The more I do, the more I realise that there is still to do

I met with just Nicola today 17th October 2018 as Julie had to attend another meeting.  I had sent through a first attempt at writing for my actual real life thesis – a positioning piece, called “context” and Julie sent me a few points of feedback on it in advance of the meeting today with Nicola.

My primary concern was getting a grip on my literature.  I read part of another thesis and was absolutely in awe of the rigour with which the author had conducted her systematic review.  Not only was there a review of the literature pertinent to her specific research question, but there were also systematic reviews of areas relevant to her conceptual framework and methods.  The mountain I had to climb was getting larger as larger as I was approaching it.  I feel like the more I do, the more I realise there is still to do.  Rather than the task getting smaller, it is getting larger.

Nicola pointed out that there is more than one way to conduct a literature review.  Literature reviews exist on a continuum between systematic and narrative.  She recommended a book on literature review – I need to chase up the exact title from her.

She felt that organising my papers was a worthwhile exercise so I will press on with that.  I am filing all the papers I have at home that currently look like this ( a big random pile in no order) so that I know what I have and can find it easily.  As I go through them I am checking I have each one on Endnote, and filing according to theme.  The themes I am developing include: entrepreneurship education, entrepreneurial learning, threshold concepts, learning theories, the purpose of higher education, employability, motivation and student attitude,  positive psychology and self determination theory, education for professions and practice….

Nicola was concerned that I needed to know the latest papers that are being published in threshold concepts.  This would indicate that I need to be more systematic in my literature review with respect to threshold concept research and can be a little less systematic on the other more peripheral areas.

Nicola suggested using the university library guidance on doing literature searches in both Durham and Northumbria, and then make an appointment to get some specific advice and help with what I am doing. Nicola mentioned Christine Purcell at Durham for Education and suggested I contacted the person responsible for Business in the library at Northumbria.  They can help me check my search logic and which data bases I am using.

Also not to forget the Mick Flannigan site too for all the Threshold Concept work bearing in mind that some of the inclusions are of variable quality.

Above all, it’s important to find the cutting edge stuff and get a sense of how the field has moved on.  Previously people were looking at the identification of threshold concepts, now they are more interested in….what?

My contribution

For the thesis it is not enough to take two existing concepts and claim that you are creating knowledge by applying one to the other in a way that has not been done before.  I could possibly make contributions to knowledge in entrepreneurship education, threshold concepts and in the design of my research (the method).  The actual contributions will emerge when I apply my conceptual framework to the analysis of my data.

So I am bringing several theoretical frameworks together (setting the scene, the context) and then looking for new things using this framework in my data.

We returned to the Context chapter I had written prior to the meeting.  Both Nicola and Julie had commented that each sub heading needed considerable fleshing out.  The sections on entrepreneurship education are likely to be fairly straight forward to write as they will be mainly descriptive.

In the section on threshold concepts I need to give an overview of the field.   I need to position what I am doing in the context of what other people have done.  I need to compare and contrast my work with the work of others and bring out what my contribution is.

There is potential gap in the literature on the student perspective – is this because there is an omission? or is it because it is impossible/difficult to research given that students do not know what they do not know…

We talked about the best way to use the remaining two and half months there are remaining before I have my sabbatical and agreed that sorting out the literature would be a useful thing to do in this time.

Some areas might need to take more of a back seat – entrepreneurial learning for example.  I need to address what “threshold concepts” is – is it an approach, a framework, a model?  Nicola felt it was not a theory –

I also need to unpick and explain the relationship between concepts and ways of thinking and practicing.  Nicola mentioned another PhD student who had  just focused on the troublesome nature of threshold concepts.

It occurred to me that my equivalent of troublesome was transformative.  A focus on change and transformation will provide a thread through my data.  I have data on how entrepreneurs feel that they are different from other people (what transformations have occurred), I have data on the changes and transformation educators are looking to see in their students, and I have data on the changes and transformation students regard as important to the study of entrepreneurship.  So when I go back to my data I will look for evidence of transformation and change.  That is the most important characteristic of a threshold concept for my research purposes.

Nicola suggested looking at the literature review sections of other thesis for a heads up on the latest thinking in a particular area.  We agreed three more dates for supervision meetings and Nicola suggested I write a section of literature review for our next meeting.