Today in our series on How I Work, I have the pleasure of inviting Howard Scott. Howard is a Technology Enhanced Learning doctorate student with the University of Hull in northern England and also works as an English lecturer at college level in the UK. He is interested in practices such as situated learning; experiential, mobile and outdoor learning; and all or any pedagogical theories to promote independent learning; as well as digital literacy.
Current Job: Teacher (Part-time during three year doctorate research period)
Current Location: North-west England
Current mobile device: Nokia something something
Current computer: Various – mostly write on an old HP, which is durable and reliable, but also use Mac sometimes.
Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?
I’m a 3rd Year PhD student on a full time doctorate with a University in the north of the UK. I also teach in the Further Education (tertiary) college sector in the UK, which sees big changes with digital technology beginning to shape its future. Prior to recent policy reports, I had envisaged use of social network platforms to support teaching and learning. The research analyses the data of student use of a situated learning space (Web platform) to understand how students – and teachers - can use these to support independent learning (or not) in a community of inquiry/practice. Much research already focuses on students, so in mine there is also an aspect that evaluates the teacher’s role in these areas. This falls into the remit of Technology Enhanced Learning, as a growing discipline. Evidence in this field is a controversial subject. I believe the use of the word ‘Enhanced’ is a misguided descriptor of the phenomenon, personally!
What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
The prime platform for the research participants is www.edmodo.com; unfortunately, it’s not possible to take data samples from here to Nvivo, so I forsake my use of that until I transcribe my interviews. I used Microsoft Word ‘comments’ for coding, which is unconventional, perhaps, but I suggest anybody use the tools most familiar and adaptable to them. Some people still do paper analysis, which I think is perfectly acceptable.
What does your workspace setup look like?
I work in a study in my house, with a window facing some terraces on the opposite side with limited sunlight, so distractions (except the sound of ducks and dogs) are minimal. My desk resembles my brain: disorganized and untidy, but with everything eventually locatable and within easy reach. I have made good use of the walls for maps of various kinds (themes, codes, chapters, literature, memos, reminders, models – not that sort, but paradigmatic models).
I continually open and close and sort through folders looking for reports. These often remain where they fall until the next tidy-up. I operate in a strangely efficient function within what may appear to be chaos. Constantly I remind myself of the William Blake quote: "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s”. This reassures me that it’ll all be fine.
What is your best advice for productive academic work?
As above, create your own working system: a routine. I drink a lot of coffee from start to finish (usually 8:30 – 4ish) about 4 times a week. Two days I go to teach, so the parameters are absolutely necessary for my discipline and motivation. Set yourself short-term goals to achieve: daily tasks are important. I find just keeping your hand-in at all times helps, so any small break in the norm can be used to join-up, otherwise it can be hard to battle your way back in.
A good walk if you’re struggling (probably alone) to reflect, is always massively helpful to me as thinking time in the study is conflicted with the pressure to achieve something. Usually insights won’t arrive by force, but will present themselves when you’re calm and removed from the context with which you are intensely involved. That goes for me, but scientists probably work best in labs. I would recommend everyone to take time out and have a conscience about this, as feeling a little guilt is a great motivator. Procrastinating too is useful for getting lots of small tasks accomplished.
Lots of stuff here, so my best advice: fresh air and walks to get space from the data and reflect.
How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?
Maps, memos, and notes – here, there and everywhere. Reflecting on the last supervision meeting is paramount too in order to check your progress against the targets set.
Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
iPod – like phone – helps record remote or mobile thoughts. Otherwise no, except the programme in question that the students use.
Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
What do you listen to when you work?
BBC Radio4 is about all I can handle, but not always. Tried music but find it difficult to focus with too much going on.
What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I think this is really important. I try to read a novel every week so I can switch off and ensure that I can concentrate, enjoy reading and complete something. Too many reports or books become unfinished, which makes me feel unsettled generally. I only read in bed, which helps me sleep.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?
I’ve probably become more introverted since I started this PhD; I’ve had some bumps in the road throughout in relationships, which I would partly attribute to the kind of position one sometimes needs to take during a doctorate (long hours of introspection, sensitivity to distraction, periods of self-doubt). It just becomes more important as you go along and the pressure increases, so I have come to incrementally absorb myself – not always unintentionally. I switched off most social media in the past year, because living vicariously is wasteful, passive and unhelpful. This was significant to me as it means I get more from my time, enabling me to really focus on work and freeing up cognitive space. I still have a social life, but sometimes it’s difficult to relate to people after you’ve been doing analytical coding all day because, adversely, I want to talk about it as it helps me reflect on it and process what I’ve been doing in the isolation of the study. This probably all sounds a bit bleak, but you become so involved in the research project and want to succeed and not let anyone down that it can take over somewhat. I’m still able to do and enjoy things, though I have gone through many thresholds and, as I have discovered, you can’t regress through these as that perpetual liminality is part of a learner’s growth. I’m completely aware this all sounds egocentric, but I’ve become more reflective as I’ve become more introverted!
What's your sleep routine like?
It’s certainly been worse in the past. If I don’t achieve much I might fret, but as I said before, usually I read myself to sleep with novels. Often I wake up around 4am, which I heard a Philosopher academic friend say is the prime writing time as the brain is emancipated from the noise of everyday life. I’ve never actually got up and done so, though he regularly does. I started a hashtag for this for anyone prone to this peculiar hour of wakefulness when your brain is so lucid: #4amthinkersclub – just post your thoughts on a Tweet because they are often remarkably absurd. I always wake up at about the same time of the day and just get started without delay, because that morning lethargy makes me prone to apathy. Coffee is usually an imperative.
What's the best advice you ever received?
My Mum telling me at 17 not to drop out of school: “You should always complete things.” I try to apply that generally.