Mundane practicalities of thesis writing

Having now submitted my first full draft, it became apparent how MS Word was stepping up to the mark as a tool to make life easier.  When producing a document approaching 100k words spread over 250 pages (at the moment!), swift and efficient navigation become so important. I’ve always used the navigation pane to jump between sections, even in more modest documents, but there were other aspects which also required attention.  A ‘Table of Contents’ and a ‘Table of Figures’ will also be needed to provide navigation in the printed version, then there’s page numbers, layout, styles, and bevy of other considerations. As a Microsoft Office Specialist Master, albeit one from an earlier era, I’m at least aware of where these features can be found and how they can be applied. PhD colleagues who have preceded me through the system and asked if I knew ‘how to …’ were less fortunate. Having manually numbered chapters and subsections, or tables of contents, friends were surprised to find some of the things Word could do, and somewhat shocked how much effort they could have saved.Read More »

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Not posthuman, postProPEL…

ProPEL 2017 has drawn to a close and I find myself writing this with my head still spinning from the volume of information to which I was exposed. Three keynotes, seventeen papers and a multitude of less formal conversations over coffee and meals. And of course I presented the paper I had submitted: “Professional learning(s) beyond the workplace; Teachers’ learnings with Twitter.” I have to confess to being slightly more unsettled than I normally would be when attending a conference and this doubtless partly due to putting my thoughts out there for the kind of scrutiny which I’ve never experienced before. That of peers and more experienced academics who are in most cases, much more experienced in the field than I. It was a simple matter of the unexpected; how would my work (and I) be received?Read More »

Learning … loosely?

“Sealion” flickr photo by wwarby https://flickr.com/photos/wwarby/16211398843 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I was catching up with episode three of Loose Learners whilst out running yesterday. Mariana and John were discussing the (mis?)use of social media for sharing, or what for some might be more accurately termed bragging, selling or self-promoting. It was suggested that people come to Twitter with different models of how they intend to use it. Some see it as a purely broadcasting medium, others amplify the content of others, whilst many see it as a place to interact. Perhaps it’s not quite so clear cut and many participants do some of each at different times? I tend to see the ‘fine line’ between bragging and sharing that Mariana and John were suggesting, as an awful lot wider … and fuzzier!. That fuzziness arises as a combination of the ‘intent’ of the user that Mariana described, and the expectations of the recipient. A particular user might have a specific purpose in mind when tweeting something out, but whether that’s perceived as sharing, bragging or self-promotion will also depend on the internal compass within the recipient and what they find acceptable.Read More »

Another bit of paper?

I’ve had this certificate for a couple of weeks now, but have been rather reticent about writing a post. None of the previous postgraduate qualifications I’ve gained (a PostGraduate Certificate in Education and two Masters degrees) was ‘graded.’ But this one was. Merit. More than a Pass, but not a Distinction. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about sharing that in public. If there had been no gradations, I know I wouldn’t have felt like this, nor indeed if I’d got a distinction. So there’s clearly something in the grading system that bothers me … and in me not achieving the top grade.Read More »

Doctoral Conference 2016

I’m mentally exhausted … but in a good way!

Today was the second Sheffield Institute of Education Doctoral Conference, a conference I helped to organise. The Conference provides an opportunity for EdD and PhD doctoral researchers in education at Sheffield Hallam University, to share their progress in a supportive atmosphere of peers. It proved quite a challenge to pull together this year’s bash, in the first instance trying to find a date which neither clashed with other events and where there was space available. Didn’t quite manage that, but nevertheless, based on the comments people made during the day and at the close, I think we can declare it a success.

flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/30498293730 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Our list of attendees and speakers was not as long as we might have hoped, so although we couldn’t offer choice during the day, this made for a cosy event where we were all together for all sessions. Chris Bailey opened the day by sharing his research into the ‘lived experience of children engaged in collaborative play’ which generated some incredibly positive comments remarking on the very different approach he adopted to recording and rendering his data, and making meaning from them. In a brief presentation, Steph Hannam-Swain followed and opened our eyes to the considerations we perhaps ought to have when seeking to make conferences more inclusive. Clare Lawrence then asked us to consider how ‘sharing education between home and school [can] benefit the child with autism.’ Following the break, Gareth Price shared ‘how Personal Construct Theory has been used to explore science teachers’ notions of creativity.’ Three very different pieces of research on three completely different areas of study using three different methodological approaches; a rich seam for those just starting their doctoral journey and perhaps helpful in expanding their possibility space.Read More »

Confirmation Q&A – #1

The Confirmation of Candidature process I mentioned in the last post is partly about monitoring your progress and strength of your work, but also about exposing your thoughts to academic scrutiny – another manifestation of the peer review process I guess. After presenting for half an hour, the remainder of the seminar was given over to Q and A and it is through these that you get a better sense of how your work and your ideas hold up. When added to the formal feedback provided  by the rapporteurs, the areas which are robust and those in need of further development become clearer. In this post then, I want to catalogue the feedback people were kind enough to provide through their observations and questions.

 

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SM&Society: Final Thoughts

flickr photo by ianguest https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/28018637830 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

So the conference I’ve been looking forward to for about a year now has drawn to a close and the daily commute on the Underground has turned back into a bike ride into Sheffield. Time then to reflect back on my impressions.

My first comment would have to be how incredibly well organised everything was; from the initial call for papers, right through to the final session. Every last ‘i’ was dotted and ‘t’ crossed. Simple things like having printed 5 and 2 minute warning cards for session moderators gives some idea of the attention to detail – lots of useful tips for me as I organise our doctoral conference for later this year. The conference team, in conjunction with the local hosts are due a great deal of praise here. That said, the atmosphere was incredibly friendly and inclusive; you always felt as though you could approach anyone and talk about anything.

I felt the structure and content worked well. Although in a couple of sessions, I found it difficult to choose an appropriate theme and perhaps didn’t always get it right, within each session there would nevertheless be one or two of the papers which provided unanticipated gems. I was grateful for the opportunity to listen to some of the foremost academics in the field and hadn’t appreciated precisely how accessible they are at events like these. I did get the sense that I attended more sessions that presented work built on quantitative methods, but that could doubtless be down to the choices I made, rather than a reflection of the overall spread. It struck me how much research into social media seems to use survey methods as the primary instrument, or of course SNA. Given the nature of the medium, it’s easy to see why that is, though each further study I listened to where a survey had been used left me wondering why digital ethnographic techniques aren’t used more.

Maybe it’s my age, but I found the days quite exhausting; from 8.30 through to 5.00 (longer on the poster day) whilst trying to keep your mind sharp proved quite fatiguing. For me, I think it was the sheer rate of metal processing needed to maintain focus in sessions where four presentations followed in rapid succession. Even during break times you invariably had to stay sharp as you discussed previous or forthcoming sessions with fellow attendees, or indeed your work or theirs. In many of the talks presenters talked incredibly quickly, attempting to squeeze in as much detail as possible, thus requiring you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus. I’m sure that on some occasions I failed, as I hurriedly tried to capture a few notes, and keep up with the barrage of fresh information. In part this was down to the brevity of the allocated time slots, but then if the number of sessions were reduced, fewer people would have the opportunity to present. I guess I just felt it was a shame that those who were presenting ‘work in progress’ and seeking feedback, had a scant couple of minutes in which to receive it; one question at best. Not an easy one to resolve, but it’s encouraged me to think carefully about how I might structure the messages I wish to convey in sessions I deliver. If I’m only given 20 minutes in total and I really want some feedback, then I need to think carefully how I divide up the time.

Presenting certainly occupied my mind in more ways than one. Now that data from my pilot has started to come in, I’ve started thinking of possible places I might present my findings. The SM&Society conference would have certainly been an option had it been somewhat later, but what other forums might also be appropriate? Clearly those which have themes dedicated to professional development or professional learning. Possibly digital methods? Social media? Or could I make a case for more general sociological events? So in addition to all the other benefits I’ve enjoyed at the Conference, it’s also encouraged me to consider exactly where my research is positioned.

I’d love to be going to Toronto next year, but I’m afraid the pockets are unlikely to be that deep.

SM&Society Day 3: Graveyard slot

It’s never easy retaining an audience and maintaining their interest at the end of the day, let alone at the end of a three day programme. Nevertheless the group presenting the papers in the ‘Organisations and Workplaces’ session did a great job.

In the opening paper, Halvdan Haugsbakken reviewed research in social media use in organisations. Anita Greenhill and Jamie Woodcock discussed at project looking at crowdsourcing practice in ‘Zooniverse;’ clearly a very different kind of organisational practice. From the Netherlands, Anita Batenburg considered Virtual Communities of Practice created by organisations in the health care sector and Lene Pattersen looked at the ‘villages’ which formed in a globally connected organisation.

With the exception of Halvdan’s study, the online spaces we might usually recognise as social media were absent in these papers; instead the platforms were created by the organisations to provide social media functionality. Although it didn’t crop up (and I only thought about it writing this post!), I wonder how far we can claim institutional platforms as social media, when although they provide some of the social functionalities, they’re internally facing?

There were a number of elements which came together to make this one of the most successful sessions of the conference for me. First, although my research is focused more closely on individuals, the activity with which they’re involved is clearly related to their workplace, so everything I heard had relevance. Secondly, the papers covered a broad range of issues and topics, and did that through a variety of methods. We had a review of the literature, network analysis, surveys, interviews and an ethnography, all of which spoke to me multiple methods inclinations. Finally, and I’m sure this is something the conference organisers aim for, there was a clear theme which ran through all the talks and drew them together: knowledge sharing practice, motivations and value for all involved. This allowed the speakers to reference what was emerging in each other’s talks.

Most importantly for me, this package of talks suggested a number of avenues that might be fruitfully explored, including voluntaristic materialism, how and where is value being produced, self-determination theory, technol stress and key informant methodology. (I list them here so I can’t forget them!)

SM&Society Day 3: Networks

flickr photo by Crypticommonicon https://flickr.com/photos/crypticon/16865214707 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Early in my study, I toyed with the idea of conducting social network analysis as the means to explore how people might be interconnected online and what implications different forms of connection might cause.. I attended this session to push the boundaries of my knowledge somewhat and see how researchers are using network analysis techniques; was there something I’ve missed as I’ve moved away from my original plan?

The range of topics were suitably eclectic and spanned: audience brokerage by the media in Spain; sustaining a car enthusiast online community in Thailand; what we can begin to learn from the whole Twittersphere of Australia; and the structures of online communities in Russia. Silvia Majo-Vazquez, Shih-Yun Chen, Axel Brun and Yuri Rykov took us around the world in just over an hour.

Interesting though the tools, techniques and topics were, it helped me to recognise two things about my own research. Firstly, that this isn’t a method that can easily be bolted on to my study without a major commitment to understanding the theory behind the way the tools work and the meanings of the emergent patterns in the data. I suspect I could achieve a surface understanding and capability, but I’m not entirely sure I could get to the stage where I could defend myself in a viva. Moreover, I’m not at all convinced that a network understanding would be appropriate for my study, given the turn in my thinking.

SNA sure produces entrancing pictures, but would they reveal anything about the realities of my participants?

SM&Society Day 3: Keynote

Desiring numbers: when social media data are ordinary

It was interesting to listen to Helen Kennedy talk once more about how visualising data is not merely a cognitive process, but also an affective one. Her research in the Seeing Data project reveals the extent to which we react on an emotional level to data, especially those presented visually. These responses can be both positive and negative, so it becomes crucial for those interested in disseminating data to be aware that they are not simply passing on information in a neutral way, but may be affecting the recipients emotionally.

I wondered in what ways other forms of visual media invoke similar or different responses, if the images don’t have to carry with them the numerical burden that visualisations do? The talk yesterday discussing how gifs might invoke meaning making perhaps has parallels; they doubtless also prompt an emotional response, yet the playfulness with which they’re (usually) created perhaps has a different outcome.

When asked whether artists might usefully contribute to the field of visualising data, Helen of course welcomed the possibility. Projects like the WWI ceramic poppy memorial at the Tower of London a couple of years ago used multimodal, multi-sensory channels to remind us of the figures behind the events being commemorated. What this talk particularly helped me with was in reminding me to keep the affective issues in mind. As I shift towards a more ontological sensibility, and am keen to explore my participants’ realities, their emotional responses to professional learning may warrant a closer consideration.