sue watling

It’s PhD time again. P for Positionality, H for higher and D for danger. Put them together and what have you got? Something scary and exciting in equal measures. My days are stretched to their limits but I have enjoyed the mental aerobics. Juggling different ways of seeing the world. 50 shades of perception and all that!

It’s been a while since the incident of the plastic folder and snapped fibula. The Phd has slid silently under the surface again. Now it’s back. My life is on hold. The dictionary is out. I’ve been re-reading social theory. The ‘…ologies’ have returned and once more the task of defining the nature of knowledge is keeping me company up and down the A15.

The last bit of data analysis I did was August 2014. My last grapple with critical realism was February when I completed the first three chapter drafts. These are PhD-bergs. What you see on the surface is nothing compared to the mass of work underneath. It’s the nature of a part-time PhD. The visible bits bob about, surfacing, sinking, swimming around your consciousness like guilt.  You never quite get rid of them. The invisible parts are best kept hidden. Angst, sweat and lots of tears. But there are advantages to gaps in study. They offer perspective. Ignoring the trauma of last weekend when I looked at my nodes in NVivo (!) and couldn’t recall any thinking behind them, revisiting the social theory has mostly been ok. What does sometimes depress me is the complexity of academic text.

I support widening participation and inclusion. To achieve these requires acknowledgement of the interplay between complexity and risk of exclusion. I understand some knowledge needs specialist language but I’ve always seen the challenge of teaching in higher education as making complexity meaningfully accessible. Much of my reading at the moment is the opposite.

Maybe I’m idealistic and/or naïve to think doctoral study can be anything other than difficult with regards to language but there comes a point where deliberate use of academic jargon excludes engagement or worse; the case of Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity by AD Sokel comes to mind.

Borrowing from Lord Lieth effective writing should inform, educate and entertain.  This was my plan. A Thesis with style. I’ve been told it’s not meant to be engaging but why die over production if no one is going to enjoy reading it.

Adding to the body of knowledge – no matter how small the contribution – will be meaningless unless it can be understood. My research is about practice. It seeks to explain the divide between the rhetoric and the reality of e-learning, to explore why technology is quite probably a deterrent rather than a gift for the majority of colleagues. I could wrap it all up in jargon but it isn’t meant to be an exercise in obscurity. Education should be inclusive. It’s a far greater challenge to make complexity accessible than to add to all the obscurity which is already out there.



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