Saturday, 11 April 2015

A reflection on my confirmation panel

Because I teach reflection, I've been trying to consciously practise it myself. Before today, I'd only managed to write one for my PhD ePortfolio (which would make it by my own standards a very poor Learning ePortfolio). But after my confirmation panel, I was determined to write another one, since it was such a critical event.

As usual I was more long-winded than I had planned to be. I could have written even more (there are just so many ISSUES), but thankfully I managed to stop myself after 1200+ words. If you'd like to read it, it's here.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Levelled up (but the joy is fleeting)

Wow last entry dated end September 2014! Quite horrifying how slow my progress has been. Since then I've finished my confirmation document, which entailed transcribing and analysing 2 interviews. 12000 words in 5 months is not great. I passed my confirmation (yay) but I'm really going to have to move faster if I don't want to lose momentum and motivation.

My plan is to do data analysis (which includes transcribing) for a couple of months before I start writing in earnest. I know that my plan to finish the first draft this December is rather too ambitious. While the panel was very encouraging, this has been a beast of a project and I have no doubt it will continue to be this way. Conventional wisdom seems to be that qualitative studies are easier but I am absolutely convinced now that this is not true at all. Data collection was hard, and now data analysis seems even harder. By the time I try to write about it all in earnest no doubt I'll be tearing my hair out!

In the meantime, I will be presenting on this study for the first time at the 2nd ALAA conference on 2 May. I should also try to get an article written and submitted this year. I need a topic and a target journal, preferably open access, but I have absolutely no ideas right now.

I'm teaching even less this semester, and I hope to make up for the shortfall in income by conducting workshops etc. This way I hope less time gets sucked up by marking (worst use of time) and I get to develop myself in new and frankly more lucrative ways. I hate to be so pragmatic but every hour is precious. The goal is to rely increasingly less on teaching university courses as I move closer to graduation. Even though the 'adjunct' situation doesn't seem as bad here as in the US and some other countries, I don't want it to define my career. I'm dubious about being a full-time academic in Singapore, and positions elsewhere are scarce. Wanting to specialise in assessment makes it harder, not easier, no matter what colleagues tell me. I'll be missing out on the privilege of conducting research under the aegis of a university, but the 'independent academic' route seems to be the best for now. There is, of course, NO tried-and-tested formula to doing this. (I'm obviously a masochist, I know.)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Light at the end of the data collection tunnel (is an oncoming train)

Goodness, it's already nearly October. I meant to blog about my research woes earlier (as usual) but it was hard to muster up the motivation and energy.

I've just finished what I think should be my last class observation, since the kids are taking their end-of-year exams. I'm not expecting to have anything worth observing post-exams and before they break for the holidays. This period I think is more usefully spent gathering some data from the students before they forget everything that's happened this year. Right now, I'm undecided if I should run focus group or individual interviews, or some combination that includes a questionnaire before I speak to them face-to-face. It's a concern that they might not be ready or able to share their thoughts with me, for various reasons.

It seems quite amazing that I've already spent so many hours collecting data, particularly observing the lessons. I thought I was pretty prepared for the process, but nobody told me how demanding it could be physically. It seems that I am always trying to play catchup writing my fieldnotes after each observation. The audio recordings are a boon, because they help me flesh out my jottings, which despite my best efforts tend to be more impressionistic. It also takes a bit of effort to make sure everything is organised neatly and backed up regularly. No huge disasters so far, but I am still behind! I've got 3 periods worth of fieldnotes to write and 2 teacher interviews to summarise. The heaviest marking load of the semester (undergraduate essays) has also just come in, which is both a distraction and a burden. I'm not somebody with a great deal of stamina, so upping my productivity is always a struggle. (There are also family obligations that I cannot and don't want to neglect -- I won't allow my PhD to be that all-consuming.)

It doesn't help that I have a lingering paranoia that there'll be nothing of interest in my data, though obviously this cannot be true (and isn't -- there's definitely something there). Maybe it's more doubt that I missed something important in the data collection process, and haven't got what it takes to see the significance of what I've collected (I've run out of interesting things to include in my conceptual memos). The terror of qualitative data analysis just isn't dealt with sufficiently in the literature! I've been reading whatever I can get my hands on, but you don't know how comforting the apparent certainties of quantitative analysis are until you are confronted by the relative vagueness of qualitative analysis. I'm simultaneously comforted by the knowledge that there's no one right way to do things, and alarmed that there's no one right way to do things. Argh.

Then there's my confirmation document. I have an extremely broad outline set up, with things written for previous assignments that I want to include, but they can't be included as is, and there's also some data analysis that I need to include. Thinking about how I've fallen behind in my writing schedule is another source of anxiety. I don't write poorly (I think), and once I get started can often churn out a lot. But getting started is always hard. It might seem paradoxical, but I've always thought that my writing muscles are just weak, and that by writing via blogging more regularly I can build up my stamina and make getting started that more effortless with time. I also want to blog more regularly as part of my plan to establish myself as someone (I hesitate to say 'expert') that people can turn to for help and advice on assessment issues, but that's another story for another day.

Time to end this post before I ramble on any further. I'll be back.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Data collection. Finally! For real!

Haven't posted for awhile now. Since my last post, I've spent a lot of time waiting for ethics clearance from Lancaster, and then getting approval from MOE as well. By the time I got the green light, the school was in the middle of Term 2, making it very difficult for me to start data collection.

So I waited, using the time I had to work on my interview guide with L's guidance. His idea was that I should interview the teachers before I did my observation, so that I had a good idea of what they've done and plan to do. I was also supposed to start working on my confirmation document (due end 2014) but what with everything happening at home, I just didn't have the free time to write (nor the mood, to be honest). 

The new school semester has just started, and to date I've interviewed both teachers, and issued information sheets and consent forms to their classes. I've also collected various relevant documents. Going by their timetable and mine, it's likely that I won't be able to do any observation until I return from the UK in late July. 

I'm sure I'll have more than enough data by confirmation. The question is if I'll have enough time to transcribe, analyse and write? In addition to data collection and actual work (which I'm scaling back this coming semester). As excited as I am to really get my teeth into this project, part of me wonders what Murphy's Law has got up its sleeve for me.

Will be in Lancaster next week to meet L, attend the department 40th anniversary event and postgrad conference, and then Wales and London the week after for a short holiday. I probably haven't got the discipline to actually get anything done during these 2 weeks! Just hope things at home are uneventful while I'm away and I can buckle down when I get back. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

I'm officially in Year 3, and coursework is OVER

I see that I missed quite a few weeks there -- I'm so lazy! So the new semester has started, and with fewer hours of teaching than I'd anticipated. Without the additional pressure of assignment deadlines, I'm feeling quite free. Must remind self not to be lazy.

This is not forgetting that I have to set the wheels in motion for data collection. Unfortunately, the whole process with permission seeking (MOE) and then ethics clearance (Lancaster) is confusing and convoluted, and I'm probably not as thick-skinned in pushing things ahead as I ought to be. As I write this, I'm waiting for MOE to issue what they call in-principle approval so that I can apply for ethics approval from Lancaster. Only when ethics has been cleared can I get official approval from MOE. This really needs to be on a FAQ somewhere so that others don't end up running round in circles like me. I don't know what luck I have in getting everything settled by mid March.

My last 2 assignments were returned later than I'd expected, and while waiting I was working myself up to a state of paranoia. I had sleepless nights thinking that I might have failed the modules?! Of course I didn't. But even though I had half-expected it, the feedback was kind of demoralising. Of course, I'm a student and am still relatively unskilled at this stuff, but it seems that I haven't improved much since my first assignment. I don't know if the nature of the assignments is such that I find it difficult to produce better papers, or that I genuinely haven't come far, and so will really struggle when I write my thesis. I guess I'll find out. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A school, finally (maybe)

Good news: I think I finally found a school that could be my research site, though I have yet to get the nod from my supervisor.

Bad news: Apparently getting permission from MOE and ethics clearance from Lancaster could take 3 months or more. My aim is to have my confirmation panel while I'm in Lancaster in July, but I might not be able to collect enough data for that. Which means I'll have to do it via Skype (confirmation is supposed to happen within 36 months of starting part-time study, and I don't really want to fly down again in December). Not ideal. Ugh.

Regardless, I hope this school meets with L's approval, and I can get the paperwork started before 2014 begins.

In the meantime, I'm finishing up preparations for my new ePortfolio course by working on my own eportfolios (a general career one and a PhD one) and also the course Google Site. Reflecting on the courses I've taught since leaving NIE as a full-timer, it seems that only this one will be somewhat related to my research interests. I will probably get the chance to run assessment workshops for the school I end up collaborating with, but I wonder if I'll ever get to actually teach a course on it? Theoretically this is a good niche to specialise in (everyone says so), but I remain doubtful there's a market for it in Singapore. Will I find my alt-ac career here? Another 'why am I doing this again' moment.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Still alive (and sane)

Not sure how I did it, but I miraculously survived the semester. I survived 16.5h of teaching a week and an insane amount of marking, a course development project, and 3 assignment deadlines (>12.5k words in total). It was very hard going, but I think it helped me to 'level up' in terms of productivity. Certainly I had to exercise very strong self-discipline because missing one deadline was potentially disastrous for everything else. I'm a born procrastinator so it's a particular achievement not to have missed any (important) deadlines. It looks like my workload next semester could be similar or worse, but at least without the assignment deadlines. 

It does make me worry that without externally imposed deadlines, I may not be very productive with regard to my PhD. Many of my assignments helped me to get my reading and thinking done, for which I'm quite grateful. With this latest batch of essays, my ideas have achieved a new clarity, though I wouldn't dare say they've finished 'baking' (when do they ever?)

I'm on a lot firmer ground with regard to methodology now. If nothing else, I think the methodology modules have been very good for me. Methodology is interesting and important to me, and I want my study to be solid in that aspect. I also think I've now got a deeper understanding of assessment issues and digital literacies (which was my last paper). With practice theory, I've also found I think the 'missing link' between assessment practices and literacy practices. It was very fuzzy and unconvincing before. When I jumped on practice theory (Schatzki, Reckwitz and later Shove, Pantzar & Watson), I thought that it was a better fit for talking about assessment practices though maybe not so for literacy practices, since that already has a strong tradition going. Lo and behold, I see Reckwitz popping up in Lankshear & Knobel's New Literacies (though new to this 3rd edition I think). Which just goes to show my knowledge of the lit isn't what it should be yet, though I am making new connections as I progress. 

As much as I'd learnt from writing my assignments, finishing my coursework does allow me to read more specifically for my PhD rather than to fulfil assignment requirements. With my last 2 5k word papers, I learnt how to use Citavi. It is exactly what I wanted Mendeley et al. to be, in that it not only manages my references, but also helps me to organise, make sense of and synthesise literature. I could have done with Citavi with previous lit heavy papers, like the Qual one on Rasch.

Now that I have some free time, I have some things to accomplish before the new semester starts:
  1. Catch up on reading, not only the lit that's directly related to my PhD, but also the peripheral stuff that could help with my writing and career. Practice theory is at the top of my lit list.
  2. Focus on getting access to a school. This is actually quite urgent but I've put it on the backburner this semester and am trying hard not to panic now.
  3. Develop my own ePortfolio as a means of reflecting on my progress (which this blog is also meant to do). I think it would help me personally as well as model ePortfolio keeping to my Reflection & ePortfolio students in the new semester.
I'm going to try to blog more frequently, if only to update on my progress.