Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

International man of mystery

Well, a well traveled Briton at least.  In the space of a fortnight I will have accumulated nearly 1500 miles of travel, which is a lot for a homeboy like me.

Last week, I was in Lancaster for the second, and final, PhD residential experience.  Of the twenty-five who started the course, we’re now down to effectively sixteen.  Attrition rates are traditionally high on higher degree courses, and whilst it was great to meet everyone again and renew our commitment to the course, it’s also a little sad that so many have dropped by the wayside.

The week itself was busy, both socially and academically.  I’ve mind mapped like there’s no tomorrow, been confused by some discussions, and had foggy ideas clarified by others.  One important element was the discussion of our ‘Part 2’ ideas, the thesis which I’ll be working on from the end of the year through to the end of 2013.  I have the germ of an idea, which wasn’t completely laughed out of the classroom, which I’m pleased about.

This week has been manic so far, writing online lectures and resources, and also catching up on Open University marking – I couldn’t do this the weekend as one of my PhD colleagues stayed for a couple of days – great fun but I have been playing catch-up which has only just eased itself.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day, a crack-of-dawn train down to London to a legal practice, this time to look at some risk-assessment software and look at risks that the Charity sector face.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done something like this, though it used to be a regular part of my job evaluating software packages.  It will be interesting to see how many awkward questions I can ask.

The it’s the glorious weekend, when I hope the toughest thing I’ll do is battle with Morrisons and hang out some washing, before flying off to Edinburgh next week for ICPD2 – not as I thought at first one of the lesser known droids in Star Wars.  I’ve already written about this, so I won’t bore you again, but it could be an intense, but fun packed few days.

Then we’re into Easter breaks, and with bank holidays and royal weddings I don’t have a full week at work for a good while… around this time though the next part of my PhD starts.  I’ve already accessed many of the readings, and this is a subject that does interest me.  I’m looking forward to this, the last substantive module in the ‘taught’ part of the course.

So, if anyone emails me and gets an ‘out of office’ reply, then you’ll know why over the next few days.  As Trillian says, we’ll have normality – “just as soon as we know what is normal anyway”.


More conference fun

As I’m going to be very busy next week at my second, and final residential week for my PhD, I thought I would take the chance to make a quick blog posting about some academic conferences that I have an interest in.

Firstly, a couple of weeks after I return from Lancaster, I’m off up North again to Edinburgh, for ICPD2, or 2nd International Conference on Professional Doctorates.  This is conference is a ‘light’ touch for me – it’s been nearly four years since I’ve attended a conference and this is a gentle introduction back into these sometimes surreal experiences.  I’m giving a poster presentation and talk.  The poster is directly related to the first part of my PhD.  Click below to embiggen the poster, though note that this is a large file!









The poster was prepared using the excellent software PosterGenius which has recently been ported to the Mac.  This has saved me so much time, and I would recommend to all students preparing any sort of poster presentation.  It’s not cheap, but the poster above took me a morning to produce, though most of the text was already prepared.  Printed at the university (£11 for an A1 print, with a free postal tube), the finished product is now winging its way to Edinburgh, to sit in an office until the 20th April.  What can possibly go wrong with that!

My University is generously (in this day and age) paying my conference fee, and the Open University, through the ‘AL’ development fund for tutors has agreed to pay my flight and accommodation expenses, which was great to hear.  I know that conferences are seen as ‘jollies’, but I have got so much out of the ones I’ve been to before.

And much later in the year, I’m planning to submit an abstract and paper to Relive ’11, Researching Learning in Immersive Virtual Environments 2011 at the Open University.  This will be a paper based on research I have carried out in Shareville, a virtual environment.  Again, I’ve been told if my abstract is accepted that my conference fees will be covered.

But long term, I’ve had to sit down and have a good think about what I’ll be spending most of 2012 and 2013 working on, my ‘part 2’ thesis for the PhD.  Whilst we won’t be committed to our subject until the end of the year, we as a cohort are being asked to think long and hard at the residential about what we would like to do.  I think I’ve a good idea, and will share this with my cohort next week.  I don’t want to give too much away about it at the moment, in case it gets shot down in discussion, but I will share as soon as I can.

Am I an academic researcher?  No, not yet, though I am making the first steps, and I can see my writing style and rigour improve with each paper I write… I have two more ‘mini’ projects to complete this year and then it’s the 50,000 word thesis (though I’ve just written 500 words here, so I’ve only got to multiply this by 100, right?).

Now it’s time to curl up with my Kindle, and for a change do some more reading, but of a less cerebral nature.

Action Research v Professional Practise

The piece below was written for as part of my ‘class’ PhD in e-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University.  It is reproduced below for comment and interest to others in the area of Action Research and Professional Practice.  Note, this is not written in a suitable academic style for Doctorate Study.

Action Research and Professional Reflective Practice


There is a tendency to consider any activity by an educational professional that somehow changes their working practice as ‘action research’, or ‘participatory action research’.  However, in the strict definitions of AR, there are some key features which differentiate everyday professional or Professional Reflective Practice, and Action Research.

Back to Basics

The first suggestions that there was this differentiation came in (Denscombe 2003), which states –

“A distinction needs to be made between the ‘reflective practitioner’ (Schön 1983) as one who strives for professional self-development through a critical consideration of his/her practices, and the action researcher who, while also being a reflective practitioner, adds to this by using research methods to enhance and systematize that reflection.”

(Schön 1983) focuses in the area of the social sciences and in particular healthcare.  Could the fact that most healthcare professionals are rarely encouraged to carry out their own research with patients have something to do with a need to state this distinction?

There is even a view that Action Research isn’t even a formal methodology in itself, as noted by (Lancaster 2005) “action research in fact, is more a strategy or approach to research rather than a specific methodology.”

So whilst one body of literature in the sphere of educational theory states that small-scale research as typified by action research will rarely have such a significant impact, there is a counter-argument supported by (Cohen et al. 2007) which supports the concept of Action Research as emancipatory, in particular situations, namely –

“…when it aims not only at technical and practical improvement […] but also at changing the system itself or those conditions which impede desired improvement in the system/organization.”

So the literature still seems confused on this issue.  At the most basic level, three differences have been identified.

Table 1 – Comparing Professional Practice and Action Research

Professional Reflective Practice Action Research
Focused on learning from experience Focused on learning from experience, plus the experience of others (through research)
Three cyclical Phases (adapted by McAlpine)

  • Reflection for Action
  • Reflection in Action
  • Reflection on Action
At least six cyclical phases (Wadsworth n.d.)

  • Stop and reflect
  • Raise a question
  • Plan to seek answers
  • Plan to seek answers
  • Fieldwork/Research
  • Reflection
  • Think of new actions
Focused on the individual – the individual as an agent for change in a specific situation. Action research should feed back into a knowledge ‘pool’, not just of the individual, but also of the institution, and through publication the wider world.


There is an understandable wish to promote any workplace-based experiences, and ‘Action Research’ is an impressive title to attach to any small-scale project.  By examining the criteria above however can help objectively consider whether this label can be objectively applied to the process being undertaken.  There is a tendency however to ‘devalue’ the term, which can only harm those researchers who are performing genuine Action Research.


Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K., 2007. Research methods in education 6th ed., London ;New York: Routledge.

Denscombe, M., 2003. The good research guide for small-scale social research projects 2nd ed., Maidenhead ;Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Lancaster, G., 2005. Research methods in management : a concise introduction to research in management and business consultancy, Oxford: Elsevier/Butterworth Heinemann.

Schön, D., 1983. The reflective practitioner : how professionals think in action, Aldershot [England]: Arena.

Wadsworth, Y., What is Participatory Action Research. Action Research International. Available at: [Accessed February 15, 2010].


You know it’s been a busy week when you come into the lounge on a Sunday evening, and there’s a glass on the side table from Thursday evening, and you realise that you’ve not been in there all weekend.

I can’t say that I’ve not sat on a sofa – one thing I did do on Thursday is purchase a new one for my study, as the other had seen better days.  It’s not been lost forever, and makes a nice slouching sofa for the games room, here’s the new one –

The original plan was to go to the education show on Friday, and had the day booked as holiday.  Things change though for various reasons, and instead I ended up in an all day teaching session on Friday (the less said about it the better, though I’ve never had to ask students to stop playing Farmville in the middle of a class before).

Saturday was OU TMA marking day.  I tried a new process of ‘batch marking’, marking all the question ones, then question twos etc.  This worked fairly well.  Student feedback has mostly been positive, and they do appreciate a quick turnaround of assignments.

Today, after a necessarily slow start (see Friday and Saturday above), and Sunday lunch at parents it was PhD afternoon.  My group are preparing a ‘resource’ for the residential with regard to Action Research, I was keen to differentiate between this, and professional practice, and prepared a fairly dinky 500 word summary of this.  Flushed with success of this, I’ve started to think about my first assignment again, and prepared a ‘one pager’ to start the negotiations.

It’s hardly surprising that I woke Monday morning with a headache, so I’m taking it easy and will head into work later.  But despite this ‘hangover’, it’s been a productive weekend – here’s to many more of them.

Holiday booking

What do you look for when you’re booking a summer holiday?

Good weather?

Pool or beach nearby?

Air Conditioning?

Wi-fi internet access?

I freely admit that each of those probably have equal weighting for me.  After a fortnight in Lanzarote last year saying ‘it’s too hot’, air conditioning became an essential this year for anywhere apart from a UK based holiday (well OK, if I was heading into the Arctic circle that would probably negate this request).

But wi-fi?

It’s one of those milestone years for me this year, the big four-oh (I know, I don’t look it, especially in my profile pic).  So we wanted to do something special, something different.  In the past, choosing and booking holidays has been a long and drawn-out process.  We did the whole thing this time in less than 24 hours, including four hotels booked on the journey there and back, ferry and a fortnight stay in a gite in France (here).  Even a couple of years ago I had problems transferring money from a UK account to a Euro-based one – this year Paypal came to the rescue and the transfer took literally seconds.

There’s a great line in the promotional web site – Outside, you can enjoy wireless high-speed broadband internet on your laptop.  Clearly the stone walls don’t allow for wi-fi signals to travel!

Through some terrible planning on my mother’s part, my birthday also falls just at the time that the second PhD module comes to its culmination, with peer reviews and final submissions.  I’m sure I could have survived without my laptop(s), but I’m not willing to put it to the test.  A few minutes a day will keep me in touch.

The holiday booking is also giving me something to look forward to, having succumbed to the flu for the last week, and still off work sick.  If this sounds familiar, it is.  Last time I was on holiday during much of my illness, not so lucky this time.

PhD – Week One

Well, the first week of study on my PhD is complete.  As a minimum I will be on this programme for at least four years, so in some ways I’m 0.5% of my way through the course!

I’ve already got back in the habit of ‘critical reading’, and it will come as no surprise that I’m preparing mind maps of the important articles which we are reading, at present as a cohort.  Very soon we will split into learning groups, and focus on a particular area.  Later we select our own ‘research question’, and move onto a mini research project.

This is a ‘professional doctorate’ course – with the same rigours as a conventional PhD, but with a more structured first couple of years.  I need to get at least 60% in all of the assessments to be able to progress onto the PhD route, otherwise I will be offered a transfer onto the MPhil course.  Still worthwhile of course, but a poor second prize.

It’s exciting, and I am also looking forward to the residential in March – I’ve booked student accommodation on Campus, so I can re-live, or in my case live my student days… well as long as I’m tucked up by 10:00.

Interestingly, the doctorate has separated the e-learning system (moodle) from the social networking side (ning).  Ning gives you the chance to upload photos and videos as well as all the usual blogging and online forums.  This keeps the ‘proper’ system uncluttered.  It is different to other e-learning environments I’ve encountered, but it does work.

Of course it’s early days, but so far, so good, and don’t worry, I won’t be posting each week – here anyhow, what happens in ning, stays in ning”

PRINCE2 2009

It should come as no surprise to anyone in the Project Management Community that PRINCE2 is overdue for a refresh.  This will be called PRINCE2 2009, and a launch date of the 16th June has been confirmed.  It will be a little while after this that books are published etc., but this is the launch date.

Less than a month back I went to the Project Challenge Show, and found out a little more information about this from a talk given by Andy Murray.  I’ve been keeping an eye on his blog for a while, and indeed used some of his earlier thoughts on the process in my lectures this year, when I knew change was in the air.

I’ve attached to this posting my original scrawlings taken from the talk  here – not exactly the most user friendly read really.

So this morning, I’ve taken these notes and created a mind map of my notes – this can be seen below (click to embiggen).


I used mind42 for the map, and exported as a .png file.  This sort of exercise really lends itself to mind-mapping.

There’s a couple of things worth mentioning, the idea that Product Based Planning (including Product Breakdown Structur and Product Flow Diagram) is a ‘marmite’ technique (love it or hate it), certainly resonated with me.  At first I couldn’t see the point of turning an adjective (assemble wardrobe) into a noun (assembled wardrobe).  It seemed a fussy and pedantic process.  But when you start to think about the whole ethos of PRINCE2 being on deliverable (sorry delivered!) product then it makes sense.

The new philosophy of processes/themes/principles and environment (against the current view of Processes/Components/Technqiues) will also benefit PRINCE2, and it’s adoption within businesses.  Whilst I’m still a little vague on the details, the recognition of the environment which PRINCE2 operates in (be it business, not-for-profit or public sector) can only be a good thing.  I’ll look forward to reading this.

And why has it taken me three weeks to write these notes up?  No excuse, apart from the fact that I’ve not been using the Autofocus system for to-do lists which I’ve been singing the praises of.  One morning in and I’ve already done more than I would usually.

Sorry Sorry Sorry

Apologies again for the scarcity of updates.  It’s not that there isn’t a lot going on at the moment, but some of it’s not appropriate to share with the BBW (big bad world for those who’ve not attended one of my professional development lectures).

One thing that has been occupying a lot of my thoughts over the last few days has been ‘what next’ with respect to my own studying and professional development.  As has been mentioned before, I’ve coming to the end of my BA in ‘fun’ studies, and I now need to have one eye on my vocational qualifications.  With my PRINCE2 certification, and now Apple Certified Support Professional, I’ve got some really useful qualifications there.

But over the last year my research has suffered, and the time’s come to start making a move towards a higher degree, or PhD.


No one can say that this has been a rush decision, I was aware that with my first class honours I could have gone straight onto PhD studies without a Masters way back in 2000.  But the time wasn’t right then.  I’ve also looked at EdD, a Doctorate in Education, but there’s still some concern about the recognition of the qualification, and I don’t want to spend four years, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears (I’m nothing if not a realist!) for a qualification which isn’t well thought of.

I looked at Lancaster University’s ‘taught’ PhD a few years back, as a colleague was coming towards the end of his studies there.  But ‘stuff’ got in the way as always.  This is a case where patience has really paid off however… as Lancaster has since increased it’s portfolio of PhD courses – including a Doctoral Programme in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning.

What excites me about this programme is that it’s so tied into my research interests.  Whilst TEL is a new acronym for me, the idea behind it is nothing new.  (first moodle module written for September 2003 delivery, blogs used in teaching since 2004, twittering… hmmm, off and on for the last couple of months).  The first two years of the programme guide you towards to your thesis (only(!) 50k words), prepared in the last couple of years.  The VLE used is moodle, and ning is used for the social aspects of the course.

I’m completing my application, though I won’t submit until I’ve sorted out references and given some thought to the supporting statement.  The good news is that it doesn’t start until March 2010… so have plenty of time to sort.. and also look at possible funding options.

Fingers crossed!

Blogging seminar

This is being written before the semimar this afternoon.  I’ll be able to discuss the content much more once I’ve attended, though I’m teaching for the first couple of hours, so I miss out on the free lunch unfortunately!

I’m also unintentionally doing my bit for the environment, as the printing system across the university has been down since the weekend.  The ‘inconvenience’ is becoming much more serious, and we’ve had to grant assignment extensions, with the associated difficulties.  Because of this though, I’ve been unable to print the paper that I’m using as a basis for my presentation.

I’ve YouTube’d my presentation for those who want the closest I can produce to a ‘watch again’ experience.

The rest of the day is to be spent on one to one sessions with students, and battling with the printer I guess, though with the new extension, students have been dropping out of the one to one sessions like flies.

Tell me a little about yourself

I have just completed a short questionnaire for the Open University in preparation for the Open Day I’m going to on the 11th Feb.  It was surprisingly difficult to complete, not for the questions that it asked, but for the brevity of responses allowed.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but did give me chance to reflect on what makes ‘me’ a suitable candidate for an EdD.

Here are the ‘tricky’ questions, with annotations in italics afterwards.  

Class of first degree – First (from OU); But not the subject, when it was taken, was it related to research interests.  Seven years of study condensed down to three words!

Do you have a masters degree? – MA Education (UCE);  Fine on this, though I know that there are Masters, and there are Masters

Have you studies research methods? – No; But I have taught RM for the last three years, and have managed to get over a dozen students through their Postgraduate studies, and have half a dozen published papers in journals and conferences.  I’m aware from my MA though that this is a weak area, I’m happy to take an extra year to get formal RM training, though my poor students I supervise afterwards may not!

And now the killer quesion – Research Interests!  My response is below

MA was completed in area of Project Management in Education.

However, most published research is in the area of blogs and blogging within Higher Education.

Current interests revolve around the use of Avatars as representations on social/networking/VLE, and the control or otherwise imposed by HEI’s on their use.

Tricky one eh?  How do I condense all the things that interest me, and I may be spending four years of my life researching and developing into a few short lines.  The above are my interests here and now, but who knows what I’ll be thinking tomorrow, the day after etc.  Avatars still intruige me, but over Christmas when I should have been seeking out books and reading more on the subject, I watched back to back Torchwood. 

I’m looking forward to the day, though I’ll miss the start due to a confusion with train times and the duration of the event.  I really hope to be there for the talk about my specific interest, the part-time EdD.

Today was teaching, exam invigilation, student induction, a meeting about the new degree scheme and a mass of marking – just finished.  All in, a typical working day.

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