Reflections on my first year of PhD research

Maddy Redmond

Category: Centre for Innovation in Higher Education

31 May 2019

So, I’ve passed the one-year milestone of this doctoral journey. What are my reflections to date?

Firstly, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a supportive team. I have strong supervisory support which has been invaluable in having somewhere to take my ever-evolving ideas and run them past those ‘More Knowledgeable Others’, to echo Vygotsky. And boy, have I kept them busy with this!

My study continues to centre upon technology use within Higher Education, within the area of student engagement and data around learning progression. Within this context of Learning Analytics I’ve developed a qualitative exploration of the use of Canvas to foster meaningful and quality interaction opportunities between staff and students. I’ll also explore the extent to which these Learning Management System (LMS) mediated interactions act as antecedents to a teacher-student relationship.

What I’ve realised is that so many of the terms used within teaching and learning are multi-dimensional, complex constructs. A key part of my work so far has been researching the field to see how terms such as “student engagement” and “interaction” are used within the literature. I’ve realised that many studies lack an explicit conceptualisation or operationalisation of the constructs studied. I’ve also discovered that much of the empirical work within the field of interactions and teacher-student relationships has been criticised for lacking a robust underpinning theoretical foundation. I’ve resolved to address both aspects of this in my research to avoid similar criticism and that is part of the reason for the extensive period reading and developing the conceptual framework prior to going into the field for data.

What else have I been busy with during the first year?

In terms of doctoral milestones, other than reading extensively and carrying out a literature review, I had my PhD proposal officially approved and I have completed an ethics application which is just awaiting minor amendments. I’ve successfully completed the first year annual review and received glowing feedback about the report which I submitted to the panel. I am working towards my upgrade which is scheduled for summer 2019.

I’ve attended several doctoral school training events, which have been really valuable, for example in helping me to design academic posters. This leads me nicely into conferences. I was fortunate to be accepted to present a poster at the PedRIO conference hosted at Plymouth University in April 2019, and was able to put this training into practice in producing my first poster. It was a daunting experience seeing it on public display with so many knowledgeable attendees present. I felt rather exposed and vulnerable and I guess that is part of the imposter syndrome, common among PhD students, which I have been told about. But I survived and I found the experience very constructive in terms of thinking about how to disseminate my work.

I’ve benefited from attending two writing retreats hosted by CIHE at the beautiful Hughes Hall in Cambridge. I’ve found these great opportunities to engage with writing, with the luxury of a space with zero distractions.

Finally, I delivered a Talking about Teaching seminar on Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL). It was well attended and included an interactive session which was very well received by all.

Onwards into year 2 and out into the field for data collection.

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