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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.

Transcribing

I am working at transcribing the 7 interviews I have collected. They are all between 60 and 90 minutes long. So far I have finished 4 and am hoping to finish the 5th this evening, with all 7 completed by the end of the month 8 days from now.

It has taken 4-6 hours to transcribe each interview. The process is fairly manual. I am using the open source VLC media player and Word, doing it by hand. I play the interviews back at 1/3 speed and find I can get into a good groove. All the interviews are transcribed in all caps. Once I am finished I go back, convert the document (which is usually between 10 and 12,000 words) to mixed case, and then go through and manually spellcheck. Spell-checking and converting cases takes about 20 minutes per document.

It’s manual and time-consuming, but worth it, I think, to revisit the interviews once again and get a feel for them as a whole without having to worry about  conducting the actual interview. And I suspect the next few weeks, once these are transcribed, will be deconstructing and reducing the whole into pieces as I begin to tease out strands for the analysis.

The challenge with the analysis will be to not only find the common themes, but also respect the unique individuals – the ideographic, and ensure that those unique moments are captured in the analysis. It is much more than just finding themes, but also using my own experiences in the analysis to fish out things that are unique and interesting. There has been a lot of anecdotal work done on this topic (blogs, etc), and the challenge will be to find something fresh that will add to the conversation. I can certainly see themes and patterns already in the four interviews I have done, while at the same time getting a sense of some of the unique perspectives of the participants involved.

Tomorrow I chat with my supervisor – the first time we have spoken since prior to starting my data gathering. I am anxious to talk to him and get his perspective on the project so far.

Interview 7

A very good interview yesterday. I felt I had a nice rapport with the participant and gathered some information that helped me solidify some of the early themes emerging from the interviews. The participant was articulate and, while lighter on specific examples of Twitter than others I have interviewed, has obviously thought about some of the issues that I brought up in the interview, especially around how to manage the flow of information and around network building.

Moving the PLN questions off the top helped as it felt easier to weave that back into the conversation at a later point when speaking of Twitter. It also helped frame more definitively how this person thought of the people they follow on Twitter, and whether they considered them part of their PLN.

One thing I did for this interview that i wish I would have done for the previous is jot down key phrases that the participant says and then use those as prompts for them to move deeper, or add further explanation or elaboration. While i did take notes for all the interviews, and often used these for follow-up questions, for this interview I would write down quotes of things the participant said as I was interviewing them, and then repeated it back to them asking for more information. This worked very well at getting deeper into some of my questions. While I did do some of this for the other interviews, I found this technique of taking notes not of my feelings of what they were saying, but what they were actually saying made it easier to ask good follow-up questions.

I feel done. I have completed 7 interviews, and have begun jotting paper notes of themes that I feel are emerging, and ideas I have for the analysis. I can sense that I have, in all this content, what I need to move forward.

Interview 6

Of the interviews I have done so far, interview 6 felt like the flattest, or perhaps shallowest, so far. Not any fault of the participant, but I think because I was very aware that I only had this participant for a set amount of time due to them having another appointment the needed to make. I rushed through the questions, and feel like I didn’t probe deep enough. As a result, I am not super happy with the result of this interview, although it contained some information that reinforces what I have heard other participants say.

I also wondered whether I am digging deep enough into the content piece of the Twitter question.  Almost all respondents have talked about sharing of resources as a primary piece of using Twitter – it’s almost spoken of as a given – but I have not gotten into depth about these resources and the exact nature of what is shared. I am not sure that digging deeper into what types of content they share will yield anything further that I want to follow up with, but in my next interview I will spend a bit more time talking to the participant about content in more detail.

A change to my question order

I have 2 more interviews this week with participant 6 and 7. For these interviews, I am going to change the order of my interview questions a bit. What  have been doing with the previous respondents is asking questions about Twitter first, and then weaving in some questions about PLN’s after. For these last two interviews, I want to start with the PLN questions and then move to Twitter as I feel that important piece is getting somewhat overshadowed in the interviews. While this research is primarily on Twitter, there is an important piece in understanding how the participants conceptualize their PLN, and understanding how they conceptualize the role that the various tools and technologies play when connecting with their PLN.

Interview 5

There is a challenge to doing phenomenological research when you are highly visible and open on the web. I blog. I tweet. I share things I read through Google reader. I participate in this thing called networked learning, meaning I have a heavy digital footprint. Google me and you’ll see. I am not invisible.

Which poses a challenge as I interview people for this research. If any of them Google me (as I am sure they have, being the wired in people that they are), they will see this. They will see that I am one of them. I participate. I contribute. I converse. I am on Twitter. Which I think might make these interviews a bit more difficult. If they do Google me and do a bit of research on me in the time between when I contact them and they agree & we do the interview, they will see that I am active on Twitter, perhaps with some of the same people they are. I run with their crowd. So, do they come into the interview with an expectation that I am like them in the respect that I use Twitter and appear to have a PLN? When they answer a question I pose to them, are they speaking to me as a peer with their responses molded to what they may perceive to me my level of knowledge with the practice they are undertaking?

As phenomenological research, I am the naive participant. I come to the subject with fresh eyes. I am doing my best to bracket my personal opinions during the interviews and keep as neutral as possible. But I sometimes get the feeling that the answers I get are hedged in this opinion some of the participants may have about me and my prior level of knowledge. They are speaking to the networked learner Clint and not the researcher Clint.

Participant 5 shared some great stories with me and then went so far as to post on Twitter to their network and ask them to chime in with their opinion as to what they thought made Twitter different than other tools for connecting with their PLN. During the interview, there were a few moments of “you know”, which, when I hear in an interview I seem to be interpreting as both a mental pause for the participant and, more importantly, a trigger for me that says they believe they are speaking to someone who knows.

I wonder if this causes some dissonance with the participants when I interview them and present myself as the neutral observer, naively questioning things that, to them, must seem like obvious things I should know or understand.

I find it difficult not to share with them. To, in the words of my supervisor, co-create knowledge with them during this process. Sometimes they ask me questions, which I answer as honestly as I can in order to keep them comfortable, but the whole time I answer a question I wonder if I am influencing their answers? How could I not be, really. In this interview, for example, the participant shared a wonderful story with me about the value of being open and public on the web in these networked spaces. Which led into a brief conversation between me and the participant about a shared person we knew and a project they had undertaken. I won’t know until after I go back and fully transcribe the interview, but I sensed that maybe something changed after that moment with the participant. As if the stories suddenly came a bit easier and less tentative than before. Perhaps this was because of the way I responded to that story that there was a moment in the participants head when she went  “okay, that is what he wants” based on my reaction to her story. But it could also be that we had suddenly found a shared connection, someone we both knew that made her more comfortable to answer the questions.

Interview 4

I completed interview 4 last night. This particular person was an Ed.D, and had a somewhat more theoretical position informed by their studies on learning. They actually mentioned learning theories in the interview, and spoke of their philosophy of how learning occurs. While everyone I have interviewed has/is educators, and at some level I knew there could be a chance the person I was speaking to might want to veer deeper into theory than practice, I still found myself feeling a bit taken back and questioning again the questions I had prepared ahead of time. While the interviews are semi-structured and phenomenological research allows for flexibility in the conversation – a willingness to follow the lead of the participant – I fear that I am setting myself up for a nightmare of analysis when I try to extract some meaningful theme from these interviews.

This interview was interesting. Like the previous interview, there was a level of critical thinking by this educator about technology integration in education in general, and his use of Twitter was markedly different from others in the study. His perspective was closer to my previous interview than it was to the first two interviews I have done in that there was a real desire to use Twitter to engage and dialog with colleagues and peers. Not that this desire wasn’t present with my first two participants, but the last two people I have spoken with use the platform much more for dialogue and interaction than resource sharing. Last night’s participant also shared with me an example of a collaborative project where he received support from his Twitter network, in much the same way that my first interview did. The connections made with colleagues

There is also an interesting thread emerging, I believe, about the scope of a Personal Learning Network and Twitter, especially among my last two participants who both spoke about Twitter and those on Twitter being just a part of their PLN, and that their PLN extends far beyond the people they follow and their followers on Twitter. The interview last night was especially emphatic that his PLN included his colleagues at work and people he connects with face to face and never on Twitter. And then he said something interesting – that his PLN includes resources and, by extension, the people who created those resources. The boundaries for this person on where their PLN ends are broad and fuzzy.

Another theme I see emerging is that the Personal Learning Network could more rightly be called a Professional Learning Network, which is slightly different from how I envision it. I see a PLN as something that could potentially be broader than professional colleagues, although that set of people would be quite important. But in my view, a PLN as a personal learning construct could potentially be larger than professional contacts. It could encompass many facets of your life and include many different types of people. However for all four of the people I have talked to about both the members of their PLN and who they follow on Twitter as being primarily other educators, making it more of a professional learning network rather than what I might define as a personal learning network.

One final note about last night’s interview was a great discussion on the potential echo chamber effect of networks in general when it comes with choosing who to follow and who you communicate with. It’s a piece that I want to go back and listen to again soon.

Onto my next few days…it never rains, it pours. Somehow I was in a desert prior to Christmas with potential interviews, and now I somehow have 4 confirmed and another 3 possible in the next week. With the 4 confirmed, that would bring my total to 8, and if the other three pan out, 11 in total. That would be a fantastic data set for this research. However, even if the 3 in the fire don’t pan out (and I suspect 2 of the 3 will), I still will have 8 in the can by the end of next week. While it is too early to say, I think that 8 will give me a decent data set to work with.

Next round of participants

For the next round of participants, I am pulling another 30 numbers from the remaining participants. There are 2848 possible participants in the pool. I have generated another 30 random numbers (screenshot). These are:

167, 231, 432, 467, 611, 901, 966, 1015, 1054, 1114, 1172, 1194, 1208, 1337, 1415, 1513, 1521, 1537, 1569, 1601, 1725, 1836, 1838, 1840, 1897, 1912, 2376, 2485, 2712, 2802

We are a few days before Christmas, so I don’t have a lot of expectations that this round will generate another interview, but I am beginning to feel crunched for time if I want to have the maximum amount of time to fully analyze the data.

Update: January 3, 2010

From this list I have 5 candidates. i sent them invitations today and have followed up with 2 other possible candidates from before Christmas.