Thursday, 23 June 2016

Influences on the student experience

Figure 1.  Draft conceptualisation of influences on the learning experience of work focused learners. Adapted from: Entwistle and Peterson (2004, fig. 3, p.421).

Recent graduates from the BA LTR course will firstly be interviewed via a narrative interview approach, the diagram will be developed further in the light of the analysis of that data.

Narrative interview underpinned by grounded theory.

Phase 1 open invite to: Tell me about your experience...

Phase 2 gap filling based on theory developed during phase 1.

Interpretation and Clarification – a reflexive feedback loop; checking my interpretation with each interviewee and gathering additional data. The analysis of individual interviews will be shared with the interviewee in order to provide the opportunity to comment on my interpretation and to withdraw any information should they wish to do so. This conversational feedback loop operates as a clarification progress (Northcut and McCoy, 2004, p.94) it aims to increase the reliability of my interpretation. This meeting will also be used for a short extension interview as a ‘gap filling’ activity. Prior to this meeting students will be provided with a link to the updated version of this diagram as a stimulus for participants to add supplemental thoughts.  


Entwistle, N. J. and Peterson E. R., 2004. Conceptions of learning and knowledge in higher education: Relationships with study behaviour and influences of learning environments. International Journal of Educational Research, vol. 41, pp.407-428. Elsevier.

Northcut and McCoy, 2004. Interactive Qualitative Analysis: A Systems Method for Qualitative Research. London. Sage Publications Ltd.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Social media and CPD

I was invited to spend a few months working on the #LTHEchat organising team early in Spring this year, if you have not yet joined one of the Wednesday evening chats you might find this information about the project useful.

Once fairly sceptical about the value of Twitter chats the experience has had an increasing impact on me during and beyond my time on the organising team. I don't really feel like I left I still feel part of the project team and I think that is partly due to the open and warm attitude of Sue and Chrissi who have been making this happen but do not take ownership in the traditional way - it is a thing that runs and runs with a different organising team every few months with minimal management by Sue and Chrissi who are keen to see it sustain but also keen to let others evolve it during their time at the helm - a great example of distributing and sharing ownership.

Some of the organising team, past and present, have been working on a short paper for the #SocMedHE16 The Empowered Learner? Conference on16th December 2016. We are due to have a Skype meeting this afternoon to discuss the peer review revisions and make some progress on revising the paper by collaborative writing in Google docs hence I woke in reflective mode this morning and need to put my thoughts down on e-paper to bring some coherence to them.

#LTHEchat has undeniably extended my professional network, one example of that is new contact between myself and Martina we were both in the 08 June LTHE chat which was on open CPD  The Storify of that chat can be found here. Martina read my latest ramblings on my blog and suggested we meet to discuss our research ideas. I had read Martina's profile and was contemplating making contact when she suggested this - we planned to meet in Skype and had a fascinating discussion about approaches to learning, in particular Deleuze and rhizomatic learning. Our  meeting prompted me to rethink about the nature of CPD - a question that is at the heart of the paper we are working on.

 I put this question to Martina in Skype this morning - 'Are we doing networking, are we doing autonomous CPD, are we disseminating and evaluating our research ideas - are we doing all three?'.

In my opinion CPD does not need to be a formal 'training', 'conference' or 'seminar' type event, it can be any opportunity to learn new information or to gain insights into others ideas that are of value to my professional practice and research activity. Twitter is currently my most important portal to CPD opportunities.

There is plenty of evidence that participants value the LTHE chat but in Twitter the limited characters are also a limit on how much info people feedback.

 Unless you use Twitter a lot the tiny micro snippets of participation can seem a bit limiting but that can also be stimulating too - gathering feedback via questionnaires is notorious for low returns, the task can be onerous whereas a quick tweet takes only moments to do.

When I first started using Twitter I was not impressed, aware of the need to immerse in, and play with, new things before value becomes clear I persevered but it was not until I had sent around 700 tweets / retweets that it really started to feel like a homey and valuable experience. Tweets do limit what can be said, OK you can link a series of Tweets to build a paragraph of contribution but it is still a set of bytes of info. The micro nature of contributions are also empowering as they force succinct and concise conversations, I now find that most times I rattle off a Tweet I am within a few characters of the limit by the time I have said what I want to say. I am looking forward to the day when Twitter start excluding links and images from the character count though as that does currently reduce some tweets to just a few words.

I had participated in a few chats, such as the #Edenchat prior to joining the LTHE organising team  but mostly as what Wenger called a 'lurker' or legitimate peripheral participant'. The micro contributions tend to prompt a rapid fire discussion, can be hard to keep up with and often require an intuitive interpretation of input in a way that sometimes feels not unlike when I was learning Spanish and to gain the fuller meaning had to fill in beyond the few words of each sentence that I could decode in a f2f conversation. If I pause to think about and write a contribution 30 or more posts can be added by time my two-penneth makes it to the chat but the Storify is always available afterwards so I can catch up later.

 I can see how it could be difficult convincing a peer reviewer who is not a Tweeter that such comments as the one from David above are sufficient endorsement of the value of what we do but to a Twitter user that kind of post is a strong endorsement.

This post has focused mostly on Twitter but my reason for writing it was also to help me understand why I blog - who am I writing for? My first attempt at blogging was way back when WordPress was first released when Stephen Powell and Pete Bradshaw and I had a little play with the new thing that was interesting but did not go far. My second and third blogs were about my transition to living in Galicia and that made more sense to me - it was a record of a period in my family's history.

This blog was started as a reflective research journal, I had attempted to create an offline private to me research journal long ago but never managed to sustain it. Myself as audience did not seem of much value, after all research has little value unless shared. Some of my posts have been directly addressed to my students so its purpose evolved but they were still also me articulating things I had found out through inquiry based practice. I have not looked too far into my audience but do notice spikes where usually around 60-120 hits across America or Europe or the far East happen in maybe 30 minutes which suggests people somewhere are pointing students at it. That initially tempted me to develop it for an audience but I decided to keep it as a research journal so I would not lose sight of my aims. As such I feel free to ramble my thoughts as I am doing in this post, that helps me consolidate them without feeling I need to formalise structure as for a journal article.

The first online community I belonged to was the OU PGCE course back in 1996 which was a closed community, then I joined Leonie Ramondt's 'Online Learning Network' community which was her MPhil research focus. That led to an invite to join the Ultralab where most of my first forays into designing and facilitating online community work was in closed communities. The diagram below is from a recent presentation about the Talking Heads / NPQH project run by The Ultralab for the National College of School Leadership. A double click on the next two images should open them in original and sharp size.

CPD for existing and new headteachers was at the heart of that project which was way back 2001/2 when open social media was not a big thing. The importance of knowing the audience was felt to be high at that time partly to give users confidence to contribute and also as protection when potentially sensitive info might be discussed. The CPD communities were carefully structured and facilitated.

That was so different to the open CPD that social media provides via blogs, Tweets, video talks, live streams etc. One of the threads in the LTHEchat on open CPD shows the value of closed is still appreciated. A few posts are shown below the whole can be seen in the Storify linked earlier on this page. There were more than a few posts about the positive aspects of open although only one is shown here.

The last one by Martina is exactly what we found in the Talking heads project and in several other Ultralab projects such as the British Thoracic society SpRIte project, the notschool project and the Ultraversity project although the latter does draw on both closed and open communities of practice. 

So back to what to do to respond to the peer review on our paper proposal. IMO we need a more systematic approach such as an analysis with an a priori coding being applied to understand the chat process and what participants get out of it or we could use a process where chat organisers reflect on their own experiences and then we systematically analyse those reflections. In both approaches the use of theoretical deduction to understand empirical data and derive some themes that could be illustrated by tweet chat extracts in the paper would add rigour to out proposal. I also suggest an extract of a video screen capture of a live chat as a means of conveying the experience to the conference audience.

Time to stop rambling, I have to get on with teaching. Even though there is no conclusion to pull this together yet I feel I am more prepared for inputting ideas into the paper proposal.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

What's my doctoral thing?

Just me thinking and talking to myself again. A kind of where am I how did I end up here am I doing the right thing chatter.

As I have met more and more people in Social media who are on, or have done, a doctoral journey I reflect on the fascinating things they are exploring and I keep wondering whether I am doing the right thing. Just been reading about some natty DNA stuff and could easily get distracted into wanting to know all there is to know about it.

We start life wanting to know every thing about everything and school slowly narrows that lens as we are pushed towards a limited choice of subjects, then A levels or similar and the field of knowledge narrows again, undergraduate degree takes us even tighter and by the time a PhD is completed the focus is on knowing everything about virtually nothing a tiny window on a tiny thing. That was a perception that put me off doing a doctorate for decades, I like knowing loads about loads of things.

Archaeology oh yes that's my thing and always has been since I found an amber seal in my back garden when I was about 6 then a 10thC coin when walking and a whole host of microliths, flintlock flints, pottery shards etc. When I signed up for my U/G degree at the then Portsmouth Polytechnic late 70s I had to choose three 1st year subjects, geology was my main thing and I wanted to do archaeology and geography but archaeology clashed with geology on the timetabling so I ended up taking on computer science instead. I do still regret missing the opportunity to do archaeology  but in the longer term all that FORTRAN and C+ stuff did come in useful and the massive scale of mainframe computers in those pre desktop days was so impressive.

Geology yup that is my thing too, when I was 3- 7 yrs old we used to stay in a little cottage near Allenheads where blue and green fluorspar and silvery grey galena were scattered like gems in the gravel and even along the sides of paths and tracks, and the Permian/Carboniferous rocks on the Northumberland coast where I lived offered all sorts of fossils - it was inevitable that such free treasures sparked an interest. I had the change to do geology at O level in high school that really set me up with such an inspirational teacher, I graduated just as the north sea oil boom subsided, was offered a job in a deep African gold mine where a week later there was a riot so I left that one and moved on.

Geography was my thing and still is, well the geomorphology side if it more than the people stuff, again the wonderful glacial landscape of Northumberland grabbed my attention and the processes that moulded it were fascinating. Wherever I have gone in the world the way the landscape was made fascinated me. How to make money out of that was something I never cracked.

Photography was my thing from a fairly early age, at a time when black and white was the norm and just before the first Kodak Instamatics were revolutionising the sport I was lucky enough to be given a Pentax SV SLR - My uncle worked in Hong Kong and left his behind with us by accident, as he only visited every 4 years he said I could keep it yeeeha that got me started then I got a Leica and snapped away for years and even did a little bit of a stint working with a photography firm in Newcastle, it was so boring though.

Outdoors well I loved the outdoors I was addicted to moving, age 13 I rode my Claud Butler from Tynemouth to Edinburgh (118 miles) and got half way back that evening as the youth hostel was full so I had nowhere to stay, I ended up falling asleep in a ditch wrapped in a survival blanket near Holy Island. A few years later I ran around 250 miles in 4 and a bit days wearing canvas plimsolls and without any maps - across the bottom of Northumberland, up through Kielder, into the Cheviots to Kirk Yetholm and back down the coast. I started kayaking age 8, did a fair bit of rock climbing, loved mountaineering, got into surfing in a really big way... it never struck me as a way to make money and as my dad used to tell me I was a rotten waster I was not best set up to be competitive in a public arena.

I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau and joined the BSAC when I was 14, did a load of diving over the years but never made a life out of it. I don't like hurting or killing anything and bottled out of doing biology at school due to the having to cut up fish eyes and dissect frogs and in my teenage naivety thought that without biology there was no way I could do any undersea science.

Theology well I am not at all religious Bertrand Russell just made so much sense to me when I was young and my RE teachers did not have anything persuasive to offer me but am fascinated by the nature of religion and why people do buy into it and could have enjoyed spending a lifetime exploring that.

Art became a thing, I got into it late as an experiment // catharsis to depression. I sold paintings and sculptures in St Ives years ago but an opportunity to work in HE came along and that went by the wayside. Nest to my desk are three blank canvasses and some paints - back to it one day.

The sub-atomic stuff has always fascinated me quantum physics is oh so special, but the math oh the math was too much. Likewise with the big picture stuff the universe / universes and all that jazz. Maths is not my thing and without that I was never going to thrive in such a world.

I could go on I guess I am pretty much interested in everything apart from fashion and celebrity and the horridness that people do to each other.

So am I doing the right thing for my doctorate? Without spending ages on the detail what I am looking into is learning processes / the online learning experience. I guess what I am doing does have relevance to all that I have done and all that I want to do, how we learn and how we share knowledge is something that cuts across all of life. I do hanker for an existence in which we could live many lives and where I would be able to explore all of my other interests as lifetime passions but that ain't going to happen.

So what have I learned by writing to myself again - yup I am happy with what I am doing and should stop wasting time reflecting on the past and get on with refining my latest paper. Its a tough journey doing the doctorate thing, easy to get lost and isolated, thank goodness for Twitter. Here I am at the half way point of an EdD firming up my proposal and its not the tiny thing I imagined it would be all those years ago, its kind of big and complex and deep and fun.

Blimey I also learned that Google is rubbish at spellchecking UK place names - come on Google they are all there on Google Earth - make the link.

Oh it can't even recognise itself good grief what a company.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Hot stuff, shoes and Learnometer

The Learnometer team and this post: The secret to calm classrooms? Lose the shoes got me thinking and as writing helps me sort out what I am thinking about here goes...

I am and always have been a 'hot person' the kind of chap who is wearing shorts and sandals in February while others are still in winter coats and who likes the central heating set to about 16C or left switched off and the windows open. I get twitchy hot feet at night and spent a fair bit of my time in school with my feet slipped out of my shoes (just the toes in so teacher wouldn't notice) while sat at a desk. I work from home and rarely wear shoes during the day unless I have to head out into public spaces. When I spotted the Lose the Shoes article in Twitter I was into it in seconds - at last someone who acknowledges shoes on is not essential for good learning.

There is a lot of variation in how people perceive temperature, a fine body of research that shows that in general the ladies feel the cold more than the gents but there are hot and cold people of both genders. A key factor here is that when the environment is too cold it is possible to put more clothes on, if it is too hot there is only so far you can go as far as removing layers goes. What I experienced in school is not dissimilar to what all of my 5 children have reported and they range in age from 12 to 34 so that covers a fair time period, 60s-70s, 80s-90s and 2005-2916.

In the height of summer I was expected to wear a black blazer, long sleeved shirt tucked in and done up to the top button with a tie just make sure there was no possibility of ventilation. We also had to wear long black trousers, black socks and black shoes.

Black soaks up heat, solar water heater panels are painted black for that reason - don't ever design a black school uniform its totally the wrong colour.

Even way up in Geordieland perched on the north east coast that uniform was a bit uncomfortable to say the least in summer. What do boys do at break time? Well for me it was move around a lot - a whole host of playground ball and chase games and girls to impress ensured we came back into class panting for air, gasping for water and pretty much spent the first part of most lessons broiling alive wrapped cosily in the uniform. The only reasons for wearing such kit seemed to be to teach us to be smart and to do what we were told and to develop endurance during adversity skills. The lesson in how to be smart could be learned at home easily enough, I didn't need 5 years of immersion to take on board what smart meant.

So there I am in French with Mrs X who seemed to be aged about 120 but was probably in her 60s and had spent break sat down drinking tea and chatting in a light summer dress so would make sure that the classroom windows were closed on all but the most scorching of days. If there was a breeze through the window she was cold and it did not matter that we were all boiling alive, twitching and shuddering with the heat. Blazers were allowed to be taken off in class but anyone who loosened a tie or undid their top button was in for a look, a reprimand or a whacking. Fortunately corporal punishment has gone but sanctions are still deployed for uniform infringements. With around 30 people pumping body heat into Mrs Xs class the sealed room got hotter, we robbed it of oxygen, filled it with CO2 and tried to learn despite the environment. We also learned to resent the teacher and the uniform and that rules was rules even if they were not based on any tangible thread of common sense or logic. It is hard to respect someone or a school system when it places you in discomfort for no apparent reason. My two boys just arrived back from school as I am writing this, they both came through the door red faced and hot then threw off the uniform and are sitting in shorts chilling. OK it wasn't like that for me every day, neither is it for my children, but it certainly was often enough to stick in my memory as a thing I hated about school.

When I read about the Learnometer Kickstarter project my first thought was of that classroom and wondering whether Mrs X might have taken notice of the evidence and let some cool and some O2 in, put her cardigan on, let us loosen our shirts, slip off our shoes and chill. Then reading the shoes off article reminded me of the times I have raced to undo walking boots and plunge my sweltering feet in a mountain stream, raced from car to sea and felt the joy of cool water on my feet taking the head from my body, stepped out of trainers after a cycle or run and let the wet grass sap the heat away. Feet, hands and heads are the things outdoor folk know to cover up when the temperature plummets and the same three places are the ones to cool when you are overheating.

It is easy to respect someone who cares for your comfort, who will say go on slip your shoes off the smart police are off duty in here, ye open your shirt and slip the tie off if your too hot or wear a short sleeved shirt that's fine. Its easy to keep still and to focus when your body is not screaming at you, easier to listen and to learn and to enjoy life. I can't see any persuasive arguments against being comfortable or in favour of sitting in an airless hothouse.

I have not yet experienced what LOM devices do first hand but knowing the team who made them I have every confidence that they will do what it says on the tin. It is hard to please everyone, no one size/temperature/humidity fits all but there are ranges within which comfort is likely and Learnometer seems to be designed to help identify how to stay within sensible environmental parameters, There are attitudes to clothing that can help children personalise their own micro environment and help them be comfortable. Putting the two together makes sense, I don't know if that would enhance attainment and progression but it is unlikely to have a negative effect. I do feel it is likely to have a positive effect on pupil's comfort and well-being, on their willingness to be in school and on their respect for the adults in school.

Then there is all the science to learn - how does LOM react when variables are introduced; what was it reading in an empty room? What happens after the same room has been full of people for 30 mins? How does a room in shade change when the sunshine starts to come through the windows? How does outdoor weather affect indoor environment? Do conditions vary in different parts of a room? Does leaving a tray of water out really affect humidity; do those effects vary depending on other conditions in the room? 0h there are loads of things to ask it. I am interested in experimenting with one in my house and if I was still working in a school would be persuading management to sign up for a couple at least.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Interviewing and tapes

For a book revised in 2016 Real World Research by Robson and McCartan has a rather dated feel. In chapter 12 repeated references to "taping" interviews reinforce this feeling regularly, I doubt anyone has used a reel to reel, cassette tape recorder or VHS camera to capture interviews for at least a decade. OK they might be referring to more modern mini-DV tape formats but these are digital recordings and easily imported into computers where the data can be manipulated so the problems mentioned would not be relevant.

The statement from page 287 about transcription is what makes me feel this is referencing pre-digital machines:

"Tapes if used require whole or partial transcription (allow something like a factor of ten between tape time and transcription time unless you are highly skilled; i.e. a one hour tape takes ten hours to transcribe fully)." 

Unless there are compelling unstated reasons to use pre-digital tapes the authors should just have advised against using this kind of tape recording and then quoted the problems with transcription. I started using digital tools to capture interview data in 1998, the key advantage of this is that it is easy to use digital software to slow the playback speed to match my typing speed. For me this results in the time taken to transcribe a one hour interview being only around 90 minutes rather than the 10 hours suggested by Robson and McCartan. Anyone taking 10 hours to transcribe a digital recording would have to still be learning to type. This strategy is such an obvious advantage I can't see why it is ignored in a book that has much sound advice to offer. Digital recording obviates the need to spend many hours transcribing text or of falling back on the less useful option of paying for a third party transcription service. Clearly the immersion in the data is greater when the researcher does the transcription, digital tools also allow the researcher to listen to the recording several times at normal speed to add any observational notes about the tonal emphasis that could indicate depth of conviction or level of uncertainty. Video of F2F, Skype, FaceTime or Periscope interviews also has the advantage of allowing for interpretation of visual signals.

On page 296 in box 12.4 the authors offer advantages and disadvantages of the telephone interview, it is not clear why they state:

"They need to be relatively short (usually less than 30 minutes) face-to-face interviews can be up to an hour in many cases."

There is absolutely no justification for this statement, most phone contracts offer free calls for up to an hour (and have done for years) and the cost of going over an hour is minimal and far less than the cost of travelling long distances to meet face-to-face. I can not think of one reason why a phone call needs to be shorter than a face to face conversation. Although telephones are still relevant today the advantages offered by video services such as FaceTime or Skype include allowing contextual information to be gleaned, no limit on the length of call, and there is also the potential for live sharing of relevant documents or images via instant file transfer. Recording is not difficult, for example on a Mac just open QuickTime, select 'new screen recording', start recording then start the interview.  If you want a double indemnity approach set up a camera or smartphone on a small tripod pointing at the screen and off you go.

The authors do mention VOIP briefly at the top of page 298 but refer the reader to older sources dating 2006-2009 which are less than contemporary. they then go on to expand on advantages / disadvantages of several methods but repeat the categorisation into approaches where social cues are or are not relevant and continue to fail to cover digital video recording adequately.

I find the same in Social Research by Punch from 2014, on page 151 the author talks about tape recording and references sources from an era before digital devices were common - 1985 - 2002. Recording equipment in 1990 was very different to that available on any smart phone today and situations where there is no opportunity for electronic recording in the field are now rare indeed as long as mobile devices are well charged in advance.

Some comparisons between digital recording and analogue tapes:

Digital  - no specialist equipment needed beyond that available in most households, no training needed.
Analogue  - hardware is not commonly available, some basic training might be needed.

Digital - easily copied at no extra cost to create backups.
Analogue - copying tapes requires a special recorder or a second machine, not difficult but might have a cost implication.

Digital - easy to create video or audio extracts from the raw data.
Analogue - not so easy to make and not so easy to use unless digitised.

Digital - files can be stored securely online and accessed easily by password holders from any internet enabled location. On local devices folders containing files can be password protected for security - it takes about 10 seconds to do.
Analogue - secure storage has to be in a physical device such as a locked file cabinet or safe, this has implications in regard to convenience of access.

Ye I'm having a moan but come on publishers; recently revised books should include current information in-line with the recent evolution of technologies.

Tapes Pah!