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My name is Clint Lalonde. I am was a Masters student in the Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. This blog is was a part of my thesis work, documenting the process and my own experiences as I conduct my research. My Masters thesis was reviewed and approved in August, 2011. On October 19th, 2011, I received my Masters of Arts in Learning & Technology from Royal Roads University. This blog is a remnant of that thesis. If you would like to read the complete thesis on the role that Twitter plays in the formation and maintenance of Personal Learning Networks, I have a link to the final thesis on my blog.

Thesis completed, Masters done

My Masters thesis was reviewed and approved in August, 2011. On October 19th, 2011, I received my Masters of Arts in Learning & Technology from Royal Roads University. This blog is a remnant of that thesis.

If you would like to read the complete thesis on the role that Twitter plays in the formation and maintenance of Personal Learning Networks, I have a link to the final thesis on my blog.

Writing & analyzing

The past 2 weeks has been fully immersed in analyzing and writing. It has been an iterative process as I write, revisit the texts, write, and revisit.While my IPA resource manual said that I might find the idea of decontextualizing sections of the participants interviews as part of the analysis process uncomfortable and difficult, I find the opposite is true and, after reading and listening to the interviews numerous times as a whole, decontextualizing has helped me better understand some of the key ideas articulated by all or many of the participants – finding similarities and differences in their stories.

I’ve been rewriting pieces from my proposal that are still applicable to the final thesis. I reread my methodology section this week and was pleasantly surprised to find myself feeling very happy with what I had written, and my justification for choosing a phenomenological approach for this research. My feeling with most Twitter research being done  right now is primarily quantitative focusing on network analysis of the relationship or content analysis of tweets, or mixed methods where surveys are the primary research instrument. Not a lot of this type of in-depth long form interview stuff which, I hope, will be useful and add a deeper, richer layer to enhance what is currently being done.

I’ve added a section in my lit review that references Stephen Downes and his work on learning networks, specifically referencing the idea that autonomy is a key piece of a learning network. This autonomy is manifested by the participants through decisions around who they will follow, and what information they choose to pay attention to. membership is fluid, and 2 of the participants speak directly about pruning and grooming their Twitter followers on a regular basis – fine tuning to ensure that their network is achieving what it is they want it to achieve.

The first draft of the thesis was supposed to be into my supervisor yesterday, but I am not ready yet to submit anything for review. I still need to do quite a bit of writing. I believe I have my major themes established and am revisiting the interviews looking for quotes from the participants that provide the support for the themes.

I am thinking that, at some point, I will want to move this blog over to my own self hosted blog to have a record there.

I currently have 4 days off work and have thrown myself headlong into finishing this first draft for Monday and sending it off to my supervisor for his feedback.

Twitter enables creation of weak ties that can turn into strong ties at a moment’s notice

As I code my 6th interview, this thought popped into my head. I wanted to grab it as it seems important. This is rough and should not be taken as anything other than a thought that popped into my head. It generalizes, but I needed to capture it.

Twitter enables creation of weak ties that can turn into strong ties at a moment’s notice.

Participants don’t worry about maintaining tight relationships (the Dunbar number), rather are more interested in creating a weak tie to a possible resource. Twitter enables creation of weak ties that can turn into strong ties at a moment’s notice. Conversations are network signals that participants in the network are open to the possibility of moving from a weak tie state to a strong tie state on Twitter since conversations are often indicators of strong ties – you have a conversation with someone, that is a signal that you have a stronger tie than a weak tie. This is why most participants seem to place such a high value on seeing conversations – with any other participant – when looking to follow new people. It is one of the signals they are looking for when examining someone’s Twitter stream – if you are looking to have a conversation with another participant in the network, then you may be open to having a conversation with me at some point in the future. The connection is more about the possibility – setting up the environment – for future collaborations.

Participants don’t worry about keeping up with the general flow of information in the network because they are more interested in the connections and being able to turn those connections from weak state to strong state. This is where reciprocity comes into play – the reciprocal agreement entered into when using Twitter as a tool for PLN’s is that you as a participant are willing to move from a weak tie state to a strong tie state with other members of your PLN.

Half baked. But out there.

MKO and dissenting voices

Onto coding & memoing my third interview. The process is speeding up now as I have more codes to pull from as thing emerge. I find I am doing less memoing and more coding, which is good. I think the fact that I am using more codes means I am seeing more patterns in the data, although I still believe I have an overabundance of codes. However, I am also confident that I can reduce these codes and move them into themes.

This third interview I am coding is very interesting in that the participant is almost a hostile witness, not in his attitude about the research – he was an excellent research participant who has given me some wonderful stuff. But rather with his use of Twitter and the PLN. He is a contrarian and seems to relish the role of being someone who stirs the pot a bit. Not in a malicious or mischievous way, but rather critically. He is someone who is critical of technology and the blond acceptance of technology, and is not shy about making that view known. It’s interesting because I am rethinking the nature of PLN’s based on some of his answers. or rather, I am rethinking whether what he has is a PLN – is he connecting with people to learn from them, which is one of the premises of a PLN, or is he connecting with people to teach them? What is his motivation to connect with these people in his PLN when he seems to spend a great deal of time disagreeing with what they say. Is that entering into a reciprocal relationship, as relationships in PLN are?

One final note about this participant. I have noticed that every participant so far has spoken about a More Knowledgeable Other who has introduced Twitter to them, except for this person. He tried Twitter, entered the trough of disillusionment 6 months in (as most participants have noted), but what brought him back wasn’t a person, but a technology – he got a new iPhone on it that had a Twitter app. Which begs the question – can technology be the MKO? Does the Other in Vygotsky’s MKO have to be a person, or can it be a technology – a computer – who is more knowledgeable than the user of the computer? Did the Twitter app that came with his iPhone have any instructions on how to use Twitter? Did his phone “teach” him about the true affordances of Twitter?

Meeting with supervisor

I met with my thesis supervisor this week to discuss my progress and my revised timelines to complete. The new timelines look like they will work for him, and with the extension I should still be able to complete my thesis in time to graduate this fall. My submission deadline for the final paper has been moved from may 15th to July 9th, with my first draft due on Friday, April 23, 2011.

I am anticipating a fairly length thesis (120 pages?) because of the nature of IPA analysis. Being hermeneutic (double hermeneutic to be exact), the analysis will require many quotes from the primary data sources to support the analysis. I suspect the quotes will make for a lengthy piece of writing.

My supervisor has recommended I find a good editor who is strong with APA formatting, so I’ll begin to hunt down someone. we are also beginning the process of finding an external reader to review the research as part of the validity. I have also committed to myself that the final paper will be publicly posted on my blog, a thought that both terrifies and excites me. I want to make it open to comments and hope that my peers will take the opportunity to review, critique, support and generally crank away at what I have done.

We also discussed the lit review and the need to revisit and expand that, based on the inforamtion the research is uncovering. I have decided to do a moratorium on reading any new Twitter research that comes my way – there is just too much to keep up right now and I have more than enough for my lit review. If a major study comes out in the next few months, I’ll probably miss it unless it hits me over the head. My supervisor thinks this is wise – at some point the lit review just has to stop.

I also spoke about some of the theoretical footing that I want to ground the research in, again hitting on some things that I want to add that are relevant to the research. So that will need to be added to the lit review.

I am close to completing the analysis of my second interview and hope to have that done by the end of this weekend.

I am currently coding and adding memos to the interviews, picking out whatever strikes me as interesting at this point. My supervisor has emphasized that at this stage, that is good. I was worried that I was over coding, but I need to do a fairly detailed first level analysis, and, after reviewing a bit of my coding and memos, my supervisor thinks that I am on the right track. Later on I’ll begin going through all the codes and memos and begin reducing and eliminating, combining and looking for super-ordiante themes. At this point, I’ll be eliminating the content that does not answer the research question – it all has to come back to that question: what role does Twitter play in the development and maintenance of Personal Learning networks among educators? I have a lot of information that does not (at least obviously) relate to that question, so much of what I am coding will probably end up not being used in the final paper. But I have been surprised at how things that I thought were irrelevant early on are suddenly becoming relevant and useful to answer that question.

Which came first: Twitter or the PLN?

Going through some of the interviews and have been shaking some threads around in my head. One thing I have noticed in two of the interviews that I have coded so far is that the phrase Personal Learning Network or acronym PLN did not appear on these participants radar until after they started using Twitter and connecting with other educators. I think – if memory serves (I haven’t coded all the interviews yet) but this was also the case with at least 2 other participants.

The reason I bring this up is that it sometimes feels like among educators who engage in PLN activity and use Twitter, there seems to be a belief among some that Twitter IS the PLN. It is a point of view that was articualted by at least 2 other participants in the study – that they are somewhat frustrated with the thought that, for many educators who use Twitter, Twitter and PLN are synonymous. That for them, Twitter IS the PLN.

This confusion seems logical to me, considering that Twitter appears to be where new educators using Twitter first come in contact with the term. Let’s say you are an educators and you start using Twitter – hear about it from a friend and get into using it. Then you start connecting with other educators, and notice these educators on Twitter are using this strange unknown acronym – PLN – in their tweets. It’s the first time you have seen this, so you begin to investigate what this term means and discover that it means connecting with others for the purpose of learning – exactly what you signed up on Twitter to do. So it would only make sense that you would equate Twitter with the PLN. Perhaps this could explain why some who begin to use Twitter immediately identify with it as their PLN – it’s where they discover the term.

Picking up the pieces

Two major life events have set me back in my thesis – the death of my Mother, and the start of a new position at a new institution. Both happened early in February, and both have caused me to detach from the research at a fairly critical time in the process – just as I was beginning to do the detailed analysis work on the transcripts. As a result of these two events, I have moved my thesis deadline to the end of June from the middle of May.

What I have done over the past 6 weeks or so is choose an analysis tool (CAQDAS), based on a recommendation from my thesis supervisor. After testing a few (including MaxQDA and nVivio), I’ve chosen Atlas.ti. It felt like the most comfortable, although I would hardly call any of the packages intuitive, but I chalk that up just as much to my status as a beginning researcher as anything else.  Cost was also a factor. Since I am not planning on doing a ton of research after my Masters, I didn’t want to commit a lot of money to a QDA package. Nor did i want a steep learning curve, so I needed to find something that made the most sense to me without spending a lot of time doing software analysis.

I have spent time over the past few weeks getting comfortable with the interface, and now have my project set up and am beginning to do the actual coding and memoing of the transcripts.

I have also reread the passage on analysis in my IPA reference book, and brushing up on how analysis works in an IPA study. The analysis is ideographic, meaning it focuses strongly on the experiences of a single user in a particular context which involves an iterative hermeneutic analysis in which the texts are read and reread. the first phase of analysis is almost a free textual analysis in which I am going through the text and making lots of notes (in the form of memos and codes).  There are no predetermined codes that I am using, but rather I am letting the codes emerge from the data, which means that I am often going back and recoding as I notice codes emerging. My memoing are thoughts and observations, as well as questions I pose to myself to follow-up on as I try to make sense of what is happening for the participant through their own words.

I am trying to pay close attention to the language that they used during the interview. For example, today I came across this from one of my participants (I’ve added emphasis):

there have been times where I have been in class or I have been working with colleagues and they need resources for uh teaching German or something and so I basically put out a a little flyer to my pln and say ‘hey I need does anybody have any resources on teaching German to high school students’ and again within like 3 or 4 minutes you know I have responses and I have resources

As I read this, the first thing that popped into my head was that this was an example of crowdsourcing and leveraging their PLN for resources. But then I began to focus on the word “they” in that passage and began to wonder what that meant. The participant didn’t say “I need resources”, they said “they need resources”. So I began to wonder what they meant by “they”. Does this participant see themselves as a connector between a larger network and a local network of colleagues? Do they see their PLN as a resource not only for himself, but also for the people they work with locally in this case, in their school? Do they perceive of themselves as an agent that can act on behalf of others, and is this a role that they want or like to have?  Is this one of the motivators that they have to create a PLN? To be seen as a knowledge leader who can quickly access resources needed by others in their network? The word “they” has triggered a number of questions for me in the analysis, and reflects the level of analysis at this stage of the game.

This type of analysis takes time. I have spent about 3 hours on the first transcript and have so far only made it through 20 minutes of a 70 minute interview – and I have 7 of these to analyze. June is going to come very quickly.