Friday, January 29, 2010

Progressing the PhD

A month ago I mentioned I was going to attempt a PhD by Publication at the University of Canberra. I still am, but I am withdrawing my expression of interest to do a PhD by publication, deciding instead to do a standard PhD by research.

About a week ago, one of my supervisors Keith Lyons recommended I reconsider the by publication route, explaining that the PhD by research offers much more flexibility on how and where I publish it, which for me and my principles around openness and popular relevance, will be pretty important.

Today I had lunch with another supervisor, James Neil. We discussed our thinking about my ideas of topic direction. We also talked about the need to balance my life with Sunshine and our first baby, my paid work, and this attempt to complete a PhD. I'm looking for the shortest route to the qualification, were I can efficiently learn things that will help my future prospects, and that will take me into topics I am interested in - helping me maintain motivation. This last point is important, but it could affect the earlier points.

Looking at the following content structure, and comparing it with my initial expression of interest, you may recognise significant scope creep. This is because in reality, the work with Sport Studies has broader implications in the Faculty, the University and the Australian Higher Education sector.

Proposed content structure

Deconstructing Higher Education
  1. What (if any) agreement is there on its purpose in Australia.
  2. Historical and present day influences on general development and direction.
  3. The common structures and financial models.
  4. Forecasting.

Critiquing the University of Canberra
  1. Situating UC in the Australian higher education sector.
  2. Critiquing its directional plans and policies.
  3. Analysing its culture of practice.
  4. Proposing open education and research in the UC context.
Describing a model for open education and research
  1. Describing a theoretical and historical background to a model of open education and research.
  2. Reviewing other models of open education and research.
  3. Situating a model within the University of Canberra context (including its external influences).
  4. Reviewing measurement methods for open education and research development.
Conducting a case study in developing open education and research practices
  1. Implementing development activities within a focus group at the University of Canberra.
  2. Monitoring effectiveness, and analysing impact.
  3. Analysing participatory narratives.
  4. Comparing the results with the larger culture of the University.
Conclusions and recommendations
  1. Financial cost benefit analysis
  2. Cultural analysis findings
  3. Individual action guide
  4. Directional plans and policy review recommendations

The research question that arises out of this then is: How does open education and research develop in an Australian university?

The purpose of a PhD (historically speaking) is to prove my ability to conduct research and form conclusions. I'm fully aware of my particular activist bias toward open education, and my weakness in accessing and considering all influences on that agenda. While I will personally aim to uncover as much shared truth as possible, I appreciate the opportunities that post, even anti positivist stances offer, in that my own position in this work remains present and relevant. This stance compliments my attempt to also define and model an open PhD project.

The open PhD

At the moment, the process I wish to follow is as follows:
  1. Use my blog (and related channels) for formative notes and reflection.
  2. Encourage supervisors to engage in discussion on my blog, and turn these considerations into content actions towards my PhD
  3. Transfer content actions into my PhD Wiki
  4. Invite supervisors and wider networks to assist in developing an annotated bibliography around this content. Items in the bibliography should openly accessible. Where they are not, and no alternative suites, I will pursue copyrights to republish.
  5. Draft sections on the wiki and post them to my blog for feedback
  6. Continue this spiral towards completed sections and chapters to the necessary style
  7. Produce a printed and bound version in three readership levels, as in the broadbanding information idea (children, adults, experts)


theboatashore said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Michael Rowe said...

Please ignore the link to an old blog that Blogger automatically linked my previous comment to. I have't looked at that blog in a while.

Michael Rowe said...

Hi Leigh. Thanks for sharing your ideas and progress. I'm in a similar situation and thought I'd show you how I've done things.

I maintain a text-based wiki at, where I document my progress, and create outlines of what will eventually become several publications.

I use my blog ( to work through ideas and things that interest me in the fields of technology, higher education and physiotherapy.

I also use Twitter to share resources in my fields of interest, Scribd to host abstracts, Slideshare to post conference presentations and Delicious to share bookmarks.

I haven't yet figured out exactly how my Dean of Research will respond to my putting so much of my content online, but my supervisors are incredibly supportive (we used Google Docs to collaborate on my initial proposal).

I look forward to following your progress

Sarah Stewart said...

One of the issues you may have to address is ethics - will you need any sort of ethics approval to use data that is generated on your blog etc. I am sure the answer will be 'no' but it is still soemthing you'll have to think about and mention in your final phd report.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks Michael, I've subscribed to your blog tag "research" watching out for progress notes. I'll blog my own progress using my "openphd" tag. You can get the feed for that on my blog sidebar.

Your wiki is progressing well! It gives me a lot of ideas on how to structure mine. Thanks! When I get a confirmation from my supervisors on what they think about my over all topic structure, I'll start transferring it into my wiki too, adding sub headings like yours.

I also use the array as you describe, although so far I've only used Delicious for bookmarking readings to do with my study. Again using the tag openphd.

Looking forward to watching your progress. Good luck and thanks for the introduction.

Michael Rowe said...

Hi Sarah

I'm not sure if your comment is to me or to Leigh, so to clarify from my side, I have ethical approval to conduct research within my department, in a typical, "traditional" format i.e. students and staff are told they are participating in research and may choose whether or not to participate, etc. I'm merely posting my progress, thoughts and (possibly) results online, using multiple channels.

Sorry if I misunderstood your comment.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hey Micheal, yes, my comments were addressed to Leigh because "ethics" is something he hasn't mentioned in his blog posts yet. But it's interesting to hear what you're up to as well,

cheers Sarah

nika said...


It makes sense that you wish to pioneer the open PhD considering your interests and work.

I wish you much luck!

I have a PhD in Cell Biology (1994) and, being something one does in the lab, it is completely embedded within the lab context and location. There was no real time when I wasnt a grad student, be it in the lab, in class, walking to class, eating, taking a shower. All of that counted as work toward my PhD. Its assumed that this is the way it is, the life of the mind envelops you. But my work was not on public display except when a paper came out or I did a poster session or gave a seminar or took qualifying exams or when I wrote my thesis and defended my dissertation. These were "public" and measurable but not "PUBLIC" like your scheme.

I was completely focused on the projects I was doing and had to not think about the potential length of time that it all might take or exactly how it might turn out (like scheduling, it was an organic process predicated on success of experiments in the lab).

Whereas it seems, from this post, you are very much focused on process. Correct me if I am wrong! It seems that you are working very hard on changing the methods and means by which one might get a PhD in certain disciplines versus talking much about the core project within the wrapper of the PhD as a process.

It is my hope that education can grow to encompass remote or non-location specific studies as this will truly diversify our knowledge, engage many new people, and will be necessary as powerdown proceeds and picks up. My children will benefit from your work.

Just writing in appreciation!

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks Nika.

Certainly something to consider, does the process cause me to consider less that subject. I suppose in my case the two are the same, and any influence the oppeness of the process places on the subject is noteworthy in itself.

I don't know about other areas of study. As Sarah point out - there are ethical dimensions when considering people of course. In my case, I plan to only work with data that is public anyway. Subject blog posts, published policy, openly accessible articles.

But there is one recent case I think of in the research area of climate science, where open research methods would have saved them from a current situation. ClimateGate, as it has come to be known is the illegal publishing of emails and raw data behind the work that advised the Int Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When this data was released, many eyes exposed bias and fault in the communications, and more significantly the temperature data. Much of the data was subject to Freedom of Information requests, but the lead scientists were resisting the requests - citing copyright as the reason they could not release the information! I think in this case, an open research methodology would have prevented the scandal they now face, though admittedly it might have slowed their progress down considerably - possibly for good reason too.

James Neill said...

Sounds good, Leigh. Go for it. I'd suggest an initial, short Introduction chapter - its goal is to state the problem. And a short conclusion chapter - its goal is to summarise the study's conclusions. These would book-end the thesis. Plus Abstract & Appendices. Not a big deal at the moment, but it can be helpful to flesh out the full planned structure. Add a working title. This could be wiki-ed anytime, then blog for self-reflection/comments and on specific issues. Then the next job is to work on the research proposal - will build some resources about research proposals on Wikiversity.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks James, I have now relayed the structure with your suggested additions into The wiki. Already I can see a problem - articulating the problem. I've been so caught up in the lobbying and activism that I've lost site of the problems that the use of social media and open education is meant to address. I could rattle off the usual issues of access, and education being more relevant and socially engaged.. but these in themselves need to be unpacked. For example the problem of copyright that open education espouses to solve. How big of a problem was copyright before open education came and helped make it an issue? You might have seen me blog about that with the OER Colonisation post?

Perhaps its much more straight forward than all that. The problem is: What does it take to move a HE institution into open education and research practices, leaving the how and why to be explored in full within the body of the thesis.

Alternatively there is no problem? Merely a documentation of and by the education change agent (that's me) as he takes himself and his colleagues through all this..

I'll think about it.

alexanderhayes said...

Ulises Mejias - well worth looking at how he structured things also -