Archive for November, 2011


Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

My blogroll in the side column is not just for show. These are all the blogs that I actually read regularly through my feed/RSS reader. I choose to use a desktop reader (Vienna), simply because I find it better than any browser-based or online platforms I’ve tried. However, in doing so, I feel obliged to publicly replicate my blog list here. So, whenever I add a blog to my reader, I also add the link to my blogroll.

There is a significant overlap in my blogging and Twitter networks, and I’m increasingly finding when I access the reader (which I tend to do every two or three days), that I’ve already viewed many of the blog posts through following links on Twitter (which I typically access several times a day). This resonates with the duplicity of networks, differing frequencies of use, and transference of tasks that I’ve observed in studying the social media practices of doctoral students.

A Note on Note Taking

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

I’ve just been catching up with the notes I made at last week’s ECEL 2011 conference.

Chuck Palahniuk once said; “the best way to waste your life is by taking notes.” Admittedly, he probably meant it in the context of its inferiority to the lived experience, but note taking can sometimes seem like a fruitless or trivial activity.

Note taking encompasses a number of contexts, situations and formats, yet collectively these represent an undervalued scholarly activity that is not given enough attention when we consider core academic skills.

Note taking can be purposeful or opportunistic, structured or unstructured, original or augmentative. There are situations when the note-taker can dictate time – such as annotating a paper – and those when (s)he can’t – such as fieldwork, or during a conference presentation etc.. Visual forms of note taking such as doodling or mind-mapping introduce entirely new creative processes.

Note taking can be instantaneous – I’m particularly impressed by live-bloggers. Yet often notes are repurposed to a form or format appropriate for formal documentation. How much of their value is lost? How important is time here; not just in the time you may (or may not) have in making the notes, but in the time you allow to elapse before formalising them. Raw notes can be untidy, incomplete and virtually incomprehensible. How is the sense making embedded and translated, and what role does the reflective process play?

Blogging can be thought of a form of note taking. This post is a note to self. I’m not sure what to do with it now…

Reflecting on #RP2Nott

Monday, November 14th, 2011

I’m a bit late with this follow up to our Research Practices 2.0 event a couple of weeks ago, but it’s been good to allow a chance to reflect on the several things that struck me the most on the day:

Can we stop talking like academics?

Most academic practices reflect the most basic human activities, but we try our best to make them sound otherwise. Even the most generic academic terms are loaded by disciplinary bias and individual assumptions. PhD students (and I include myself here) are amongst the worst culprits as it consolidates the necessary enculturation process inherent in becoming legitimised as an academic (you see, there I go again).

Using broad terms are useful starting points though not always workable. For example, in the morning session I helped facilitate, one table interpreted data collection as general academic information sourcing rather than in the narrower methodological sense. So, terms like collecting stuff, exploring ideas, explaining things etc. are useful to cut through the bullshit.

Tools vs. Practices

Social media is itself a problematic term. Social media constitute a range of different tools and platforms. Whilst some provide defined parameters of use that may be attributable to recognisable activities, many do not. As the Visitors and Residents framework suggests, understanding the effectiveness of social media can be dependent on whether they are perceived as purposeful tools for specific academic activities, or as flexible, social and cultural spaces for participation, enquiry and critique.

Despite practice-based approaches such as those we promoted at the event, there are those who inevitably lean towards the instinctive tool-focussed ideologies inherent in learning new technology, and therefore partly quantify the success of workshops or events on box-ticking exercises such as the collaborative listing of social media we employed in the first session. Some attendees appreciated the opportunity to explore some of the social media we discussed in the morning session in the drop-in IT workshop after lunch.

Expectations and Assumptions

To me, the success of an event like this is partly dependent on the dynamic between how it placates and challenges both (a) expectations of the event, and (b) assumptions of practice – in this case, not only using social media, but also what it means to ‘do a PhD’. And, as Jen’s excellent account of her workshop experience suggests, this is equally true for facilitators. The difficulty is; that dynamic is different for each individual who participates.

Thinking practically, this might be best served by developing an initial dialogue necessary to gain an understanding of these collective expectations and assumptions, and adopting a flexible approach that can adapt to changing needs. Basically, there are as many ways to do events like this, as there are events. If we go away not wanting to rip it up and start all over again, we are probably doing something fundamentally wrong.

Feeding the Fish: Peripherality, Social Media and Doctoral Enterprise

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

During my workshop at the Research Practices 2.0 event on Saturday, we discussed some of the fundamental questions about sharing work online.


  • What type of research work / activities / content etc?


  • What type of social media / online spaces?


  • During what stages of PhD / study / project?
  • How might this support / compromise ‘formal’ dissemination?


  • What types of format / media etc.

Who (to/with)?

  • Audience – size, demographic?
  • Identifiability – real or ‘imagined’?

I had a great group, who were not given anywhere near the time they deserved to discuss these sufficiently. But they responded brilliantly, generally embracing the idea of research dissemination beyond text-based formats and reporting of findings.

In following up these questions – particularly the ‘What?’ and the ‘When?’ – I referred to my interpretation of Jakob Bardram’s (2007) Fish Model. This plots the student’s engagement in theoretical and empirical work (which I crudely termed the ‘Research Scope’) with the duration of the PhD.

This highly conceptual model is hardly an authentic representation of anyone’s actual PhD, but it does usefully indicate at-a-glance the broad ‘focusing out’ and ‘focussing in’ periods that commonly describe the doctoral research trajectory.

I extended this model to incorporate how, as PhD students; we might at least maintain the scope of academic engagement and learning expansion (represented by A). Indeed, there is justifiably an argument to go beyond a process of mere sustainability in favour of a continuation of the ‘focusing out’ trajectory (as represented by B). Or, crucially, do we relinquish the agency for continued expansive learning to adopt a ‘blinkered’ approach that conforms to the reductionist constraints of ‘finishing the thesis’ without compromising direct disclosure of ideas or findings before ‘formal’ publication.

Holistic models of doctoral practices provide more authentic representations of what doing a PhD actually entails, and the complex socio-educational structures that underpin it – what Cumming (2010) refers to as ‘doctoral enterprise’. Such approaches incorporate activities, forms of intellectual enquiry and social interaction beyond those parameters defining thesis-development, to those that are more attributable to exploring the general research field, and engaging in multiple practice contexts.

For the purposes of the workshop, this was a simple way of demonstrating the ‘dialogical’ relationship between what McAlpine et al. (2009) distinguish as the ‘doctoral-specific’ and the ‘academic-general,’ which describes the potential interrelatedness and influence between the core and the peripheral.

This blog post itself partly represents an example of such a dialogue. It references an event and a project, which can be seen as peripheral activities not directly linked to my PhD research. However, my activities in the project have (not surprisingly) been informed by my research into doctoral practices and social media. Additionally, I may chose not to reference Bardram’s Fish Model in my thesis, but some of the conceptual ideas it has helped describe will be explored. Articulating these ideas in this way is contributing to my process of understanding and conceptualising that will benefit my thesis.

Similar dialogical processes between thesis-development and peripheral activities (such as teaching) may not necessarily involve social media. But it’s taken me a while to realise in my own PhD research, that it is fundamentally the nature of this dialogue – which is social, contested and in a state of flux – that is key to understanding the cultural aspects of social media adoption and use.


Bardram, J. E. (2007). The Art of Doing a PhD. Doctoral Colloquium. UbiComp 2007. Innsbruck, Austria.

Cumming, J. (2010). Doctoral enterprise: A holistic conception of evolving practices and arrangements. Studies in Higher Education, 35(1), 25-39.

McAlpine, L., Jazvac-Martek, M., & Hopwood, N. (2009). Doctoral student experience: Activities and difficulties influencing identity development. International Journal for Researcher Development, 1(1). 97-109.