What’s the big story?

what's the storyI had a supervision with Dr Julie Rattray and Dr Nicola Reimann on December 12th 2018.

I was concerned about keeping up with the literature as I have Google searches set for “Thresholds” “Threshold Concepts” and “Threshold Concepts and Entrepreneurship Education” and I get sent a considerable about of stuff that feels impossible to keep up with.

I was reassured that it’s OK to choose a point at which to stop looking at the literature.  Then return to it when everything else is done, just before submission, and add in the critical recent publications resulting from the interim period.

Prior to the supervision, I had sent through in advance a number of sections with draft titles such as Entrepreneurship Education, The importance of Entrepreneurship and Definition of Terms.

Next step is to start shaping these into Chapters.  I need to consider the story I’m telling – do I need Introduction, Context and Literature Review chapters, or just Introduction and Literature Review chapters for example?

Working out a structure will help me keep the big picture in mind.  I need to work out “what’s the big story?”  It won’t be the only story that’s told and can be supported by a number of little stories.  I have some “bits” now – but what’s the argument that’s being supported here?  What point am I trying to make? I need to be clearer about why I’m saying what I’m saying, what the argument is that I am making.

The literature review should be highlighting the gap in the knowledge.

I appear to be highlighting the gap in the literature concerning the conceptual side of entrepreneurship education, and how entrepreneurship education links to the purpose of higher education.  I need to pull out the conceptual change stuff and focus on concepts.  So its entrepreneurship education from a post- neo liberal perspective.  Has this perspective got a name yet?

Ultimately I am most interested in the “why?” of entrepreneurship education, the conceptual perspective, change and transformation.  That’s what the threshold concept framework enables and that’s why I find it attractive.

So as I’m reviewing the literature, I need to be critiquing it.  So I need to relate what other people are saying and highlight the perspective from which they are saying it.  And also highlight what’s missing from what they are saying and what other things might be said from an alternative perspective.  So I need to present one view, but highlight alternative views – for example using the threshold concept perspective.

Applying a new lens brings different things into focus.

I could argue that the current approaches miss a conceptual perspective and there are other things that could be considered if a more conceptual approach was taken.  For example – what programme success means and if and how it might be measured.

My supervisors felt I was too tentative in expressing my own perspective – and in pointing out the limitations of the perspectives of others.

They suggested I developed the sections a bit more and started threading them together with an argument.  All the time, I need to be clear WHY I am telling the reader what I am telling them, I need to be clear how what I am saying supports my overall argument.  I need to justify everything in the context of the main argument.

Julie suggested I wrote a paragraph or abstract that outlines what the arguments are going to be in each chapter – and then I have a way of testing each paragraph to see whether it builds the argument or is not relevant to it.  Every paragraph then makes a point.

I need to make the connections very explicit.

I need to be careful of using the term “measurement” – rather use “evidence” instead.  Measurement is a loaded term and implies other things I do not intend.

I can set out the various “schools of thought” regarding the overall purpose of higher education and then present my own and how it is different.    Entrepreneurship Education changes according to the overarching perspective of the purpose of Higher Education.

From a neo-liberal perspective – entrepreneurship education looks like this…..

However there is an alternative perspective – using the threshold concepts framework as a lens to look at it through….

I can talk about how things such as employability are affected by different perspectives of the purpose of Higher Education.  This would become a critique of the prevailing discourse of entrepreneurship education.

Presenting a neo-liberal perspective (I think) I could discuss the rise in entrepreneurship education in the context of Higher Education, the increase in the number of programmes over time, the rise of neo -liberalism and the obsession with employability.  The marketisation of Higher Education – entrepreneurship education has developed against this backdrop in this way (or perhaps because of this backdrop).

A backlash against neo-liberalism is coming..there are more people talking about social competence and social justice for example.  I could look at the UK Qualifications Framework where these things are only mentioned in passing and paid lip-service.

Julie suggested reading the counter discourse – writers such as Stephen Ball and Stefan Collini – Julie lent me “What are Universities for?”  She suggested reading Collini before Barnett.  These authors are presenting a critique of neo-liberalism and an alternative.

The way I am writing at the moment is too much as if the views of others are statements of fact.  Just as  I am too tentative about my own perspectives, I am not presenting the views of others as purely the views of others – I am presenting them as statements of fact.   It would be better to say “Here is what so-and-so thinks…” rather than “This is how it is”.  I can present Entrepreneurship Education from different perspectives – “this is how it is from a neo-liberal land and here’s an alternative through the lens of threshold concepts.”  So I could say “Entrepreneurship education has emerged like this, in this way…” I can present how it’s been constructed and not “this is how it is”.  I need to make the reader aware of the context that I am talking about it in and the perspectives I am presenting it from.  I can then frame things within a particular perspective and present my preferred alternative.

We started talking briefly about the roots of academic frailty (Kinchin) and the impact a neo-liberal environment has had.

I was also warned to ensure that I was not including any unnecessary references as they can potential be “traps” in a viva.  For example – I referenced Biglan when talking about academic disciplines without acknowledging the fact that he had come in for a lot of criticism, or presenting alternative perspectives.

Remember there are multiple ways of understanding EVERYTHING and I should never just include one without expecting to be challenged!

So useful phrases will be …”One way to think about categorising disciplines is like this….” or “According to Biglan, disciplines can be categorised like this…”

Make it clear that I am presenting the arguments of others that I don’t necessarily agree with.  Anything like that can get me sidetracked in a viva.  I must make sure I don’t (inadvertently) own the work of others.  Also be careful of over using one author – use a range of authors unless I am seeking to present the particular perspective of one individual.

Additionally Nicola pointed out that when talking about “fields” and “regions” that is a reference from Basil Bernstein and potentially also contentious – to be avoided.  The take home message here is that if it is not important – don’t include it.

Likewise – I mention Problem Based Learning, but the way I talk about it reveals I do not have a good enough understanding of it to make the argument with it that I am trying to make.  PBL does not emphasise problem solving but using problems in pedagogy.  So do not include extraneous argument that could get me into unnecessary trouble.  It’s the stuff that’s mentioned in passing that can trip you up.

We concluded with a discussion about how to approach my sabbatical which is starting after Christmas.  I need to block out time for data analysis.

I need to have the headings (not necessarily all the details) and a skeleton structure and then I can start thinking about how to manage all my data.  It was suggested that I could set aside April/May to look at data and write up after sabbatical….


Thought I’d be able to get it more done than that during the sabbatical.  I was hoping to have written up.  We’ll see.

It was agreed I would come with a suggested plan for my sabbatical for discussion on 21st Jan (next supervision date) that we could firm up during the meeting.