This thesis concerns the Participatory Web and its impact on the practices of academic researchers. The Participatory Web is defined as web-based applications through which individuals come together to discuss, share, learn, and co-create knowledge via different kinds of media (text, video, audio, photography, etc). The Participatory Web is a space of interaction and participation available to individuals that extends beyond institutional boundaries. For this thesis, the Participatory Web is also seen as a social space where new ideas and forms of working are generated. And, in this vein, it is equally a space that can foster contention and struggles. Academic researchers, the research participants featuring in this study, are individuals who actively pursue a research career and are professionally associated with a Higher Education Institution in various countries. For the purpose of this research, the practice of the participants has been limited to their academic research practice.
The concept of belongingness has intuitive appeal. Human beings are social creatures; the need to belong and be accepted is fundamental, and social exclusion can be devastating.
Our definition of ‘belonging’ is closely aligned with the concept of student engagement, encompassing both academic and social engagement, with academic engagement synonymous with deep, as opposed to surface learning or compliance. It accords closely with Goodenow’s description of belonging in educational environments:
Students’ sense of being accepted, valued, included, and encouraged by others (teacher and peers) in the academic classroom setting and of feeling oneself to be an important part of the life and activity of the class. More than simple perceived liking or warmth, it also involves support and respect for personal autonomy and for the student as an individual. (Goodenow 1993p.25)
This thesis presents research activity that explores the concepts of identity, invisibility and social forces in relation to ‘non-traditional’ students undertaking undergraduate study within a college of further and higher education. This introductory chapter provides the rationale and the research question underpinning the study and then considers each of the concepts of ‘identity’, ‘invisibility’ and ‘social forces’ in turn.
The chapter then examines the policy context and the nature of the institutional environment in which the research activity has been undertaken before providing an outline of the chapters that follow.
1.2 The habitus of distant doctoral degree
The doctoral degree can be traced back to the University of Paris in the 12th century (Bourner, Bowden, & Laing, 2001). The attainment of such a qualification entitled an individual to participate in a guild (Chiteng Kot & Hendel, 2011). In the 19th century, the Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) as a research degree was created at Berlin University. The PhD degree later appeared at Yale in the USA in 1861, Toronto in Canada in 1897, and Oxford in the UK in 1917 (Chiteng Kot & Hendel, 2011). There now exists a variety of doctoral degrees such as professional, applied, practitioner, and clinical doctorates (Chiteng Kot & Hendel, 2011) with a variety of routes to completion including module-based, research-based, publication-based, portfolio-based, work-based and, in the case of fine and performing arts, exhibition/theatre-based (Costly & Lester, 2011; Paltridge, Starfield, Ravelli, & Nicholson, 2011). To this list of variations, we can add changes in modality.
Online technologies mean that doctoral programs can be delivered primarily or partially at a distance. Attempts have been made to differentiate between the traditional PhD and professional doctorates. However, because of the variations in characteristics of both types of doctorates, they can be viewed on a continuum of more to less traditional (Bourner, Bowden, & Laing, 2001; Chiteng Kot & Hendel, 2011; Neumann, 2005).
Notwithstanding efforts to modify traditional PhD courses to accommodate the demands of knowledge production and social accountability in the current economy (Kuang-Hsu, 2003), the newer professional doctorates are seen to offer greater flexibility to accommodate the needs of professionals and practitioners as well as offering cohort experiences that are less solitary and more supportive than traditional PhDs (Loxley & Seery, 2011; Neumann, 2005; Wellington & Sikes, 2006).
In the social sciences, numbers of professional doctorates have been increasing in the areas of education, business, management and administration, social work, and law (Leonard, Becker, & Coate, 2005).
Compared to science students (in traditional programs), education students (in professional programs) are often middle-aged, mid-career professionals with significant experience, may have some level of authority and seniority, and hold a master’s degree or professional designation (Costly & Lester, 2011; Kamler, 2008). Learners in professional fields may wish to pursue opportunities in academia, but may also have various other aspirations such as attaining senior positions in their institutions, becoming involved in policy development, or working freelance (Leonard, et. al., 2005). In addition, to motivational factors, the doctoral experience may be complicated by familial and financial issues.
The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (Barber, 2004) defines doctorate as “the highest university degree in any faculty”. This is echoed in a definition offered by Park (2007): “The doctorate is the highest academic degree that a university can award to a student who has successfully completed a defined programme of work in a particular field of study” (p. 4). Although doctoral degrees may be completed through a variety of different routes, doctoral degrees require learners to work at a conceptual level (Trafford, 2008). The literature suggests that doctoral students are expected to
• work independently (particularly in the social sciences);
• have a solid background in their field of study, including both seminal works and current developments;
• evaluate historic and new contributions to the field;
• examine the field critically, reflectively, creatively, and analytically;
• be able to identify gaps in knowledge enabling a unique contribution to the field;
• conceptualize an original research project that will extend knowledge in their field;
• participate in peer dialogue through publications and conferences; and
• be able to communicate and defend their understanding of their field.
(Chiteng Kot & Hendel, 2011; Hockey, 1994; Kamler, 2008; Lovitts, 2005; Phillips & Pugh, 2008; Wellington & Sikes, 2006)
Alongside this list, doctoral students need to familiarize themselves with the norms, ethics, and techniques of their field. They are expected to forge links between concepts, synthesize ideas, critique the work of others, and accept critique of their own work (Trafford, 2008). As Barnacle (2007) acknowledges, it is not so much a question of acquiring or producing knowledge, but “being able to engage with the problematical status of knowledge” (p. 186).
Traditionally, the research degree was viewed as a rite of passage (Hockey, 1994) in which the student becomes independent and autonomous in the research endeavour (Johnson, Lee, & Green, 2000). The Western European cartesianist view is that science is objective and requires the separation of reason from emotion with abstract thought autonomous from that of everyday life (Johnson, Lee, & Green, 2000). To an extent this view still underlies expectations creating a separation between a novice embedded in the world and an objective researcher legitimized as a steward of knowledge overseeing a given field (Lee & Williams, 1999). A more social constructionist lens would view knowledge as co-constructed with multiple perspectives possible and contingent upon personal, social historical, and cultural contexts (Dall’Alba & Barnacle, 2007).
As learners work within the boundaries of the academic context, their identities take shape. “When people enter what is for them a new social context such as higher education, they are likely to find that its discourses and practices support identities which differ from those they bring with them” (Ivanič, 1998, p. 33). At the doctoral level, learners need to adjust to expectations of a community viewed as the upper echelon of academia and, sometimes, society.
1.3 Issues associated with distant doctoral studies
Kuang-Hsu (2003) noted that the 1980s saw heightened concern with poor completion rates in the social sciences. The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (2004) conducted a 10-year cohort study of 66% of graduate students admitted in 1992. They found that rates of completion for doctoral students across universities range between 34% and 71% with life sciences graduating the largest number of students over the 10-year period. Bourke, Holbrook, Lovat, & Farley (2004) examined the statistics from two data sets involving 1796 doctoral students in Australia. They found that “the most reliable estimates of completing and withdrawing candidates from the yearly cohorts of students enrolling in a PhD was 70 and 30 per cent (respectively) after up to six years of full-time equivalent enrolment, called ‘candidacy’ time” (p. 13).
A study done by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (2007) found that “of the students who started a full-time PhD programme in 1996-97, 76 per cent completed their PhD within 10 years” and that “those starting a part-time PhD programme in 1996-97, 48 per cent completed their PhD within 10 years” (p.2). And, according to the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States, only 57% of students who begin their doctoral degree complete within 10 years (2008). Even at the highest completion levels, this suggests that nearly 24% to 30% of students do not complete their PhDs within 10 years. And, this is possibly higher for part-time students. “Attrition from doctoral programs can be a serious issue in terms of human and national investment and research capacity building in contemporary economies” (Kiley & Wisker, 2009).
Doctorate degree holders may be recognized as the “primary originators of new research and key instruments in the transmission of knowledge to future generations” (King, Eisl-Culkin, & Desjardins, 2008). Yet, the discourses surrounding doctoral degrees are problematic. Governments and funding agencies are challenged to rationalize support of higher level degrees without adequate evidence of contribution to national economic and social progress.
In the UK, researchers are encouraged to “convert their research outcomes into genuine improvements for UK society and the economy, and thus produce ‘economic impact’” (Research Councils UK, 2012, p. 3). The value of doctoral education is questioned because of: “high attrition rates, prolonged time-to-completion, the relevance of doctoral study to the real world, and the extent to which doctoral graduates contribute to the workplace, knowledge economies, and the social, cultural and economic development of nation states” (Halse & Mowbray, 2011, p. 519).
Increases in doctoral enrolments around the world, accompanied by an increasingly diverse doctoral student demographic with wider age ranges, more part-time enrolments, different purposes, and a variety of employment choices following graduation contribute to the difficulty to measure the complex ways in which doctoral research affects society (Halse & Mowbray, 2011). Nevertheless, doctoral studies may have significant impacts on society as learners emerge with increased “resilience, creativity, determination and problem-solving abilities that shape the subjectivities and identities of individuals and make a longer term contribution to the public and social good” (Halse & Mowbray, 2011, p. 521). Wellington and Sikes (2006) also note “it is more a case that the doctorate has had influence and impact (sometimes obliquely) on professional attitude, disposition and confidence rather than directly affecting ‘performance’” (p.724). Currently, there is little research on either how TEL and NL will impact completion rates nor on the impact success, or challenges of NL-trained academics in their professional, personal, or academic worlds.
1.4 Scoping the project from a social constructionist perspective
The social constructionist nature of this thesis merits some explanation. Social constructionism was popularized, primarily in Sociology by Berger and Luckmann’s publication of The Social Construction of Reality in 1966. It has since spread through many different fields such as History, Anthropology, Political Science, Communications Studies, Literature, and to some extent in Psychology (Best, 2008). As Weinberg (2008) writes, the origins of social constructionism can be traced through the work of great philosophers such as Hegel and Marx who explored the interactions of social and individual processes. Some philosophers began to ponder the degree to which knowledge was socially embedded and constructed, leading critical theorists, in particular, to theorize about the emancipatory power of recognizing previously unquestioned, taken-for-granted assumptions (Hacking, 1999; Freire, 1993; Mezirow, 1978). Language as a structural force, source of consciousness, and a means of action in the world grew in philosophical importance in the structuralist view. Post-modernists, however, react negatively towards the concept of universal and linguistic laws of behaviour.
Social constructionists today may or may not support the views of either modernists or post-modernists. They may fit on a continuum of views in which one extreme sees an underlying, independently-existing reality versus a view of multiple realities on the other extreme. Their position on this continuum may reflect their opinions of whether or not two people can have the same perspective on reality (Burr, 2003; Edwards, 1997; Harris, 2008). More importantly is the ability to judge the distortion of one’s understanding of the world (Weinberg, 2008). Social constructionists do not necessarily reject historical influences that have affected the emergence of cultural practices and concepts, but expose patterns of thought and behaviour.
Social constructionists are generally anti-foundational; that is, there is no underlying objective state or universal pattern of reality. Instead, they would suggest, many social realities exist (Burr, 2003; Foster & Bochner, 2008). Language plays a critical role in the shaping of the social world (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Gergen, 2009; Burr, 2003). Ideas and concepts are linguistically and socially embedded. People share meanings and coordinate activity through communication (Gergen, 2009). Ideas and concepts are constructed within lived experience in a socio-historic context which, in a dialectic sense, both “enables and constrains meaning and actions” (Foster & Bochner, 2009, p. 92).
Yet, constructionists do not necessarily align with social determinists. They would contend that people are self-aware and have the capacity to examine themselves, those around them, and their circumstances—and, importantly, can act upon these observations (Hacking, 1999). Finally, constructionism is non-dualistic: the mind and the body, the body and the environment, the individual and society shape and reshape each other. “Identity is not socially determined but socially constructed” (Ivanič, 1998, p. 12).
1.5 The key concepts
Three major concepts are the underpinning of this research. They are the concept of identity, belongingness and networked learning. In the subsequent subsections within this section, the concepts are discussed in isolation as well as discussed in an intertwined manner to provide an unbroken scope of how the concepts shapes this study.
1.5.1 Considering identity
My exploration of the concept of ‘identity’ was underpinned by reflexive consideration of my own ontological and epistemological perspectives. I take the position that both being and understanding are social in nature, but with a clear emphasis on individuality. I take a social constructivist perspective that embraces the notion of the individually constructed journey through ways of being in a social world, through iterative situated construction of meaning(s) through social interaction, whether with oneself or others. The emphasis on the individual social construction of meaning is presented by Moses and Knutsen (2007). They explore ontological positioning(s) implied by a constructivist epistemology:
While many constructivists would agree that the physical world is material, concrete and given by nature, they are loathe to accept the same description of the social world. For them there is no clearly delineated social world: there are many. Each world is created by human beings … in the sense that this world has evolved as a result of human interaction in society, through history, with ideas, using language.
[Moses and Knutsen, 2007 p.193]
I find myself comfortable with this presentation of the ontological co-existence of physical and socio-cultural worlds. The extent to which individual social worlds can exist, however, requires further thought. Individuals do not normally exist in a personally encapsulated society and therefore it is important to consider the way in which social worlds interact and interweave, a construct of being underpinned by sociocultural concepts. Goicoechea and Packer (2000) search for such a resolution between sociocultural theory and constructivism, thus extending the Vygotskian perspective of social constructivism (Hirtle, 1996):
We will propose that the sociocultural and constructivist perspectives are not two halves of a whole, but that the constructivist perspective attends to epistemological structures and processes that the sociocultural perspective can and must place in a broader historical and cultural context.
[Goicoechea and Packer, 2000 p.228]
1.5.2 Considering networked learning
When the first research degree was established at Berlin University, knowledge was transmitted from master to apprentice (Barnacle & Mewburn, 2010). Information was contained in books, and students manually transcribed lessons to paper. Today’s electronic technologies, in contrast, have enabled new ways of communicating with people and accessing resources. Ylijoki (2011) discusses the process of acceleration in academic research accompanied by decreased government funding and increased market demands for research output. Academics are expected to produce more with less. Increases in speed of dissemination and technological advances are associated with increased pressure to reposition their research within the academic community and global markets.
While related, TEL and NL differ in focus. The phrase, “technology-enhanced learning” derives more so from funding agencies than from the academic world (Parchoma, 2011). The term places an emphasis upon the role of technology and the ability to provide cost-effective access to education to a large number of people. NL, however, emphasizes the relationships between learners, tutors, and resources without privileging any particular relationships or technology (Parchoma, 2011; Jones, Ferreday, & Hodgson, 2008). In a NL environment, learners can access a large variety of resources, experts, and learners with less face-to-face interaction; technology mediates these relationships (Hodgson, McConnell, & Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012). Values associated with humanistic and radical pedagogy were also drawn upon in the evolution of NL (McConnell, Hodgson, & Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012). This led to an emphasis upon collaborative environments characterized by openness, self-directed learning, authenticity of purpose, supportiveness, collaborative assessment, and continuous assessment during the learning process (McConnell, Hodgson, & Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012).
Through current technologies, information can be disseminated rapidly and, as new information becomes available, meaning shifts in relation to the field and the individuals working within the field. In other words, as learners collaborate in NL environments how they perceive, interpret, and understand the world affects how they act upon the world and how they create artefacts, reify knowledge, and externalize experiences (Hopwood, 2010). With this view, I take a relational, social constructionist approach to identity development in NL environments.
1.5.3 Considering belongingness
Belongingness is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, a religion, or something else, people tend to have an ‘inherent’ desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. This implies a relationship that is greater than simple acquaintance or familiarity. The need to belong is the need to give and receive attention to and from others.
Belonging is a strong and inevitable feeling that exists in human nature. To belong or not to belong can occur due to choices of one’s self, or the choices of others. Not everyone has the same life and interests, hence not everyone belongs to the same thing or person. Without belonging, one cannot identify themselves as clearly, thus having difficulties communicating with and relating to their surroundings.
Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary argue that belongingness is such a fundamental human motivation that we feel severe consequences of not belonging. If it wasn’t so fundamental, then lack of belonging wouldn’t have such dire consequences on us. This desire is so universal that the need to belong is found across all cultures and different types of people.
1.5.4 The key notions: intertwined
The three sections, above, have presented considerations in relation to the concepts of ‘identity’, ‘invisibility’ and ‘social forces’, bringing to the fore essential theoretical constructions in relation to each concept. These concepts, however, are neither separate nor distinct. The central construct of ‘identity’ embraces the twin concepts of multiple subjective, situated instances of identity (Jenkins, 2008; Buckingham, 2007; Goffman, 1959; James, 1890) and the objectified, reflexive self (Aldiabat and Navenec, 2011; Lindesmith et al., 1999).
The inevitability of engagement with ‘invisibility’ is drawn from the consideration of issues such as the internalised dialogue that takes place between the identity and the self (Jenkins, 2008), the levels of consciousness of reflections, perceptions and actions (Lawler, 2008; Vogler, 2000) and the effect of that which is unconscious (or subconscious) on performed identity (Goffman, 1959) or disclosure (Watson, 2012).
Themes that can be framed within the concept of ‘social forces’ are interwoven through the discussions on ‘identity’ and ‘invisibility’. The consideration of social forces as influences, barriers, social factors or social processes requires their recognition in the social construction of meaning (Stryker, 2002), the nature of their impact upon social interaction (Blumer, 1969) and their psychological impact on motivations, perceptions and/or actions (Callero, 2009; Lewin, 1997).
1.6 Research overview
1.6.1 Research purpose
For NL students, the boundaries between professional, social, and academic contexts can become blurred. As the learner’s cultures collide, their underlying values, narratives, experiences, and pedagogical expectations become salient. The main goal of this thesis is to explore how doctoral students in NL graduate programs experience challenges to their current identities, norms, and relationships across the various boundaries of their social worlds.
Given the context of this research project, as highlighted above, this research focused on the interplay between the Participatory Web and the practices of academic researchers engaged online. From the beginning, the research set out the following research objectives:
• To explore academic researchers’ use of the Participatory Web through their personal accounts
• To understand the perceived implications the use of the Participatory Web has on research participants’ scholarly practice, specifically with regard to academic research
• To situate the narratives of practices collected for this study in the context of the current social, cultural, political and economic context.
Narrative inquiry methodology was used to collect and analyse stories of practice of research participants. As the project unfolded, I started to become aware of the struggles that academic researchers face as they integrate the Participatory Web into the research aspects of their scholarly work.
The research objectives used for this research provided a meaningful entry into research participants’ accounts of practice. They allowed me, as a researcher, and the research participants themselves to “think about their experiences in terms of the three-dimensional inquiry space; that is, along temporal dimension, personal-social dimensions, and within place” (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000, p. 128-9).
1.6.2 Research aim and questions
The aim of this study is to understand how doctoral students attain belongingness in their doctoral community through the negotiation of their identity. So, belongingness is the earn and identity is the means. This does not imply that identity is the only means to attaining belongingness but it is just the study’s focus and boundaries.
RQ1: What is the relational nature of belongingness and identity in an online doctoral community?
RQ2: How are doctoral students building their identity through the negotiation of their belongingness within their online doctoral community?
RQ2.1: How are doctoral students building their identity within their online doctoral community?
RQ2.2: How are doctoral students negotiating their belongingness within their online doctoral community?
RQ2.3: What factors to an online doctoral community do doctoral students consider as constraining in the negotiation of their belongingness within their online doctoral community?
RQ2.4: What factors to an online doctoral community do doctoral students consider as enabling in the negotiation of their belongingness within their online doctoral community?
RQ2.5: What factors to an online doctoral community do doctoral students consider as constraining in building of their identity within their online doctoral community?
RQ2.6: What factors to an online doctoral community do doctoral students consider as enabling in building of their identity within their online doctoral community?
1.6.3 Theoretical model used
Positioning refers to how individuals interact, co-create, and perceive themselves in relation to one another (Harré, 2010). Within the boundaries of the academic context, learners’ identities take shape as they react to discourses that may at times support their self-conceptions and at other times may cause reflection upon, discomfort with, and/or rejection of these conceptions. Their efforts to make sense of incongruent discourses may lead to relative repositioning of oneself.
To explore identity positioning, I draw upon Harré’s (2010) social positioning cycle (Figure 1.1) as a framework for exploring personal and social processes of identity formation (quadrants: Q2 and Q3) as well as conventionalized processes and observable expression (quadrants: Q1 and Q4).
The PCB Diagram here
Figure 1.1. The social positioning cycle.
The transformation from Q2, appropriated/observed discourses, to Q3, liminal space, may be triggered by a critical event (variation) leading to awareness and evaluation. Emergence from Q3 can be detected in Q4 through publication; that is, in Q4, a learner narrates or enacts the new or retrenched identity. This framework will be explained in detail in Chapter 2, the literature review.
1.6.4 Methodological approach adopted
I decided to conduct a qualitative study in order to explore and describe the range of learners’ perceptions of experiences as they may approximate or differ from those of other learners. Using a preliminary questionnaire, nineteen participants were solicited from online (networked) doctoral programs in education and business from a distance university in Canada.
During semi-structured interviews, they were asked to describe their experiences as doctoral students according to a list of questions (Appendix C). I used open coding which allowed me to create coding-categories as I noted possible and salient social positioning descriptions in the transcripts. I also applied codes derived from discourse analysis (Potter, 1996; Gee, 2011) to more deeply interrogate the meaning and structure of specific utterances within the participants’ transcribed comments. As themes emerged, I examined them for patterns and co-occurrences. These procedures are described in detail in Chapter 4 (methodological approach).
My methodology allows the voice of the research participant to emerge fully as him/herself and not just as a smaller part of a wider picture; the research community, for instance. Consequently, I used narrative inquiry for the data collection. As Clandinin and Connelly (2000) understand it, narrative inquiry can be simultaneously a method and an object of study. It is used for this project because it offers an opportunity to explore, construct and reconstruct research participants’ narratives of experience through reflexive accounts of their professional lives and develop this thesis as a research narrative that accounts for its entire process.
It was not my intention to use narrative inquiry to look into a more global, collective tendency on how things “are done around here”, but rather to narrow it down to a more concrete and detailed perspective, that of individual action, opinion and disposition.
Narrative inquiry helps to situate individuals’ stories. It justifies their narratives. It gives individual voices a context. This research has unveiled stories that have remained untold (Richardson, 2008) in order to question the situations research participants narrate (Howcroft and Trauth, 2004). As a result it aims to raise awareness of the realities it tackles (Brooke, 2002; Stahl, 2011). Hence, this research also seeks to promote new ways of thinking to address the issues it helps uncover (Shirley and Kincheloe, 2010).
1.6.5 Scope of the research and key underlying assumptions
I had originally envisioned studying both master-level students and doctoral level students with the intent of comparing social positioning between the two groups. The scope of this study was, however, intentionally limited to doctoral students from education and business to control the range of variability encountered. Doctoral studies are intense experiences because of length of time to completion, financial considerations, and criticality of thought. These factors suggested to me that positioning experiences would likely be greater at the doctoral-level than those experienced at the master level.
I noted during the interviews, that some of the participants felt their master’s work was more formative for them. Nevertheless, this investigation has yielded rich insights about the experiences of doctoral learners as they pass through the challenges of their learning journeys.
1.6.6 Research participants
In selecting the research participants, I searched for those whose context present extreme cases (Eisenhardt, 1989). Extreme situations make the issues under consideration more visible (Slay and Smith, 2011). Extreme cases aim to make research more inclusive of the experiences of individuals (ibid, p. 89) who are at the margin of what is considered standard in their practice. Hence, I understand “extreme to mean unusual” (Gerring, 2007, p.102). In looking into extreme cases, I aim to access the dilemmas the research participants face based on the choices they make regarding their use of the Participatory Web in the context of their research activity.
The research participants featuring in this study are researchers employed by Higher Education Institutions and are heavily involved in the use Participatory Web as part of their research practice. The research participants took part in in-depth research interviews conducted online. The interviews followed a narrative inquiry approach, a method regarded as appropriate to access the research participants’ own experiences and perspectives through their own words and narratives (Bruner, 1991; Clandinin, 2006; Clandinin and Connelly, 2000; Riessman, 2007).
1.7.1 Organisation of this thesis
In addition to this introductory chapter, this thesis contains five additional chapters:
• Literature review: This chapter discusses literature pertaining to TEL and NL. It outlines how I have taken a social constructionist approach to identity and offers a discussion of theories of identity generally and in NL environments.
•The chapter then moves to a discussion of the theoretical framework: the social positioning cycle (adapted from Harré, 2010. The chapter ends with key literature regarding doctoral study as an identity positioning experience.
• Methodological approach: This chapter opens with a brief description of open coding and discourse analysis. Subsequently, it outlines the procedures used in data collection, and analysis. The chapter closes with a discussion of the limitations of the study and acknowledgement of the research ethics procedures.
• Research findings: This chapter opens with an overview of the data collected. The chapter briefly reviews Harré’s social positioning cycle and outlines the discursive techniques used in the analysis. The majority of the chapter is devoted to representing the participants’ descriptions of their social positioning experiences.
• Discussion: This chapter ties the results to the literature review. Firstly, it opens with a discussion of the demographics of the participants and the technological setting in which they studied as well as the setting in which the study took place. The chapter discusses the participants’ experiences of positioning in light of current literature. The chapter closes with a discussion of the differences found between education and business students.
• Conclusions and implications.
1.7.2 The originality of this research
This research is situated in the mixed economy or HE in FE sector. Within the higher education sector provision located within Further Education Colleges is either franchised (and thus potentially considered as part of the university’s own provision) or validated by higher education institutions. Thus, whilst this sector is a focus of policy, research even at the institutional level is complex and fraut with both perceptual and data related difficulty. (Parry et al., 2012).
The research is focused at the level of the individual. Tight (2012) reports a small proportion of his sampled research on higher education, from academic journals and books, as being undertaken at the level of the individual, ‘only four out of 567 journal articles, and none of the books, were categorised in this way’ (p.214). The research seeks to establish Lewin’s ‘life space’ (1997; 1996) and his diagrammatic representation of the psychic influence of social forces as a framework within which emergent data can be considered. Postmodern consideration of this framework is rarely found, with greater reference made to Lewin’s later work on change and group dynamics.
Thus, the original features of this study are considered to be: the research into individual narratives of student identity within the HE in FE sector and the adoption of Lewin’s hodological representation of ‘life space’ (Lewin, 1997; 1936) as a conceptual framework for the emergent categories from rich data.
1.7.3 Limitations of this research
220.127.116.11 The duration of study
The timescale associated with this research permitted a single in depth interview with each participant. Each interview captured the perspectives of the participant in the form of a micro-slice of their life space (Lewin 1997), providing perspectives on their biography, context and goals, as the participant perceived them at that particular point in time. Such a study would have benefited from being able to revisit participants in the study as they continued on their journey through higher education. This would have enabled evaluation of the impact of the social forces perceived within the first interview, allow for the establishment of any changes in the student identity standard and offer the potential for further action research to establish the effectiveness or otherwise of institutional initiatives to enhance the student experience.
18.104.22.168 The scope of the sample
The size of the sample was sufficient for the study as undertaken. However, the restriction of the research to one college impacted the study in two ways. The College provision of higher education is not representative of the sector, having larger numbers of full-time students than the average college offering higher education programmes, and offering a larger range of provision at honours degree level. The College recruits students to its specialist creative and performing arts programmes from across the country and also locally to other vocational programmes, this providing a wider mix of traditional and non-traditional students than others within the sector. It would have been therefore interesting, though organisationally challenging, to seek to extend the study to a range of other colleges in the sector. As a full-time employee and part-time doctoral student, it was not feasible for me to spend the necessary time absent from my professional role. Such an extension undertaken in the future would vary from the original research in seeking to verify the outcomes of the initial activity, though individual research projects contributing to the overall outcome should follow similar methodology.
22.214.171.124 The method of study
This study was undertaken with participants learning through technologically supported face-to-face attendance. Participants were not studying on programmes specifically designed for delivery through or within virtual learning communities. Undertaking this study has led me to consider the extent to which variations on the student identity standard impact similarly on networked learners. This is an area that provides particular interest for future research.
126.96.36.199 Concentrating on the participants
From the outset, a decision was made to focus on the individual, their perceptions, their narrated experience and expectations. To this end, I made a conscious decision that concepts of social structure and related concerns within educational research, such as the impact of ‘social capital’, ‘habitus’ and ‘power’ (Navarro, 2006; Taylor and Boser, 2006; Goddard, 2003) would remain outside the scope of this study.
1.8 Considering the meaning of key terms in the context of this study
1.8.1 Community of practice
A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a craft or a profession. The concept was first proposed by cognitive anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etienne Wenger in their 1991 book Situated Learning (Lave & Wenger 1991).
1.8.2 Doctoral student/candidate
During the studies that lead to the degree, the student is called a doctoral student or PhD student; a student who has completed all of their coursework and comprehensive examinations and is working on their thesis/dissertation is sometimes known as a doctoral candidate or PhD candidate.
1.8.3 Doctoral supervisor
A doctoral advisor (also dissertation director or dissertation advisor) is a member of a university faculty whose role is to guide graduate students who are candidates for a doctorate, helping them select coursework, as well as shaping, refining and directing the students’ choice of sub-discipline in which they will be examined or on which they will write a dissertation. Students generally choose advisors based on their areas of interest within their discipline, their desire to work closely with particular graduate faculty, and the willingness and availability of those faculty to work with them.
1.8.4 Doctoral community
The term community is used very broadly and is conceptualized in many different ways, so it was important to use the existing literature to develop an operational definition for this study. Community in educational contexts is frequently associated with foundational ideas of belonging and mattering as they relate to meaningful relationships with others and becoming a valued member of a sustained, collective group (Tinto, 1993; Wenger, 1998; White & Nonnamaker, 2009). Developing a sense of community requires frequent interactions with other members in the departmental community, including faculty and peers. For this study, community is defined as the development of social and professional networks through relationships.
According to Kadushin (2004), social networks are personal relationships that one can draw upon as resources during graduate study. Social relationships with faculty and peers serve as resources for students when working through social, emotional, and academic problems they are likely to encounter while pursuing the doctorate (Golde, 2005; Hawley, 2010; Lovitts, 2001). This is important to the development of community during doctoral study because sources of support have been shown to positively influence student adaptability, motivation, and perseverance, ultimately affecting degree completion (Golde, 1998, 2005; Lovitts, 2001; Lovitts & Nelson, 2000; Tinto, 1993; White & Nonnamaker, 2008).
1.8.5 Academic researcher
In the context of this research, an academic researcher, or scholar, is an individual who conducts research as part of their work and is employed by a Higher Education Institution.
1.8.6 Academic Practice
Academic practice consists of professional work conducted within academia. It deals with the different elements of scholarship: teaching and learning, research, community and public engagement. In the context of this research project, academic practice is used to mean research practice developed within the context of Higher Education Institutions. It is sometimes used interchangeably with the term “scholarly practice” as a matter of linguistic style.
1.8.7 Digital scholar
In the context of this research, the term “digital scholar(s)” is used to mean scholars, or academic researchers, who engage in digital scholarship.
1.8.8 Digital scholarship
Digital scholarship is defined as scholarship supported and enhanced by the Participatory Web and the movements and ideals associated with it. Digital scholarship is also strongly rooted in a culture of sharing, openness and, transparency.
The Internet consists of a networking infrastructure that interconnects computer networks at a global scale through the use of a standard Internet protocol.
Scholarship is a term used to describe the different components of academic practice, such as research as a process and a product, teaching, public and community engagement, lifelong learning and networking, collaboration and establishment of partnerships. For the purpose of this thesis, research practice is the aspect of scholarship of interest.
1.8.11 Distance Learning
Distance education or long-distance learning is the education of students who may not always be physically present at a school. Traditionally, this usually involved correspondence courses wherein the student corresponded with the school via post. Today it involves online education. Courses that are conducted (51 percent or more) are either hybrid, blended or 100% distance learning. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), offering large-scale interactive participation and open access through the World Wide Web or other network technologies, are recent developments in distance education. A number of other terms (distributed learning, e-learning, online learning, virtual classroom etc.) are used roughly synonymously with distance education.
1.8.12 Web 2.0
The term Web 2.0 was popularised by O’Reilly in 2005. It characterises a second phase of the web. In comparison with the Web 1.0, a read-only online platform, the Web 2.0 provides tools and applications that support social and collaborative environments. Web 2.0 promotes participation and enables multi-directional communication by yielding the control of information creation to the user.
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