Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the month “August, 2017”

Week 14 – Thesis Countdown

Although I am still collecting data from my research site, I’ve started to think about how to organize and write my thesis. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my blog, I have been doing research in Second Life for my thesis since April.

My data collection has three different phases:

  • Phase I – included detailed observations and field notes of classes, events, and chat logs from my site. In this phase, the intent was to understand the site, the community, and the activities that were happening at this institution in Second Life. I then began to develop a coding scheme to analyze my data and to develop a learning model from my analysis.
  • Phase II – I am currently in phase II of data collection, which includes surveys on what people do, and how they learn in Second Life, as well as detailed interviews with community members. During this time, I’ve started to interview different people within my community to understand their experiences and perspectives. These data are also coded, but with the intent to further develop my learning model and to refine the patterns that I am seeing. At this stage, I’m also testing for variations in my data, exceptions, and alternative explanations. In other words, my data collection and analysis is intended to further develop and test the validity of my learning model.
  • Phase III – Next month, I will be in the final phase of data collection. During this time, I will be rigorously testing my model, and deliberately looking for instances where perhaps my model does not hold up. I’ll also start the member-checking process – whereby, I will share my findings and observations with community members to see whether what I have learned and observed is an accurate representation of their learning experiences.

During my current, Phase II, of data collection, I’ve conducted three interviews. I’ll continue to contact interview people throughout the month. At the same time, I’ll be analyzing the transcriptions that I gather from these data, and comparing them with and against my survey data as well as data from Phase I!

As far as the big picture… there are 96 more days left before my November 30th deadline to get my first dissertation draft completed. That leaves me with 14 weeks left, and my goal this week is to write a draft of Chapter 4, which is the methods chapter of my thesis.

 

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Bloomberg, L.D., & Volpe, M. (2016). Completing your qualitative dissertation (3rd ed). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE

 

 

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From Here to There – A PhD Student Timeline

mountain-1510951_960_720The stages that grad students go through in order to earn their PhDs is somewhat of a black box for people looking from the outside. This is partially because everyone’s timeline is different; people may take longer to complete one part of their program over another. For example, my comprehensive exams took longer to complete because I was figuring out exactly what I wanted to research. My dissertation proposal stage, however, took only a few months to complete because my comprehensive exams gave me a very strong foundation. In fact, my comprehensive exams provided the backbone for the two chapters of my proposal! For those who are curious, here is a rough outline of my own journey through my PhD program:

First 2 years – PhD classes, along with an assistantship that paid my tuition and a stipend. I also took a research apprenticeship, which helped me understand the research process in social science.

Years 3-5 – Comprehensive exams. The comprehensive exams helped me specialize in my field and gave me a very firm background in online learning theories. To me, these exams were very tough, because after I took my coursework, I moved away from my university and my academic community. In doing so, I was rather isolated from having conversations that could have really helped with my thinking. I had three professors on my exam committee who read and graded my exams.

Years 5-6 – Thesis proposal and proposal defense. The thesis proposal took me five months to write and rewrite (Aug-Dec), about and three months afterward (Jan-Mar) to go through the actual proposal process. When a PhD student finishes their exams, they immediately begin forming their thesis committee, which is made (at a minimum) of their academic advisor, one external professor (who is either outside of your department, or outside of your university), and two other professors who have some expertise in your field.

For me, I have four advisors: my academic advisor, who is an expert on virtual research and digital ethnography; a professor who is an expert on learning theory; a professor who is an expert on theory and virtual research (my external committee member); and a professor who is an expert on qualitative research design. Once you complete the thesis proposal, your committee reads it, and decides on whether there needs to be changes to it, or whether it is good enough to defend. Sometimes (like in my case), the committee provides suggestions or questions that you must read and address — these questions strengthen your research framework. If you get the green light to defend (which I received in January, after the committee had a month to read the proposal), the university assigns an independent chair to your proposal. The independent chair is someone in the university outside your department who reads the proposal, and determines whether it is fit to defend. They are there to ensure that the proposal was graded fairly, and they oversee the proposal defense.

The proposal defense itself consisted of a 15 minute presentation where you address any questions or suggestions that your committee had. Then, everyone discusses the methodology and helps you finalize everything before you start your study. So in a way, your written thesis proposal may not quite look like your actual research study once it’s been discussed by the committee (as in my case).

After the proposal defense (if you get approved), you go on to the next stage, which is to submit your research proposal to the review board for ethical review!

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