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 »

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 »

Analytical moves

In an earlier post I discussed some of the thinking behind the analytical process I was leaning towards; much of that made it into an earlier draft of the thesis. Feedback from my supervisors pointed out that detail on how I actually proceeded through the analysis was rather thin. Any reader (examiner!) would therefore not be clear about the steps I took … and therefore my thesis fails one of the characteristics I set for its integrity – that of transparency.  I’ll now attempt to set out the analytical moves I made in a little more detail.

Analysis was a multi-stage process, although not one which proceeded linearly from start to finish. Instead it involved a series of back and forth iterations moving between and across the different data sources. As data offer themselves either as words participants deliver during interviews, tweets that appear through observation, or blog posts at the end of hyperlinks, analytical seeds begin to germinate during this period of familiarisation.Read More »

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 »

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 »