Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo)

well, I think I must be the worst blog writer ever judging by how often I update this one…

It’s now the end of October and I do feel like I’m making progress, albeit slowly sometimes. Reading back over past entries, I’m reminded of how useful this process is for self reflection and reminding myself how far along the road I am (even if I don’t update that often!)

I’ve signed up for Academic Writing Month, aka #AcWriMo, with the aim of finishing three chapters that I’ve been working on for a while. The idea is that for the month of November, you set some goals to really push yourself, and then declare this publicly (either through twitter #AcWriMo or the PhD2Published facebook page). Academic Writing Month is a great way to make yourself accountable, ultimately to yourself! I did it last year with the very modest goal of doing at least one pomodoro a day until I finished my interview transcriptons (a potentially quite tedious task!) Well, it worked and kickstarted me into the next phase of my research, hence I am doing it again!

This time around, my goal is to write for 2 hours each day (including working days and weekends) for the entire month, with the aim of finishing off three chapters of my literature review. 2 hours might not sound much, and indeed I’ve averaged around 5 – 6 the last few days. However, the days I am at work, and the weekends are more of a challenge. I’ve also pledged to do an hour on non-work days (I currently work Thursday and Friday) on completing my data coding which is about half way done. Given November 1 is a Thursday, which means I’ll be at work, it’ll be a good test to see how I fit those 2 hours of writing in…..

The last 6 months or so have been an interesting process as I try to start tying everything together. Some days I have sat at the computer and cried with frustration at how difficult it is, wondering why on earth I chose to put myself through this. Then I have days like this week where everything flows, and I make intellectual connections with things I hadn’t seen before, and that feeling is amazing!!

So, #AcWriMo, let’s see if I can reach my goals and get to the end of the year with a really significant amount of my thesis done!!


Getting in the writing ‘zone’

I’ve had a great couple of days of writing, revisiting my rather scratchily put together bits and pieces of literature review. It all seemed to come together mentally and I’ve been able to write and edit and review like crazy! Still a long way to go mind you…. ūüôā

A couple of books I’m reading at the moment are really helping. I’ve had “No Pity. People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement” by Joe Shapiro on my iPad for ages but only really got into reading it last night. What an inspiring and motivating book! The personal stories of people with disabilities fighting against discrimination really makes my blood boil, and I then start thinking about all the young children who are still not receiving adequate O&M services at a young age. Why? Many reasons – lack of qualified O&M Specialists in Australia is a big one. But there are also other professionals who don’t refer young children for O&M because they ‘don’t think the child is ready’. Grrrrr……the people in Joe Shapiro’s book were also told they ‘couldn’t’ do this and they’d ‘never’ do that because of their disability. Some went on to do amazing things and change the laws on disability discrimination, access to the environment and so on. Young children can learn to use the long cane safely and efficiently and the positive implications of doing so are starting to come through in my data analysis. All of which is inspiring me to keep on plugging away at it!

The other author I constantly come back to is Joseph Cutter. I’ve written about his fabulous book before. I just love his attitude toward the children we work with – how they teach us so much and it is only our limited expectations that hold them back. When I started to work with early education professionals who were passionate about O&M, my attitudes towards blindness changed. I stopped seeing blindness as a limitation, but rather saw the children I was working with as children who just learnt in a different way. Reading through and synthesizing the literature on O&M with children, it still astounds me how much emphasis is put on the teaching of the ‘correct’ technique of the cane, rather than seeing O&M as a holistic skill which will develop appropriately over time.

It is so exciting when you get into ‘the flow’ of writing – time flies and ideas come at you left and right. It’s also great to feel the passion of your topic resurfacing (as it’s quite hard to stay passionate and motivated the whole time you’re writing a thesis!) – you really feel like you might be able to change the world! Even if in just a little way ūüôā

Notes to myself on coding

I’ve started the process of coding my interview transcriptions. It is exciting and overwhelming at the same time. I’m reading lots of advice about how to do it and how not to do it, and need to make some notes for myself to remember.

* it’s hard at the beginning to find the balance between collecting ideas and concepts that might be useful (even if I’m not sure how at this stage) and having way too many categories of codes and becoming totally overwhelmed with data

*I need to be careful of not unintentionally losing ideas, even if I can’t see the relevance at the moment

*I need to keep ‘like’ and ‘unlike’ things apart

*Remember that this is an ongoing analytical process so my ideas and nodes of information will change as I begin to write about this

*My categories need to be clear and unambiguous

*Use detailed descriptions and remember to date them!

*When reading through the data, think about
– that’s interesting
– why is it interesting?
– why will this project benefit from that concept?
– where does it go?

* have a ‘free’ area for nodes with no logical place

*I need to go back to my research questions

for teachers:
-intentions in regard to the teaching of O&M skills
-strategies used
-what outcomes were expected
-what influence did O&M training have?

for parents:
-how did you become involved in O&M training
-what aspects were important
-what meaning did you make of your experiences?
-what perspectives do you have?
-what influence did it have?

*I need to think about my research framework – symbolic interactionism and how my coding will reflect back on the key ideas
-how we act toward things
-the meaning things have for us
-how social interaction with others influences meaning

I am experimenting with using a software program called HyperRESEARCH and already finding it useful. Can’t imagine trying to code and sort this by hand!! I was going to use NVivo until I realise you can’t use it on a Mac……(unless you set up a Windows environment which I don’t want to do). HyperRESEARCH seems fairly intuitive and easy to use. I am also using Transana for video data analysis (which is a little way down the track). I’m excited about seeing it all fit together but it’s also a little daunting at the moment!

time to knuckle down…

2012 is here, and for me this signals the start of a busy year. ¬†I’ve made the decision to drop my working hours down starting in March from full-time to two days a week so I can concentrate on completing my EdD. ¬†Although it’s been ticking along, I’ve got a lot of work to do! ¬†I also want to be more diligent in keeping up my blog (which hasn’t been updated since September!) as I find the reflective process really useful. ¬†I also find that reading back on older posts is interesting and motivating and reminds me that I’ve come further than I sometimes think!

I am finding great resources on the net all the time, one of my favourites is the #phdchat daily newspaper which is published using  This morning, I came across a post at the Silence and Voice blog about using the pomodoro technique to help with transcription.  I have been using this technique as well to help with staying motivated to complete my interview transcriptions, and more importantly to get myself into a consistent routine of doing something each day.

When I first read about the pomodoro technique, I was quite skeptical but it works! ¬†I downloaded the app, and set myself a very small goal of doing one pomodoro (25 mins) of transcription every day after work. ¬†As most of us know, getting started is the hard part, once we get going we often end up doing far more than we had planned, and I often ended up doing 2 or 3 pomodoro’s in a row. I haven’t quite finished my transcriptions (had a bit of a break over Christmas) but am planning to start using the pomodoro again on a daily basis until they’re finished. ¬†That, of course, is only the start of the data process but at least it’s a start!

keeping motivated through interview transcription

I’ve been off sick from work all week with tonsillitis which has given me a chance to keep working on transcribing my interviews. ¬†As expected, as soon as I got back to work, finding the time to do this became pretty difficult. ¬†I’m nearly half way through now. ¬†As a process it takes AGES, but I still think it’s the only way to really become immersed in your data.

The exciting thing for me is seeing themes and ideas coming through the different interviews. My research questions explore how teachers, parents and children perceive and experience the early introduction of the long cane. ¬†Words coming through from teacher interviews so far are ‘independence’, ‘excitement’ at seeing the early use of the long cane, and ‘normal’. ¬†Now ‘normal’ is a word that one needs to be careful of using in the disability context but for many of the people I interviewed that was the only word that they could find to describe the impact that early O&M training had on these young children. ¬†In the words of one parent “she’s just so….so normal, I know that’s a terrible word to use, but there’s no difference when we go to the shops with her or (other sighted child)”. Having the skills of independent mobility from such an early age really has made a dramatic difference to this family.

The other reaction I’m feeling whilst transcribing is frustration and even anger that so many children with low vision or blindness are still not getting early O&M services, despite the fact that it obviously has so many benefits. My study is based on a select group of people, from a particular time and location, and therefore my results are not ‘generalisable’. But the more I transcribe and hear what my participants are saying, the more it reinforces to me the need to get my research out there.

Just this week I received an email from the UK asking for some advice on this topic.  The email reads in part:

“In the UK there is a resistance to taking up this option and children are frequently waiting until they are 6-7-8 years of age to begin training with a long cane. I find that this does not fit with my understanding and experience of early childhood development and learning and wondered if you could point me in the direction of research of the value of early introduction.”

Sometimes I feel it’s a long road ahead, but I also feel that I’m researching a topic that desperately needs research and I hope that if nothing else, I can inspire people like the writer of this email to keep pushing for these children to get the services that I feel they need.

Interviewing and transcribing….

I’m now a week or so into my data collection, semi-structured interviews with teachers, parents and children. So far, it’s been exciting, tedious, exhausting and motivating all at once. ¬†Exciting because I can really feel the ‘guts’ of my research starting to come together. Tedious and exhausting because the transcription process is slow and requires a lot of concentration. ¬†I had read that it takes around 10 hours to transcribe one hour of conversation and that seems to be about the pace I’m working at. ¬†I did want to start transcribing straight away, partly because I have the time at the moment and also because it is incredibly motivating to start seeing the words on the page. Already common words, ideas and themes are coming through in the three interviews I’ve transcribed, and I’m excited by how I’m going to link it all together.

I have five children to interview. I’ve done one and it was harder than I expected, even though I know the children involved ¬†well and generally have a good rapport with children. I find it relatively easy with adults to leave pauses in the conversation, which usually prompts them to continue to talk, but this is not so easy with children. I have made sure to do a reflection on the time spent with the child immediately after, to capture my feelings and observations about what was going on. Having just completed the transcription of the first child’s interview, it was also heartening to discover that there was more in there than I initially thought. I think the value of doing the transcription yourself, no matter how time consuming, cannot be underestimated. The nuances, the little comments you may not have noticed during the conversation, all take on more significance when you go back and listen to it again.

I am also finding the Pulse SmartPen to be just fantastic for doing this type of data collection. ¬†Part of my interviews with children involve them taking me on a ‘tour’ of their school, and the SmartPen has been brilliant in recording our ‘walking and talking’. The weather in Perth has been stormy and very windy, but I was still able to accurately record whilst outside and moving around. For transcription it has been very easy to upload the recordings to my MacBook. The speed of the recording can be adjusted between fast, normal and slow which also makes it easy to jump back and forth to check the accuracy etc. ¬†Of course, I’m also being extra diligent in backing up interviews to dropbox and to other devices because I can’t think of anything more devastating than to lose all your raw data ūüė¶

It hasn’t been all work, I’ve been making the time to exercise both at the gym (BodyCombat is my saviour!) and with walking in between the rain showers. I loved finding this tribute to Cadel Evans’ recent Tour de France victory on the Swan River! ¬†The Eliza statue, which was put in her current position in 2007, commemorates the Crawley baths which were a popular place to swim between 1915 – 1960’s, but it seems that she is now being decorated in all sorts of ways! ¬†The picture on the right is what she really looks like, but I think she looks pretty good in her yellow jersey with her bike on her outstretched arms!


Sunday writing blues

It’s a cold wintery Sunday in Melbourne and I’m sitting at the desk trying to put together something meaningful about Symbolic Interactionism, identity and stigma and the use of the long cane. It’s in my head, ¬†but I’m struggling to get in down into words. ¬†I’m having a “why did I ever think doing a Doctorate would be a good idea?” moment! I know it will all fall into place sooner or later, but I hate these moments of sitting staring at the computer screen with nothing coming out. Although I have managed to put 854 words together so I suppose it’s not all bad!

OK, enough procrastination with – I’ve finished my coffee and need to get back to writing for at least another 90 mins.