Why did you undertake this study?

In the preceding posts I provided summaries of the chapters in my thesis. The next task I set myself when I started thinking about viva prep was to think about answers to some of the possible questions examiners might ask. In the next few posts I’ll attempt to map out some of the points I think might go into my responses. Like many job interviews, from the advice available across the web, the first question is often intended to settle the candidate and ease them into the discussion. It is common to ask how the study came about or what inspired it, so that’s where I’ll start.

What inspired you to undertake this study?

That’s a story of curiosity and three nudges. I can pick out the key moments which resulted in me being able to discuss this thesis. The first was at 18:33 on the 19th February 2009 when a fellow student on the TELIC Masters programme here at Sheffield Hallam suggested I ought to give Twitter a try and that I might find it interesting. Since I trusted Geoff’s opinion, despite the fact that I had no experience with social media, other than social bookmarking using ‘Delicious.’ So I signed up, then found and followed a few educators I ‘knew’ through Delicious that I thought might also be on Twitter. Right from the start, Twitter was only ever about supporting me in my professional work and it soon became plain the difference it was making in that regard.

The second nudge came later on the same Masters programme when my dissertation supervisor asked me why I’d done a second Masters, rather than a PhD, and that the work I was doing could have been developed in that way. Although the main reason was that I could get financial support for Masters work from my employer and not for doctoral research, that comment sowed a seed. I never once thought I might be capable of studying at that level; after all, my first degree was only a ‘Desmond.’ That comment catalysed a train of thought which every so often would bubble to the surface. Having done two Masters I knew however, that I’d struggle to take on a lengthy five or six year programme whilst working full time.

In the years which followed, I began to see more and more educators on Twitter making bold claims for the way it supported them professionally and transformed their learning. Tweets along the lines of ‘I’ve learned more in the last week on Twitter than in the last six years of INSET days’ took on an almost meme-like quality. My curiosity levels were continually rising and I especially began to wonder whether I’d become somewhat guilty of ‘drinking the Kool-Aid,’ given how often I’d blogged about the benefits of Twitter. Increasingly, I felt this needed exploring more deeply.

Sometime in 2012(?) I saw a post advertised at Glasgow Caledonian University which involved doctoral research supported by a studentship. A ‘studentship?’ I wasn’t aware there was such a thing. I did a few financial sums to see whether I could manage on a much lower income, decided it might be doable, so took a punt and put in an application. Although I managed to get an interview, I wasn’t successful, perhaps due to my lack of familiarity with what might be asked. If I remember rightly, although the research area was professional development, it was in higher education; an educational phase in which I had no experience, so that might have had an effect. What this application and interview did however, was to make me recognise that I might have a realistic shot at this.

I’m not sure how I became aware of studentships at Sheffield Hallam (I’d probably subscribed to some generic mailing lists), but when the Education department advertised studentships, I got the chance to write my first research proposal on the area in which I’d become interested – teacher professional learning and Twitter. As I began looking through the literature and explored how to structure a research proposal, I became excited by the prospect that I might have the chance to turn an area of increasing interest into something more formal. Once more I was fortunate in securing an interview, was again unsuccessful, but was now getting a better sense of what this type of interview involved.

I continued to scan for universities advertising studentships, made one unsuccessful submission to the OU, but had pretty much scratched Hallam … until the third nudge came at the end of 2014. Someone on the original interview panel at Hallam got in touch, a year after my previous submission, and asked whether I was submitting a proposal for the next round of studentships. I hadn’t considered it; after all, what I’d had to offer hadn’t been accepted the last time. Nevertheless, someone taking the trouble to get in touch gave me heart, so I redrafted and submitted my proposal, got another interview and … well, here we are.


Having got my thoughts out of my head, I now feel better placed to finesse that rather lengthy response into something a little more punchy. What do you think? Is the tone about right? Is there anything I’ve missed?

3 thoughts on “Why did you undertake this study?

  1. Aaron Davis: I would have no idea what questions you would get asked in your viva Ian, but one thing that I was left wondering from your recent reflections was why Twitter and not say Delicious? Did or does Delicious or Diigo support your professional development? Would this simply be a different ‘gathering’ or something different altogether? I am not sure if I have made sense here, but it is just something that has always left me wondering. via collect.readwriterespond.com


  2. Aaron Davis: Thank you Dave for this curious introduction. There is something about definitions that promises too much and maybe delivers too little? A while back I went through my contributions to #Rhizo14 and I kind of cringe at some of my comments. However, a part of me thinks that maybe this misses the point, that rhizomatic learning is a verb, rather than a noun?
    I was intrigued by your reference to the impact and influence of technology on learning. Here I am reminded of Doug Belshaw’s work in regards to digital literacies. Even before ‘digital’ is added to the equation technology has had a part to play.

    Before books went digital, they were created either by using a pen or by using a printing press. These tools are technologies. Literacy, therefore, is inextricably linked with technology even before we get to ‘digital’ literacies.

    I am also taken by the subjective nature of your account. This reminds me of Ian Guest’s account of ‘nudges’ that led to his research.
    Personally, my own learning has led me assemblages. See for example Ben Williamson’s work with Class Dojo. I wonder about this as an approach and how it might differ from rhizomatic learning?
    Also on: Read Write Collect via collect.readwriterespond.com


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