Tuesday, February 17, 2015

preparing for viva

A few thoughts on the year 3 weekend from the beginning of February - this is just my 'take' on all the excellent presentations from students and staff.

In no particular order:-
  • Is your thesis title right? Does it really do what it says on the tin?
  • Have you checked the assessment criteria? Remember that an EdD should demonstrate contribution to practice as well as to theory - and your abstract should highlight this.
  • Read Trafford and Leshem's book 'Stepping Stones'
  • Remember to have the end in mind - this will help you to ensure that your thesis covers everything (well pretty much)
  • Make five or six bullet points for each chapter - what are the key things this chapter is getting across? This will enable you to check the flow and is also a good preparation for viva as it will give you two sides of A4 which summarises your thesis - this is really more of a comfort blanket than anything because by the time you get to viva you should be so immersed in your work that you don't need to refer to your notes very much if at all an also it prevents you from stating. "I've written about that" without being able to expand on what you have written
  • Draft and re-draft, throw away, cut and again! (look at Austin's Butterfly)
  • Think about who your external examiner might be
  • Ask your supervisors for a mock viva after the first draft (PR10), well before final submission
  • Have a time line of when you made significant decisions, got data, changed things, changed your mind, read something that resonated, had a conversation with someone that affected your thinking, when things went wrong and what you did about it   ...... have it with you at viva or to prepare for viva, maybe even put it in an appendix
  • After submission, keep up to date with reading, re-read your own thesis lots of times, have a list of any typos that you spot in this period but don't mention them if you don't need to
  • Proof reading takes a long time - get a willing friend to read the whole thesis, could be another EdD type person but doesn't have to be
  • References must be right and consistent
  • You might want to look up Ros Ivanic on reading and writing
  • Try to do a few hours three or four times a week - you could check references or proof read sections if you are not up to content work

Thursday, October 10, 2013

notes from a day school

OU EdD Year 2 day school 5.10.13 Notes
The usual health warning: this is just my take on the discussions and presentations I observed and participated in. I was grateful to the students for allowing me to sit in on their presentations and hope that these notes will be acceptable to them as well as useful for my students who were unable to be there. Also, I am not referencing as I go along but have listed some reading suggestions at the end. I have sent these notes to the relevant people before posting on my blog.

Firstly, it was interesting to note that many students are now using power point or video etc. to make their presentations; in the past this has been less the case but the technology is now available but I recommend a portable storage device of some sort if you opt for this yourself in the future.

I sat in on the group looking at the use of educational technology (there was no group looking at leadership and management on this occasion). One discussion centred on the use of video in teaching and learning and how this has changed over time from largely delivering content towards being used as a) an aid to reflective practice and b) a tool for learners to work collaboratively. The point was made that MOOCs may still be largely content based (since I don’t know much about those, I cannot comment).

Ethical and safeguarding issues had been carefully considered in this project. The observations were being analysed alongside Grainne Conole’s learning design model, interviews and questionnaires to develop a full description of the context. I would mention Hayley Allan’s blog in terms of reflective practice and the repertory grid approach (see Kelly in the reading list below).

A blended learning approach was then discussed and the factors which impact on participation online. Central themes were: technological issues (teaching) pedagogical (learning), organisational (culture of the specific organisation and the specific project), and personal (life stories). We were introduced to the notion of Problem-Centred Interviews which result in a biographical summary of what each person is saying/not saying both about themselves and their context. We also discussed pros and cons of e-mail interviewing.

Reflecting on these ideas afterwards, I am thinking about the need to specify the outcomes being investigated and also to consider the reflective abilities of the participants related to their participation levels.

A third area for discussion was the issue of whether or not curricula (online or otherwise) meet individual learners’ needs – once again related to their specific context: in other words perhaps – personalisation.

We were treated to a presentation by Felicity Fletcher-Campbell on the process and product of interviewing as a research technique. She accepts that interviewing is complicated (looking for answers) but with her very considerable experience has moved towards a view of it as complex (living with uncertainty). When designing an interview guide, think about the various possible outcomes but be prepared to discuss the unexpected. As she puts it, we are not necessarily just looking at structured, semi-structured and unstructured formats when designing our interview schedules or guides.  She pointed out that we produce data rather than collecting it and I would agree with this (much along the lines that Glaser points about bias as data as well). But Felicity also warned us of the dangers of how we word our questions and counselled (where possible) to be neutral and not present our own views in the interview itself. The possible power issues were discussed with the audience. I would also stress the importance of thinking time for the interviewee.
A point made which I wholeheartedly applaud was the idea of writing up soon after the interview so that you can annotate with why decisions were made (for example, to follow a particular direction in the discussion, or what might have happened to the interviewee recently, any local language or tacit understanding and so on). Felicity described the whole research process as serial decision making and I really liked that. It ties in with what I always ask my own students to do which is to keep a timeline of specific events (reading, interviews, questionnaires, conferences attended and so on) and how this might have changed the direction of the research refines the research questions/themes, or helped to develop the conceptual framework.

Comparing with the advice in Trafford and Leshem’s book (Stepping Stones to achieving your doctorate), I would also want to highlight one of felicity’s points about thesis writing which I think might also come up in viva: evaluate your interview schedule, describe what you said as well as what the interviewee said, explain decisions made within interviews and any changes made to the schedule as a result. For me, this is a vital aspect of writing up and demonstrates that you have really immersed yourself in the data.
In the afternoon, we turned out attention more to methods and methodology in a wide range of research situations. I liked the concept of ‘health literacy’ in one project and wondered if there is such a thing as ‘pastoral literacy’ in schools ... and indeed where else this concept might take me if I start to consider it more fully. We returned also to discuss interviews and the matter of developing trust.

Some reading, not properly referenced and in no particular order:-
Kelly, G. (1963). A theory of personality. The psychology of personal constructs. Norton, New York (Chapt. 1-3 of Kelly 1955).
Glaser, B. G. (2002, September). ‘Constructivist Grounded Theory?’  Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research. 3, 3 http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/3-02/3-02glaser-e.htm  (accessed 20.02.2004 and 05.03.2004) 24 paragraphs
Amy B. Dellinger and Nancy L. Leech Toward a Unified Validation Framework in Mixed Methods Research2007; 1; 309 Journal of Mixed Methods Research DOI: 10.1177/1558689807306147
David Plowright: Toward a Unified Validation Framework in Mixed Methods Research
Witzel and Reiter The problem-centred Interview

Aristi Born: Capturing Identity: Quantitative and Qualitative Methods 


Argyris, C. (1991) ‘Teaching Smart People How to Learn’, Harvard Business Review, May/June: 99-109
Bottery, M. (2003) The Management and Mismanagement of Trust. Hull: University of Hull
Schofield, J. (2007). ‘Increasing the Generalisability of Qualitative Research’ in Hammersley, M (2007) ‘Educational Research and Evidence-Based Practice’ The Open University, Sage Publications.
Trafford and Leshem: Stepping Stones to Achieving your Doctorate: Focusing on your viva from the start

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Keeping track of it all from the start

·    If you haven't read Trafford and Leshem's book yet, do that first - even if you don't agree with everything in it you will certainly feel that the main precept - prepare for viva from the outset of your studies - is vital. If you have considered the questions that will come up and answered them already in your thesis and in your personal preparation, it should all go really well. 

      Now, here are my thoughts on how to keep track and be able to answer all those questions - borrowing heavily from advice from my own supervisor (years ago, it seems).

      Keep a research diary and also, if you have room somewhere such as a large notice board or wall area, draw a time line and mark on it when you find significant readings, carry out interviews or other data collection, decisions you make and why; annotate it with your own thoughts at the time, quotes, add links to any online discussions, seminars you attend, your own writing .... and so on.

      If you can condense the finished version and add it to your thesis (perhaps as an appendix), I think that's great and then you could also have it on a card for your viva prep?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Building your argument

I have been asked more than once what I mean by developing a synthetic argument. Of course, the phrase is not of my making. To me (only my take of course), it means synthesising your reading (literature review), perhaps your own primary data, and your rationale into a coherent argument. Bear in mind that my view is simialr to that of Barney Glaser, that your own bias, properly and fully described, is part of your data.

This argument should run through your essay, dissertation or thesis like the spine of a fish.

from my thesis: Reflexivity is closely bound up with, though separate from, reflective practice. The question of reflexivity on the part of the researcher is bound up with the historical development of qualitative action research. The issue of insider research has caused many researchers (including me) to have concerns that the very act of being part of the context being explored will change that context and affect the respondents to the detriment of enabling a theory to emerge. Hellawell (2006: 1) writes about reflexivity, referring to Shacklock and Smyth (1998), who give us the notion of “the conscious revelation of the role of the beliefs and values held by researchers in the selection of research methodology for the generation of knowledge”. As Hellawell points out this indicates a “deliberate self-scrutiny in relation to the research process”.

In other words, to be reflexive, the writer/researcher needs to reflect on her/his own potential impact on the phenomena being investigated. In fact, we should use this reflexivity to monitor the research process, and then, as Finlay (2002: 210) writes, the process is made clear and obvious and “personal experience is transformed into public, accountable knowledge”.

It is important, as Finlay points out, to maintain transparency by clear documentation of all interactions (in my case, interviews), and how these led to the next interaction (for me, how the analysis of each interview, along with my literature search, affected the schedule for the next set of interviews).

There remains a concern that the researcher has put her/his own inference on the analysis of the context. In fact, the constant process of re-analysis could even be regarded as muddying the waters rather than clearing them. Perhaps these concerns could be said actually to be the defining nature of late twentieth and early twenty-first century sociological writing. As Finlay writes, we have become very concerned with being self-analytical.

Finlay proposes certain ‘maps’ to negotiate what she terms the ‘swamp’ of reflexive research. The following gives a very brief account of each of these maps.

• Introspection – thinking about how I feel as the researcher and documenting this for the benefit of the reader, so that s/he may determine a fit with other contexts.

• Intersubjectivity – considering how the respondents might feel and discussing this as a means of further analysis of the way that the research has developed.

• Mutual collaboration – actively discussing with the respondents the relationships that have formed as part of the research

• Social critique – here, we might be seeking to describe a particular social phenomenon (for example, how the leadership style of the Head teacher and her/his professional relationships affect the process of change management within a school) –if using this map, it will be important to consider any power imbalance between the researcher and the respondents.

• Discursive deconstruction – here, Finlay warns of the need to be careful not to over analyse. In deconstructing, we may be in danger of not putting back together again. Like Pole’s flower, do the individual parts of the flower come back together to give us the idea of the beauty of a flower?

I worried about manipulating the conversation to get the result that I was looking for but easy channels of communication between researcher and respondent should enable both of them to reflect on the process. Indeed, the interviews which I have found most useful in terms of emerging themes and thoughts which link to other aspects of my research (such as the literature review) have also been ones where the respondents have said to me that the experience has enabled them to reflect on their own practice and theoretical position.

Literature review

This is just a few notes made after I attended a workshop at the Open University July 2012; I'd be glad of comments or other thoughts.

Six key areas:
  • ·         Outline your boundaries (e.g. just UK, just one type of school, just post 2000) but remember what one of the participants in the workshop said (Michael I think): keep your boundaries porous because sometimes something from 1948 might just be relevant!
  • ·         Find the gaps that you want to fill
  • ·         Write in a way which synthesises the literature (with proper attribution) rather than a list of who said what
  • ·         Set up e-mail alerts
  • ·         Follow up references from articles that interested you
  • ·         Follow up citations; for example, do an internet search for an author then see who has cited them

Consider many sources, with your personal framework being central

Remember there is more than one type of literature review and the one you do for a thesis will be different from one you do as a standalone piece of writing. As a standalone, published piece of work, the review represents a product. For a thesis, it represents a journey: signposting the reader through what you have found and what you intend to do with that, how it links with your own work.

  • ·         Decide if it will have a beginning, middle and ending (say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you’ve said)
  • ·         Always state the purpose of your review
  • ·         Give the review a personal voice as well as critical analysis rather than just description
  • ·         Recognise different discourses in an analytic way
  • ·         Your passion for the topic should be evident

Finally, some thoughts I wrote a while ago that came back into my head during the workshop:-

As I could basically be said to be in the Grounded Theory 'camp' I do regard the whole process of research as potentially yielding data. Thus, one's own bias (properly described and acknowledged) becomes data ( Glaser, B. G. (2002, September). ‘Constructivist Grounded Theory?’  Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research. 3, 3 http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/3-02/3-02glaser-e.htm   for a much better way of explaining than I can). And I think any researcher (GT or otherwise) will wish to link their literature review to their own empirical data. But how can this be done?

There are lots of different types of software and apps around now that can certainly aid the process ( as @lizith amongst others points out on #phdchat ) but does that help with developing a framework for actually using and linking your highlighted clips and references with other data? I am not sure that the following is really getting me to where I want to be. Comments welcome!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

positivism and evidence based practice

first posted on Janshs blog Feb 2009

One of my fellow students posed the question: what is Evidence Based Practice and is it the same as positivism?

I have been wrestling with this thought for a couple of days now.

Positivists take the view that knowledge is developed by applying methods from the natural sciences – that is, that it is based on behaviour that is observable rather than on values or reasons. This means that it is based on experimental evidence or (at least) on quantitative analysis.

E891 Educational Enquiry: Study Guide prepared by Martyn Hammersley, pages 18-21:-
EBP movement began in medicine (EBM), using, for example randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which are intended to be easily replicated in other circumstances. However, even in medicine, the EBM approach may well be tempered with experiential evidence. This might also involve observation and interviewing.

So it might be appropriate to say that EBM/EBP may use evidence from a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative data but it must be valid and reliable. For EBP to affect practice, it is likely that generalisability will also be sought, although some (Schofield, 2007, Dellinger and Leech, 2007, Ely et al., 1999) might view this as being less of a necessity, provided that thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973) are used so that the reader can determine the degree of fit with her/his own context.

So I do not think that postivism and EBP equate totally, since there is an opportunity for EBP to draw on qualitative methods.

Dellinger, A. B. and leech, N. L. (2007) ‘Toward a Unified Validation Framework in Mixed Methods Research’ in Journal of Mixed Methods Research, Vol. 1, No. 4, 309-332
Ely, M., Vinz, R., Downing, M. and Anzul, M. (1999) ‘On Writing Qualitative Research: Living by Words’. London: Falmer Press
Geertz, C. (1973) The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basicflooks
Hammersley, M. (2007) E891 Study Guide for Open University
Schofield, J. (2007) ‘Increasing the generalizability of qualitative research’ in Hammersley, M. (ed.) Educational research and evidence-based practice. London: Sage