‘Tis done!

It’s now three days after my viva and I’ve almost managed to mentally process the outcome. I passed, with no corrections.

If you’re not familiar with how the doctoral examination process works, at least here in the UK, here’s a quick summary. An internal and external examiner are appointed; experienced academics who ideally work in the field in which your research is located, one from your own institution and a second from another university. They are invited to examine your thesis, but they are not paid and there is no obligation. You submit your thesis and a copy is sent to each of them to review. On the cover of thesis it is common to find a statement declaring that ‘This thesis is in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,’ or something similar. The other main ‘requirement’ in the UK and some though not all HE systems, is an oral exam or viva voce. A date for the viva is set, often between four and six weeks after submission of the thesis; that was the case for me. I outlined in previous posts some of the preparation I undertook, but in short it involved re-reading my thesis in different ways, using the Internet to source typical (general) questions that are often asked, and preparing my responses to them.Read More »


Mock mock viva

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.Read More »

Can you summarise your ‘findings’ in *three* sentences?

In a comment on earlier post in this series discussing potential viva questions, Martina asked me the above question, prompting to me to go a step further than the original post. As you can see in my response and in that post, should the examiners ask me some variant of this, I’ll be as uncomfortable as I was when writing summary sections in my thesis. I can see why it’s necessary; there are a variety of audiences that need to be satisfied and it’s unlikely the space afforded by a thesis will always be available. Other than in a monograph, it’s inevitable that I’ll need to be more economical , whether for a journal article, conference presentation or poster session. So despite my reservations about reducing my findings to mere soundbites, I do need to take a stab at this.Read More »

Which theoretical framings did you consider and why did you settle on ANT?

Continuing my series of posts discussing potential viva questions, I want to take a look at the theoretical underpinnings for my study. I know there’s a bunch of questions which could delve into how actor-network theory (ANT) informs or sits alongside my study, but I think this is probably a better place to start. Asking me why I chose ANT and which other theories or conceptualisations I’d considered but rejected seems like a perfectly reasonable question.

I was introduced to ANT a little while before even thinking about PhD study. As a long time listener (and sometime contributor) to Radio Edutalk, I was fascinated by an episode in which PhD student Anna Beck was discussing her research tracing the implementation of the Donaldson Report. She briefly talked about using actor-network theory to help understand how change is brought about in education more generally, and specifically though the Report. Given the attention it drew on ‘things,’ I wondered whether ANT might be useful in helping me to better understand and/or explain the issues of integrating educational technologies within education; my job at the time involved such matters. As I searched around for more information on ANT, it soon became clear how fuzzy a concept it was for someone like me who at the time had a very different worldview.Read More »

In your flânography, how should we conceive the ‘field?’

Whilst discussing online ethnography in my thesis, I made reference to ‘the field’ on a number of occasions, and devoted a couple of paragraphs to outlining how it might be conceived. In this post from the series discussing potential viva questions, I want to return to that notion.

Ethnography offers the means through which to explore an interesting phenomenon or issue. For me, flânography was the approach which allowed me to explore teachers’ professional practices on Twitter. In classical anthropology, the field was the location you went to in order to learn about the ‘Other,’ by becoming immersed in their culture and practices. There was a sense of difference, of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ of ‘the field’ and home. Notionally the field was a tightly bounded geographic space, but more recently this has been called into question (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997). Researchers such as Marcus (2012) noted how studying aspects of life often involved being mobile and making connections across multiple sites as people and things move around. This multi-sited field did not precede the study, but emerged through ethnographic exploration; it is the outcome of ethnographic engagement, not some predetermined construct which preceded the research.Read More »

“Flânography? Isn’t it just an ethnography?”

For this post on potential viva questions, I want to pick up a question one of my supervisors rather provocatively posed during one of our meetings. Although I might not be asked this in such a direct manner, I do have to have a defence prepared which is able to articulate how flânography is different from ethnography. I began to thrash this out in an earlier post, but I now need to prepare a more succinct response.

Firstly I need to acknowledge their similarity: both can be process and product; both involve immersion within a culture; both involve careful observation and chronicling; both might involve following actors and action; and both will attend to materiality. As a consequence, I don’t offer flânography as a completely different methodology, but instead as a form of ethnography. I suggest that there are subtle differences which allow me to do that:

  • Immersion for the flânographer is different from that for ethnographer. It’s less about prolonged and intense experience and more about accumulated encounters over a period of time and through a range of activities.
  • Mobility and movement are different for the flânographer. It’s conducted at a casual leisurely pace involving strolling or wandering, though not aimlessly in the way of flâneurs of old, but with purpose. Careful scrolling through a timeline and following leads which arise, similar to the way a flâneur might turn down a side-street or into an arcade.
  • The flânographer has the capacity to move not only through space, but also through time. Scrolling through the timeline is just that, as is viewing retweets, reading older blog posts or conducting an asynchronous exchange over several days.
  • Flânography for me was very much about mapping my activity and tracing out pathways of experience through the use of visualisations. Sometimes this was manually and sometimes using applications. Although producing visualisations could be used to re-present those pathways, it was more as a thinking tool to help understand and appreciate the nature of that activity.
  • Visibility, or rather invisibility, is somewhat different for the flânographer. Whilst an ethnographer might be present amongst a group of people, but be notionally invisible if she has not declared her status as a researcher, the flânographer as a lurker could remain completely hidden from participants.
  • Finally, the principles of flânography – of purposeful strolling, noticing and chronicling – are applied consistently throughout the study during data gathering, analysis and in the summative text.

Although I’ve briefly mentioned my proposal of flânography during a couple of conference presentations, my thesis will be the first time it’s been opened to robust scrutiny. My slight concern is that my lack of experience with ethnography might mean I’m making false assumptions about how flânography is different.

Where did you make ‘the cut?’

Although it’s unlikely to be phrased in precisely this way, in this third post on potential viva questions, I’m going to pick up the baton offered in my last post and discuss ‘making the cut.’  This references the work of Karen Barad amongst others, and the need to make choices about what should and shouldn’t be included in our research studies. That might be during field work when deciding which actors to follow and which to leave behind. It could be during data analysis where some data are attended to more closely than others, or in presenting some findings whilst discarding others. In ‘After Method,’ Law (2004)  describes method assemblage as

the process of crafting and enacting the necessary boundaries between presence, manifest absence and Otherness.

Within my study then there will be that which is present (whether through the choices I made during observation, analysis or in the thesis), that which is manifestly absent (which I was aware of, chose not to include, but didn’t hide), and that which I Othered by being unaware of the part it played.Read More »

Can you summarise your findings in a few sentences?

In this second in the series of responses to potential viva questions, I’m going to take a look at the findings. It’s quite possible the examiners might want to delve more deeply into particular aspects, but it’s also likely that at some stage, whether in the viva or not, I’ll need to concisely summarise my findings. At the end of each of the three ‘findings’ chapters I called ‘Gatherings,’ I offered a summary. I suspect at around 1500 words, they’re going to need distilling in order to answer this question. On the other hand, the couple of sentences in the abstract is hardly likely to be enough, so here I’m looking for some middle ground.

I need to start, as I did in my thesis, by first stating how unsettling it was providing a summary at all. There is an understandable wish to filter, concentrate and distill data when presenting findings; you can’t after all present them all. Obviously I had been selective in which data I drew on to include in my flânographic narrative, but it felt important that I didn’t summarise to the point where the richly complex and messy nature of Twitter PD was lost. That was one of the reasons for the somewhat extensive Gatherings summaries and also for providing two different versions of a summary in the ‘Retracing my steps’ chapter. Perhaps the most efficient and sensible way to respond to this question, should it be asked, is to refer back to my research questions, so taking each in turn …Read More »

Why did you undertake this study?

In the preceding posts I provided summaries of the chapters in my thesis. The next task I set myself when I started thinking about viva prep was to think about answers to some of the possible questions examiners might ask. In the next few posts I’ll attempt to map out some of the points I think might go into my responses. Like many job interviews, from the advice available across the web, the first question is often intended to settle the candidate and ease them into the discussion. It is common to ask how the study came about or what inspired it, so that’s where I’ll start.

What inspired you to undertake this study?

That’s a story of curiosity and three nudges. I can pick out the key moments which resulted in me being able to discuss this thesis. The first was at 18:33 on the 19th February 2009 when a fellow student on the TELIC Masters programme here at Sheffield Hallam suggested I ought to give Twitter a try and that I might find it interesting. Since I trusted Geoff’s opinion, despite the fact that I had no experience with social media, other than social bookmarking using ‘Delicious.’ So I signed up, then found and followed a few educators I ‘knew’ through Delicious that I thought might also be on Twitter. Right from the start, Twitter was only ever about supporting me in my professional work and it soon became plain the difference it was making in that regard.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 …


“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 »