ECEL 2011

I’ve recently had my paper, ‘Negotiating Doctoral Practices and Academic Identities through the Adoption and Use of Social and Participative Media,’ accepted for the 10th European Conference on e-Learning (ECEL 2011) at the University of Brighton, 10-11 November. This will be an early opportunity to present some of my original research contributing towards my thesis. I’ve reproduced the abstract below:

This paper describes current doctoral research into how PhD students are using social and participative media (web 2.0) in their academic studies. It examines the role these media can play in identity-formation and induction into academic scholarship and professional development. The practice-context and situated approach of this study challenges some of the dominant discourses and idealised concepts within the educational technology field to address the significant gap between the potential of web 2.0 and the reality of low rates of adoption and use.

The study reconciles social media adoption and use with the self-efficacy and heterogeneity of doctoral practice. By taking an ecological approach, it recognises that doing a PhD requires the negotiation of multiple and interrelated academic and peripherally non-academic contexts. Such an approach legitimises doctoral practices beyond those related purely to thesis-development, and challenges models of doctoral education defined by a trajectory of increased participation and enculturation within a single, localised institutional research community. In addition, rather than focusing on one particular tool or platform, the study adopts a holistic perspective to social media that recognises the multiplicity, interrelatedness and transiency of web 2.0.

The empirical research uses a small sample of social sciences, humanities and interdisciplinary PhD students as participants. Adopting a qualitative approach and mixed-method design, data were collected through the observation of online activities across a range of social media, participant-reported accounts, and a series of in-depth participant interviews. Activity theory is used to support a grounded and recursive approach to analysing participant-produced digital artefacts, field notes and interview transcripts through open coding and thick description. From these data, an analytical framework of interrelated object-oriented activity systems was generated with which to identify and describe shifting patterns in social media practice through key phases in the participants’ doctoral experiences, and across a range of practice contexts.

Emerging findings indicate the role of social media in contributing to, and revealing, the tensions inherent in negotiating multiple and interrelated practice contexts through boundary crossing and interdisciplinary activities. The study reveals how participation in emergent online research networks and communities is enabling new forms of professional academic engagement, often beyond the immediate scope of thesis-related work. It examines how this contributes to the participants’ mapping of the research field by providing additional insights into the socio-cultural infrastructure that underpins academic discourse. It also highlights how the development of doctoral social media practices and identity agendas are influenced by localised research cultures and often compromised by ambiguous or perceived audiences.


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