Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Exploring information literacy practices in primary schools: A Pakistani case study - by Syeda Hina Shahid

Information literacy (IL) provides opportunities to those who want to be independent learners. The rapid growth in the availability of information has made it impossible to search relevant information sources without IL skills.

IL has been defined differently by different authors as: a set of skills and abilities, a process, and the adoption of appropriate information behaviour. Research supports introducing students to IL at an early age to make them independent learners while still young. IL literature has focused mostly on high school and university level students. Although there has been much development of IL models at school level, only a few are research based and their emphasis is on school education above the primary level.  There is a lack of local research, or even descriptive studies, at primary school level. Therefore, this study aims to explore IL practices in the primary schools of Lahore, Pakistan.

After considering different research approaches, the qualitative sequential multiple case studies approach was adopted. Data were collected from primary school teachers (interviews), children (focus groups), librarians (interviews).  Related documents (curricula, teacher guides, activity sheets etc.) were also collected. Children were also asked to fill in some sheets (designed or adapted) to measure their IL skills. Initial findings showed that private schools are doing better in terms of basic IL practice. However, in both sectors teachers were unaware of the concept. The analysis of the most recent school practice curriculum showed that IL can be practised mainly in English language and General Knowledge courses at primary level.

This study will propose a research-based IL model for the selected primary schools of Lahore, Pakistan. This baseline study will be a valuable contribution to local knowledge and an overall addition to school sector IL literature. The findings of the PhD will provide directions for  policy makers and identify concerns regarding the development and improvement of IL programs at primary school level in Pakistan.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Experiencing HIV and AIDS information: a phenomenological study of serodiscordant couples in Malawi - by K. Wella

In the absence of an HIV vaccine, information has played a pivotal role in influencing behaviour change in people. The ability to design successful HIV and AIDS information campaigns is highly dependent on knowledge of  people’s information behaviour. Accordingly, there is a need for a clear understanding of the information behaviour of groups of people affected and infected by HIV.  
Serodiscordant couples are couples where only one partner is HIV positive. My PhD project aims to investigate how such couples experience HIV and AIDS information in Malawi.
Data were collected between September and October 2013. Twenty four interviews were conducted in two districts of Malawi and I am currently in the later stages of analysing the transcribed data. I am using Van Manen’s phenomenological approach to help generate descriptions and interpretations of the experiences of HIV and AIDS information. Phenomenology is a research approach that seeks to understand how people experience phenomena.
Although policy makers and practitioners in Malawi are aware that HIV information is an indispensable component of the fight against the HIV pandemic, their focus seems to be more on getting information to the people than on understanding the information related dynamics that drive behavioural change. According to the National AIDS Commission (Malawi), Eighty percent of new HIV infections occur among serodiscordant couples. A better understanding how such couples experience HIV and AIDS information would therefore be of considerable valuable in helping to combat the HIV pandemic.
This study is significant for two main reasons. Firstly, HIV and AIDS have an impact on the development of Malawi and Africa. Therefore, it is important to develop knowledge of how to control their spread. Secondly, to the best of the researcher’s knowledge, there has not been any study of HIV and AIDS related information behaviour conducted in Malawi. This study therefore, contributes not only to our understanding of the information behaviour of serodiscordant couples but also, more generally, to our knowledge and understanding of the information behaviour of people living with HIV.

Emerging results of the study suggest that the life-world is the overarching framework in which HIV and AIDS information is experienced. In addition, the experiencing of HIV and AIDS information is found to occur at four levels: while anticipating, interacting with, acting on, and reflecting on the information. The results of the study also indicate that, at all these levels, HIV and AIDS information is experienced with emotions.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How to write a bad thesis and to spend years of misery doing so

The discussion group took a break in August and I've only just got round to blogging about the July session.  Shame on me!

Duration of a PhD

Elaine Toms volunteered to be interrogated on the subject of theses and began by referring us to an article from the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.  The article "Caught in Thesis Purgatory" described the trials of a Canadian Masters student trapped in a cycle of revisions and rewrites.  The system in Canada is clearly different from the UK, but one thing was clearly the same: writing a thesis usually takes longer than expected.  According to most UK universities, a full-time PhD normally takes three years.  Prof Toms observed that this is very much an exception - a point reinforced by the fact that HEFCE assesses PhD completion rates by the percentage of students who finish within seven years and the percentage who finish within 25 years!

The University Handbook

This offers some generic guidelines about PhD theses, and departmental student handbooks offer more specific guidelines (such as on formatting and thesis length) but these are often out of date and should be verified.  Elaine also gave a reference to an article on How to write consistently boring scientific literature, to aid the surprisingly few academics who aren't naturally gifted in this field.

Doctoral Development Programme

The DDP offers courses to help students develop the skills needed to complete a PhD, and to equip them for the job market.  However, Elaine noted courses should be selected strategically.  Students should not go for "every spice in the cupboard".  Also - although a long list of training is offered, not all courses are available all the time.

Upgrade Report vs Final Thesis

Upgrade reports are now called Confirmation reports. They should answer the questions "Is it likely that the student is good enough?"  "Is the research idea good enough?"

In other words, they should shows promise, which isnot the same as saying that the ideas are fixed and crystallized.  Another question that a confirmation report should answer is "Why is this problem important?".  In answering that question, it show demonstrate a clear understanding of the problem and a grasp of the literature.

Methodology and Methods

Methodology - What is the research philosophy?  How and why were the methods chosen? 
Methods - A good methods chapter is like a recipe -  it should be follow-able.  eg, Why is focus group more appropriate than interviews?  What questions will be asked?
(Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage.)

Research questions

A good research question should be concise, answerable, focussed.  More specifically it should be:

  • Pragmatic, so it can be answered in the time available;
  • Novel (so literature must be well covered in order to demonstrate novelty). 
  • Appliable - Will it help to discover things not already known?  Does it have practical implications?
  • Answerable - Eg, it must be ethical and it should be practical (eg no problems with privacy or security).

Objectives and Research Quetions

A Thesis should have 3-5 aims with a set of RQs for each one.  Answers to RQs should be clearly mapped onto Objectives.

Results and Discussion

Give data in a results chapter and interpretation in the discussion  This allows the reader to draw conclusions, then compare them with the author's.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Post-viva questionnaire - responses from Alexander Schauer (part 2: the viva)

What is the title of your thesis?
Developing a holistic framework of key categories of influences that shape knowledge sharing from an individual perspective.

Can you provide an abstract (for inclusion in this blog)?
Despite a large volume of literature in regards to knowledge sharing, the field has not yet arrived at a consensus as to the key categories of influences, defined at a high level, that shape individuals’ knowledge sharing perceptions. Yet incrementally moving toward consensus is important in order to create a shared understanding (Smylie, 2011, p. 182) so a rigorous debate (Beesley & Cooper, 2008, p. 50) about the phenomenon can occur and guidance for knowledge sharing practices can be created (Wickramasinghe & Widyaratne, 2012, p. 216). In addition, studies to date have either omitted how context can influence key categories or focused on categories within a single context. However exploring contextual differences is important so synergies (West & King 1996) and divergences as well as different knowledge sharing situations can be mapped out (Chow, Deng & Ho, 2000). To explore this, a qualitative case study strategy was executed. Empirical data were gathered from a total of 24 interviewees that were based in four different country branches (i.e. China, the Netherlands, the UK and the US) of a single IT services organisation.

Using constant comparison, findings point towards a holistic framework that depicts four key categories of influences that shape knowledge sharing from an individual perspective. The first key influence revolves around institutions which act as a united entity .The second key influence fundamentally different in nature concentrates on relations between individuals. The third key influence focuses on the individuals themselves (called sharers) and how their attitudes and characteristics can shape their knowledge sharing perceptions. The fourth and final key influence centres on knowledge itself. In addition, findings suggest that the four key influences not only shape knowledge sharing independently but that all four key influences are intertwined and together form a holistic framework. Furthermore, and based on the findings, the institution, sharer and knowledge key categories are not influenced by varying contexts while the relations key category is susceptible to contextual differences.

How long did you spend preparing for your viva?
I’ve been keeping a daily diary since starting my PhD so I can say that I’ve prepared for exactly 76 hours. That may sound a lot but this was over a two months period.

How long did your viva take?
It felt really fast. In fact it was one hour and 45 minutes.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
To be honest no. I’ve listened to Angharad’s advice in a previous blog post and only focused on the most likely questions.

Did the examiners concentrate on any particular section of your thesis? If so, which?
They went through it methodically from page 1 to 199. We discussed the literature review in more detail and then spent most of the time on the methodology chapter. Surprisingly we had a good 30 minute discussion on philosophy (i.e. epistemology, ontology and rhetoric) and how I viewed it versus my supervisors versus my interviewees. The findings chapter was covered with a single question and the discussion and conclusion with another couple.

Can you describe any part of your viva where you were pleased with your performance?
The first question, where I was asked on why I was interested in this topic.

What was it you did that pleased you?
I was prepared for this question so I gave both a pragmatic and theoretical answer. For the latter I reiterated key statements of authors and their respective years they said that. This demonstrated that I could reiterate specific authors and their key messages and I think that set a good tone for the rest of the viva.

Can you describe any part of your viva where you were dissatisfied with your performance?
I couldn't recall my interview guide and the questions I asked within it. That made me look a bit silly.

Please give an example of a question that you found hard.
I managed to weave my way through most of the philosophical questions but for that one I had to have a good think: You write that you've taken on an interpretive epistemological world view yet your analysis points towards a post-positivist one. Would you say that you've given your interviewees an interpretive world view but yourself a more post-positivist one?

Why was it hard?
Because I had to convince my examiners that I had in fact taken on an interpretive worldview. In the end though they were satisfied with my answer.

What was the outcome of your viva?
Passed subject to minor corrections.

Please give some examples of the sort of corrections you need to make (if any).
This is the list I’ve received:
- Literature sub headings: These need to be changed from author to the topic of their research
- Methodology: Please add more detail around how you selected the organisations (stock market, 1000 employees etc), selected the employees and the potential bias in this method. Please also specify that you always intended to select one company and the reasoning behind this. Please add the timelines between interviews and the process you went through in between.
- Section 4.5 - please add a few more pages to this section where you present the (holistic) framework (to include a graphic representation).
- Limitations: Please add further detail to show to the reader that you are referring to the literature review and not the documentation within the organisations.
- Please go through all the tables in the thesis and re-work them so they don't have vast areas with blank space e.g. by removing sharer this would remove the vast blank area. Then sharer could be put in the caption.
- Consider giving the reader an idea of the scale/effort involved in the analysis e.g. by mentioning the number of codes (concepts/categories) that led to the 4 key categories.

Do you have any tips for looking and feeling confident in front of the examiners?
When I met them I both gave them a solid handshake and smile. Once settled I kept an open body language. I memorised the most important authors and years they published that piece of work in question to illustrate I can not only discuss my own thesis but also that of other authors.

Can you think of any good advice that you would give to students who are preparing for their viva?
I did the following and it worked for me:
1.       I watched the videos relating to vivas on the Virtual Graduate School and wrote down any potential questions they covered
2.       I went to a seminar called ‘preparing for viva’ and wrote down any potential questions covered there
3.       Then I read through my thesis answering the questions obtained in Steps 1 and 2. At the same time I highlighted terms I’ve used and should be able to define and give examples of e.g. knowledge management, knowledge sharing, axiology, validity, reliability. Simultaneously, I highlighted important authors that have shaped my thesis and memorised their key statements, name of the authors and year the document was published
4.       Following this I researched the examiners, their background, study focus and articles related to my thesis
5.       The day before the viva I skim read my thesis again and revised the potential questions and my answers
My list of potential questions can be found here (no guarantee given that they will be asked of course by your examiners).

After the viva
Me being me I had a 15 minute lunch, then five minute discussion with my supervisors and then went to the Information Common (library) for 3.5 hours to video and audio record a PowerPoint presentation of my thesis (part 1 and part 2).

Then I went for a four day holiday to celebrate the outcome.

Post viva questionnaire - responses from Alex Schauer (pt 1 - Viva preparation and potential questions)

"Hi Andrew,

Having been a keen reader of the previous post viva questionnaires on your blog-post, I’ve decided to return something to the community by adding my own...."

Alex Schauer emailed me a couple of weeks ago after he successfully defended his thesis and kindly provided some inputs based on his experiences of defending his thesis.  The delay in posting them is entirely my fault!  Apologies Alex, and congratulations once again.

Viva preparation and potential questionsBackground

  • To test the candidate's knowledge of his/her research and subject area;
  • To allow examiners to clarify any queries that may have arisen when reading the dissertation
  • To judge whether the candidate has developed research skills appropriate to doctoral level
  • To give the candidate the opportunity to defend their dissertation in person
  • To establish whether candidates fully understands the implications of their work
  • To test if the thesis in whole/parts can be published

Key purposes of the Viva (usually set out in University regulations) include:

During the viva

This is mainly taken from a podcast by Tara Brabazon:
  • Breathe, speak slowly, concentrate, drink water.
  • Most importantly, listen to the opening remarks in the Viva because they can give you clear insights into what that examiners feel about your thesis.
  • Listen to the real question (don't turn it into a question you want to hear).
  • Consider writing down the question, so you don’t forget it and it gives you time to think.
  • Pause before answering the question (5-20 sec is OK).  Breathe, smile, look at the examiners, and consider your answer.
  • If done appropriately, admitting weaknesses can show that you’re able to critique your piece of work and thus be a good academic.
  • Re-phrase your answers with an emphasis on the word "focus" rather than "weakness"
  • Formatting your answer: intro, body, conclusion picking up on question
  • The written thesis should act as the foundation and source of your oral answers (Murray, 2003, page 89) so you should have it to hand and look for your answers ‘therein’.
  • Don't think of your thesis as earth shattering; rather you might lay claim to a ‘fresh approach’ or a 'new perspective'.
  • Think about your viva as a first experience in engaging with the academic community and locating your ideas amongst this community
  • Don’t say ‘Well I’ve written that’ as examiners can’t read everything.
  • Ask for a break if needed (5 min).
  • If anything weird happens, log it!  Occasionally examiners do strange or unfair things.  A record can help you to defend yourself if necessary.

Potential questions


What made you do this piece of research?
Why did you choose this topic?
Why did this topic interest you?
What drew you to this study?
Why this topic?
What led you to this particular study?
Why do think it is important?
What surprised you most in doing this study?
Tell us about your thesis, tell us about what you have done here.
Please could you summarise your thesis?
How would you explain to someone not involved in academia what your thesis is about?
Is there anything that you wish you could added or delete from your thesis?
Is there anything in it that you wish to comment on?
Have you enjoyed your PhD?
Has the thesis contributed to your professional life in any way?
What would you say has been an important learning experience for you in undertaking this work?
What did you learn from doing it?
Would you do anything differently next time?
Can you give one example of your thesis contribution to the development of knowledge and understanding in this area?
What original contribution to knowledge do you feel that you have made?
If  somebody from this field read your thesis, what would they learn that they don’t already know?
What does your study propose that is different from other studies in this area?
What is your own position (professional or personal) in relation to this field and these research questions?
What is your positionality in relation to the research project?
What prior conceptions and / or experiences did you bring to this study?
How did your own position/ background/ bias affect your data collection and your data analysis?
What are the main findings of your research?
Tell me what you think the most important findings are from your particular study?
Which elements of your work do you feel are worthy of publication and/or presentation at a conference?
What plans do you have for publication and dissemination?
Have you been thinking about publishing any of your PhD? if yes which parts?
Has any of the work been published or presented already?
Is there any reason why you haven’t published a paper yet?
What implications do you think your study has got for future research practice policy?
What is your hypothesis?
Why was your research worth three years of study?

Theories And Theoretical Frameworks

Please talk us through the main research questions that you were trying to address in your work. What was the origin of these questions?
What theories/ theoretical frameworks/ perspectives have you drawn upon in your research?
Which theories did your study illuminate, if any?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Vivas - examiners' perspectives

Back in May, we drew up a list of questions to be put to Professor Elaine Toms when she attended the discussion group in June.  By a stroke of good fortune, the iSchool was being visited by Professor Wildemuth, Associate Dean of the iSchool at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  She was able to bring another perspective to the questions

What training is available at the iSchool to help students prepare for their vivas?
Currently the iSchool does not offer formal training, though  there have been discussions about introducing more formal training.

How does an upgrade viva compare with a PhD viva?
The two are very similar and both provide an opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of their chosen research topic.

Candidates should provide evidence of systematic study, and.should satisfy examiners that they have made an addition to knowledge.  This is important at both upgrade and PhD level.  

What sort of scene setting is there at the start of a viva?
Both Elaine and Barbara agreed that it was important for students to set the scene by giving the background to their research.  In some places this is done through a formal presentation, though this is not general practice in Sheffield.

To help with scene setting candidates were recommended to take a well labelled copy of the thesis so that they could quickly and easily find parts they wished to refer to.

How long should a viva last?
Recent experiences from Angharad Roberts, Joanne Bates, Rita Wan-chik and Robinah Namuleme all took around two hours, but all of these were relatively trouble free.  If there are serious issues, vivas may last longer.

Who sits on a viva panel? What are their roles?
A PhD viva has an external and an internal examiner on the panel.  Both are vetted by the university.  A key part of their job is to make sure the student is comfortable: they are not there to catch him/her out.  The two examiners should reach agreement, but it is the job of the internal examiner to ensure that university rules are followed.  The supervisor may sit on the panel but should not say anything

An upgrade viva also has a chairman to keep the process on track and to ensure that the student’s knowledge has been properly tested.

What are the possible outcomes of a viva?
PhD viva - Possible results are:
  • No amendments (rare);
  • Minor amendments, no resubmission needed - 3 months;
  • Resubmission without viva - 12 months;
  • Resubmission with viva - 12 months;
  • Re-examination without amendment to the thesis (very rare - only where the thesis is AOK but the performance at viva was unsatisfactory.);
  • Award of MPhil without amendments or re-examination (very rare);
  • Degree not awarded - re-submit for MPhil with/without re-examination;
  • Degree not awarded.
Upgrade viva - Possible results are :
  • Confirmation of PhD status
  • Deferral (6 months to resubmit)
  • 2nd attempt (pass / fail)
How often do people fail their viva?  What sort of things cause them to fail?
Very rarely.  Failure may be for the following reasons:
  • Poor time management
  • Not taking advice from supervisor
  • Not enough evidence of reading
  • Poor organisation of information (eg, bibliography).
Can you give an example of something that impressed you in a viva?
  • Clearly expressed research questions, well explored.
  • Enthusiams
Elaine and Barbara suggested some questions to prepare for:
  • What is your hypothesis?
  • You say your main finding was X.  So what?
  • Why was your research worth the money?
  • Why didn’t you use a particular research method? (Often the examiner's favourite method!)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Ask an expert

Discussions for May and June will be on the subject of vivas and upgrade reports / theses.  In preparation therefore, we gave some thought to the questions we would like to discuss.


  1. What training is available at the iSchool to help students prepare for their vivas?
  2. How does an upgrade viva compare with a PhD viva?
  3. What sort of scene setting is there at the start of a viva?
  4. How long should a viva last?
  5. Who sits on a viva panel?
  6. What are their roles?
  7. What are the possible outcomes of a viva?
  8. How often do people fail their viva?
  9. What sort of things cause students to fail?
  10. What preparation do you look for? 
  11. Can you give an example of something that impressed you in a viva?


  1. What guidelines are available for upgrade reports and theses?
  2. Where are they?
  3. What is the process for upgrades?
  4. What is required in a Doctoral Development Programme portfolio?
  5. How is a transfer report assessed?
  6. What are the possible outcomes?
  7. What is the difference between a transfer report and a thesis?
  8. How long should a thesis be?
  9. What makes a good thesis?
  10. What makes a good Methods chapter?
  11. What difference does it make if a student has already published from her/his thesis?
  12. Can you suggest anything that all disciplines would look for in a thesis?