Over the last couple of weeks or so, my thoughts about my DPhil research have taken some quite dramatic and unexpected turns but in a way which is making me feel rather excited and very grounded.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a planned meeting with my supervisor and a consultant from Social Sciences. The plan had been to look at methodology and data gathering for the studies I was planning of informal learning in Second Life. But in the time between arranging the meeting and it taking place, my thinking about informal learning had moved considerably as recorded in earlier blogs! We ended up talking about where I currently was, and recognising that I was talking about a very broad area, but one which could be examined in a narrow domain. The advice accompanying that was that such a domain should ideally be one which I knew well.
It was one of those transforming moments when suddenly things which had not been coming together suddenly made sense. With no difficulty at all, Second Life and other virtual worlds were no longer part of the picture. Instead the very obvious domain which I know best was staring me in the face – people caring for children with an ASD. The whole range of learning styles is covered with the possibility of looking at learning journeys and the mix of learning types involved in a learning journey. Not only that, but I have access to so many potential study subjects – the parent support group I run, online groups, contact with schools and medical specialists…. Not only that but my supervisor has links and an interest in the area… The only question is why did it take so long to see the obvious!
So many of the themes that have been important through my professional life come together with this focus. My anger at the failure to recognise the skills and knowledge of people without appropriate qualifications. Questions about empowerment and change management, who are the experts. Ownership and change agency. The creation of underclasses where people are stigmatised and disempowered …. Empowerment.
In the fortnight since that meeting, I have begun to think about what my research might involve, I have met another DPhil student who is looking at issues around stigmatisation, a colleague has given me links to references on expert patients, I am being given contacts with senior paediatricians, I have been given a contact with the person leading a major course on ASDs in Birmingham and had a useful formative discussion and the possibility of access to students on the course, I have met somebody working on the problems associated with labelling, I have come across the idea of using critical incident vignettes as a way of examining learning experiences, I have been encouraged to look again at Wenger’s work around boundaries … I could go on and on, it seems so much has happened and come together in such a short time.
I’m very aware that I have a lot of work to do, not least scoping my studies, but I am feeling absurdly excited by the thought of doing work in an area I both understand and have a long term commitment to. I also know that I would not be where I am now if I had not spent the hours reading around lots of stuff and beginning to appreciate some of the complexity of things which on the surface seemed so simple and straightforward.