Throughout the MSc Digital Education (MScDE), I’ve been pushing against my own discomfort with sharing partially formed ideas. In the first course, An Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning (IDEL) this merely involved blogging to an audience of one (my personal tutor) and I think one post that was shared more widely within our cohort. Yet still, the very act writing and pressing ‘publish’ with relative frequency seemed far to concrete and final for what were ‘baby’ ideas – ideas that were still forming, still growing, still so ‘unready’ for any kind of scrutiny. I survived, however, and began to accept that ideas are always like this, perpetually changing, becoming more nuanced, and never complete. It was possible, even, that the early scrutiny which had seemed so invasive might even be helping with idea formation, so with my next course (Digital Education in Global Context), I pushed back harder against the discomfort by participating in and at times leading a group blog, though it remained walled behind the HEI log-in. Later, in Education and Digital Culture, I went public. Initially, it was terrifying. That is, it was terrifying until I realised that I probably didn’t have an audience anyway, and that the nature of the ‘lifestream’ blog that we were doing was somewhat prohibitive in allowing anyone unfiltered access to our musings anyway, due to its (or.. my) often tangential engagement (that sounds like a bad thing: it wasn’t; rather, it is reflective of learning in ‘the age of abundant information’).
Here I am again, starting another course (Social Research Methods, now running through the MOOC #SOCRMX on the EdX platform but with slabs of work within the institutional VLE on either side – a kind of ‘Moodle-MOOC sandwich’, if you like), and once again I’ve been asked to make my thinking public. One would think it would be easy by now – but I have to admit to still having apprehension. I’m very much at the beginning of the dissertation research adventure, and will most probably change direction completely at least 18 more times before settling on a topic. But if this course has taught me nothing, it’s that it’s okay to be tentative. One might even say that ‘finished’, ‘final’, and ‘error-free’ are print literacy values anyway, so here’s to throwing off the shackles with some very provisional thinking.
What kind of topics are you interested in researching?
I’m less interested in the ‘what works’ framing of research questions and more interested in trying to understand messy complexities (fortunately I’m not in search of funding;). I feel that without unpacking some of these complexities, it’s hard to see for what or for whom the ‘what works’ works. More specifically, I’m interested in doing research at the intersection between the field I work in, EAP, and the work I’ve been doing on MScDE, by exploring the relationship between ‘academic literacies’ and digital technologies. This area, of course, has so many potential directions, and my focus will need to be narrowed significantly.
What initial research questions might be starting to emerge for you?
At the moment my questions are not manageable and all a bit ‘woolly’. Possible questions may focus on:
- the actual (digital) literacy practices of (particular group of) students on (particular) undergraduate assignments; and agential roles of technology within this
- the relationship between these literacy practices and the (digital) literacies used by students in their social lives
- student narratives about academic literacies
- lecturers’ narratives: their perceptions of the ‘required’ (privileged) literacies, and their perceptions of the literacies students use
What are you interested in researching – people, groups, communities, documents, images, organisations?
I’m not sure I see these as entirely separate. Rather, I’m drawn to the notion of assemblage and Actor Network Theory, in which ‘the entities that we commonly work with in education – classrooms, teaching, students, knowledge generation, curriculum, policy, standardized testing, inequities, school reform – are in fact assemblies or gatherings of myriad things that order and govern educational practices’ (Fenwick & Edwards, 2012, p. xi). I’m interested in how academic writing practices are assembled. i.e. what they consist of, in terms of human/social and non-human/material elements. I like doing discourse analysis – but I don’t want to privilege the text over the practice of writing.
Do you have an initial ideas for the kinds of methods that might help you to gather useful knowledge in your area of interest?
Whilst the encouragement to ‘craft’ a research approach in this week’s (last week’s) #SOCRMx materials was welcomed, I’m also conscious of the traditions of academic literacies. AcLit principally uses an ethnographic methodology, ‘involving both observation of the practices surrounding the production of texts – rather than focusing solely on written texts – as well as participants’ perspectives on the texts and practices’ (Lillis & Scott, 2007). Breaking this down into methods, Heath and Street (2008, p. 29) suggest that literacy ethnography can include ‘surveys, formal interviews, focus groups, photography, and activity logs along with spatial maps, video recorders, or audio recorders’.
Because I’m interested in both social and material actors in digital writing practice, I was excited to recently come across methods suggested by Ibrar Bhatt and Roberto de Roock (2014) which aim to capture the ‘sociomateriality of literacy events’. Using ‘real-time screen recordings, with embedded video recordings of participants’ movements and vocalisations around the tasks during writing, the result is a multimodal rendition of digital literacy events on- and off-screen’. The analysis, in particular, seems complex – but I’m intrigued to learn more.
What initial questions do you have about those methods? What don’t you understand yet?
There’s still too much to list here..
Do you perceive any potential challenges in your initial ideas: either practical challenges, such as gaining access to the area you want to research, or the time it might take to gather data; or conceptual challenges; such as how the method you are interested in can produce ‘facts’, ‘truths’, or ‘valuable knowledge’ in your chosen area?
The challenges are plentiful – from
- scale and scope being too large to
- local receptiveness to the value of the ‘knowledge’ the study might produce, as historically a study skills approach to academic writing has been supported, and
- access to the equipment to do the recordings if doing a multi-modal recording of students’ literacy practices, and the privacy concerns that might arise from this.
Looking forward to sharing research ideas with others over the next 8+ weeks, and convinced I’ll be more timely with the next post.
Bhatt, I., & de Roock, R. (2014). Capturing the sociomateriality of digital literacy events. Research in Learning Technology, 21. https://doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v21.21281
Fenwick, T. & Edwards, R. (2012). Researching Education Through Actor-Network Theory. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell
Heath, S. B. & Street, B. V. (2008). On ethnography: approaches to language and literacy research. London: Routledge
Lillis, T. & Scott, M. (2007). Defining academic literacies research: issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, 4(1). http://doi.org/10.1558/japl.v4i1.5