blogging my research

Last week I published four “live” posts about my ongoing research with the Tate Schools and Teachers team.

I’ve been going to Summer Schools now since 2012, although I did have a year off last year.

That’s seven lots of five days. There’s usually some other SS-related meetings before and after too. So probably about fifty days worth. In ethnographic terms, this is starting to be a respectable time, long enough to talk with some certainly about patterns and differences.

I didn’t always blog about this research. So why did I start and what do I think I’m doing in blogging?

You’ll have noticed I haven’t started a separate blog about Summer School. That’s been because the collaborative work with the Schools and Teachers team is quite sporadic, spread out over a year. I am not sure that there would be enough to keep up the regular posting you need for a good blog. So rather than establish a separate research project blog – which I often do, see for instance the Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement blog – I’ve just chosen to hijack this one for a bit. I hope that the content doesn’t put off readers who aren’t interested in education or the arts.

But why blog my research at all? Well, there’s two main reasons.

First of all, the blog provides information about the research, particularly to those involved.

A lot of research in my field involves researchers hanging around a ‘site’ for a long time – a school, a college, a university. Other people who are present – their name usually changed from teacher or student to the ‘subjects’ or ‘participants’ – often don’t get to know much about what the researcher is thinking and doing, at the time or for a long time after.

Sure, people have a plain language ethics statement and consent form which they have signed. But I’ve become increasingly concerned about whether this is good enough. Is a couple of pages really sufficient to explain why the research, what it’s for and how it’s related to research that’s been done?

Now, sometimes researchers are able to have long meetings with research participants, and they can really discuss what’s going on. However, this is not really possible with Summer Schools where people have paid to attend a professional development programme, not engage in a long conversation about research. Blogging everyday provides an opportunity for SS people to see what the research is about and to talk with me about it if they want to. It’s not secret business. The posts demonstrate a willingness on my part to be open about what I’m doing.

Secondly, the blog is an integral part of my research. Not an extra.

The blog works partly as a log of activities, a descriptive record of events. (Think of a ship’s log – official documents about course, speed, navigation and so on.) There’s nothing particularly contentious about simply logging what happens how, when, where and who was involved.

Summer School artists and participants may even find it helpful to have basic information about the event compiled in one place. I do know that the artists who run Summer School are always interested to compare what I’ve noticed with what they were thinking about and doing.

But having a record of events is not all that counts in research. Logs can do more than this. Logs focus on a limited topic. They usually stick to a common formula of set of categories, presenting information the same way each time an entry is made. Logged information thus allows patterns of behaviour or events to be tracked over time. So while readers might see each daily post as a distinct thing, they allow me to see patterns across the five days, and across the series of Summer Schools I’ve attended.

Of course, not everything that happened fits into a blog post. I always end up with a load of other stuff in my field notes as well as artefacts and images that still need to be typed out, and sorted. Logged post blog.

However, the posts do more than log. I do have the occasional diary moment – a diary is a personal and idiosyncratic account of everyday life. I do occasionally put something in a research post that is of this order. But mostly, posts are logs – and part of the research journaling process.

A research journal is a tool for reflection. A research journal offers a place for critical and evaluative thought, as events and conversations are revisited – and remixed. Journals are where interpretation happens. They are often the places where analysis begins and is developed. Writing and sketching in a journal are a means of processing experience, of bringing events and conversations into dialogue with ideas taken from reading, with ideas formed through previous research.

Writing a journal as well as field notes is a time-consuming process. It is why doing ethnography requires full body immersion. You note and make images as best you can during the day, and then at night, you complete the log of events, and write immediate thoughts in your journal. Logging and journaling is a process of distancing from the events of the day, switching thinking into a more analytic mode. Keeping both a daily log and a journal also means that you can catch the points where information is missing, and you may decide that tomorrow you will pursue a particular issue that emerged from journaling.

A daily blog is simply one part of a research journal.

In other Summer Schools I’ve focused the journal aspect of a daily post on the pedagogical principles that the artists were using to design, sequence and pace activities. In this Summer School I was more interested in surfacing questions to which I didn’t have any answers but was thinking about. Musings I called this.

Blogging as journal becomes a kind of thinking in public. And thinking in public stems from my view that the researcher is not the only one who can interpret and make sense of events and conversations, who can theorise practice. Rather, meaning-making can be a shared activity which encompasses multiple perspectives and positions. As this research is a collaboration with the Tate Schools and Teachers team, it is already open to multiple ideas. Opening out to more views and perspectives does amplify the possibility for messiness to be sure, but there is also the potential for new insights and other ways of thinking, feeling and knowing to be included.

I hope that in making my thinking public the blog is an invitation to participants to come back to me with responses to my initial thoughts. I’d love them to help shape my musings into something more refined – inclusive of their critical reflections too. Blogging can perhaps be a small step towards a more democratic research practice.


About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, blogging, blogging about blogging, research blogging, Tate Summer School and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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