Posts Tagged ‘phd’

Conceptualising Doctoral Practices

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

My thesis is examining how PhD students’ academic practices are facilitated by the adoption and use of social media. In attempting to develop a conceptual model of doctoral practices, it has been useful to look at similar examples in the literature.

From the outset, I have adopted a holistic perspective of what constitutes doctoral study, looking beyond those activities that only support thesis-development. I’ve therefore been particularly impressed with some of Jim Cumming’s writing. His integrative model (2010) incorporates four mutually inclusive doctoral practices that describe curricular, pedagogical, research and work-based activities. These are, he suggests, in a constant state of flux, and embedded within a diverse range of relations, networks and cultures that orient around several key doctoral ‘arrangements,’ which he defines as participants, the academy, and the community.

Integrative model of doctoral enterprise (Cumming, 2010; 31)

Cumming (2010) also highlights a number of previous conceptual models. Though slightly dated, Holdaway’s (1996) framework of activities and foci is the most comprehensive.

A conceptual framework of activities and foci of graduate education (Holdaway, 1996; 52)

His distinction between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ foci relates closely with a coding model proposed by McAlpine et al. (2009), in which activities are designated ‘doctoral-specific’ or ‘academic-general.’ These are mapped across 3 levels (formal, semi-formal and informal) to form a matrix of six activity clusters. This categorisation of formality seem somewhat arbitrary to me. And what do we mean by formal anyway? Is it an indicator of importance, or is it something that is scheduled, rather than spontaneous? Does formality distinguish whether an activity is optional or mandatory, or whether it has some assessment criteria? I’ve discussed the problem of ‘formality’ in doctoral education in a previous post. Even if some agreed definition is established, I think the formality of individual activities should be thought of as being highly contested (by the PhD student, supervisor(s), Faculty etc.), and as such, constitute potential sources of tension.

The conceptual model I am developing from my empirical work is no more than a useful heuristic with which to guide my analysis, which – as I’m using an activity theory-based approach – is essentially to inform the various components of the activity systems I am developing.

As such, general academic activities are of limited use. But dig deeper, and they each encompass a wide range of academic and social processes. Take conferences, for example, and you’re looking at information sourcing (call for papers), writing (proposals, abstracts, papers), disseminating (presenting), making contacts (networking), giving and receiving critical feedback, gaining recognition in the research field etc. Each of these processes (along with many others) permeates the various interrelated activities that each of my participants are engaged in. Throw social media (the focus of my research) into the mix, and you can start to build a picture of where and how they are influential, disruptive and transformative.

Multiple occurrences of these activities coalesce into a highly complex analytical framework (for each participant), but this ensures that a qualitative analysis of each of their social media experiences is highly situated and contextualised within the various practices and stages of their doctoral studies.


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

Holdaway, E. A. (1996). Current issues in graduate education. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 18(1), 59–74.

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.

Learning, Media and Technology Doctoral Conference

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Good News. I’ve had my abstract accepted for the Learning, Media and Technology Doctoral Conference at the London Knowledge Lab on the 4th of July. I’ll be submitting a paper (4000-6000 words) for the online conference proceedings at the end of May. Reviewed papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of the Learning, Media and Technology journal. In the meantime, here’s the abstract:

The proposed paper describes current doctoral research into how a small sample of social sciences, humanities and interdisciplinary PhD students are adopting and using social and participative media (web 2.0) in their academic practices. The study uses a qualitative, mixed-method design of observation of online activities, participant-reported accounts and successive in-depth interviews. An Activity Theory-based analytical framework of interrelated activity systems is used to describe shifting patterns of practice across multifarious academic contexts and through key phases in the doctoral experience.

The study adopts holistic perspectives of (i) doctoral practices, that legitimises academic activities beyond those related purely to thesis-development and established models of participation and enculturation, and (ii) of social media, responding to the multiplicity, interrelatedness and transiency of web 2.0 tools and platforms. In doing so, it recognises the self-efficacy and heterogeneity of PhD study in the negotiation of multiple socio-technical research communities and networks, and the complex role social media can play in identity-formation and induction into doctoral scholarship and academic professional development.

In addressing the significant gap between the potential of web 2.0 and the reality of low adoption rates and lack of widespread use, the paper proposes that dominant discourses and idealised concepts within the educational technology and media communities do not necessarily reflect the majority of doctoral students’ engagement with social media. Rather, key incentives, disincentives and barriers created by tensions with embedded research cultures within and without the faculty, and inconsistencies in training opportunities and shared practice, heavily influence and disrupt patterns of adoption and use.

The paper will also describe how the dissemination of the activity systems analysis is facilitating the ongoing participant interviews, enabling a negotiated understanding of participants’ use of web 2.0, and encouraging a shared, critical and reflective dialogue for the development of effective social media practices.

How True…

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Dave Walker | We Blog Cartoons | Procrastination (2007)

Confirmation of Status

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

It’s been a busy month. I have just submitted my Confirmation of Status paper to the School of Education as part of my internal review process for my first year PhD. You can view and download the paper on my new PhD wiki. My viva follows presently.

PhD Wiki

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

After testing a few open source and Web app. alternatives, I have opted for Google Sites to develop a PhD wiki. I hope this will prove to be a useful prersonal resource – particularly for developing sophisticated cross referencing between entries – whilst also enabling the dissemination of a wide range of formal and informal texts. I’ve added a handy link at the top of the sidebar.