Chapter 4: Assembling methods #1

Chapter 4 introductory graphic

Pilot study

Early on in the research I conducted a pilot study to to reveal issues and barriers related to recruiting potential participants, to explore the use of oneself as a researcher in a culturally appropriate way and to test and modify interview questions. Although familiar with Twitter as a participant, conducting a pilot study also allowed me to gain familiarisation as a researcher. I tested six different methods which I describe in more detail here. The table below reflects on the outcomes of the pilot methods.Read More »

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Chapter 3: Sensibilities

Chapter 3 introductory text

The labour of knowing the world is taken up through theory and methodology. An instrumentalist view demands selecting the right methods to adequately represent reality out there. On the other hand a humanist view is more constructionist in which reality constructed through the actions of those involved. However, neither was entirely appropriate for my less anthropocentric study in which I was keen to avoid ignoring the nonhumans.Read More »

Chapter 2: Hinterlands

Chapter 2 introductory graphic

Given the continuing references to the city through the flanography, titling what might normally be called the literature review as ‘Hinterlands’ seemed more appropriate. For a city the hinterland is the region surrounding it which sustains and supports it, but which is itself influenced by the city. Supporting and sustaining my study are the literatures which precede and inform it, but to which I hope my study will also contribute. I refer to hinterlands in the plural since they are not only the inscribed outcomes of previous research, but include the methods which were employed to bring them into being, but I shall discuss them at greater length in a later post.Read More »

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)

Foreword

Almost all theses will include an ‘Acknowledgements’ page expressing gratitude to all those supported the study: supervisors, family, participants, friends, colleagues. My thesis is no exception, however, I also took the less common step of including a foreword. Appearing in the abstract and table of contents were some terms like flâneur which I felt would benefit from preliminary explication. Since the foreword is only a page in length, I’ll provide it in full. I’m grateful to both Deborah and Craig for allowing me to include quotes from their blogs in my thesis.Read More »

PD and Parkruns

Once more I am grateful to Aaron for taking the trouble to read and respond to one of my blog posts. In this case it was the preceding post where I launched my abstract and discussed the rationale behind rendering a visual ‘table of contents.’ In his response, Aaron mused whether flânographic methodology might provide a window on the Indieweb community and practice:

… especially as a means of capturing a glimpse of change and development over time. Thinking about those involved in the IndieWeb, everyone has a different story developed over time. Although it might be possible to write a vanilla on-boarding process, I wonder if it is ever so straightforward for anyone?

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Thesis Abstract

Thesis Streetmap
“Visual ToC” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/45061354834 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 …

Abstract

“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.Read More »

Thesis submitted. Next steps.

“Thesis” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/43944925970 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Last week I submitted my thesis. No hoopla. No fanfare. No round of applause. It was merely a matter of printing four copies, getting them bound, then dropping them off at the reception desk of a University office building. Quite an anticlimax really. In return I was given a pro forma acknowledgement of receipt and the promise that they would be passed on to the relevant department. I needed no more than that, but I can’t help thinking how deflated some people must feel; all that effort and not even a ‘congratulations’ or ‘you must be delighted?’ Perhaps there might be something to be gained from the University rethinking that small but significant aspect of the examination process.Read More »

Visualising ‘what I do’ … again!

One of the questions I’ve found the toughest to answer throughout my study is ‘what do you do when you do Twitter?’ Or, more specifically, ‘what does participant observation look like in the context of your research?’ I’ve previously responded at length, and have been trying to capture  a sense of what I do within a single visualisation. I’m still not convinced I’ve quite managed it, but here’s the final version which made it into the thesis:

“What I do when I do Twitter” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/44602792592 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

 

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Thinking about workplace learning

“Women operators at Midvale Company payroll machine in Time Office, April 29, 1949” flickr photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University Library https://flickr.com/photos/kheelcenter/5279278045 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This is one of those posts where I need to get something out of my head and see what it looks like ‘on paper.’ I’m trying to rewrite a section in the literature review chapter of my thesis. I’ve explored workplace learning in a rather narrow way, mainly by distinguishing it from the PD literature in the way it emphasises the informal or non-formal nature of learning. I’d like to expand that into a more rounded consideration of how the literature informs my study. In this post then, I want to explore some of the definitions and conceptualisations of workplace learning, but specifically in the context of TPD – Twitter Professional Development [footnote].

The term ‘learning is used in a number of diverse and diffuse ways, compounded by the fact that it is often deployed when referring to a process and a product. Broadly speaking, there are also two competing and largely incompatible theoretical paradigms: cognitive, and socio-cultural or situational. There is no single, general account of learning and different conceptual lenses are needed, each employing different metaphors and assumptions (Hager & Hodkinson, 2009). Learning is a contested concept, so relying on a single conceptualisation will limit understanding. In what follows, I attempt to lay out some of the ways that learning has been conceptualised, and whether they may be applicable in the context of TPD.

Table of contents
Sfard’s (1998) two learning metaphors
Beckett & Hager’s standard and emerging paradigms
Fuller & Unwin’s Restrictive-Expansive framework
Lave & Wenger’s situated learning
Jacobs and Park conceptual framework
Final thoughts

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