Posted by: Big Box 0 | December 5, 2008

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Posted by: Big Box 0 | November 11, 2008

literature review

Haven’t been updating this blog for a long time. A lot of things happened during this period and i guess that’s the process of doing a PhD 🙂

I went back to the Doctoral Training session on ‘doing a literature review’, don’t know whether it’s because of the session itself or I’m arrived at the point of the ‘bottle neck’ where I need some kind of scalfolding and the session just came in at the right time or both, I actually kind the workshop very helpful.

I guess lots of things are like this, not only doing research, when you go back and revise some of the things you did before, you often come with new ideas and understanding, and often, your understanding comes to the next level as you already pocsess some of the practices. i think that’s exactly how people learn and improve from the cognitive point of view :P.

Just want to note down some of the reflections here, maybe it would be useful or interesting for me in the future to revisit my PhD journey.

There are lots of thing I get out of this morning’s thinking. On a general level, I realised more the ‘usefulness’ of doing a PhD. Here i don’t mean the obvious benefits like you get a free parking space, though that’s also attractive, but how the training of a PhD will help shape the way you think. People told me that after the PhD training, you will realise that your whole way of thinking becomes different, how you organise and structure things and how you analysis. I could see their point in one way or another, however, now I think i’m getting closer to the ‘truely’ understanding, as I m sure my thinking will evolve as things goes on. I imagine doing the PhD or writing the PhD thesis was like when u deal with other things in life. You got a large amount of information (data, literature), you organise and sythesis them in a certain logical way in your head (such as literaure review structure, it could either be chronological, sequential stages or ways of understanding), from the process, you critic and form your own understanding or view point (your own understanding by being critical of the other), then you report it back (in an academic way in this circumstances) while trying to be objective to back up your own argument.  During the process, you choose a place to place your own research, how it fits into the literature and how your research broadened the knowledge. Isn’t that the normal process of ways people do things in daily life? Isn’t that an elaborated extract from our ways of thinking and argument in the daily life? I guess that’s also the reason why people generally respect scholars and feel that people with a higher degree or greater amount of knowledge have superior wisdom? The PhD training left a stamp in their mind the logical or most convincing way of putting an argument and brings that up to a theoretical level. Hey that’s psychology, isn’t it? but isn’t all the great theories derived from life and being extracted elaborately using a simple ‘formal’ set of language? or shall we say being able to summarize and extract the most common ideas and creating a langauge to express it? Hey, i’m not saying it’s easy or downgrading the greatness of those great people. I think recognising it is just one first step, but the extracting and sythesising process is exactly the challenges in itself which requires years of training and effort and a detailed examination of life. And I guess that’s exactly how they differ from ‘normal’ people.

After my ‘imaginary reflection’ on the general levle, let’s write something on a more detailed level of writing a literature review itself. I think there are several importanting things to remember. Thinking about the aim of doing a literature, firstly, it is a story line with the voice of discovery, you guide your audience through what’s happening in the field, i.e. the main arguments, pros and cons, and how does that relate to the design of your own study. You are always situating your own research in the literature. It won’t be a good literature review if you just list the references. It’s the same thing as you are making an argument or telling a story in daily life. What the background, introducation did should always be serving your main argument no matter the way you want to organise it. You could tell story in different ways, a chronological story, result in the beginning, highlights in the middle or whatever, but the important thing is to keep your theme and all the other parts serve for your main theme or purpose. keep it in mind.

Last but not least, let’s take a look at some of the practical tips I’ve gathered. firstly, if you are writing an artical or something with a limited word amount, you could put citations with silimar effect in a row to save space. Secondly, when you reference something, it’s always good to go back to the original source. Thirdly, when you think about how to write a literature review or think about how to structure your story line, it’s always helpful to look how other people in your field has done it, i.e. take a look at other PhD thesis. Fourly, that’s what I find, PhD thesis is a long work like it’s process, it’s always looks easier than the actual thing. After what we said just now, you might think ok, it’s now clear and structured, however, it’s more complicated than you expected. Things couldn’t always been clear and cut like things in life. Even though you tried very hard and you got the reletively organised structure, you will find there are always tiny things or branches which couldn’t fit in. Or there are complex levels of structures in your review, and often you can’t make  everything into perfect. I think that’s the trick of doing a PhD, like life, there are often large amount of information, you use your head to organise and stracture and restore those various levels, sources of information. The last point I want to make here is, when you were doing the writing, it’d be helpful to put yourself in other’s shoes and read it as if you are an audience. Because what often happens, at least for me, is that you think through and make the links/ connections in your mind about the logics and you feel that’s pretty clear, however, you didn’t show that in the writing, You couldn’t expect the audience to have the same sort of knowledge or understanding with you. So sometimes you have to make it clear and explicit about the links or what i call logics in the writing. It’s the same like when you walk on the road, sometimes you got road signs, and often it appears in the crossings. Why do people need road signes at crossings? because there are many ways of looking at it and theire are options. You’ll need to direct the audience which way you are leading them to at this point. For example, at some point, you will need things like ‘now I’m looking to look at 3 ways of …. so far the implication of these is…’. Give directions and make it explicit at times to lead the audience during your story line. You don’t want to lose your audience and let they feel lost, right?

I think that’s pretty much what I’d like to say here, dear my audience, I don’t know whether I’ve lost you already :P. But never mind, i guess the audience is myself which will fully understand the author’s ‘strange’ logic anyway hehe. In summary, this morning’s session make me feel the PhD or writing a PhD thesis is challenging so that’s interesting.

Posted by: Big Box 0 | September 9, 2008

Redefining the doctorate

It is interesting to read Chris Park’s report (2007) on the national debate in the UK on the nature of a doctorate. The primarily emphasis within the doctorate in developing disciplinary/ interdisciplinary knowledge and transferable skills, provide oportunity to apply research and knowledg transfer, and preparing students for any role (within or beyond academia) they expect to fill after graduation.

There is a table from the article on stakeholder perspectives on the doctorate: 

“Students: for the student a doctorate can mean many things, including an “academic passport with international reciprocity” (Noble 1994), a licence to teach at degree level, and an apprenticeship in ‘proper’ academic research (Armstrong 1994).

Supervisors: for the supervisor, there is the satisfaction of training apprentice researchers, a route to career progression as an all-round academic practitioner, and a supply of inexpensive research assistants.

Academic departments: for departments, having doctoral students is a mark of research status and credibility, a valuable source of income and contributor to research critical mass (for example, for RAE purposes), and a supply of Graduate Teaching Assistants (Park 2002, 2004) to help deliver undergraduate teaching.

Institutions: for the institution, doctoral students are what Mitchell (2002) calls “the army of research ‘ants’” which helps to keep the research mission moving forward while many academics struggle with heavy workloads and multiple responsibilities. Having research degree awarding powers is also a serious indicator of the status and academic credibility of a university (Stauffer 1990).

Disciplines: for disciplines, doctoral students serve as important stewards (Jackson 2003) with an implied responsibility to keep the discipline not just alive, but intellectually vibrant; they also provide a supply chain of future academics and researchers.

Funding bodies: for funding bodies, such as HEFCE and the research councils, investment in doctoral programmes supports capacity building of future academics and researchers, the growth of critical mass in research teams, and a sustained output of high quality research that brings both academic and applied benefi ts for the nation.

Employers: for employers, doctoral graduates can offer skilled and creative human capital, and access to innovative thinking and knowledge transfer. The nation: for the nation, the obvious benefi ts of an active community of scholars engaged in doctoral level research include enhanced creativity and innovation, and the development of a skilled workforce and of intellectual capital and knowledge transfer, which drive the knowledge economy and are engines of the growth of cultural capital.” (Park, 2007, p. 8)

Interesting perspectives and thought provoking 🙂


Park, C. (2007). Redefining the doctorate. In The Higher Education Academy- January 2007, available online at 

One of the few empirical studies to examine students’ acceptance of a web-based learning system (WLS) (SaadĂ© et al., 2008). The study integrated the motivational perspective into the technology acceptance model and includes an intrinsic motivator (enjoyment) as a salient determinant of student motivation. Surveys were conducted with both students in China and Canada in order to compare the findings. Result show that both perceived usefully and enjoyment have significant impact on students’ intention to use WLS in both groups. Compared with Chinese students, Canadian students do not think ease of use has impact on their intention to use.

Instrument: Adapted from prior studies with modification to fit the specific context of the WLS. “Both PU and PEU are measured by four items from F. D. Davis (1989), respectively, while two items are used to measure behavioral intention (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980). Enjoyment is measured using the scale adapted from F. D. Davis et al. (1992). All items used a five-point Likert-type scale with anchors from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree” (see Appendix).” (p. 141)


Saadé, R. G, Tan, W., & Nebebe, F. (2008). Impact of motivation on intention in online learning: Canada vs China. In Issues in Information Science and Information Technology, vol. 6.

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Posted by: Big Box 0 | September 3, 2008

how do we connect formal and informal learning?

Disrupted mobile learning by Mark Sharples BESA Keynote presentation at BETT

As part of the research journal, just to note down what I’ve been particularly interested in lately:

1. Issue of Engagement

2. Linking formal and informal learning

As I’m focusing on modifying the probationary review lately, these two issues come as side lines and I find quite interesting. Firstly, engagement, that’s something I often come across lately, or I don’t know, maybe I just unconsiously noticed more, as that was a concept very related to ‘flow’. Secondly is linking formal and informal learning, as in my pilot study of flow in e-learning, I was always trying to find the boundaries between formal and informal learning,  though I planned to study flow in a formal course setting, I got stuck in trying to figure out the boundaries, what is flow in a formal e-learning setting and what is flow in an informal learning setting? But actually I feel like maybe I set myself a un necessary problem, simply, how about general e-learning research? what is formal e-learning and what is informal e-learning? Do people seperate when they study learners in formal e-learning instruction and informal self e-learning or what? I don’t think so, people can study learners’ e-learning experiences as a package, sometimes students’ log in to the course website, sometimes they read posts on forums, sometimes they chat with students on the chatroom etc. these are all elements of learning. I guess the question is rather how wer link formal and informal learning within a technology rich environment than trying to find a distinct boudary.  I mean I don’t think the boundary between formal and informal learning is a obstacle for me to study flow in e-learning, however, I may still revise my research direction as agreed with my supervisors, but I should say I’m still pretty interested in flow 😛

As I hear more people are talking about engagement and control in a technology mediated environment, several of the immerging themes really reminding me of the characteristics of flow, like being in control and engagement, which are indeed two of the main elements of being in ‘flow’. 

Ok I know I’m a bit stubborn, but for the good of my PhD, I can change the focus if no one likes ‘flow’ 😩 As my supervisor said maybe I could do that after the PhD, but I need a PhD first 😛

Posted by: Big Box 0 | September 3, 2008

Talk by Yoram Eshet on ‘Reading in the digital era’

Just coming back from listening to Yoram Eshet from Open University Israel talking about ‘Reading in the digital era’, I find it a really interesting talk, he gave examples from three studies, showing people’s critical thinking skills in both the printing and digital format in the digital age. In the first study, comparison studies were conducted with two different age groups, 20 high school and 20 college students, with a age spam of 10 years. Results show that young people are more critical in a digital format while older people are more critical in a printing format. 

Second study did a comparision between congruent group and incongruent group. Congruent groups here means text and designed and presented in the same  format, i.e. print to print or digital to digital; whilein the incongruent groups text designed in the print format are presented in the digital format and text designed in the digital format and presented in the  printing format. Results show that the critical thinking levels in the congruent group is higher than in the incongruent group, which suggests the incongruent design decreased students’ critical thinking levels, which set an alarm in the current education design practise. Nowadays, many schools or university scanned the book and uploaded it as a digital format, what is the implication for that? Does it harm student’s critical thinking levels? Yoram analysed the data from three possible perspectives: usability perspective, cognitive perspective and information communicate perspective.  Although the sample of the study is small and the study focus is on text only, further studies might be able to tell us more about it.  Also, as for the design of the study, I’m not sure what kind of specific digital format is Yoram using, pdf? word? webpage? blog?wiki? etc, cos I think these will bring along different usability issues and how is he actually evaluating students’ critical thinking skills? is he evaluating students’ critical thinking skills in printing format or in digital format? will this have any impact on the test result?

Third study, he briefly talked about real time environment and engagement, for example gaming in 3D environement and implication of language learning in interactive TV, living books etc.

I find the talk very interesting and inspiring, as I always enjoyed given the opportunity to know the ‘outside world’. Being one of the so calledd ‘digital natives’, I think we still like sometimes communicating and interacting with ‘people’ than in the virtual world.  😛

Posted by: Big Box 0 | August 29, 2008

Academic writing- useful tips

Useful verbs to introcude quotation

“acknoledges; confirms; implies; addresses; contends; maintains; affirms; contradicts; negates; agrees; declares; notes; argues; discusses; refutes; asserts; disputes; reports; believes; emphasizes; thinks; comments; endorses; writes”

(Roberts, 2004, p.107)


Roberts, C.M. (2004). The dissertation journey: a practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing and defending your dissertation. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Posted by: Big Box 0 | August 21, 2008

Writing a thesis

Found this in a book, share it here hehe:

‘A thesis is much like a gradutate student: It has a limited purpose and a small audience; it is often insecure and defensive, justifying itself with excessive documentation; it is too narrowly focussed; and it has not yet developed a style of its own.’

(Luey, 2002, p. 34)


Luey, B. (2002). Handbook for academic authors (4th edn.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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