In just one tweet?

At the interview for entry onto the PhD programme, one of the panel asked me if I could sum up my research proposal in a tweet. Although it shouldn’t have, that question stumped me at the time, but as a result, it did stick with me. A reasonable question to ask in my viva might be ‘Can you sum up your PhD in a tweet?’ Currently I’m struggling to get it under 90 000 words, so I still have some way to go! Following the first draft of my thesis, one of the feedback points was that I needed to be able to synthesise my findings into a handful of bullet points, even if I didn’t subsequently present them as such. It’s about having a distillation that’s brief enough to fit into the abstract and encapsulate what my study found, whilst leaving room for the other bits that also need to be in the abstract like the methodology, methods, theoretical approach etc. I thought I might try to go a step further and get it down to tweet length; after all, since I started the PhD, Twitter’s generously provided double the characters to play with.Read More »

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Interviewing the nonhumans

“Researching a Posthuman World” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/39930805522 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Choosing to approach my research with a sociomaterial sensibility requires me to challenge the division between the human and material elements I encounter and with which I work. Since Twitter and the online world is highly mediated, it would be remiss, I’d argue, to fail to adequately account for the material actors. Bringing actor-network theory (ANT) to bear does not, however, mean that I should consider the social and then the material. Instead they are completely entangled and mutually constitutive (Fenwick, 2014), so what they are and what they do is not in isolation, but co-constituted. Herein lies somewhat of a dilemma, since at some points it might be necessary to talk about the effect of particular practice on a teacher or what a specific aspect of materiality (like a hashtag) achieves. What’s important though is not to forget that both of these are themselves actor-networks, or assemblages, and are also part of other actor-networks. For the purposes of analysis, it is sometimes necessary to narrow the focus to a single entity, provided we don’t forget the assemblage that is also being performed.

In the methods section of my thesis I’ve discussed the semi-structured in depth interviews, participant observation (as it is manifest in this context), the blog posts I read and the exchanges with their authors. In reviewing this section and how it fits into the thesis as a whole, it’s clear how anthropocentric my writing was. The transcripts, blogs and even tweets were the words of the human participants … but where was the materiality? To be fair, I hope I’ve managed to surface some of that as a result of my observations and ‘following the actors,’ but once more it’s the (my) human voice that is privileged. How then to do justice to the nonhumans? How to give them a voice?Read More »

Groups, communities, collectives or …?

Recently Stephen Downes released an updated version of a graphic outlining how groups and networks differ in what he proposes as ‘The Semantic Condition,’ a network design principle. He helpfully explains how the diagram was produced in this video:

In addition to the criteria he uses to distinguish between the two ways in which people might organise or aggregate, what attracted my attention was the appearance of Twitter within the arguments. One of the aspects coming through in the data from my research, is how educators on Twitter describe the ways in which they come together. The most common term people seem to use is community, but group, tribe and network also appear. Although these terms are conceptualised differently, I suspect in most cases, a particular term is used simply because it happens to be the favoured choice, rather than having an awareness that there is a distinction between it and the others. If I was to explore this more carefully, I might be able to tease apart the ways in which people see these different terms, but suspect that what for one person is a community, could just as easily be what a tribe is for another. It was from wondering how these different groupings are distinguished from one another in the literature, that I was attracted to Stephen’s graphic.Read More »

Schrödinger’s … medical condition?

“The Body Multiple” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/38894472832 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

One of the touchstone references regularly encountered when reading sociomaterial accounts is The Body Multiple by Annemarie Mol. Since we didn’t have it in our Uni library and because it seemed so important, I took the rather rash step (for a Yorkshireman) of buying a copy. Although it took me a while to fully get to grips with the concepts therein, I now know why it is such a classic. I really should have reviewed it on the blog, however my small but select bunch of educational readers might not have found much of interest in an ethnographic text of medical practice … or perhaps they would. Put far too simply, it’s an ethnographic telling of how the arterial disease, atherosclerosis, is enacted in a hospital. Enacted, yes, because this is tale of ontology and how reality comes to be.

The messages in The Body Multiple resurfaced for me this week as I cycled into Uni., pondering the events of a few months ago, back in August (2017). I’d been invited by my local health centre for a Health Check. No biggie; just one of those things to which people of ‘a certain age’ here in the UK can benefit from. If I had my cynical head on, then I might say my clinic had invited me in order to meet its targets, or to reduce the likelihood of me becoming a future financial burden on an ever more stressed national health service. Since I’m feeling much more generous, I’d say it’s to help spot early symptoms of diseases which might make my later life less pleasant, or even foreshorten it. The check requires you to provide blood and urine samples, then re attend a week later for a nurse to go through the results with you and suggest lifestyle changes if necessary. I wasn’t worried; my last check six or so years ago indicated nothing more than cholesterol levels slightly above those recommended by the medical establishment. In the intervening period, I made adjustments to my diet and was confident I’d now be within the margin. What I hadn’t expected was the phone call from the clinic the day after the blood tests, asking if I could make an appointment to see a doctor, and could I come in the following day.Read More »

Visualising assemblage

Having decided to attempt to describe certain phenomena on Twitter as learning assemblage, I now find myself in somewhat of a quandary. Earlier yesterday, whilst teaching a group of undergrad BEd with Science QTS students about circular motion, we were discussing the importance of sketching free-body diagrams to aid understanding and problem solving. So perhaps it’s the scientist in me that generates the proclivity to want to summarise situations by using visualisations of one sort or another. A quick scan through the back catalogue of this blog will reveal many examples, however I now find myself struggling and somewhat dissatisfied.

I’ve recently been drafting vignettes in which I describe groups and activity on Twitter as assemblage, but I feel the need to produce a visualisation which captures a sense of what that is. The problem of course is that I’m trying to render assemblage, a dynamic process, as a static representation. But why should that be a problem? That’s precisely what I’ve been doing when producing physics free-body diagrams isn’t it? Representing a dynamic situation through a static diagram?

“Marble loop” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/24447353008 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

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“Can Twitter learn?”

“Can Twitter learn? Can a tweet learn?”

“Twitter Expert” by mkhmarketing https://flickr.com/photos/mkhmarketing/8540535352 is licensed under CC BY

Two questions one of my supervisors posed in the feedback on a recent draft thesis section I’d submitted. Despite knowing this was playfully provocative, I’m only too well aware that I need to be able to answer questions like this, whatever their intention. In response, I first need to clarify what learning is within the context of my study. Although there’s an imperative to lay that out within my thesis, I haven’t yet done so because I’ve been wrestling with how learning is conceived through a sociomaterial perspective. What better time to grasp that nettle?

What constitutes learning is often unproblematically taken for granted amongst most educators, however, during twenty years of teaching I can’t recall ever discussing it explicitly as an isolated concept. Read More »

Suis-je flâneur?

“Flanerie” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/36383892350 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Several happenstances intersected to bring me to the point where I’m embarking on a different approach to my analysis which is more coherent with my overall study, as I outlined here. The purpose of this post is to put a little more flesh on the bones of the initial phase in which I explore data.

There were two strands which, though unconnected, brought me to this point. The first, as I mentioned in the previous post, was Martina mentioning the process of ‘data walking’ by Eakle (2007). The second was exchanges with Deborah, and me becoming intrigued by her blog title, the édu flâneuse and then captured by the quote with which she subtitles it:

“For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate observer, it’s an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite: you’re not at home, but you feel at home everywhere, you’re at the centre of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody.” Baudelaire

When I began to explore further, there seems to a small but significant (and eclectic) body of research which draws on the notion of the flâneur in different ways. First it might help if I outline the origins:Read More »

What do I share with Olympic heroes?

“BBC Documentary Super Saturday 2012 Olympic Heroes” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/35577018174 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Michael Johnson met Jess Ennis-Hill in a recent BBC documentary about the London Olympics 2012 ‘Super Saturday,’ as we in the UK came to call it. Michael came up to Sheffield to speak with Jess, so there were a few shots from around the city. In the programme, Jess, Mo and Greg spoke about their experiences of the day, and their lives subsequently. From here I could of course take this in the direction of the grit and determination these three folks showed. How they overcame adversity, fought back and earned the rewards they so richly deserved … and then of course relate that to studying for a PhD … but no.Read More »

There’s a *new* materialism?

“Sociology and New Materialism” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/35948554891 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

At my last meeting, one of my supervisors suggested a book that he thought might inform my methodological chapter (whatever it ultimately gets called!): “Sociology and the New Materialism: Theory, Research, Action” by Fox and Alldred (2016). At the heart of the book is the notion that we might problematise the human as being central to the research endeavour. Someone must conduct the research, right? What Fox and Alldred offer however is a less anthropocentric view, where knowledge, rather than being revealed or constructed by a researcher, is produced by an “assemblage of things, people, ideas, social collectivities and institutions.” Here then I’ll try to summarise what I’ve learned from the book and what implications it might have for my research musings.Read More »