I think that both a master and a doctoral thesis provide you with an invaluable opportunity to really choose any research topic and to shape it according to your own core interests (beyond the obvious constraints due to ‘zero budget’!). As usual you have to justify your choice by identifying a research problematic and positioning the research questions in the literature. However there are also other kinds of justifications that are not required in your research proposal, but that have something to do with your own personal path to become a researcher. It deals with what makes the proposed study your study, and how this fragment of research can start mapping out the research territory you will be willing (and able) to explore over time. So, writing down what prompted me on the selected topic helps me to clarify my motivation and take it into account in the building effort of an identity as an (apprentice) researcher.
I proposed to focus my MRes thesis on research practices in transition, focusing on digital scholarship’s practices as enabling factor of open practices in research and teaching. Indeed my professional experience was related to elearning course design and elearning management issues in university contexts: rather, the perspective I assume in the MRes thesis is sociological one and aims to explore changing modes of knowledge production and communication in research practices. This choice actually stems from personal and professional reasons:
– To verify in ‘real life’ what to have an habitus as a (digital) researcher means.
As a past elearning practitioner I am currently in transition towards a more research-focused role. Therefore I am curious of exploring a new realm of research work practices, that I occasionally observed at university, as non-teaching staff. I aim to gain understadings from insiders of what ‘scholarship’ is today, and what is the role that digital environments/tools are playing to shape it. Indeed, since a couple of years digital environments constitute my formal and informal (international) learning environment referring to research practice and methods. I need to recontextualize in a local setting what I am learning and practicing in a virtual, global context. Moreover, actually I realize that attitudes, digital behaviours and participatory approach I am acquiring belong to a specific realm (educational technology) and are drawn from a group of researchers who are also convinced social media adopters. I need to listen to contrasting views from diverse subject areas, in order to scaffold an informed opinion about what new media can (or can not) add to my research training and attitude.
– To understand what is the relationship between e-learning and e-research.
Nothing new if I say that elearning uptake by faculty is weak, dispersed and often not supported by a rethinking of one’s teaching approach. This is also caused by the ancillary role of teaching in academic scholarship. Just for this I believe that elearning adoption can slowly become widespread, but above all can affect teaching and learning in HE, only if research practices are likely to be endorsed Web 2.0 approach and tools, since “Web 2.0 is changing cultural attitudes of engagement” (Haythornthwaite, 2009). In order to elearning is not intended anymore as a ‘plug-and-play’ digital toolkit, faculty should find it natural to adopt digital tools and – more interestingly – a participatory approach both in research and in teaching. In fact, according to this author, Web 2.0 is expanding to all the world the knowledge acquisition and production model featuring academia: “A transformation to a participatory culture may, in learning, be a transformation to an inquiry culture taught, practiced and used at all levels of education”. In other words, e-learning could be intended as a by-product of e-research: “What would e-learning look like if we considered it a branch of e-research?” (Haythornthwaite, 2009) For this reason I am intrigued by a “social shaping perspective”, in which a similar approach can be applied to study technlogies in learning instances as well as in research practices:
“It would mean being “concerned with technologies that support all the processes involved in [research learning] including (but not limited to) creating and sustaining [research learning] collaborations and discovering, analysing, processing, publishing, storing and sharing [research learning] data and information. [OeSS]”.
Therefore, my very first research study represents a tentative early step to rethink of e-learning adoption in HE through a small-scale inquiry about what being a digital researcher means in a current higher education setting.