It hasn’t proven possible to arrange a mock viva prior to my actual viva next week. However, several members of staff were kind enough to spare (more than) a few minutes to chat about my preparations. Some were already familiar with my research and could ask pertinent questions, but the programme leader on my last Master’s degree asked to see my thesis, and kindly offered to give feedback. I thought this would be another informal chat, but he suggested we conduct it in a similar way to a viva … albeit without the strict formality. That proved to be so important.
I have to confess I struggled somewhat. Although as previous posts show, I’ve been thinking about some of the generic areas on which I might be questioned, it’s just not the same thing as someone sitting across a desk in front of you asking a direct question. I haven’t yet begun to practise the oral versions of my responses and their delivery (not verbatim responses obviously, but the marshalling of bullet points into more flowing replies), so more direct questioning at this stage was quite demanding.
There were a number of issues which arose and which I’m now better placed to address. For example, I need to think more carefully about the important aspects of flânography, how it supported and delivered the approach I’d chosen and in particular how it aligned with a sociomaterial sensibility. There are other aspects I also need to work on and to which I might return after the viva, but my priority this morning was to craft a response to the opening question which floored me yesterday “What is your thesis?” which I misunderstood and launched into the extended overview I’d prepared. After some while, it was pointed out to me that this question is asking for a thesis statement, short, crips and to the point. Something that quickly sets the scene and an opportunity to create a good impression. Oh dear! Now I know why many of the viva advice sites suggest one of the opening viva questions is likely to be along the lines of “In one minute, can tell us about your thesis.”
After a couple of hours work (!?), I assembled the following response which does indeed take about a minute to state:
My thesis explores the assertion by some teachers on Twitter that it supports or provides their PD.
I conducted a sociomaterial analysis of their practices through an approach I called flânography involving multiple methods, including novel ones I developed.
Those practices are enacted by both human and nonhuman participants within richly complex activities, characterised by personalisation, autonomy and reciprocity.
I conceptualised these practices by proposing two interlocking dimensions of ‘compound learning’ and ‘scales,’ which enable claims about professional learning through Twitter – and online more generally – to be accessed and scrutinised.
In helping to legitimise these practices, my analysis and theorisation provide tools with which organisations and individuals can assess alignment and value of these practices alongside institutional and other goals.
My interviewer said that in knowing the importance of the opener, he prepared for his viva by having his family keep asking him the ‘What is your thesis’ questions at random moments. I’ll have to devise an alternative, but rehearse I must.