Antonella Esposito: The Transition “from student to researcher” in the Digital Age: Exploring the affordances of emerging Learning Ecologies of PhD Researchers
PhD e-Researchers: individuals using social media to carry out activities such as preliminary exploring new topics, searching for updates research materials, disseminating early findings, experiencing networking in digital spaces, improving their own personal development, etc.
Background: web 2.0 and social media. Architectures of participation and user-generated-content, such as Wikipedia, and the opportunity for creating one’s own profile and constructing online networks, such as Facebook/Twitter and Academia.edu/Research Gate. There are also changes in research practices enabled by technologies, producing new facets and models of knowledge production and distribution, personal and emergent in the individual-led scholarly uses of social media. New PhD students rather consider themselves PhD researchers: are engaged in creative mixes of education, new methods to approximate research, create personal ecologies of learning, etc.
Digital scholars + digital natives + digital literacies.
Focus of the research is on self-organized activities undertaking in the digital environments by PhD students. The socio-cultural entanglements of PhD students using the digital tools in situated context and temporary phases. Goals:
- Gain further underrating on student’s experience of e-learning in higher education.
Gain insights on emergent scholarly practices undertaking in the open Web by newer researchers.
- To what extent do the PhD students learn to become researchers using digital tools?
- How can the trajectories carried out by PhD researchers be conceptualized?
- What can the qualitative findings tell us about the chronotopes activated in PhD researchers’ practices and ecologies?
- What are the tensions between institutional/old practices and new ones?
Methodology: questionnaires with data on tools adopted, actual digital practices and expectations; individual interviews; focus groups.
Data analysis: grounded theory logic of the ‘constant comparative method’. From an initial coding more ‘data-oriented’ toward a more ‘concept-oriented’ coding leading to identification of categories.
A repertoire of social media uses for research purposes. Mostly general purpose tools and common tools, in addition to tools specically supporting scholarly tasks (institutional digital libraries, Google Scholar, etc.). Social media uses to both support and expand practices. The open web is seen as a ‘network amplifiers’ rather than enabling building network from scratch. Have some struggle in creating ‘critical mass’ of followers and some question the practical value of having a large network of contacts.
A framework to conceptualize the trajectories of PhD researcher. In digital engagement we do not find clear typologies. It is more about ‘creeping along’, about moving slowly and carefully in the digital: taming the tools, going digital, learning the digital, making sense of the open web. We find, though, polarization of attitudes that range from total technooptimism to almost non-usage.
The chronotypes in digital engagement. The PhD e-researchers’ experiences in the digital can be easily aligned to the ‘road chronotope’ (as in the road movies), where they keep on embracing opportunities that come along. Relevance of the encounters can determine adoption. Forms of resilience: staying afloat, pursuing convenience, embedding the digital, playing as a bricoleur.
The tensions: two generations. Irrelevance vs. relevance for research; pros and cons for the PhD researchers; tensions for digital learners and digital scholars.
The digital engagement is understood as the core process where the trajectories in the digital emerge, in en ecological interplay of multiple dimensions and shifting states of experience.
In most places, PhD students are perceived as such, as students, and not as researchers. Thus, even if students are aware of the potentials of social media for research, they are reluctant to challenge the hierarchies of academia. On the other hand, when students are part of a research group and/or team, this can also act as an inhibitor to develop a (personal/individual) activity on social media related with their research.
In general, there is a major lack of awareness in academia, and even lack of knowledge and understanding on what is going on in social networks and its potential for learning and for doing research.
PS: congratulations, doctor Esposito!