Quite a week

“Stourton Junction” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/40588261534 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

I knew that a week away with friends at Easter would help to recharge the batteries, but was conscious that I had impending deadlines. I’d also narrowly missed my target deadline of Easter to get the first full draft of my thesis in to my supervisors, but that was my target. Last week then was all hands on deck to get a poster for the follow-up SHU SIPS doctoral poster event handed in for printing. That was followed by a concentrated effort to complete the last few thesis sections, whilst simultaneously gathering the elements I needed to assemble the image I would be handing in for the Doctoral Research Image Competition … which brings me to this week.Read More »

Visualising Flânerie on Twitter

“Doctoral Research Image” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/40631136105 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Here at SHU there’s a couple of PhD researcher competitions on at the moment as part of the forthcoming Doctoral Showcase series. There’s the ‘Three Minute Thesis’ heats and local final, but the one that attracted my interest was the ‘SHU Doctoral Research Image Competition 2018.’ I’ve been producing visualisations throughout my study and I had in mind one I wanted to produce, but hadn’t because I knew it would suck up time. The competition provided the final impetus and although I suspect from the information and instructions, the organisers are expecting photographic images, I thought I’d have a shot at pushing the boundaries.

We welcome attention-grabbing images to intrigue, inform or excite a lay/non-specialist research audience about your research. Images may be arresting, beautiful, moving or even amusing but they must relate to your doctoral research project.

Entrants are also allowed 150 words of accompanying text; here are mine:

The flâneur of 19th Century Paris was an observer and chronicler of city life. In exploring the bold claims some teachers make that ‘Twitter is the best PD ever!’, I called on the spirit of the flâneur to guide my ethnographic approach.

One of several methods I employed in the study was participant observation; this image is formed from tweets collected during that process. Each of the districts or ‘quartiers’ contains tweets on one of the emerging themes, each typified by a magnified example.

Since flânerie inspired my approach to observation, analysis of the data, and presentation of the findings, I sought an image which spoke to that activity. Although somewhat playful, creating this image, and other visualisations during the study, was more than simple representation. On each occasion I found the attention to compositional detail which was demanded also yielded additional analytical insights.

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‘Our’ positionality?

“Staggered” flickr photo by Jingles the Pirate https://flickr.com/photos/jinglesthepirate/2886174816 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

Statements of researcher positionality are often more closely associated with qualitative studies, which, by their nature, may not have complete objectivity as a primary goal. Recognising that the researcher is bound up within the study, rather than separate and viewing it dispassionately from the sidelines, it is important to acknowledge what baggage they bring to the study. This requires acknowledging amongst other factors, one’s gender, race, beliefs, socioeconomic status, age, cultural background, political views, and how they might influence the research as it unfolds. Though important, this is not merely a matter of what effects these factors have on participants, but since the researcher as the primary instrument of data collection, what effects they also have on how findings are presented and interpreted. It’s important to remember too, that reaching the position of interacting with participants only comes after the research has been designed and planned; one’s beliefs and background will also have an influence here too.

This post then is my first attempt to pull together the foundations of the positionality statement which will eventually find its way into my thesis. A first draft, which will be improved by your feedback 😉Read More »

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 »

The path to Twitter is paved with …

Clearly no marks for originality, but there’s my first tweet. Those which followed illustrate that Twitter for me was more about learning with and from other educators. It still is … but I digress. As I’ve been analysing the data from my research, the routes by which people come to Twitter to support their learning are rather different. My tweet above was at 18:33 on the 19th February 2009, and was prompted by a fellow Master’s course member, Geoff, who suggested I might find Twitter interesting. The path for me then began with a course (Technology Enhanced Learning, Innovation and Change), followed by a nudge from someone whose opinion mattered. Can you remember the route by which you came to use Twitter to support your professional learning?Read More »

Never mind the quality, feel the width…

“integrity” flickr photo by drumminhands https://flickr.com/photos/drumminhands/7114464945 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

In preparing for a forthcoming supervisory meeting, I’ve been asked to share what I felt were the standout insights from my empirical observations, but for each one explain how I know, how I convinced myself of that, and how I can convince others. I guess what I’m being asked here is to justify my claims to knowledge; how do I assert that my interpretations are plausible? Lincoln and Guba (1985:290) phrase it as follows:

“How can an inquirer persuade his or her audiences (including self) that the findings of an inquiry are worth  paying attention to, worth taking account of?”

For them it is about trustworthiness and the arguments which can be mounted to make the case, however, assessing the quality of research findings is far from straightforward and is contested in a number of ways. Traditionally, research quality has been judged on the criteria of validity, reliability, generalisability, and objectivity. Validity, simply put, is the extent to which an account adequately represents the phenomenon it purports to. Reliability is related to the replicability of the data generation and analysis; if different people conducted the same study, or the same person on different occasions, would the outcomes be the same? Generalisability refers to the extent what has been learned can be extended to wider populations and objectivity, to how the biases and interests of researcher and researched have been reduced or accounted for.Read More »

What do teachers do on Twitter? Emerging findings.

“Sharing” flickr photo by bengrey https://flickr.com/photos/ben_grey/4582294721 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

When teachers are active on Twitter, they participate in a wide range of practices. From the outset it is important to state how their activity is underpinned by the principle of reciprocity. When one teacher claims that Twitter helps them keep abreast of current educational research, it follows that at some point, someone else must have contributed that information. When teachers describe how they contribute ideas, share experiences and signpost resources, that might not immediately appear to be enhancing their learning. However, when taken in the round, at some point the same teachers will have benefited from others having done the same. Professional practice within this communal space is based on exchange, both giving and receiving.Read More »

Connecting

One of the most frequently mentioned activities when teachers discuss their use of Twitter is ‘connecting,’ and the purpose of connecting is in order to learn. Principally, they’re seeking connections with other people, but also in order to link between different spaces, for example between Twitter and blog posts. Some of the most important connections they’re seeking to make are with other teachers, especially those who share similar interests, passions, and are of a ‘like-mind.’

Whilst connecting with specific individuals can lead to strong and trusting relationships forming and reforming, there’s a recognition that by doing so, you’re also connecting with the whole network of other connections that person benefits from; it’s a cumulative or even exponential process. Knowing the importance of making and maintaining connections, some act as brokers in bringing together people and things they think would interest or assist one another.

…or seeing someone tweeting about some subject and you think, well you need to speak to this person; those sorts of connections I think are incredibly important and that’s not really to do with the technology, it’s just about being a nice person …
(J Dale)

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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 »