as a continuously generated effect of the webs of relations within which they are located.

Within my hybrid approach, I also incorporate the principles of flânerie, which Jenks and Neves (2001) claim:

involves the observation of people and social types and contexts; a way of reading the city, its population, its spatial configurations whilst also a way of reading and producing texts.

There are clear similarities with ethnography, so in that later chapter I go on to discuss flânerie, ethnography and how I see them complementing one another within what I’ve called flânography. Adopting a set of sensibilities through flânography meant I could be consistent and coherent during data collection, management and analysis, and subsequently in interpreting, writing and presenting the findings.

In the next post, I’ll explore the ‘Hinterlands’ chapter in which I discussed the literatures which informed this study.

 

Jenks, C., & Neves, T. (2000). A walk on the wild side: Urban ethnography meets the flâneur. Cultural Values, 4(1), 1-17. doi:10.1080/14797580009367183
Law, J. (2009). Actor network theory and material semiotics. The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, 141-158. (PDF)

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4 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Introduction

  1. […] That’s clearly more than ‘three,’ but here’s my thinking. I’ve placed them in a notional (and distinctly subjective) order of importance based on that earlier question ‘what would I most want people to take away?’ If asked for one sentence it would the first in the list, and so on depending on how many sentences I was asked for. I should also add that the first three in the list quite rightly respond to each of my three research questions. […]

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