ALDinHE Conference 2016 – Herriot Watt

It is with great sadness that I depart on the 17:00 train back home from the ALDinHE Annual Conference. It has been a fantastic three days in Edinburgh and I am already planning my return visit. I seem to fall into the nasty habit of always being here on business and I am determined to come back for leisure.

I fully intend to post a few blog posts spawned from the conference and in particular, a few more details about my presentation from today. I wanted to make this very quick post to solidify that commitment as I often tend to find myself *busy* after such an event. I do however believe that no matter how busy I am, it is important to make these reflections, ideas and thoughts a bit more concrete. At least, in the digital sense.

One thing that strikes me surrounds the reoccurring themes through the conference. This in itself is not surprising as the conference had four key themes: professional identities, social justice, students as partners and diversity. I was however surprised by the reoccurrance of freedom, civil liberties and belonging. This has linked to a lot of the conversations at the Freedom to Learn Conference in Hull, The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference and general discussions with my peers on the Hull EdD. I think this gives a real feel for some of the genuine concerns people have about education, freedom and government policy. There is every chance I am working hard to find these themes as they are important to me, but I feel their prominence is real. Let’s keep this conversation going!

I really appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and ideas from my loosely related learning development buddies at ALDcon. I am looking forward to getting back to Hull and working on some new ideas based on what I have heard. I also can’t wait to write up my own paper and look forward to trying to get it published. A big thank you to our ALDinHE Steering Group and to Andy for his hard work with the conference.

Freedom to learn and civil liberties

Last week I attended both the Freedom to Learn Conference and Liberal Democrats Spring Conference. After two excellent events, it’s hard to avoid the urge to blog about freedom, education and civil liberties. They are all under threat…

This Conservative Government keeps trying to erode our civil liberties all in the name of security. They want to keep us safe. Apparently. There is no doubt that targeted surveillance of criminals should be allowed. I am not disagreeing with that, I don’t think anyone is. What I am arguing against is the wholesale collection of bulk data and essentially spying on every citizen in this country. This amount of data is dangerous and no-one should be trusted with it, least of all our government. After a string of hight profile data breaches, how can they be trusted to keep this data safe? Even if you trust a conservative government with this data, what is UKIP or Greens achieved a majority… would you be happy then? Hasn’t Snowdon’s high-profile whistleblowing demonstrated how our data is at risk?

As we live an increasingly large amount of our lives online, it is important to think of what that means. The data you share online is your communication with family and friends. It is your photographs and memories. It is your ideas and studies. It is you. Even if you have nothing to hide – do you not have something to protect? All of this stuff is precious and needs to be protected. I know the risks and benefits for engaging with this technology. I fear many young teenagers don’t. My biggest fear is that they ‘expect’ the government to spy on them to keep them safe. Is this a fair trade off? Bulk surveillance is the equivalent of the Home Office steaming open love letters sent in class. Even with this metaphor they don’t seem bothered…

This is where education comes in. While we can lobby the government, there may be no stopping Theresa May’s desire to know everything about everybody. Despite her lack of technical competence, there is a real chance the government will sink an awful lot of money to achieve the near impossible. The bulk collection of data about it’s citizens. So how can we fight back? I think education has a real power to make a difference. We need to teach, train and education our citizens to make sure they make informed choices. I share a lot of stuff about myself online. I use cloud storage. At least I don’t do this in naivety. I want everyone to know of the advantages and disadvantages of sharing their information so they can make informed choices too.

If we don’t do something, I genuinely feel we will raising a generation that expects to be observed and surveilled. The fight that we are having to protect our civil liberties is under threat unless we educate our teenagers to pick up this fight also. I am deeply concerned about the lack of education available, but maybe there is light. I had a brief opportunity to discuss this with Shami Chakrabarti and was heartened to hear there is a fight back. Some teenagers are looking carefully at what they share online and deciding against it. Some teenagers are shying away from Google and Facebook, aware of the consequences for sharing so much data with large companies. Lets hope this critical approach to sharing online is picked up by more.

So where does freedom to learn come in? Wherever our civil liberties are under treat, there is no freedom to learn. There is no freedom to debate. There is no freedom to think. Control just drives thinking underground not out in the open where it can be challenged and debated. This, if anything is the biggest threat to freedom to learn.

A cacophony of spaces

A few days ago I took a short break from Soja’s Thirdspace to make this diagram. In ThirdspaceSoja identifies what he calls a cacophony of spaces in a list that is so long, I had to make this visualisation to display them all. While there is nothing new in this list for me, I found it quite striking to see so many of the spaces identified across the literature listed in a single place. I’m going to keep this as a living diagram  on my computer so I can continue to amend it. There are indeed spaces missing 😉

Spaces of protest, repression, sexualities, identity and dystopia. What is missing for you? (Comment below)

 

spaces

Postmodernism: It’s impossible to move!

I would say this is a form of procrastination, however after such a productive morning I am happy to label this as a well deserved break. I’ve spent most of this week so far buried in the spaces of modernity (Dear & Flusty, 2002)an interesting volume that focuses on postmodern interpretations of space. Tucked between a couple of the chapters I came across this excellent comic from Calvin and Hobbes (Watterson, 1990) and I needed to make this quick post to share it.

I think this little strip perfectly captures the headaches we all go through when grappling with new concepts. It kinda makes me wish I was seeing the world through a neo-cubist art lens as opposed to the Marxist or postmodern! Nevertheless, I think the real gem from this strip is the following:

The multiple views provide too much information! It’s impossible to move!

Maybe that alone should form my definition of postmodernism. Shame it would have to end there. After all, we can’t let the world fall into a recognisable order…

Calvin and Hobbes

Source: Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip, July 27, 2014 on GoComics.com
One of the many great comics you can read for free at GoComics.com! Follow us for giveaways & giggles.

 

SAGE Research Methods

I just wanted to write a quick blog post today about SAGE Research Methods (SRM).

I think this is a fantastic resource and wanted to share some details about it for my fellow #HullEdD students. Azumah did try to show this at the end of our weekend, but there were some technical issues on campus.

To paraphrase SAGE, SRM is a research methods tool to help researchers with their papers and students with their studies. SAGE particularly specialise in humanities and social sciences research giving them a large catalogue of resources that are pulled into SRM. This means in includes over 720 books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and handbooks, the entire Little Green Book, and “Little Blue Book series, two Major Works collating a selection of journal articles, and specially commissioned videos, with truly advanced search and discovery tools. As the resource focuses on methodology and not discipline, it is widely applicable to lots of disciplines including us in education (SAGE, 2014).

As EdD students, the dictionary and encyclopaedia entries may not be something we would want to reference, but they do serve as a useful first place to check the definition of something. The text books within SRM can then be used to build on your initial understanding and the case studies and journal articles will show these methodologies and methods in action. As with any other journal articles, the articles accessed via SRM make a great addition to your bibliography, as may some of the books and case studies. For EndNote and RefWorks users, you will find SRM supports citation exports to make referencing just that little bit quicker! I should add it supports Zotero for anyone going off piste with their choice of bibliographic manager 😉

As SRM is an online resource, everything is available digitally which is a big plus for any of our international peers!

Accessing SRM at the University of Hull

As a University of Hull student, you will get access to SRM, you just need to login through Shibboleth. First click Log in to SAGE Research Methods:

The select Sign in via your institution:

You’ll find Hull under: University of Hull (Shibboleth) and selecting this option will take you into our familiar log in page.

Methods Map

The reason I think SRM is such a powerful tool comes down to the Methods Map. You can find this under Methodologies > Method Map. If you navigate through to Qualitative data analysis you’ll find everything from Foucauldian discourse analysis and grounded theory through to interpretive phenomenological analysis and visual research.

Give it a go! It is awesome!

 

SAGE video introduction to SRM

So what is geography?

I have spent a great deal of time talking about geographical approaches so far and thought it would be useful to look at geography in a bit more detail. What is geography?

To borrow the approach that Bonnett (2008) takes, geography is about this:

Figure 1: The Planet Earth (Pixabay)

At the simplest level, Figure 1 is the perfect representation of geography. It is about the planet Earth, it’s environments and it’s peoples. This can also be seen in the very root of the word geography. While addressing the same question of what is geography, Cloke et al (2005: viii) return to the Greek origins of geography as “to write (graphien)” and “the earth (geo)”. While this may be clear enough, it is also incredibly broad. Could it not be argued that every discipline is associated with our planet in some way? This is further complicated by the fact that geography holds and shares thousands of concepts with other sciences, humanities and social sciences. With this in mind, it is important to ask what is the geographical approach?

In my opinion, the answer is simple. It is space. Thrift (2008: 85) argues that space is the “fundemental stuff of geography”. Unfortunately space as a concept is multidimensional, multifaceted and complicated. I think this needs a post in itself, but for now I turn to a horrific simplification of Thrift’s introduction to space in the context of ‘modern’ geography which sees four spaces:

First (empirical) space: The tangible, physical space that people measure and map.

Second (mental) space: The mental space that people live, interact and move within.

Third (imaginative) space: The symbology and imagery people use to register the spaces around them. (culture)

Fourth (place) space: The embodiment of space. Where people confirm and naturalise the existence of certain spaces

I could go on to look at this in much more detail, but for now I think that establishes enough to move on to look at geography as a discipline. It can be argued that as discipline, there are two distinct areas to geography: the human and the physical. While I hate to simplify things too much, most geographers experience this distinction throughout their studies and in some cases it is almost a divide. If I had to draw a crude distinction between the two, I would argued that physical geography takes a positivistic/scientific to the earth. It focuses on a spatial and temporal understand of Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. While this may seem the familiar territory of other disciplines, Bonnett (2008) suggests that “geology, climatology, ecology, environmental science and a number of human sciences evolved from geography”. While there is still much to unpick, I want to focus on human geography as it is my area of interest.

Human geography focuses on a spatial and temporal understanding of Earth’s people, their cultures, development, economies, interactions with the environment, histories and politics. The knowledge produced by human geography varies from the positivistic to the postmodernist and this has changed through time as the discipline has gone through many turns. In this case I thought human geography is based overviewed by looking at a typical textbook: Introducing Human Geographies (Cloke et al, 2005). This morning I quickly mapped out the foundations, themes and issues that fall within human geography and this is the result:

Figure 2: Overview of Human Geography based on Cloke et al (2005)

The beauty of geography is that there are many different interpretations and to some extent, it is a personal construction. Indeed, I think all geographers need to have their own personal statement for what geography is and I am glad I’ve started to write mine down. I think that is perhaps as good an overview of human geography that I can achieve before 9:30am on a Sunday morning. There is still a lot to explore, but I think this is a good start! I have purposefully left it at a mind map as I think it is a more powerful symbol of human geography for me than a series of paragraphs. Indeed – I should perhaps develop the above mind map to further explore geography…

Hope that is interesting 🙂

References:
Bonnett, A. (2008) What is geography? Sage: London.
Clifford, N., Holloway, S., Rice, S. P. and Valentine, G. (2008) Key concepts in geography. Sage: London.
Cloke, P. J., Crang, P., and Goodwin, M. A. (Eds.) (2005) Introducing human geographies. Oxon: Routledge.
Thrift, N. (2009) Space: the fundamental stuff of geography. In N. J. Clifford, S. L. Holloway, S. P. Rice and Valentine. G (Eds.) Key concepts in geography. Sage: London. 85-96.

 

The EdD – One year on!

It seems like only yesterday that I started on my EdD journey.

As I sat at home filling in my annual review, it really struck me just how quickly this year has gone. While this year has led to many achievements of which I am proud, I have also noticed an absence of many things I *should* have been doing as part of my EdD journey. While I can be proud of my bibliographic management, organisation, note-taking and writing – many other things are absent…

Where are the conference papers/attendances?
What additional seminars have I engaged with?
What happened to my blog…

I figured writing down these shortcomings would be a useful way of (publicly) identifying some goals for the year ahead. I have made a great start in so many ways, but now is time to pick up the pace and continue to develop my wider engagement with the programme, with doctoral study and with the communities of practice for which I subscribe.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself in the context of the other achievements I have made this year. I have gained both my Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy and my Postgraduate Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society. I now need to leverage these networks alongside the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education to continue to develop my thinking in all things to do with learning development and space. After all, what is the use of joining networks if I do not use them…

Hull Doctoral Symposium Day One: Learning points

Last week I attended the Operationalising research: real journeys, real voices, digital worlds symposium at the University of Hull. The symposium was organised for postgraduate, postdoc and established researchers and although I am at the start of my doctoral journey I found it both fascinating and useful. While I could spent hours blogging about this event, I thought it would be more useful to draw out some key ideas and learning points.

The confirmation process – Margaret Korosec,  University of Hull

This was an interesting session for me. While it wasn’t relevant to my own studies as I am an EdD student, professionally I support a lot of PhD students. Hearing Margaret talk of her upgrade process was a fascinating insight into the stress and difficulties of the PhD process. I think the biggest piece of advice I would give to any PhD following Margaret’s session is to remember that it is a supportive process. It may be difficult and stressful – but the advice you gain will be incredibly valuable. Margaret asked if she could audio record her session and that seemed to be a very valuable resource after the session.

Moving beyond ‘surviving’ the Viva – Joseph Hall, University of Hull

I think I spent half of this session trying to pretend I wouldn’t have to face this in the future. Joesph gave a brilliant talk, best summerised by Jacqui

Indeed! It doesn’t have to be this way…

The Learning English in Leeds Website – motives and methodology – Dr James Simpson and Monica Barrionuevo-Flores, University of Leeds with Martin Nickson, University of Hull

This was a very useful session to see the operationalisation of research. I think my biggest take home from this session was the following ethical question (and no – I don’t have answer yet…)

Metaphors for the Postgraduate Research Experience – Professor Malcolm Tight, University of Lancaster

This presentation gripped me from the start to the finish. Prof. Tight discussed metaphors as a communicative technique for the doctoral process. Often the doctoral process is introduced as a journey, implying a lengthy process. This could be a quest, a long, troublesome journey with a prize at the end or it could be a voyage into the abnormal, ending with an escape to normality. Could it be argued the PhD is the quest for a doctorate with the EdD as a voyage – dipping into the abnormality of academia while still working full time.

We all agreed the journey wasn’t particularly effective.

So if not a journey – how can you use metaphor to describe the doctoral student experience?

From the keynote, here are a few suggestions for student metaphors:

  • ‘The Child’ Too young to have responsibility and is therefore treated as children by their professors who have authority over them.
  • ‘The Employer‘ In early universities the students used to employ staff. More recently, students used to pay the lecturer on entry to a lecture. If you were not any good, people wouldn’t show up.
  • The slave’ Doctoral students must do as they are told. This resonates with the sciences as a lot of research is predetermined due to funding. You just go along with the topic as told.
  • The apprentice’ Serve your apprenticeship, then have opportunity to become a master.
  • ‘The disciple‘  Follow your leader, you can succeed them one day.
  • ‘The vampire follower’ One day you hope to be sired and when you are, you can make your own vampires!
  • The co-producer’ A partner – assuming the student wants this!
  • ‘The Family member’ Seeing the supervisor as a father/mother figure to look up. Suggests a close relationship – even friendship.
  • The client‘ A constant need to negotiate – thrash out what you will get and when.
  • The customer’ The idea may be very much linked to UG but it will eventually come to PG.
  • ‘The consumer’ Suggests impassivity. Consume then regurgitate to pass.
  • ‘The pawn’ A small player in a much bigger game. Student has little power and can be sacrificed.
  • The worker’ Write this, have targets and finish it early. Get it done. Research is time consuming.
  • ‘The rebel’ None of the above 🙂

That is it for day 1!

My challenge is to now finishing organising my thoughts for the rest of the symposium…

 

My evolving relationship with writing

I am supposed to be blogging about a conference right now but I can’t. This is a post that has been sitting in my head for far far far too long…

It is all because I have a terrible admission to make. I fell into a trap.

Over the last few years my perception and definition of writing had slowly drifted. Somewhere along the way I stopped seeing writing as the act of forming letters and words to communicate and record ideas. It had become the art of stringing words together for the sole purpose of assessment. This of course is not how I use writing or how I see it – but it became my definition of it despite this fact.

This is a shameful admission to make for a Learning Developer, but can I be blamed? Perhaps it wasn’t a trap at all. Somehow I was dragged into this worldview by the hordes of undergraduates whose sole focus is writing for grades. How can so many people miss the importance of writing in the learning process? Is there any wonder so many undergraduates struggle with writing when the only time they actually write is when they are working on an assignment.

Whenever I teach essay writing to students, I tell them to use a nine step process. Only at stage 8 do I suggest they actually write their essay. All the pre-stages to this involve research, planning and note making. All of this involves a lot of writing. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think students should be constantly writing pages and pages of linear text. I wholeheartedly believe these preparatory processes do not need to be full sentences and paragraphs. I encourage patterned notes, illustrated notes and linear notes. While all varied, they all need some form of writing and some form of work – and this is the killer. For the majority of students I work with, my suggestion of putting so much effort in something they cannot hand in generates looks of mild horror. The blatantly clear link between this preparatory work and the assignment is not enough.

But I accepted this…

At times I even failed to challenge this.

But not any more.

I guess the problem is that some forms of writing can seem redundant. The slides will be online later, you have a permanent digital copy of the text, you can use a search function to find what you need at any point or maybe you can just access videos and audio of the content itself. As that thought pops into you head you can just write it straight into Microsoft Word as part of your essay… The lists of reasons why is endless. If you see notes as just a memory aid then it is easy to see potential redundancy. What so many seem to miss is their importance in developing writing itself – and not just content.

The thing that annoys me is that I have been giving the correct advice – do lots of writing! I have consistently championed the link between writing for notes and writing for assignments to develop content. The sheer importance of this for developing writing itself somehow escaped me. I guess this is because when I was an undergraduate, I fell into lots of writing. It is just what you did through lectures and as part of seminar preparation (in the age before smart phones and tablets existed)! I’m not so sure today’s undergraduates see things this way…

Doctoral thinking and writing is complicated and difficult. It is also a large step up from masters level and it is clear to me now that I would not be starting to make this step if the only writing I undertake is for my essays and the thesis itself. Indeed, there is literally no way I would have survived the last few months without copious amounts of writing. The more I type, write or draw my thoughts and ideas, the easier things become. The most valuable learning point from my doctoral studies so far has been the importance of writing.

Now I just need  to convince a LOT of undergraduates…

Before I end this post, I need to thank @azumahcarol for nudging my views on writing in such a beneficial way and @mark_carrigan for guilting my into blogging again reminding me of the importance of blogging in understanding your own ideas 🙂

Something every day…

The flying start to my doctoral studies that I had planned (well… if I am more honest) expected didn’t really happen. Right after our first weekend, life simply got in the way. Even worse, it wasn’t anything in particular. Nothing bad or unexpected happened. I just fell out of the first EdD weekend right back into my regular routine.

That annoying little voice at the back of my mind knew this was a sure path to later stress and inevitable failure. So what did I do? I did what any self-respecting student does – I ignored it!

But it didn’t go away.

There was only one thing that I could do to get back on track. That started with admitting I was off track in the first place. I ‘bravely’ wrote an email to the rest of my tutorial group, admitting I had done nothing. Quite honestly, I was hoping everyone else was waaaay ahead to give me that pressure. (Yes – I am one of those annoying people who quite like working under pressure). Annoyingly I didn’t exactly get the response that I wanted. I just got a lot of comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. What did help however was the advice Azumah shared with the group and that was my reason for writing this post.

Azumah has blogged about Getting stuff done on the Hull EDD blog and it is definitely some of the best advice I’ve received so far:

Set yourself a start day. So I did – and that date was today. Although the second piece of advice has led me to do a little something every day, I made a point of ‘fencing’ off all of today to’ sink my teeth’ into my first assignment. I have actually had a lot of fun today – what took me so long! (more on this another time I think…).

Do something every day. It seems quite obvious really – but it is something that I have striven to do every day since that post went live. This has even led to nights where I’ve gone to bed and have had to suddenly spring out of a light slumber to make sure I do something before the day ends. It has kept the EdD in my thoughts for each day because of this. Even if I only do a little thing like read a few pages, conduct a search, add some articles to my EndNote library or even print some things out ready it has been enough.

Read every day. I am lucky that every day I read stuff that is useful for my EdD as part of my job. What I have done since however is ensure I always have something ‘ready to read’ either in print or electronic form. If I have a few minutes I can easily pick it up. No searching. No procrastination – speaking of which…

Turn vice into virtue. I have been known to procrastinate on occasion. Even today, I decided to do nothing until the courier arrived. I managed to convince myself I really needed those post it notes for my reading today. Thankfully it was an early delivery. But in all seriousness, this is something that I am aware of. Whenever I feel like I need a break and I’m sliding into procrastination I turn to Twitter. As I use Twitter for professional purposes, the worst I could probably do is tweet about something academic or end up reading an article that isn’t entirely relevant. Either way I get a break and I get something that contributes to my wider contextual knowledge within my disciple (see – I’ve been working on justifying this for a while).

Anyhow! I hope my reflections on starting the EdD have been interesting – if not somewhat useful. I wanted to share this to first of all thank Azumah for her advice and secondly, to share some of my worries with you all. I imagine I am not alone!