The title meant to read “Academic Writing in the Time of COVID” but that’s been stolen by several book and article authors already.
Since working and studying from home became the norm here in March, I’ve obsessed about how little work I’ve produced and worried over it. Not a healthy mindset. Each day of not writing anything was another acknowledged day of guilt and self-doubt; these feelings grew each time I thought about writing and didn’t. This did nothing to help me write about my theoretical framework. Even this blog space, which is usually an inspiration for me to continue my academic writing, refused to inspire.
As I approach my exam to be come a PhD candidate, I’ve been thinking about my process while prevaricating: have I done enough work and understood enough? How do we measure progress as students, as writers?
Look at the data and ignore the inner voice.
I began by scanning my blog posts from a year ago. A good place to start I thought, but then I saw that I had planned to be ready for data collection in the fall of 2019, and then again in January of 2020. Didn’t happen. Look elsewhere for more data, Anna. The blog does not tell the whole story. It’s only what you chose to share publicly, what you were comfortable sharing.
I’ve flipped through my PhD notebooks (now there is more than one) and tracked how my thinking has evolved since the first day of my PhD. The evolution of process/progress becomes obvious once I began leafing through 2017 and saw the concepts mentioned:
- C-BAM – Concerns-Based Adoption Model
- T-PACK framework
- Design-Based Research
- communities of practice
- professional development
- mobile learning strategies
- digital learning objects
2017 had many lists and sketches that I copied from books to help me remember and understand. I bought several packages of Staedtler and Maped markers (no regrets) to make my notebook “pop.”
In 2018, I started making notes on phenomenology and the first mention of ethnography appeared, as well as the idea of moving from online learning in a structured environment to something like Twitter. I remember one of my grant applications had grand designs for a course that teachers could take for learning to teach online, and I had highfalutin plans to develop this course from scratch and run several iterations of it: one group for health science professionals and one for language teachers, each taught at least twice. The idea of this now makes me laugh. How was I going to find enough participants, collect and analyse all the data by myself, after designing, developing, and piloting two versions of the course, personalised to two different audiences? And without another “me” to teach these online courses as a way of validating that it was the course and not my teaching style which had an impact on perceived learning. And how would I measure that learning? More laughter at 2018 me’s expense.
I mention sociocultural theory in my notebook- I know that is connected to my course readings at the time and I was trying to piece it together with my thoughts about professional development. I was still kicking around the idea of communities of practice in the context of teacher training and digital learning. That page is now bookmarked for potential questions to add to my interview data collection. It is also the month I first wrote “posthumanism” in my notebook with a question mark after it.
Ambitious Anna was planning on reading Derrida, Foucault, and Friere over the Christmas break. I think I was serious about it, because the library call numbers are written next to the names. Don’t worry, I didn’t read them.
The year began with me formulating different research questions, over and over again. Lots of question gambits with ellipses and blanks. I also began writing a journal article for publication, which was eventually rejected in the spring. Methodology became a focus in my notebook: narrative inquiry, data collection, field texts, autoethnography. I see in February that I had a good moment that guided me to my proposal: to look at ways of researching data that is not created “for” research.
Another pivotal moment: the discovery of Ian Greener’s Sage book on ethnography, where I discovered Latour, which led me to keeping three different kinds of notebooks, which also led me to read about Actor-Network Theory. I read and kept notes on a lot of ethnographic dissertations that winter. I see that I also used a writing assignment in a course to practice my interviewing skills; always good to leverage course work for future research.
Actor-Network Theory and Latour are now a stronghold of my thoughts and from this point forward, Twitter, ANT, communities of practice, ethnography, ethics, and posthumansim are entrenched in my notes. Another research gem: my reflections on being a lurker in an online community of almost 500 members who “can be incredibly vocal or incredibly silent.”
“I was reluctant to voice ideas in this group. But this demonstrates that lurking, although it cannot be measured, is a valid form of PD for me – I still learn – how is it different from attending a conference and not engaging with anyone at it?”1st PhD Notebook. May 20, 2019
I find it interesting that my notebook doesn’t contain a lot of notes on reflective practice, but my literature review in my proposal does. I think that is because I wrote a lot of my thoughts in the margins of my OneNote PDFs. My notes in May also mention my intention to blog about my process. The last entry in May has some rough sketches attempting to visualise landscapes of practice.
More of my thoughts were hinting at affordances, which my supervisor noticed immediately and she sent me in that direction. Like this thought:
How does participation in some groups on Twitter, for example, demonstrate that I belong/don’t belong to a community?
#[NAMEOFGROUP] – its not my lack of knowledgeability that prevents me from participating; it doesn’t match my identity. This is not a social group for me, perhaps because it is mostly on Facebook, and I don’t feel that I “fit” on that platform.1st PhD notebook. June 11, 2019
From this point forwards, I developed the idea for my pilot study, explored social network analysis, used data analysis tools to visualise my data, and began planning my research as a whole. In the summer of 2019, I drafted a rough literature review and began formatting a document that would become my proposal.
I left my notebooks and examined that document, which I submitted to my supervisor two months ago. I’ve been in awe of others’ work, such as Ian Guest’s dissertation on professional development on Twitter, and colleagues’ work at OISE. It is difficult not to measure oneself against another’s progress, but there it is. So I decided to start looking for evidence of my own progress, sans comparison.
The original document was 102 pages and had 34 752 minutes of editing time tracked on it, which translates to 580 hours of writing time. This does not include the reading I did in preparation for it. The document was 1.4 megabytes when I submitted it for my supervisor’s first review. At the time of submission I thought, “Okay, that’s it. I’m done.”
Her response, less than a week later, in the subject line of her email: “We’re almost there.”
I outlined a list of items that needed addressing; I thought it would take me two weeks to complete. It began easily, and once gain, my theoretical framework stopped me in my tracks each time. At this point, I can remember what propelled me forward: monthly thesis group meetings, encouragement from other grad students, A Zoom meeting with my supervisor, and some intensive virtual Pomodoro sessions with a friend. After that, a comment from a fellow grad student:
Pretend that there is nothing else in this world more interesting right now than your proposal. Put your head down this weekend and start writing.
Less than two weeks ago, I submitted my revised proposal for review. The revision is now 129 pages long. I tracked 140 hours of time spent in the document, and it is 3.4 megabytes.
Perspective trumps perception.
This past Thursday, I talked about my journey leading to my PhD proposal in a one-hour virtual presentation at OISE. My supervisor and colleagues and friends were present. I didn’t feel nervous; I felt happy.
Chemero, A. (2003a). An Outline of a Theory of Affordances. Ecological Psychology, 15(2), 181–195.
Greener, I. (2014). Ethnography as a Research Approach – or What Do I Gain from Watching People and Talking to Them? Designing Social Research: A Guide for the Bewildered, 73–92.
Guest, I. F. (2018). Exploring teachers’ professional development with Twitter: A sociomaterial analysis. Sheffield Hallam University.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social : an Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory [electronic resource]: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Boulder: Net Library.