Successful Viva = PhD

As I mentioned in my Tweet on March 25, 2013, I successfully passed my Viva Voce exam at Lancaster University and was awarded my PhD in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning (Educational Research) forthwith. In the British system, passing a viva forthwith means I passed without corrections and was thus awarded the degree.

Jeffrey Keefer Viva Tweet

As a result, my doctoral thesis, entitled Navigating Liminality: The Experience of Troublesome Periods and Distance During Doctoral Study, is being printed and bound at the university.

I especially want to thank my supervisor, Professor Malcolm Tight,  (standing next to me in the image below), and my examiners Professor Paul Trowler (in the left on the picture) and Dr. Margaret Kiley (who attended remotely from Australia). Alice Jesmont (also in the picture below) has been invaluable in her assistance while I attended Lancaster University, along with Dr. Gale Parchoma, who started off as part of my supervisory team before moving on to the University of Calgary.

Jeffrey Keefer Viva

I am now working at publishing some of the results of my work, so hope to have lots more to share. Thanks goes to all who have supported, guided, and helped me along the way, about which I will also speak more in the near future.


I Submitted My Doctoral Thesis!

submit-nowI want to share that Thursday morning, January 10, 2013, was the day that I submitted my doctoral thesis. More years in the making than it may seem by my four years at Lancaster University, I am happy that this step is now complete.

It is now being printed and bound to send to the university examiners who will review it. We began scheduling dates for the viva voca (dissertation defense), where I will travel to the UK to discuss my research.

I am sharing this in part because this blog and my online presence has been a vital aspect of my research, as well as to let people know why I may have seemed somewhat distracted recently while this has been going on.

I will appreciate some positive energy while preparing for the upcoming process that will hopefully bring this academic experience to a satisfying resolution.


Why I Chose MAXQDA

I was recently asked about my experiences using the computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) application, MAXQDA. that I used for my most recent research project while engaging in my doctoral studies at Lancaster University,

I did not initially find this software particularly easy to use, but that is not an uncommon experience as I often find most new software easy to use (I even needed support with my new Mac on more than one occasion). I got the hang of it rather quickly, and now cannot envision coding by hand any longer. I am even starting to think I can use the software to manage a literature review I have coming up . . .

What I found helpful was the way I could assign codes to pieces of text, change the wording as needed, assign multiple codes, and then view those codes across participants, making the codes and participants visible on and off as needed, to begin to see similarities (and in turn beginning the process again). I was amazed at how this helped the process of bringing meaning out of the raw data. When I have previously done this with notes in margins, or colored highlights in Word, it became a challenge to remain consistent or even to be able to manage. Making changes were then nearly out of the question.

I recall a previous module paper where I had 8 interviewees, each one 20-24 pages in length of transcribed text. I was overwhelmed with so much information, and found the lack of an easy way to navigate and manage the raw text, much less the meaning I brought to it, a hindrance to the research process itself. I decided I would not allow that to happen again, and began exploring the various CAQDAS applications. Of the various options out there, I liked MAXQDA’s colorful user interface, the commitment of their support, how they attend and support a large qualitative conference I attend, and how the student costs are very reasonable, certainly compared to the other options. I now plan to reanalyze the data from that last project using MAXQDA, and am already beginning to speculate what different and potentially richer findings await . . .

I have thought about using one of these applications several times over the years, and decided I just have to get serious about it and make the change; good decision.


Learning Journal Entry

I am reworking a learning journal entry I made concerning the methodology I used for this module’s project, grounded theory. While I posted this within our course Moodle website, I thought it may be of some interest (or not) to share it here, especially given how little time I have had for blogging recently.

I have intentionally selected a different strategy of inquiry for each of our modules, having moved from case study to narrative inquiry to ethnography and now to grounded theory, based on Kathy Charmaz’s work. I recently attended a workshop that Kathy offered, as I had previously heard how this can be a rather involved and complicated process. I thought I understood it, until I tried my hand at it. As I imagined, I did need a computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDAS) application to manage all the data that I generated (who would have ever thought I would drown in data of only 3 people?), so purchased and learned MAXQDA, one of the programs that people commonly use to handle and manage large amounts of data. I found the program a life-saver, as I never would have been able to do the 2 levels of coding that then I used to proceed to theoretical sampling, ultimately learning something that I did not expect to find at all.

Perhaps that is one of the benefits of grounded theory; I started with the text and was open to anything I found along the way, upon which I would ground (or build) my theory, without having some things in mind I was hoping (or even not hoping) to find.


Doctoral Research (Module #4) Project Idea

So, here is my current thinking about my final empirical research project in my doctoral program at Lancaster (I work on a literature review in the Fall and then begin the draft proposal for my doctoral thesis). I have already gotten some internal feedback on this, and am now interested in getting some thoughts from my most educated and helpful colleagues (yes, you, dear reader!). Once again, I will have a very short timeline of 4 weeks for this, so will formalize this in the next day or two, and begin seeking potential people to interview beginning this Wednesday.

Research Problem
While programs in doctoral higher education (HE) increasingly moving online and are being supported via distance delivery, it seems important that faculty members support these learners and attend to the changing pedagogical landscape of increasing technology with decreasing face-to-face class time. Mindful of the work of Meyer and Land (2008), it seems the more we can understand where threshold concepts exist, the more doctoral faculty can help their distance students through the doctoral research process while these learners develop as new researchers.

The purpose of this research is to better understand the experiences of faculty members who work with doctoral students via distance or technology-enhanced learning who have identified threshold concepts, or trouble spots / breakthrough areas, for their students and who have found success with helping these learners through this troublesome knowledge.

Research Question
What can we learn about how faculty support their doctoral students, studying from a distance, through areas of disciplinary challenge or threshold concepts?

Methodology and Method
I am hoping to identify and interview 3 social science doctoral faculty members who work with students using TEL or Network Learning methods. I will reach out to my TEL / NL / Qualitative Research networks to inquire for interest. l will conduct and record Skype or phone interviews, and will then engage in grounded theory (cf. Kathy Charmaz) to develop a theory to explain this phenomenon. I will not expect my interviewees to know the terminology around “threshold concepts,” so I will have to define them as being “areas of discipinary trouble, places where students have breakthroughs and then understand their work and research in a new way.”

These are the open-ended, semi-structured interview questions I am considering beginning the conversations with:

  1. Tell me about your experiences identifying disciplinary areas that your doctoral students often struggle with as they pursue their studies from a distance.
  2. How have you helped your doctoral students through these areas?
  3. What did you learn about your students, your discipline, or your role as a doctoral tutor / mentor as a result of these experiences?

Any thoughts at this point are very appreciated.


Networked Learning Conference Take-Aways

Almost a week has passed since the 7th International Networked Learning Conference, and I find that I am beginning to make sense and process my experience. There are 3 items I have so far been able to process:

  1. There is a lot of research still to be done in the area of (virtual / digital) identity development and how that relates to communties of practice, which is something I will continue to explore as I approach my doctoral research proposal. The paper I presented, Autoethnographer Communities of Practice, is here until they make it available on the website, and I am planning to take some of the comments I received, as well as what I learned, and continue to develop these ideas.
  2. The area of Networked Learning is still under development, which is clear from Grainne Conole’s work in the Hot Seat before the event (her white paper is here), as well as her ongoing work and comments through the conference.  She quoted Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell (2004) for a working definition of Networked Learning — learning in which ICT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources. As this is somewhat different than a traditional educational technology or learning technology program / usage (at least in the US), and as it is the focus of my eTEL program at Lancaster University, I see a tremendous amount of research opportunities here. These connections flow naturally with Wenger‘s work in Communities of Practice, and with my interests in making sense of our experiences, I see a lot of work and exploration ahead.
  3. Part of this networked learning involves working with the network of researchers and learners, and maintaining some of the wonderful connections I have made is the next tangible step I plan to do.

What a great conference. Interesting that I have not found anything like this in the US; glad I realized at this point in my studies and research that there is an entire world or scholarship on practice out there, and as networks have no borders, neither should I.


Research Interests Thus Far

As I am sitting in one of the lounges in the airport, awaiting my trip to the university for the residential, I want to write a bit more about my research ideas thus far as we were asked to do for a discussion this coming week.

Let’s take the first round at this, and revise a bit more tomorrow while en route:

Interests and Context:

I am interested in issues of identity, and how people experience and process transformative (cf. Mezirow) changes in the learning. I am interested in when these things happen within the context of online communities (cf. Wenger), especially when navigating identity while engaged in adult or higher education. I am really interested in exploring threshold concepts (cf. Land). I am not  sure how I may work critical theory (cf. Brookfield, Marcuse, Gramsci) or Postmodernity / post-structuralism (cEdit Post ‹ Silence and Voice — WordPressf. Lyotard, Foucault) in, though I can envision this being the theoretical lens.


I know I need to firm up the above before I speak about methodological implications and possibilities, though after having enaged in case study, narrative inquiry, and ethnography over the past year in the 3 completed modules (with a heavy area of study being around autoethnography and how people experience it / reflective practice), I think the sky can be the limit (though action learning is probably not among the possiblities right now, since I am so interested in the experiences of individuals).

Oh, to have so many juicy options!