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 »

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Chapter 9: Concluding

 

Chapter 9 introductory graphic

The professional development that teachers undertake on and through Twitter resists easy, simple description. Despite my efforts, it cannot easily be condensed into a single list of characteristics, set of features or tight-knit package of outcomes. Where one teacher finds no more than a place to keep abreast of current educational developments, another might be seeking a virtual staffroom to unwind and either celebrate or pick apart the challenges they are facing in the classroom. Someone else might relish an opportunity to debate received wisdom within a broader educational arena, whilst another wishes to become part of a committed group of fellow practitioners seeking to extend and enhance their classroom practice and capabilities. People don’t appear to set out on Twitter with the above as objectives they’re keen to achieve, but instead develop a range of practices which address their needs and provide the benefits appropriate to them.Read More »

Ethics revisited

Throughout this study I aimed to maintain an ethical sensibility which responded to issues as they arose. Within the thesis, I highlighted those areas which triggered <#ethics> concerns and now return to summarise them. Here I’ll set out some of those observations and the way I responded.

One complex arena which tested my ethical sensibility was in the degrees of subtlety required when conducting online interactions. Simply asking a question, whether on Twitter or through a blog, obliged me to communicate my status as a researcher. Taking a cue from the norms of Twitter, I chose to include the hashtag #4MyResearch in each encounter, as described in an earlier post. It was later that I realised this could be a double-edged sword. Hashtags are of course searchable, so #4MyResearch could be one mechanism – albeit somewhat blunt – through which to bring one strand of my research together. Anyone could then check through the hashtag and view the way I had previously interacted with other people. That of course then makes each encounter more public than it otherwise might be, something of which a respondent might not initially be aware if they lose sight of potential audience in what Marwick and boyd (2010) term ‘context collapse.’Read More »

Chapter 8: Retracing my steps

Chapter 8 introductory graphic

Rather than a conventional summary or distillation of ideas, as I sometimes did within the Gatherings (and felt unsettled doing so), in this section I offered two parallel accounts; one tidily arranged as an emerging theme (‘More than…’), the other a meandering pathway of experience more closely aligned with a flâneur’s account. Both of these accounts attempted to summarise the Gatherings. The ‘messy’ account presented a summary which follows the original trails. The ‘tidy’ account drew out some of the salient themes from across those trails. As I read through the ‘messy’ account, I am minded by Law’s (2007) observation ‘If this is an awful mess … then would something less messy make a mess of describing it?’ Then I look across to the tidy account and notice how ordered, much clearer, and easier to comprehend. Of course in smoothing out the mess some details were discarded and thereby become absented.Read More »

Chapter 7: Gathering: It’s personal…

Chapter 7 introductory graphic

One of the factors prompting this study was the number of people who tweeted how important Twitter was in supporting their professional learning. The following tweet provides a reminder of the kind of sentiment expressed:

During participant observation I curated a corpus of educators’ tweets which referred in some way to both professional learning and Twitter. Analysing this corpus revealed that educators frame Twitter PD in different ways. The capacity to be able to choose the routes you take, the content you see, the time and duration of your involvement and the location from which you participate are important to many. However Twitter is perceived, one can find or be exposed to a wide range of resources, ideas, advice, research, inspiration, support, and answers to questions.Read More »

Chapter 6: Gathering: Assembling actors, maintaining relationships

 

Chapter 6 introductory graphicA single tweet and the hashtag with which it participates provide a point of departure in this Gathering. I first explored the exchange which unfolded from the tweet below and the interrelations between the human participants. This exchange and the #teamenglish hashtag which helped to bring it together, brought me to a second, longer series of interactions assembled by and around a nonhuman actor, the ‘crib sheet.’ Finally I followed the hashtag to the #teamenglish ‘community’ it assembles, then compared and contrasted that with a similarly enacted sister community, #mfltwitterati.

Making a request by way of a tweet is a common practice amongst educators on Twitter. Levels of response vary, but can be assisted by Twitter. Where a hashtag or a mention is included, reach and therefore the likelihood of response are increased. What unfolds subsequently is much harder to predict.Read More »

Chapter 5: Gathering: Meeting the locals

Chapter 5 introductory graphic

The above tweet marked the point of departure for this Gathering, but what I now present is a summary of what that traversal through the data revealed.

Whilst it is possible for anyone to find information on Twitter, even without an account, that would render it no more a means of undertaking professional learning practice than say, using Wikipedia. With an account however, connections become possible and connecting is facilitated and encouraged through profiles and tweets. The bio and follow button help to begin the process, whilst retweets and likes help to sustain the relationships which form. Connecting is more than merely a one-time click when viewed as assemblage. Every tweet sent, retweeted or liked; every hashtag, mention or emoticon included; every link to a site, post or image, offers potential. It might be an act of renewal – touching base with those with whom you’re already connected – or growth, and be perceived as an invitation to make a connection.  A broad palette of possibilities is available ranging from a tight focus on those with similar experience, from similar educational contexts and with similar interests, to those from different educational phases, in different countries, who might espouse different pedagogical views. Each mix assembled by each individual will do different things.Read More »

Introducing the Gatherings

“gathering” flickr photo by mRio https://flickr.com/photos/64738468@N00/95087651 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A common way to present analysis of data in a thesis or other report is by allocating chapters to emerging themes. In the last post I explained why I declined to undertake a thematic analysis leading to generalisable conclusions, so in the chapters which follow, I present an account of my analysis of the data. I call these chapters ‘Gatherings,’ drawing on the work of a number of authors, but predominantly Law (2004a: 160), for whom Gathering is:

[…] a metaphor like that of bundling in the broader definition of method assemblage. It connotes the process of bringing together, relating, picking, meeting, building up, or flowing together. It is used to find a way of talking about relations without locating these with respect to the normative logics implied in (in)coherence or (in)consistency.

Read More »

Chapter 4: Assembling Methods #2

Chapter 4 introductory graphic
Chapter 4 proved to be quite a long chapter, so I split it across two posts; this is the second and discusses ethics, data management, data analysis, and integrity.

Ethics

Although the formal stages of making ethics applications first for a pilot and then the main study are where my ethical thinking began, it continued through the data collection phase, on through analysis and presentation, and remains as a duty of care through the publishing of the thesis. By maintaining an ongoing ethical sensibility, I became increasingly attuned to ethical issues as they arose. I’ve discussed the thinking underpinning my ethical sensibility over a series of posts, so here I’ll simply summarise what was carried forward into the thesis.Read More »

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 »