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Posted by on Dec 16, 2013

Notes from my PhD: Upgrading as a Reflective Process

I have my upgrading session scheduled for Wednesday at the Institute of Education, University of London. By at I mean via Skype. I am fortunate to have such a group of scholars reviewing my work in Dr. Allison Gazzard and Dr. Andrew Burn, both of the Institute of Education. Both have done a lot of work with media, mobile or otherwise, and I look forward to receiving some pointed feedback about where I might be going off-course a bit and what I am doing right in my PhD.

This is essentially the only milestone that I will pass before the end of my PhD experience and it comes about a year and a half into the overall experience. It was the only shared experience of camaraderie that many of my fellow PhD students at IoE had (as our topics were so wildly divergent). There were times I saw it as a necessary formality, times I viewed it as a minor Viva, and now I have settled into it being a valuable mechanism for feedback precisely when I transitioning between pilot and main study, data collection to data analysis. I have been drafting notes for the session and I found some of my thoughts crystallizing as I wrote them. Things that I knew but never articulated, things that I felt but never pragmatically knew. It was also a good reminder of how my PhD topic has evolved over the last year and a half. Evolved is really not a fair enough of word; completely transformed is perhaps more accurate. But here I am with my notes and my background reading and my ongoing data collection (8 individuals moving through my three phrases of data collection; 12 more or so in the pipeline). So I present some of my notes here in the interests of full disclosure and in case someone else is going through their upgrade as well and was curious how others might be doing it. I separated it into the pragmatic categories that arose out of my brainstorming what the questions would be. For the life of me, I haven’t figured out a better description than Elevator Speech for the general gist of my study.

My Upgrading Paper (10,000 words) is here: Gallagher_Upgrading_Final in case you are desperate to see what the format looks like. My format follows the official guidelines from IoE to the letter. Some sections have been removed to meet the word count, but I am prepared to talk about these as needed during the session. Please note that these are just notes that refer to larger sections in my thesis.  Some are missing the citations (although those can be found in the Upgrading Final document.

My Elevator Speech

My study is about graduate students in the Humanities in Korea, their modes of participation in their discipline, and their use of mobile technology as both a means of composition and a mode of participation. I am attempting to follow these graduate students across a range of states of activity, formal/informal, socialized/individualized, and with high and low degrees of transactional distance (Park, 2011) to see how meaning is made and what participation looks like in these spaces. I am attempting, in my methods, to make visible the informal and formal modes of participation and composition for these students, how they make meaning, how they participate in their community. and how mobile technology mediates that process.

Why Korea?

I focus on Korea because of the high level of technological infrastructure, almost complete penetration of cell phone technology (73% as of 2013, overall; much higher in target group), the general mitigation or de-emphasis of Humanities study (worldwide trend) and the the emphasis on formal over informal study. Government directives and initiatives tend to lump mobile learning into a smart structure, as a supplemental rather than primary mode of participation. Little research has been conducted on mobile learning in the Humanities, even less on how meaning is made there. Most mobile learning research in Korea is, due to government funding, directed towards how mobile supports smart learning structures, technology acceptance models, technological design, etc. Very little is taking place using qualitative and/or multimodal/visual methods in formal learning. Some models in the informal media practices environment.

Why (Korean) Humanities?

I focus on the Humanities to see if representational/ impressionistic, dialogue based communication and learning structures can be accounted for in mobile design, to see what role non-textual modes, which I believe mobile technology privileges or makes more readily available, has in the participation and learning process.

  1. Korean Humanities have been mitigated to second class status (as is the case in much of the world).
  2. Korean Humanities are unique containers for Asian philosophy (representing contextual mixes of Buddhism, Confucianism (Neo), elements of indigenous thoughts, etc.). Different structure than Western Humanities. As such, unique voice adding diversity. In Korea, Humanities is the study on the original and ultimate truth (Dong, 2003). “It is a thinking that embraces literature, history and philosophy and links up Heaven, Earth and man. Therefore, the method of Humanities is necessarily to enlighten, which is macroscopical and all-inclusive, ie to study on the method of no-method, and to reveal widely the essentials through comprehending the minor details. The formation of such a method will certainly mix together the Western and the Chinese, link up the ancient and the present, work on the grand and the trivial and lead all phenomena into Oneness. The Chinese takes Method of I Ching (Yi ling) as its mother method, whereas the Westerners, Dialectics. Method of I ching is the umbilical cord of man and nature, and the tableau of Heaven, Earth, gods and man, whereas Dialectics is the sound that pierces into nature, and the strategy for the struggle among Heaven, Earth, gods and man. The spirit of Dialectics is to make a concrete analysis of concrete conditions-to resolve is its focus, whereas the gist of Method of I ching is to mix up the different where Heaven and man meet-to blend is its key point.”
  3. Humanities emphasize dialogue, interactional states, multimodality, iteration of coming to know. More complex than is often the case with linear modes of scientific proof and knowledge

My Contribution

My contribution falls into several categories, namely

Mobile Learning

  • Expanding/repositioning the definition of mobile learning in keeping with Kress/Pachler (2007) in their notion of mobile learning as a transformation of habitus. Less technologically deterministic definitions. My research questions emphasize composition and participation and not functionality and process.
  • Looking at mobile learning as transformation of habitus, emphasizing larger process of coming to know, a process whereby meaning is constructed through the use and mastery of a number of different tools, technological, intellectual, and physical (Saljo, 1999). Hence my following learning across informal and formal states, across socialized and individualized states of activity (Park 2011).
  • Keeping Sharples et al (2007) foregrounding the idea that learning occurs and produces context in a fluid cycle.
  • Dourish (2004) “context is a relational property that holds between objects and activities” and is specific to a particular activity being performed by the individual or the learning community (Dourish, 2004). Context becomes an interactional rather than a representational issue (2004), one that assumes an active process of meaning-making occurring in a dynamic environment.
  • Mobile learning becomes a transformation of habitus towards building and manipulating a dynamic context. Gazzard (2011) mentions something similar in reference to Foursquare and creating and collecting spaces: “The generation of our own places has allowed other users to create their own real or imaginary places.” Generating and collecting space have parallels in Pachler’s transformation of space (habitus).
  • Indeed, the greater the proliferation of such `tools’ and hence the greater the networking possible, so the more that access to such tools is obligatory in order to participate fully in a `networked society’.
  • Sheller, Urry: Thus there are hybrid systems, `materialities and mobilities’, that combine objects, technologies, and socialities, and out of those distinct places are produced and reproduced.” The system under investigation here is one such hybrid system.

Mobile Methods

  • Appropriating informal mobile media studies in the Korean context (Haddon, Kim, Hjorth) focused on practices for my methods
  • Using narrative interviews to define explicit participation, multimedia method to create impressions/representations of other modes of engagement with discipline (legitimate peripheral participation), and self-reflective prompts to make visible/conscious the practices used to create these mobile media and their significance to their learning.
  • So methods are a combination of formal/informal subjects towards stimulating reflective thought.
  • Appropriating methods from elearning studies (Bayne et al, 2011) identifying the learning and engagement patters of elearners.
  • Attempt to foreground space and motion itself
  • Sheller, Urry: I am corresponding their notion of time-space diaries to self-reflective prompts: “Such a diary enables researchers to plot how the household, and indeed different household members, move through time^space and perform activities often on the move. The diary could be textual, pictorial, or digital. In a reflexive move one might also call for a more transparent accounting and accountability of the researcher’s trajectories of travel and affordances for mobile research production. The vocabulary (and practices) of `research’ and `findings’, `publication’, and `curriculum vitae’ carries within it its own implicit infrastructures of inclusion and exclusion, mobility and immobility.”
  • Also focusing on transfer points (subway stations, bus stops, lounges, etc,) encouraging participants to generate media documenting these places: “much mobilities research will need to examine multiple `transfer points’ (Kesselring, this issue), `places of in-between-ness’ involved in being mobile but immo- bilised in lounges, waiting rooms, cafe ̈ s, amusement arcades, parks, hotels, airports, stations, motels, harbours. These transfer points necessitate a significant immobile network so that others can be on the move. They also entail new forms of `interspace’ (Hulme, forthcoming) or connected presence in which various kinds of meeting-ness are held in play while on-the-move.”

Multimodality in a Korean context

  • Attempt to gauge Korean use of or experimentation with non-textual methods.
  • Attempt to follow participant through their informal media practices (mobile phone camera use, for example) towards disciplinary participation (translating informal image to some sort of disciplinary understanding or participation)
  • Attempt to make visible the salient details of Korean media and their use in learning
  • Attempting to develop culturally appropriate models for holistic learning via mobile technology (flaneur, derive, stalker (all from Gazzard, 2011) are useful in revealing practice and purpose in urban spaces, but aren’t culturally appropriate as a learning model. Yangban is more appropriate and accessible.
  • (Burns, Parker, 2003) Research focuses on
  • Signification: how texts make meaning, how different forms can carry these meanings, media, etc.
  • Analysis of both the text and the audiences engaging with the texts. I am fusing multimodality and community of practice here to define this audience engagement. The CoP defines the engagement and the third method of self-reflection engages the participant on their understanding of that audience.
  • Combining analysis with the political, economic, and social contexts in which texts are produced. In this case, combining these texts produced in Phase 2 with the Korean cultural context, the Korean higher education context, and the shared repertoire of processes and practices defined by the Korean disciplinary CoP
  • My research focuses more on the meaning-text, (Burns, Parker, 2003, referring to Lemke, 2002) the reader’s interpreted movement through this text. The semiotic text is engaged through the meaning-text, i.e. how the participant understands the significance of this text as being received by the community of practice (further informing their legitimate peripheral participation).

Broadening Korean research practice

  • Away from reliance on quantitative methods
  • Away from technologically deterministic approaches (technology at center of research study)
  • Towards methods that embrace the informal’s capacity for informing the formal
  • Towards methods that contribute to emergent or participatory design structures
  • Towards a focus on the Humanities as environments of expanding and creative practices

Community of Practice

  • Building on Situated Learning, Community of Practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991)
  • Korean graduate students represent legitimate peripheral participations in this process of community participation. Their processes (media practices, learning practices, mobile practices) represent a process of coming to know. They are becoming full members of the group (Humanities). They are exercising and evolving their own practices towards disciplinary participation.
  • Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation (1991) is the focus, really, as I am working with graduate students as peripheral performers in this community of practice. I am most interested in getting at this peripheral behavior. However, all of this foregrounded through the disciplinary spaces. This behavior is situated in or against them.
  • Participants have a shared community of practice (Humanities discipline), some shared processes (formal composition and dissemination, for example), and some similar artifacts and tools (language, process, roles and relationships). Shared domain, repertoire (to some degree). Graduate students are developing identities in their discipline through legitimate peripheral participation.
  • Veering/adding to Lave & Wenger by suggesting that participants move in and out several communities, all of which inform participation in a community of practice. For example, mobile media practices developed in informal communities (friends online) inherently inform the practices of composition in formal communities of practice (Humanities). Graduate students participate in their humanities’ community to generate meaning “in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice” (Lave, Wenger, 1991). These can include resiliency-building Korean social networks (Kim, Sohn, Choi, 2011), informal study or peer groups, or other offline or online communities of activity. Identifying this range of activity will provide a bounded space in which to begin mapping the participant’s movement through formal, informal, social, and individual states of activity (Park, 2011).
  • It is our job as researchers to follow the activity trail (hence Park 2011) across formal/informal, individualized/socialized states of activity. The end result being a sort of Venn diagram the confluence of a learner’s participation through mobile technology.
  • There is an intimate connection between knowledge and activity. Learning is part of daily living as Eduard Lindeman argued many years ago. Problem solving and learning from experience are central processes (although, as we have seen, situated learning is not the same as ‘learning by doing’ – see Tennant 1997: 73). Educators need to reflect on their understanding of what constitutes knowledge and practice. Perhaps one of the most important things to grasp here is the extent to which education involves informed and committed action.
  • Will add to CoP through Sheller, Urry’s New Mobilities Paradigm: Thus mobilities need to be examined in their fluid interdependence and not in their separate spheres (such as driving, travelling virtually, writing letters, flying, and walking). This proves challenging to Community of Practice, which presumes, to some degree, a fixed community. Following engagement as a signal marker along these mobilities.

Sources (partial)

  • Bayne, S.; Gallagher, M.S. & Lamb, J. (2013). Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students. Higher Education, 2013, DOI 10.1007/s10734-013-9662-4.
  • Dong, L. (栾栋). (2003). 人文学方法论. 『동아인문학, 3,(1-13).
  • Dourish, P. (2004). What we talk about when we talk about context. Personal and ubiquitous computing, 8(1), 19-30.
  • Haddon, L., & Kim, S. D. (2007). Mobile phones and web-based social networking-Emerging practices in Korea with Cyworld. Communications Network, 6(1), 5.
  • Hannam, K., Sheller, M., & Urry, J. (2006). Editorial: Mobilities, immobilities and moorings. Mobilities, 1(1), 1-22.
  • Kress, G. & Pachler, N. (Eds) (2007).  Mobile Learning: Towards a Research Agenda (2007). WLE Centre, Occasional Papers in Work-based Learning 1.
  • Ok, H. Y. (2011). New Media Practices in Korea. International Journal of Communication, 5: 320-348.
  • Ok, H. R. (2008). Screens on the Move: Media Convergence and Mobile Culture in Korea. University of Southern California.
  • Park, Y. (2011). A pedagogical framework for mobile learning: Categorizing educational applications of mobile technologies into four types. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), 78-102.
  • Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2007). A theory of learning for the mobile age. In R. Andrews & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The Sage handbook of elearning research (pp.221-47). London: Sage.
  • Sheller, M. & Urry, J. (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A, 38, 207‐226.
  • Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice
: a brief introduction. Retrieved May 10, 2013 from

I have many more notes relating to how these thoughts relate to my actual methodological design, but I will save those for another post.

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