My PhD study needs you…

Recruitment Flyer

Do you work in a Leicester school that caters to 11-16 year olds?

I am looking to work with school staff who engage with Secondary age learners, though the school itself may also cater to other age ranges (e.g. 4-19).

Do you work in a role that directly supports learning?

I am looking to work with senior leadership with a teaching role, teachers, classroom assistants, specialist provision and library staff.

Have you, at some point in your career, had an experience of professional learning that related to your use of technology?

Then please consider participating in my PhD research – which aims to investigate how current professional development strategies impact on the development of staff digital literacy.

What is digital literacy?

“Digital Literacy refers to the skills, attitudes and knowledge required by educators to support learning in a digitally-rich world.

To be digitally literate, educators must be able to utilise technology to enhance and transform classroom practices, and to enrich their own professional development and identity. The digitally literate educator will be able to think critically about why, how and when technology supplements learning and teaching.”

(Hall et al 2014)



Reflecting on the journey so far…

pixabay reflections trees water

I won’t lie, the first year of my PhD has proven to be a rather tough one. All of the qualities that I thought made me a good student, I appeared to lose sometime time around March last year – like the ability to get out of bed. You may notice that there is a large gap between my previous post and this one… So it’s been a tough time and I have spent much of the last year berating myself for it not being easier (and yes, I know how unhelpful that attitude is – I’m working on it!). In particular, I have struggled with writing.

But somehow, despite my internal struggles, I have managed to achieve a few things and in the spirit of the new year I’d rather focus on those:

  • I completed my first year of teaching on the Education Practice MA – and my students all successfully passed the module I taught.
  • I returned to the Teacher Education Advancement Network conference and presented on my previous research.
  • I designed and implemented a pilot study for my thesis research.
  • I successfully completed a 10,000 word review of my PhD work to date, along with an internally assessed meeting – which comprised my Formal Review.

It is the formal review that I would like to focus on today, because after struggling for a year, feeling as though I wasn’t cut out for a PhD after all, and living in a state of what felt like eternal writer’s block – completing my Formal Review document and finally seeing all the thinking I have done over the last year down on paper was the most incredible feeling. It was very reassuring to know that it had indeed been in there all along, it just needed a little more time before I was ready to write it all down.

I was also very lucky in my supervisor’s choice of internal assessor. We had a productive conversation about my work, in which she was positive, supportive, challenging and provided me with a new perspective on the way that I write about my research. I took a lot of notes during the meeting but I wanted to share some of the key points, the things that have really stuck with me, here.

So what?

Right at the very end of our discussion, my internal assessor apologised to me for ending on a tricky question. She told me that it is important to always have one question at the forefront of my mind when writing about my research – So what?

Why is my research important? Who is it important to? What impact could it have for them?

In the first week of my PhD study I wrote a blog post about my own personal goals, and they were:

  1. To share why I believe that digital literacy has value in education. Why it is critical in supporting staff to make best use of technologies for all teaching and learning purposes.
  2. To bring teacher voice to the forefront. I do not believe myself to be the expert in this area, school staff are and I do not want to underestimate their knowledge and expertise.
  3. To develop something which is of practical use – rather than theory alone.

We discussed these goals in the meeting and agreed that they go some way to answering the question of ‘so what?’. This is something I intend to keep in mind for the remainder of my studies. My assessor also pointed out that it would be lovely if I could find a v word for the final goal – so that I have 3 V’s to underpin my thesis. If you have any ideas – do let me know!!


I am currently relying on the good will of the schools that I previously worked with, as part of the DigiLit Leicester project, to find participants for my research. This has had mixed success. Schools can be tricky to access for research purposes, particularly when I don’t have a way to make it worth their while in anything other than an intrinsic sense. I am also very aware of the increasing pressures on schools, on top of their existing responsibilities, and so can understand that my PhD research is not a key concern for them. My assessor works in a similarly complex area and was able to offer me some practical and useful tips – for example, offering to write one page reviews of lessons learnt from observations and focus groups that I conduct for school senior leadership.

A priority area for the beginning of this year is to review my recruitment strategies and try some new approaches.

‘It should read like a recipe’

My final take away from the formal review process revolves around the presentation of my methodology. At this early stage in my research, and given my chosen research strategy (grounded theory) it was quite hard to write about the finer details of my research design – at least in the sense that I cannot say how many interviews I will conduct, until I have completed them. The feedback I received on my methodology write up was that whilst it was detailed, it was very abstract and did not related back to my own research, but rather discussed the various techniques I had chosen to employ outside of the context of my PhD.

My assessor point out that a methodology should read like a recipe – being as explicit about the process as possible, and always relating back to the context of my own research. This was particularly helpful feedback that will come in very handy when I am preparing my final submission.


So, I finished last year on a much needed high and have returned to the University after Christmas feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to jump straight back in – which is just as well, as I have my first round of data collection for the main phase of my study starting next week – can’t wait!!

PhD Note 20/2015


Image shared under a creative commons BY 2.0 license by Simon Cunningham

This week I have mostly been:

  • Continuing my literature review work, in particular, this week I have been reading about the neo-liberal and neo-conservative perspectives which have driven some of the changes in teacher education under Thatcher’s Conservative government and New Labour.
  • Attending my first advanced statistics workshop – it was a great way to consolidate the independent learning that I have been doing around Sensitivity and Specificity of data analysis, and the use of Receiver Operating Characteristic curves.
  • Introducing my students to the Mozilla Webmaker suite of tools. This has actually been over the last two weeks – last week we used X-Ray Goggles to ‘hack’ websites and this week I provided the group with a SoundCloud file of me discussing Interactive Whiteboards which they remixed using Popcorn Maker. I wanted the sessions to show the group the potential of online tools for teaching and learning; we ended each session with a discussion of how to the tools could be used within their contexts.

Next week I will be continuing my literature review work and having a meeting regarding open badges schemes.

PhD Note 18/2015

This week I have mostly been:

  • Continuing reading on teacher professionalism and education. I visited the University of Leicester’s library this week and set up an external borrowers account as they have a particularly strong education library. Some interesting points have arisen from this week’s reading – namely, that Bond (1996) identifies two key aspects of a professional: autonomy, that they are regarded as competent enough to practice without intervention, and having a monopoly on a certain kind of knowledge, in the case of teachers this would be pedagogy. Through the last two governments we have seen shift from university-based teacher education to school-based training which has reduced the amount of theoretical pedagogic study. We have also witness an increase in monitoring and government dictation of a teachers role, lessening their autonomy. If we are to agree with Bond’s assertion that autonomy and a monopoly on knowledge are key to identifying a profession, these recent changes, at the hands of the government, could be seen (and have quite widely been) as a purposeful move to deprofessionalise teaching.
  • Supporting my MA students with writing their own ethical approval forms. Having only recently written my own, I think this was a good time to support others as I am very aware of the potential challenges and, having received feedback from my own supervisors, recently informed of what is expected by the Faculty’s Ethics Committee.
  • Participating in Leicester City Council’s OER schools event. The event was a great opportunity to catch up with school staff I had previously worked with as part of the DigiLit Leicester Project, and also to collect resources on OERs for my MA students.
  • Attending a library workshop on setting writing goals. I’ve been wanting to develop better writing habits as it is the part of my PhD work that I have been struggling with the most. This session helped me to see the bigger picture and how my monthly writing targets fit into my larger deadlines (such as formal review in October). It was also really useful to discuss writing with other PhD students and get some advice and tips from them.

Next week I will still be continuing my literature review work (I’m afraid this portion of my weekly updates is likely to be a little repetitive over the next month or so) but also trying out some of the great tips I picked up to help with my writing.

PhD Note 17/2015

This week I have mostly been:

  • Delivering my first solo lecture for the Technology-enhanced practice module. I’m working with a great group of students, covering all levels of education (from Primary right up to HE) so we have some interesting discussions.
  • Completing my ethical approval draft. It’s taken slightly longer than I would have liked but it is still completed before the end of the month so that’s a plus.
  • Visiting the British Library. I found a book on teacher education which I could only access in a handful of libraries so I took the opportunity to sign up for a Reader Pass. The book covers the history of teacher education and professionalism. Out of the 5 volumes I was able to gain access to 4 (one had a catalogue issue) and typically it is the one I couldn’t access which offers the most value so I’m likely to visit again in the near future. The volumes are made up of collections of writings, brought together into themes – with the first two volumes covering the history of teacher education.
  • Reviewing my productivity – I have mentioned on many occasions that I am always striving to be as productive as possible. I noticed that it is nearly a year since I last reflected on my productivity and so I thought I’d review my current practices to see how they match up.

Next week I will mostly be continuing my literature review work. This will be interspersed with more lecturing, starting a new Doctoral Training Programme module on Advanced Statistical Analysis and attending Leicester City Council’s OER Schools Conference.

PhD Note 15/2015

Image shared under a creative commons license by Roman Boed

Image shared under a creative commons license by Roman Boed

This week I have mostly been:

  • Locating new resources for my literature review. I am currently reading on teacher professionalism and am looking at resources which cover: how professionalism is interpreted, how professionalism has developed in recent history and how political intervention (such as the 1988 Education Reform Act and 1944 McNair Report which influenced the collaboration of universities and teacher training schools) has shaped professionalism in the UK.
  • Registering with The British Library so that I can go and visit soon!
  • Building content into Blackboard for the module I will start teaching from next week. This has been particularly exciting for me as I haven’t used Blackboard as an instructor before.
  • Writing on the four ages of professionalism.
  • Submitting a proposal to present at the 6th Annual TEAN Conference. I presented there last year on the findings of the 2013 DigiLit Leicester survey. This year, Richard Hall and I are proposing to discuss the key findings of the surveys from both 2013 and 2014 and their implications for teacher education.
  • Reading on the development of teacher professionalism. After an exhausted end to last year I feel like I’ve really got my academic mojo back – I’m getting excited about the papers I’m reading again and it’s all starting to fall into place (which is handy since I have a literature review to write).

Next week I will be teaching my first lesson in H.E (!), continuing my literature review work and finishing off my ethical approval application ready to get some feedback from my supervisors.

PhD Note 11/2014

This week I have mostly been:

Attending the final lecture of my first Doctoral Training Programme module – Research Designs in Health. As I have already studied research methods and design at a Masters level this course was a handy refresher. I also have an assignment to submit as part of the module, a research proposal. I have decided to use this assignment as a way to get further feedback on the proposal I am currently writing for my ethical approval.

Completing the RDP module in literature searching, through a final face-to-face component. Again the session was a useful recap of the search strategies I have learnt in the past, but it also introduced me to a number of tools that may come in handy over the next few years:

Library Search – a new service on the DMU library website that allows you to search all content in the library by keywords in one search. This could be used for testing out my search terms and also to give an indication of the amount of content available in my area of research.

Copac – identifies which universities hold the texts that you search for. As I have SCONUL membership I can use other university libraries but I hadn’t been sure how to know where else to look before.

Scopus and Web of Knowledge – both of these sites are citation trackers. This service can be used to check the quality of the paper you are reading and also look for later publications which refer to it that might be relevant to your study.

Zetoc – allows you to set up an alert for certain journals and keywords, this way whenever something new is published you are alerted to it – helping you to keep up to date with the literature in your field, throughout your thesis.

Getting inspired by this blog post from Dr Catherine Flick – discussing a new method she has developed for managing her notes, quotes and references from papers and chapters she has read. In my last supervisors meeting it was suggested that I look into management tools for helping me to do this (I’ve always manually typed out citations) and I have to admit I’m not familiar with the tools. I found this post quite interesting and I am definitely going to look into trying this method as I think it could be a really useful way of managing all my reading notes and citations.

Reading for my literature review. I am currently looking at texts which focus on teachers, their professional identity and the role of professional development.

Next week, I will be focusing mainly on more reading for my literature review, further writing of my proposal and I will also be volunteering some time to the graduate school to help trial a new service for postgrads that makes submitting of all our forms a little easier to manage.