Reflective Tools

This blog, my wiki (both public) and my research journal (private) represent the primary tools I use to record my academic progress and Doctoral experience. Each can be seen as serving specific and interrelated processes of documentation, reflection and dissemination. Such things are rarely reflected on, so there’s nothing like a damp bank holiday weekend to do so…

I’ve discussed various aspects of my blogging previously here. Suffice to say, i see this blog as the focal point of my web activity. Even though I’m frequently more active in using Twitter, Delicious, Mendeley and other tools, this is at the heart of my engagement with the wider academic community and the first place I direct anyone interested in my work.

I use Google Sites for my wiki. It’s a wiki tool in all but name, and one I find to be more effective and reliable than others I’ve tried (such as Wetpaint). I feel I’m yet to develop the full potential of the wiki. It remains a largely static repository whilst it could integrate much more dynamic cross referencing and annotation to facilitate thesis development. Perhaps this will be realised once I reach the writing-up stage of my PhD. I have no problems sharing my work in progress – I think it’s a personal choice. As my PhD is fundamentally rooted in participatory practices and openness in academic work, I guess it helps to practice what I preach. I don’t think many people actually read the wiki, but occasionally it’s useful to reference parts of it on my blog, which is a more appropriate platform for gaining feedback.

My research journal is an old-fashioned diary-style Excel file which I use to collate random thoughts and ideas, quotations and references, and notes on seminars I have attended etc. – much of it actually on the periphery of my PhD. Some content may become formalised into blog posts, wiki entries and thesis drafts. Maybe I should use a private wiki-type site for this, to enable access from any computer and facilitate better search and cross referencing.

These tools are interconnected in various ways to other tools and services which I use both on and off-line, particularly my Twitter and Delicious sites. I’ve also started using Evernote again, primarily to keep tabs on comments I make on other people’s blogs and in social network sites and fora. (I’m considering this or some similar web-based ‘sticky notes’ system for my participants in my main study). Some call this combination of tools a Personal Learning Environment/Network (PLE/N) – ambiguous and contested terms I’m happy to let others use. Key for me is identifying how and why we adopt and configure these tools, and how they transform and disrupt our academic practices. It’s always worth reflecting on your own use of technologies when investigating others.

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6 Responses to “Reflective Tools”

  1. virginia Yonkers Says:

    Interesting use of excel. I had never thought of using a spreadsheet in that way. I used endnote in the beginning stages of my research (literature review), but I have moved away from it.

    I use the blog to help me formulate my ideas. Unfortunately, I don’t get much feedback on them. However, blogging does force me to think through ideas ( i.e. taking the place of memo writing in grounded theory). I’d like to have a better model building tool, but haven’t found one that fits my need yet.

    My main tool has been Word. I use the comment function often to write notes to myself and the track changes function to keep track of changes. Like you, I think a wiki would be useful, but being on a limited budget throughout this process, I have made due with the tools I have.

    So what I see in common with the tools we both use is: 1) tools that allow for both public and private spaces, 2) tools to organize and categorize literature and information, and 3) someway to document our progress so we can go back to it to see how we got to the point we got to.

    As you mention, it is not the tools themselves but how we use them.

  2. James Mcnaulty Says:

    Thanks for the information. What made you use excel a research journal ? would you recommend this approach ? if so what are the main reasons ?
    I am planning to write a guide on writing up for Ph.D scholars, and thought it would be useful to include some tips on how to manage a research journal using non traditional techniques.

    To virginia Yonkers
    I would be very happy to visit your blog… I couldn’t find the address though.

  3. Andy Coverdale Says:

    James, it’s handy using a diary template in Excel, but there’s lots of alternatives.

  4. Jim Richardson Says:

    I never thought of using Excel as a research journal. Thanks for sharing some tips. I enjoyed reading your blog, I agree with you, we really do have different ways on using technology for blogging. I’m just starting out to blog about online MBA programs and like Virginia, I’ve been using MS word for my ideas intead of Excel. I also found about different tools that can be used for publishing a blog entry, sometimes I just think I can’t keep up with these technologies anymore. Thank you very much for this amazing blog Andy. I would love to read more of your articles. I’m glad that I found your blog.

  5. Elena Golovushkina Says:

    Thanks for an interesting post, Andrew! I am in the first year of my PhD, and when I started I was completely digitally illliterate. Well…ok I used Facebook and wrote my MSc dissertation using MS Word:) but had no idea about tools like Delicious, WIKIs or Twitter. Thanks to my supervisor and other great people that I’ve met on my way I saw the value of these things for my research process, and now can’t imagine my life without them. There is still much to learn but that’s what I love about doing a PhD – you learn new things every day! Good luck with your project!

  6. Chad Says:

    Happened to run across this blog and thoroughly enjoyed the content and exchange. Like other posters, I have used various instruments to capture my “reflections” and research interests over the years. I have begun using Mac Numbers (Excel) within the last year. Why? Simply, I enjoy having columns for quick compare/contrast’ing and search-ability, even sorting function of Numbers (Excel).

    Another technique is the use of Mac Pages (Word). My comments are slightly more robust that in Numbers. I can work on formatting, structure, and flow easier that in Numbers. Finally, in the Footer, I place a summative phrase(s) or word(s). I frequently print out and arrange the printouts so I can see only the Footers….allows for very quick analysis and arranging.


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