Struggling on… a summer story with a good ending? #phdchat

Since January 2013 I have been a part-time PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University. A lot have happened since then and my previously started and incomplete PhD in translation many years ago and 80,000 words later that didn’t lead to anything are not helpful to put me in a positive mindset. Can I do this? Will I do this?

I am currently reworking part of the literature review linked to open education responding to feedback I received.  “Radical editing” are the words I remember… The truth is that I have been struggling to make progress and actually often feel stuck but also guilty… guilty for not spending enough time with my family… guilty for not spending enough time on my PhD… and guilty of working on too many projects… as I was reminded by Keith in September. Often I feel like being pregnant again but without knowing when and how I will be able to give birth without producing a monster… and the pain is growing…

I am now in Greece and the plan is to rework the above section. I made a start on the plane on a very bumpy ride down south from rainy England. I decided to keep a short visual diary while I work on this and hopefully this will help me out some of my thoughts in some kind of order. Maybe somebody will access it and provide some help and advice.

My visual diary is below.


Tomorrow are MOOCs on the menu. Need to shorten from 18 pages to 2. Definitely radical editing needed!!!

It hasn’t been an easy day. I haven’t managed to cut that much, I am down to 12-13 pages, and will continue working on this tomorrow. I understand that I need to be more focused but so much seems relevant!  Thank you to David Hopkins who volunteered to read through the collaborative learning section and Frances Bell for her suggestion to create a visual representation of all the important concepts. I will see how I do tomorrow.

Some sense of achievement today, a tiny one. MOOC pages are now under half the original length of what I had and there is some sort of order there now. I have now shared this with Carol Yeager who kindly offered to read through this and comment. I hope this makes sense to her. Over the weekend, I plan to continue working on the open ed section, the non-MOOC stuff.

Ok, I have done some further work linked to the open learning section and it somehow feels a bit better. Still not happy with it and I have loads of questions but feel that I would benefit from some feedback before doing more on this.

Tomorrow, I will start working in the last section which refers to collaborative frameworks supported by technologies. This is the blue part.

I am still in the frameworks section…

Tomorrow, I will continue working on this again…. I need a small break to get fresh energy to continue. It all feels very messy at the moment. I have created a framework table, thank you for suggesting this Keith. This indeed does help me see similarities… There are so many! But very interesting things do emerge which seems to provide a strong evidence-base for my work, I think. I hope to have a clearer picture of this section in my head and on file early next week.

Late last night, I felt the need to visualise what I have leant through looking at the different frameworks and what I discovered. Here it comes… thank you Frances Bell for this suggestion. I will also add the frameworks I looked at.


When Ody saw what I was doing he had the idea to call the doors at the top and the bottom of the hill, the door of success, and somehow it does make sense so this is a little but important addition made by Ody (11).

What follows is my MOOC summary…



Carol Yeager kindly read my open learning section. It was the first time somebody outside the supervisory team read any of my work for this thesis. In the past I was never sure if this is something I should be doing…  I have to say, that I found this really useful and hope that further colleagues will be willing to read smaller sections and comment. Thank you so much Carol and also for making yourself available to read the technology section as well.

I have now (16 August) prepared a visualisation linked to the cooperative, collaborative learning section and am adding this below. Any comments on all three visualisations are very welcome.

The following shows were  I am at the moment, I have to admit that it does seem that I have made some progress over the last few weeks looking back at were I started. More is of course needed, Carol Yeager is reading the frameworks section. I know I need some more specific details linked to this, such as when the SOL framework was developed/used for the first time. If you are reading this and have any idea and can point me towards a related paper, please leave a comment below.

What I wrote when I started this most: more to follow… I really hope I can make some progress while here in between jumping in the deep blue sea, eating souvlaki and visiting magical places with my family.

Now, beginning of September, we are back in the UK and I do feel a tiny sense of achievement. It was worth spending that time on this section and reworking it while away. I would like to thank especially dear colleagues who read the drafts, Carol Yeager, Charles Neame and David Hopkins as well as others who have commented on this post while it was developing. Their comments have been valuable for further changes.

I know that I do need to do a lot more work on this but this tiny step over the summer has helped me a lot to look into the future with a bit more positivity… I do, however need to find a way to keep going. It has really helped me sharing my journey with others and for a while the loneliness disappeared… I will be in Edinburgh later this month to see Keith and Sandra, my supervisory team and just hope that the changes I made are an improvement.

Note: Dr Bea de los Arcos from the OU contacted me on the 10th of September and was interested in including this post as a resource in an open course around Open Research which I have done in 2014 and found really useful (see my reflections linked to this here). If you are reading this and are involved in this course, feel free to leave a note here. It would be great to hear from other open practitioners.

Supervisory meeting and what followed

I went to Edinburgh on the 18th of September to see Sandra and Keith. I feel very positive about our meeting and am pleased that they both think that I am making progress and that I can do this. Just need to believe in myself and work hard to get there.

In the train back, I started writing and I have now almost completed the latest changes to the three sections sections. Frances Bell kindly offered to read the latest open learning section and I am really looking forward to her thoughts.

When this is done, I will be focusing on Chapter 3: Methods and Data… at the moment this is 17,000 words long… yes, far too long and too much detail I have been told. So the big scissors will be out soon and a new post about this will follow. I know that I will find this hard as it is probably the most theoretical part and I am a very practical person… How will I get over this? By immersing myself into it, loosing and finding myself… hopefully… more linked to this as soon as work on Chapter 3 begins. I estimate that this will be in a week, the latest. Just feel that I need to finish the edits on Chapter 2 before starting anything new.

Thank you everybody who has kept me company over the summer and more recently but also my supervisors for their valuable help and guidance and for believing that I will get there… one day.

15 thoughts on “Struggling on… a summer story with a good ending? #phdchat

    • Thank you for your kind words Sue. Don’t think my writing is amazing but I am trying to get better at it so that I meet the requirements for this… one day hopefully…

      Speak soon,

  1. That’s lovely Chrissi. Just a thought – as you are such a visual person, have you drawn an image of the concepts (and how they relate) in your literature review? Even if it’s not a diagram you include it might help with restructuring.

    • Hi Frances,
      Thank you so much this suggestion. I have just written too much and maybe read too widely too… If this is possible. I can now see links between everything and this is very confusing. Will try what you suggest for the MOOC section as I have been really really struggling to shorten this.

      I hope you are well and are enjoying the summer. Speak again soon.


  2. Thanks, Chrissi. You suggest that the key deliverable of your research will be a “collaborative learning framework for open cross-institutional academic development provision”. So that I get a better sense of what that deliverable means, what are your working definitions of (a) a collaborative learning framework, and (b) open, cross-institutional academic development provision?

    Regarding (a), I would really want to know what such a framework would look like in the context of your research. In relation to (b), how does that concept differ from the same statement without the word “open” at the start?


      • Hello Ale,

        Thank you for your interest and your questions. Below, I am attempting answering them. Please let me know if this makes sense.

        A. Collaborative learning framework for me at the moment is something, a set of pedagogical conditions that act as enabling factors to scaffold effective collaborative learning and development, which will be developed based on the phenomenographic data analysis, the categories of description and shaped by the outcome space.

        How it will look like in the context of my research? I don’t know yet. From the data I have gathered so far and only analysed thematically, I can see that relationships among peers as well as among learners and the facilitators, the sense of belonging and contribution to a versatile learning community, flexibility, choice and high-level of contextualisation might play important roles for engagement, motivation to participate and learn. Yes, there seem to be external factors that influence motivation to participate and stick to completing the open course especially were participants have developed learning relationships, usually through working in small groups.

        B. Open cross-institutional development, are shared openly-licensed pedagogical initiatives that sit within at least two different institutions, to create opportunities for their staff who teach or support learning to learn in distributed cross-institutional, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural settings while practitioners external to these two or more institutions are also able to fully participate and are supported in these activities. The cross-institutional provision might be linked to local formal or informal academic programmes and therefore any summative assessment might be dealt with at institutional level. Resources, expertise and support become shared tasks as well as the development and evaluation of such initiatives. Taking ‘open’ out of cross-institutional development, would simply mean a collaboration between two or more institutions without opening this offer up to colleagues from other institutions. My current understanding of open in this context, also relates to the collaborating institutions and the nature of their collaboration which is built on informal practitioners’ or unit-level agreement and therefore is more flexible, dynamic and requires a certain level of commitment and shared responsibility and trust.

        Open cross-institutional development might have started with one host institution from a formal or informal provision and further developed into a cross-institutional collaboration, or it could have been created from the outset collaboratively between at least two institutions and then linked back to institutional programmes. Linking global and local are important and will enable practitioners to put things into perspective and context while also having the opportunity to put puzzle pieces together to see the bigger picture.


    • Thank you Ale and for being willing to continue the conversation. Happy to move to another channel. I am currently editing a section I have written on frameworks supported by tech… and am finding this a challenge…


  3. I have just noticed that you have included the diagrams from Facebook here too so I will included my interpretations of them (blogs and Facebook are very different modes of transport;)

    MOOC drawing
    M is for masses of people crowded in a MOOC, some of them slipping off the slide
    O is for Oh! how can I get help to run MOOCs?
    O is for Oh! we have something very shiny and new (?) that will make it easy for you
    C is for could it be different / better?
    R is for Researcher saying Really? and Rope for connecting to others, pulling each other up.

    Frameworks drawing
    I am interpreting this based on my trip to Pont D’Espagne in June;)
    There are many routes to success and we might choose different modes of transport. When I went to Lac de Gaube this year, we drove up to the car park, took the cable car and then the chair lift,finally walking the last couple of miles to be rewarded with a lovely view of the Lake with the mountains still rising beside it. Some people walked all the way up, some in groups, on organised tours but there were moments of quiet contemplation and moments of fun and laughter.

  4. Chrissi … you have spent valuable and copious time researching and writing your literature review. The results are comprehensive. One thought to keep in mind: perhaps the written review is a guidepost with very brief amounts of information to sen the reader to the source.
    I am thining of it more as one would write a recipe and the source listing is a sort of “directions” section. Hope the food approach is a helpful idea. Think comfort food 🙂

  5. Thank you very much for stopping by Carol and your advice. I like the recipe idea very much. The problem is I have difficulties following recipes… but I understand what you mean. I also find it hard to filter out what to include and what to leave out. I guess, I need to learn to become more focused and learn to let go of things that matter less or are not directly related to my project… Thanks again for all your valuable help, suggestions and friendship.


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