More ethics, administration and road mapping

I met with Nicola and Julie on Friday 15th December in Durham.  The pavements and roads were horribly icy – I had to wheel my bike most of the way to the station and the bridges in Durham were properly treacherous.

I was keen to discuss ethical approval for the final stage of data collection (student concept mapping workshops), my application for a sabbatical to write up my thesis and help with creating a plan to start to get my research down on paper – a plan for my thesis.  We started with the ethics.

I had sought and secured ethical approval from Northumbria for my student concept mapping workshops but in retrospect, I had confused the need for organisational consent with ethical approval.  I wonder if ethical approval precludes the need for organisational consent?  Anyway, it struck me that I probably needed ethical approval from Durham in order to include the research findings from this stage in my thesis.  Nicola and Julie confirmed that I did, so we discussed how to prepare my request.

We moved on to talk about the proposed workshops as I had modified the plans we had discussed in the last supervision.  I have bought a couple of new books on concept mapping:

Kinchin, I. M. (2016). Visualising powerful knowledge to develop the expert student: A knowledge structures perspective on teaching and learning at university. Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Sense Publishers.

Novak, J. D. (1998). Learning, creating, and using knowledge. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

which are proving to be really helpful in planning the workshops and working how how to evaluate the resultant maps and to draw findings from them.

Kinchin appears to believe that you don’t ask students what the threshold concepts might be in the discipline they are studying.  But Julie said that Peter Felton and Ray Land supported the idea of asking students – so I need to chase up the relevant references for this.  Certainly they support the idea of asking students how it feels to  experience a threshold concept and using interactions with students to validate and verify threshold concepts.  Pinpointing where the troublesome knowledge might be and using that as an indicator of a potential threshold concept.    The students could reveal what had proven difficult for them, and what helped them “get it”.  They may have experienced a struggle and then something may have “clicked” – what happened to make it click?  What connections were made?

Julie also referred me to Linda Martindale’s thesis, which examined nurse education.  She found that nurses only had a partial understanding of evidence based practice on graduation. The point being that graduates are not the finished article. My workshops will hopefully enable me to get a sense of where the students are in their journey towards expertise.

Nicola kindly offered to share a handout from her concept mapping workshop.  She was concerned that I would be appropriately directive in the workshops – in order that proper “concept maps” were generated.  She suggested modelling the process of developing a concept map with the students before letting them have a go.

We also discussed the importance of labeling the maps by group and institution so I could understand where they came from following the workshops.

We moved on to discuss my sabbatical application.  I am hoping to secure a sabbatical for SM2 2018-19 to write up my thesis.  I was advised to

  • Highlight how the sabbatical would enable me to complete my thesis more quickly and so enable me to get more publications out more quickly in time for the next REF.  2018 is a crucial year for the REF as papers completed then have a chance of publication before the REF census deadline.
  • Include details of what my research has already enabled me to do (Keynote for Businet and Education + Training article) demonstrating what I have already achieved with this research.
  • Be more specific regarding timings of completion of the various chapters.

That lead us to discuss the final area I wanted to: planning the thesis.

The whole thing will be around 80,000 – 100,000 words.  General rule of thumb seems to be around 10,000 words a chapter or thereabouts although some chapters might be considerably more and others less.

  • The thesis should include an original and significant contribution to knowledge
  • It should also include substantial matter worthy of publication
  • < 100,000 words excluding bibliography, appendices, tables, diagrams, contents page and including footnotes and endnotes

Remember you are not simply reporting your research – you are persuading and demonstrating.  You must persuade your reader of your work’s originality/that you have something original to say (that you have original perspectives on issues in your field).  You must persuade your reader of the validity and value of your work.  You must persuade your reader that you know your field (inside out). You must persuade your reader that you are a credible researcher with integrity.  You must persuade your reader of your research abilities.

Here is a potential structure:

  1. Introduction (3,000 – 5,000 words) – define the project

Giving the subject, overview, context, rationale and aim.  Include details of Delphi etc and end with the organisation of the thesis.  Should be in short sections.  Includes research questions

  • Establishes the issue/topic of research
  • Identifies the research area as important/of value
  • Provides background information relevant to motivating the research
  • Identifies the research as original and novel
  • States the aims of the research
  • Channels/focuses the study (for example by stating limitations and limits)
  • Overviews research strategy
  • Overviews thesis content and structure

2. Background to study

3, and 4.  Literature Review – justify the project by defining the gap in the literature

including the conceptual framework/s (Transactional Curriculum Inquiry).  Revisiting the literature – perhaps in 2 parts? One concerning entrepreneurship, threshold concepts etc and the other about methods – Delphi, transactional curriculum inquiry etc.  Anne Tierney used activity theory and included literature about that in her literature review. Don’t have too many concepts – draw some boundaries it doesn’t need to include the kitchen sink.

  • The subject merits study because…
  • My work relates to others’ in that…
  • X argues that… Y argues that…
  • Debate centres on…


  • Brings relevant literature sources together [conceptually/by constituent topic]
  • Makes overview comments about the literature (level of research/direction of research/locations of research)
  • Relates sources to each other by grouping in terms of similarity or contrast
  • Provides writer evaluation of the information/ content of the sources [including or based on literature evaluation by other authors]
  • lrovides an overall evaluation/comment on the literature/research area

5. Methodology (7,000 words) – defines and justifies the method/approach

Perhaps with three main sections for the three stages of the study.  Remember the overall design of the study.  Draw on different approaches.  Create a schematic of the three different stages – a road map, which is repeated at the start of each relevant section to guide the reader.  Each method and its relevant should be included.  Why I did what I did – why I didn’t do what I didn’t.

Interpretivist paradigm using a social constructivist approach in 3 stages.  Don’t need to go to town on research philosophy but it needs to be positioned appropriately. Underpin the design ethos.

  • Review of previous information provided
  • Chapter preview
  • Restatement of research aims
  • Justification of choice of research methods
  • Overview of specific methods used
  • Reference to previous studies
  • Chapter summary

Breaking it down:

Methodology (example)

  • Introduction
  • Design of study
  • Methods of data collection
  • Criteria for selecting participants
  • Data analysis
  • The pilot stage
  • The concept analysis stage
  • Summary

Methods of data collection (example)

  • Observations and reflections within my professional practice
  • Rational for using observations and reflections as a method of enquiry
  • Semi-structured interviews as a method of enquiry
  • Rational for using semi-structured interviews
  • Questionnaires as a method of enquiry
  • Rationale for using the Entwistle Skills Inventory (1983) as a method of enquiry

Methodology chapters are likely to review methods used in other studies and discuss their strengths and weaknesses (limitations).   The body of literature is used to build and support the writer’s argument for the methodology adopted

6,7,8  Data analysis/Results/Findings – report what you’ve found

Perhaps 3 lots of findings?

9.  Discussion – reflections on the outcome of the study – discuss what you’ve found and justify your interpretation

  • Summarising thesis findings
  • Discussing the findings more broadly than in other chapters
  • Coming to generalised conclusions
  • Stating/discussing implications of findings
  • Making recommendations
  • Suggesting areas of future research

(Bunton, 2005)

10. Conclusion – consider future research/practice

  • There are implications for…
  • Issues which were beyond the scope of this study are…



Here is an example of a thesis structure in the same field (only 6 chapters):

Threshold concepts in research and evidence-based practice: Investigating troublesome learning for undergraduate nursing students MARTINDALE, LINDA (2015)

  • Introduction and background
  • Literature review
  • Designing the research
  • Findings
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions and recommendations


Analyse and write up as I go.

A thesis can begin with an outline and be built up in layers.

  1. List chapter headings
  2. A sentence or two on the contents of each chapter
  3. List of headings for each section in each chapter
  4. Notes on how you will develop each section
  5. Introductory paragraph for each chapter

(Orna and Stevens 1995)

Each paragraph should:

  1. Open with main point (topic sentence)
  2. Define your terms / elaborate
  3. Illustrate your point – examples/evidence
  4. Discuss the illustrations: how do they support your main point?

Action: establish time and word targets.

Start with the Methods chapter (the easiest) – to be done by December 2018, aim to also have the findings chapter mapped out by then.  Aim to have all drafted before the sabbatical save the introduction and conclusion.  Aim to submit Sept 2019 for a viva before Christmas, 3 – 4 months for corrections, graduating in Summer 2020.

Writing plan