Category Archives: phd

digital futures for reflective practices paper

I was due to present a paper at the recent Networked Learning conference in Maastricht – one of my favourite conferences! – but unfortunately at the last minute wasn’t able to attend. However, the paper is available on the conference site, so I thought I would link to it. It’s based on the conclusion of my PhD thesis, and is about how we might think about reflective practices in a specifically digital context. It introduces the idea of the ‘spectacle’ and the ‘placeholder’ as useful concepts for reflection’s digital futures. I really want to do more work in this area, so this is definitely a future research direction for me. I’d like to hear from others who are interested in theorising digital reflective practices.





Presentation – Fakers, fools and narcissists: How cultural narratives of blogging affect online reflective practices

Here is the Prezi from a presentation I gave this week at the IT Futures conference in Edinburgh.

It’s based on this book chapter. Of course I can’t take credit for the cartoons! But  the student and teacher quotes are all (anonymised) from my PhD interview data.





thesis away!

DSC_0569I’m really happy to say that I submitted my phd thesis this afternoon. I’m pretty much out of words, but here’s the abstract. I’ll write more soon – perhaps a small series of blog posts about the research and where it might go from here.

My viva is on 11 October, so the blog posts may have to wait til after that!

Unmasking online reflective practices in higher education

Online reflective practices that are high-stakes – summatively assessed, or used as evidence for progression or membership in a professional body – are increasingly prevalent in higher education, especially in professional and vocational programmes. A combination of factors is influencing their emergence: an e-learning agenda that promises efficiency and ubiquity; a proliferation of employability, transferable skills and personal development planning policies; a culture of surveillance which prizes visibility and transparency; and teacher preference for what are seen as empowering pedagogies.

This thesis analyses qualitative interview data to explore how students and teachers negotiate issues of audience, performance and authenticity in their high-stakes online reflective practices. Using mask metaphors, and taking a post-structuralist and specifically Foucauldian perspective, the work examines themes of performance, trace, disguise, protection, discipline and transformation. The central argument is that the effects of both compulsory reflection, and writing online, destabilise and ultimately challenge the humanist ideals on which reflective practices are based: those of a ‘true self’ which can be revealed, understood, recorded, improved or liberated through the process of writing about thoughts and experiences.

Rather than revealing and developing the ‘true self’, reflecting online and for assessment produces fragmented, performing, cautious, strategic selves. As a result, it offers an opportunity to work critically with an awareness of audience, genres of writing and shifting subjectivity. This is rarely, if ever, explicitly the goal of such practices. Instead, online reflective practices are imported wholesale from their offline counterparts without acknowledgement of the difference that being online makes, and issues of power in high-stakes reflection are disguised or ignored. Discourses of authentic self-knowledge, personal and professional development, and transformative learning are not appropriate to the nature of high-stakes online reflection. The combination creates passivity, anxiety and calculation, it normalises surveillance, and it produces rituals of confession and compliance. More critical approaches to high-stakes online reflection, which take into account addressivity, experimentation and digitality, are proposed.

general research update

c2daf5b37289a156cc2542f4ea8d0b0a5fa68a9d_mIt’s going to be a busy year of research! The main thing is that I am finishing writing up my PhD this year, and will be submitting at the end of August. I’ll post up some bits and pieces as I go.

My paper, Traces of self: online reflective practices and performances in higher education, has just been published in Teaching in Higher Education, 16/1. The issue’s table of contents is online.

I have a chapter appearing in the forthcoming edited collection, Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning. It’s being published by Springer in 2011, edited by Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Vivien Hodgson and David McConnell.

The “student writing: innovative online strategies for assessment and feedback” proejct is finishing up in May and, along with a manifesto, the team will be writing a couple of papers for publication over the next few months, drawing on the data produced by a series of student-generated virtual ethnographies of courses on the MSc in E-learning programme.

The digital futures of cultural heritage education project has two workshops this year, in March and June, and those should be a really interesting extension of the excellent open seminar held in October.

Forthcoming talks at SRHE conference & University of Glasgow

I’ll be giving at talk at the Society for Research into Higher Education conference on Wednesday 9 December called Reflective practices as masks: a new way to think about reflection in higher education

Summary: This paper discusses ongoing research into how students and teachers negotiate issues of identity, authenticity, ownership, privacy and performativity in high-stakes online reflection in higher education. I define high-stakes reflection as reflection which is summatively assessed or has a gatekeeping function into a profession, and use a metaphor of the mask to draw out different aspects of high-stakes reflection online: performance, disguise, protection, transformation, discipline and trace. Conceiving of online reflective practices in these mutiple and overlapping ways has implications for how educators understand and support reflection, and the expectations we place on our students in terms of what high-stakes reflective writing can and should accomplish. These practices should support development of academic or professional identity and voice through explicit engagement with matters of authenticity, power, narrative, subjectivity and agency – not through a discourse which frames the recording and improvement of the “true self” as the ultimate goal of reflective practice.

I’ll be giving a longer talk on similar themes at the University of Glasgow’s Learning and Teaching Centre’s seminar series, on Wednesday 13 January 2010. I will have time at this second event to share more of the data that’s emerging from my PhD research.

I’ve been thinking about the masks for a while, and I’m now starting to draw some conclusions about what I think that thinking about reflective practices in this way might imply for teaching and learning. Both of these talks will represent the cutting edge of my ongoing doctoral research looking at online reflective practices in Higher Education!

Literacy in the Digital University seminar, 16 October 09

I’m looking forward to giving a short talk at the first seminar in the ESRC funded Literacy in the Digital University series – . The title of my talk is “Personal, professional and academic voices in online reflection: new literacies for new media practices”. I’ll post up slides or something as soon as they’re available!