As I have undertaken this thesis in a public, open and slightly unusual way, I thought it important to chart the development of this activity and give examples of the feedback I have received.
As I explained in the Preface, I transferred from the MA in Education at Durham to an Ed.D. in 2006. Upon doing so I set up a blog at http://eduspaces.net/dougbelshaw/weblog which was powered by Open Source Software (OSS) called Elgg. The hosted version of this was shut down in December 2007, whereupon I transferred all the content to Edublogs, a hosted service for educators built on the WordPress platform (also OSS). The latter, as of September 2011, is still accessible at http://dajbelshaw.edublogs.org.
Although I do not intend to mention every interaction I have had with the people listed in my bibliography and more widely, it is interesting to note that Stephen Downes had a hand in pointing me in the direction for my thesis proposal:
At this point, I was receiving no significant feedback on my Ed.D. blog but had a healthy readership (in the thousands) at http://teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk (which the link including my name in Downes’ post points towards). My teaching blog was for thoughts and links relating to teaching, and my Ed.D. blog was a space for me think through (in a public way) what I was doing. It was, in effect, an open research journal.
On New Years’ Eve 2006 I shared my Ed.D. thesis proposal outline via my Ed.D. blog.<ref>http://dajbelshaw.edublogs.org/2006/12/31/edd-thesis-proposal-outline-expanded</ref>
I have no way of now checking whether this received any feedback on my Eduspaces blog, but it was rejected by Durham University as not being focused enough. Version two was accepted, as it was less blog-like and more academic.<ref>http://dajbelshaw.edublogs.org/2007/01/28/edd-thesis-proposal-v2.</ref> At this point I was still thinking of a title along the lines of ‘What does it mean to be ‘educated’ in the 21st century?’
By mid-2007, partly as a result of my experiences in the classroom and partly due to my research interests, this title had morphed into ‘What does it mean to be 'educated' and 'literate' in the 21st century? The impact of ICT and the knowledge society upon education.’ I shared my completed Ed.D. thesis proposal with this title via Google Docs and my Ed.D. blog in April 2007.<ref>http://dajbelshaw.edublogs.org/2007/04/22/edd-thesis-proposal-finished </ref> Unfortunately, this proposal was failed by both my supervisor and the mark of 48 was confirmed by the exam board. This was the last ‘module’ I had to take in my academic career and the first time I had even come close to failing one.
I had not been happy with my supervisor, so was pleased when his leaving the university meant I was allocated Steve Higgins, with whom I share an interest in both educational technology and Pragmatism. He gave me, and continues to give me, valuable, useful and actionable formative feedback. Steve encouraged me to use different methods to represent the argument for the thesis proposal I was to re-submit. I used mindmaps and, in the example below, an online flowcharting tool which suits the way I think through such concepts:
At this point the only feedback, apart from the occasional ‘thanks for sharing your work!’ comment came from my thesis supervisor.
This changed, however, for two reasons. The first was signing up for Twitter in early 2007 and starting to use it to interact with educators worldwide. At first these were mainly people in what was then termed the ‘edublogosphere’, a relatively small world where it was possible for everyone to keep up with each other’s blog posts. I have made connections using this social media platform about which I could write another thesis. The second was my decision at the beginning of 2008 to consolidate the various blogs I kept up in one place at http://dougbelshaw.com/blog.
I blogged about my consideration of various research methodologies<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2007/12/08/research-methodologies</ref> to a readership who were used to me discussing either teaching, my family, or educational technology. By the time I re-submitted my thesis proposal I had slightly shifted my focus to ‘What does it mean to be digitally literate?’ I posted the fact that it had been successful along with the full text on my blog.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2008/05/17/my-edd-thesis-proposal-what-does-it-mean-to-be-digitally-literate </ref> Although I still received no comments on the blog post, I do remember engaging in conversations about it on Twitter. Unfortunately, in 2011, such conversations are now difficult to access.
Convinced that badging my posts as ‘doctoral level’ and ‘academic’ was putting people of commenting, I attempted to gain feedback by making them a little more accessible and intriguing. This was successful in encouraging people to comment. One of the first of these, ‘Buddha knows best, or why ‘digital literacy’ is so hard to pin down’<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2008/08/18/buddha-knows-best-or-why-digital-literacy-is-so-hard-to-pin-down </ref> led to comments from educators in the USA, Canada, and Singapore:
These comments, longer and more considered than the 140 character interactions on Twitter, forced me to reflect on what I was doing and how my thesis would affect educational practice.
As I began to post on my blog more and more frequently about my explorations into digital and new literacies I began to receive more comments and feedback. Those shorter blog posts that were written in a style more conversational than academic unsurprisingly gained more traction.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2009/08/19/why-digital-literacy-the-aftermath-of-literacy </ref> Those that were mainly for my own benefit, such as writing-up Skype conversations with my supervisor, were less popular, although they did begin to interest academics. For example, Joan Vinall-Cox, an academic in Canada commented on one such post:
Really enjoyed reading your description of meeting with your supervisor. I received my Ph.D. in education in 2004 with a thesis describing my change from technophobia to technophilia - http://www.scribd.com/doc/2063617/Following-the..... - I have a couple of suggestions, but you may already be aware of them. One is the idea of networked literacies as described > http://www.thethinkingstick.com/digital-literac..... - just to add more to your literacies complexities ;-> The other, tied in with Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, is Steve Rubel's lifestreaming idea >http://www.socialsquared.com/2009/07/17/the-blo.....
Good luck with your work!<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2009/08/08/meeting-with-ed-d-thesis-supervisor-aspirational-naming-hegemonic-power-and-finishing-early </ref>
It was this that encouraged me to look into the concept of ‘Flow’ discussed in Chapter 8. In addition, it was about this time that I began to think about the possibility of the ‘8 C’s of Digital Literacy’. This list originally looked slightly different, but after some feedback from a well-known educational technologist and strategist by the name of Josie Fraser (herself no stranger to the world of digital literacy), I combined two of the elements and added ‘critical’:
Earlier in 2009, overwhelmed by the complexity, diversity and scale of my research, I created a huge, hyperlinked concept map using cross-platform OSS called XMind. Being ‘open by default’ I posted it online and it was very well received.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2009/02/01/my-edd-thesis-concept-map-on-digital-literacy</ref>
In August 2009, buoyed by the comments (some helpful, some encouraging, some self-serving) I was now receiving on almost everything I posted online to do with my thesis, I decided to share the writing of it in real-time.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2009/08/01/watch-my-thesis-grow-in-real-time </ref> I had already begun to do this, posting my introduction in October 2008.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2008/10/11/my-edd-thesis-introduction-and-a</ref> As I used a single Google Doc at this time to write my thesis, anybody could see what I was writing literally as I wrote it. As Ryan Bretag commented on the blog post where I explained what I was doing,
Making this a transparent process is excellent! Not only does it help show the evolution of your ideas in a high academic form, it helps others considering a terminal degree to see the depths of what is happening.
Although there was no obvious way to give feedback on the Google Doc itself, several people got in touch with me via email with advice and useful connections. For example, Bill Lord, a specialist on literacy in Primary schools got in touch via my Google profile suggesting a connection with another doctoral student:
To prompt people to focus and comment upon specific parts of the thesis as I was writing it, I took sections and blogged about them, adding a disclaimer to the top of each post.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2009/12/15/the-evolution-of-communication</ref> Not only was my writing available for public scrutiny, but my research (in the form of quotations from books/articles) was also available at my personal wiki.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/wiki</ref> Beginning to gain a reputation for writing my thesis in an innovative way and remaining productive whilst having a young family, I blogged about the digital tools I have used to research, organize and write this thesis.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/02/25/how-i-organize-my-ed-d-thesis</ref>
By February 2010 I had realised, especially through conversations with Steve Higgins, my supervisor, that not only should I be talking of digital literacies rather than ‘digital literacy’ but that these were extremely ambiguous terms. This was prompted through a chance purchase of a remaindered book, Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson, reprinted from an original 1930 version. I became fascinated at the potential application of these seven ambiguities to new literacies.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/02/18/meeting-with-ed-d-thesis-supervisor-digital-literacy-ambiguity </ref> I set about mapping different types of new literacies onto Empson’s seven types of ambiguities.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/03/11/seven-types-of-ambiguity-and-new-literacies</ref> Ultimately, this led to my first journal article, co-authored with my supervisor, and Chapter 5 of this thesis.
In April 2010 I moved from working in schools to working in Further and Higher Education with JISC infoNet.<ref>http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk</ref> Whereas my previous readership had been predominantly teachers and those who worked in or with schools, suddenly I was interacting with those in universities. They not only had more time to explore these ideas, but more interest in the ideas themselves. I had a book review published in a journal<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/05/20/the-hyperlinked-society-full-review </ref> (I eventually sent this book on to Stephen Downes, who was interested in it) and continued to get increasingly-useful feedback upon the sections of my thesis that I wrote blog posts about. The launch of the Apple iPad changed my thinking about digital literacies as it seemed that a certain amount of what was being included under its banner was procedural. I began to wonder how much poor design contributed to the need for ‘digital literacy’.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/06/03/digital-literacy-a-function-of-poor-design</ref> It was also in summer 2010 that I began to feel the strain of using Google Docs as the place to write (as opposed to share) my thesis. Seeing software called Scrivener coming highly recommended by various authors and academics, I decided to invest in it.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/08/07/write-lots-buy-this</ref> This made it a lot more easy to manage the tens of thousands of words that now constituted my thesis.
I had a major breakthrough in November 2010 in terms of understanding the reasons for the lack of debate about digital literacies in the UK and in terms of increasing numbers of people becoming aware of my research. A blog post I wrote entitled ‘Media Literacy: the biggest enemy of UK ‘digital literacy’ initiatives?’<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/11/12/the-problem-with-digital-literacy-in-the-uk-media-literacy</ref> (which eventually formed part of Chapter 2) was tweeted and re-tweeted on Twitter many times. By December 2010, however, I was feeling the strain of juggling a new job, writing in various places, my thesis, a three year-old son and a pregnant wife. I took three weeks off almost everything digital.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/12/17/belshaw-black-ops - this is something that work on my thesis (as a sustained project over a number of years) has taught me: there is a rhythm to engagement, interest, productivity and stamina. I have learned, for example, that November to February is an unproductive time for me and that I do my best work between March and October.</ref>
In early 2011, aware that I was likely to complete my thesis and submit my thesis this year, I began to think about again separating out my work on digital and new literacies from my personal blog. I registered the domain http://literaci.es and began to post updates and thoughts at this address. However, practicalities and distractions such as my newborn daughter’s allergies, launching Purpos/ed<ref>Purpos/ed is a Co-operative Community Interest Company aiming to provoke and sustain public debate around the question, “What is the purpose of education?” (http://purposed.org.uk)</ref> and setting up a consultancy business has meant that I have written less blog posts focusing instead on adding words towards this thesis.
Some of the best non-institutional feedback I received came in June 2011 as a result of posting that I had completed a first draft of my thesis.<ref>http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2011/06/30/read-the-first-complete-draft-of-my-doctoral-thesis-on-digital-literacies</ref> Two comments on this went into detail about Chapter 6, my methodologies chapter. Although the example below shows that the commenter wished to remain anonymous, I have his email address (from a German university) through which I thanked him privately:
I took on board this feedback along with other comments. As Dave Cormier, a Canadian academic commented<ref>http://twitter.com/#!/davecormier/status/88791650717016064</ref> via Twitter:
Something that proved hugely popular this year are the slides for a presentation I uploaded to Slideshare based on Chapter 9 of this thesis.<ref>http://www.slideshare.net/dajbelshaw/the-essential-elements-of-digital-literacies </ref> I called the presentation The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies and delivered it virtually at 3am in the morning to a conference in Australia. As my daughter had been ill, I did not want to be away for up to a week. I also began to blog at DMLCentral<ref>http://dmlcentral.net</ref>, a MacArthur Foundation-funded hub based at the University of California Humanities Research Institute for research into digital media and learning. This website has a large readership and presence in the digital literacies landscape and so, when I included my Essential Elements presentation into a blog post in late August 2011<ref>http://dmlcentral.net/blog/doug-belshaw/what-do-google-open-source-software-and-digital-literacies-have-common</ref> it sent the number of views on Slideshare to almost 5,000.
In my role at JISC infoNet I am, as I prepare to submit this thesis, gearing up to support a new JISC-funded Digital Literacies programme across 12 Further and Higher Education institutions. My Essential Elements presentation and sharing of my thesis online has been picked up as a useful starting point by projects in the burgeoning community of practice:<ref>http://dlinhe.ning.com</ref>
As I prepared the Essential Elements presentation for a particular conference, I am now working on a series of resources, in addition to my JISC work, to help educational institutions (from Primary schools through to Higher Education institutions) think through the issues involved in implementing initiatives around digital literacies.
As I mentioned in my preface, this is a lived thesis. Whilst I have forgotten the details of many of the interactions that have shaped my thinking and writing, I am glad that I have captured at least part of it through blog posts and presentations. If I have any emerging reputation or status within the arena of digital and new literacies it is due, to a great extent, to those who have provoked my thinking and entered into debate with me. It is also in part due to my willingness to dismiss ‘intellectual property’ and to share my ideas and work openly and widely. I am a great believer in sharing works-in-progress and ‘failures’, times when a plans did not quite work out as intended. It is my hope that this thesis should serve as an encouragement and example to those who are interested in sharing their work more openly.