Posted by: llordllama | 11 April, 2014

An Amazing Couple of Weeks


I fooled you with that title.  Actually it’s been a bit of a drag here at Llama Towers as I’ve been suffering under the yoke of some form of sinus-muscular-exhaustion bug which means most days I’ve been just wanting to crawl back into bed as soon as I got up.  All the same I have made myself work most of the time (this Monday was an exception – Mrs Llama marched me to bed when she came in and found me slumped over my papers at the dinner table, early afternoon).

I’ve been working on two thesis chapters – one on the history/background of Open Access in the UK, which is going to be a struggle to boil down to 10k words and include all the runners, riders and key events.  Likewise the other chapter which is an analysis of my scoping interviews – and thus the peak of the past 3 months of work.

One day's printing of results...

One day’s printing of results…

I’ve also been prepping for two conferences, UKSG which I’m at next week as a sponsored student (huzzah) and OER14 a few weeks after where I’m giving a short paper*.  A lightening paper if you read some of the website, but I’m fairly sure it’s a lightning one…otherwise I may need to slim down more.  I wasn’t supposed to be doing much at UKSG other than graciously thanking my hosts for having me, but I’ve managed to get myself roped into a panel.  And possibly an editorial.  Eep.

Ah well, so much for sweet anonymity!

* yes there is a typo in that title – I’ve asked someone to fix it…

Posted by: llordllama | 31 March, 2014

Halfway up the Stair


This week represents a pretty momentous moment in my PhD life.  I’m officially halfway through my funding at the end of this week, and while I do have a year beyond that to submit I’ll be needing to find paid employment to support myself through it.  Hard to believe it, but it’s been 18 months I’ve been working on this whole thing…and come to think of it, 18 months since I had an actual holiday too.  *sigh* Going to be a lot longer before I get a proper break; staycations don’t really count since I live and work from home in front of a PC most days…and in my spare time I live and work at home and play games on my PC (Witcher 2 at the moment, to be followed by Max Payne 3 after that – thank you Steam sale!).

No Robin, I said halfway up!

Anyway today I cracked out my notes to start work on a chapter of my thesis looking at the development of open access in the UK.  I started on the background reading to this way before Xmas, but it’s been sidelined since then with the more pressing concerns of interview analysis.  Halfway through the morning I realised that I need to update the small time-line of events I started more than a year ago.  Thinking this shouldn’t take too long I set out to update it…and around 5hrs later finished.  I think that’s a recurring theme of a PhD, all these small tasks that seem like they’ll take next to no time to complete, turn out to take far longer than you expect.  I know the same’s true in a job, but in a PhD you’re essentially working for yourself, so the motivation to avoid being slapdash or doing a half-arsed job is much more prevalent.

Not of course that I was ever slapdash in my former professional life, and my no :)

Ended up stopping around downstairs ranting about some of my thoughts on OA and my insights to poor old Mrs Llama who had only stopped to ask me if I wanted a cup of tea.  I suspect she won’t be too sorry to go back to work in the near future, if only to give her ears a rest.


This week I’m trying to alternate what I do each day, rather than blitzing a single task.  Hopefully this will make for a more engaging week for my brain!  Today I’m working on my data analysis, a spot of cleaning up and a bit of category merging.  As it emerged (ho ho) I also had to reclassify a few bits as well.  And then I got to generate some very nice graphical images which will guide my thesis chapter writing on this bit.  And will also shape the next round of interviews once I’ve got this written up (hopefully by Easter).  Finished off the day writing half the slides for this week’s seminar on globalisation.  Not that sure of this topic, and confess that the phraseology used by the lecturer this week in his notes aren’t quite as clear as normal.  I can see I’ll be doing a chunk of background reading tomorrow in my “spare” time to bring myself up to date sufficiently to answer the student’s questions on the topic.

In some ways, not too sorry that it’s the spring break after this for a couple of weeks (not that I’ll be stopping work, but at least no seminars!).

Oh and in other news Mrs Llama and I won our first competition (we’ve gone in for…erm, quite a few lately) so a victory lap of Llama Towers was held.


In for the lecture on globalisation, and for printing off some of my tree maps of my data – in glorious A3 colour.  Lecture was very interesting, and thankfully I think I can engage the students’ interest in the subject tomorrow.  That said going on their faces in the lecture, a lot of them are still wondering quite how it relates to media.  Had a meeting after this of the College Research Degrees Committee.  Not a lot of laughs, and as I was the only rep there kinda felt a bit abandoned by my fellows.  Still, raised the issues of concerns about the library and training courses that people wanted flagged up.  By the time I’d done this, the will to do much more had faded away, but I forced myself to go through the seminar preparation notes and draw up my plan for the next day.


Spent the morning doing a bit of data tweaking in NVivo, after thinking that I ought to subdivide my data more by university grouping.  This meant that I had to go find the information on that and plug it into the software.  Not thrilling but I think it’ll make the data set more relevant.

Seminars went okay, though I had an errant student from another seminar group who was (to put it mildly) a whole different kettle of fish to my regular students.  Still, I guess I’ve said before I’d rather the students spoke up more; so i guess it was a case of be careful what you wish for.


As Mother Llama was coming for the weekend I had a bit of a truncated day of work, fiddling with data.  Continuing the theme of this week felt like I made very little concrete progress, but at least some progress was made.  I’ll polish this bit off next week though, and get cracking on the writing and data reviewing.  Since my students are away for the next couple of weeks it’ll give me a bit of uninterrupted time.

Ah well, only 18 funded months left now…all downhill from here (eep!)

Posted by: llordllama | 21 March, 2014

Facing up to Facebook


Me, trying to study

Me, trying to study

A day when I felt like getting out of bed was a mistake.  Not an exhausted feel for once, but more a feeling of intense sleepiness.  The call of the bed chamber wasn’t helped by it being the first day in ages I had to sit down and make plans again about what to do next.  Work on the analysis of my data now it’s all coded.  Work out how to actually do that in NVivo.  Worry about all the papers and books I’ve got on my pending reading pile.  Think about the conference talks I’ve got to give in the coming months.  And of course get going on a couple of thesis chapters.

Not what could be called the most practical or awe-inspiring days of achievements, but I did at least manage to get myself sorted with a plan of action.


A day of reading papers and news publications.  Interesting in part, baffling in others and hard going in a few places.  Rather been out of the loop on reading for a couple of months so need to start squeezing some more back into my timetable I think.  Hopefully once term ends next week and I get my whole week back for research I’ll be able to plough ahead at a faster rate.


Class today focussing on the political and social ramification of social networks, taking Facebook as its exemplar.  Not helped by the lecture room being relocated at the last minute, and since I don’t get the student emails or notifications I was left with the stragglers to arrive a little late.  Not the greatest lecture I’ve sat through (a bit disjointed in central narrative) but an interesting topic: the societal and political ramifications of social networks (n.b. Facebook).  Think I’ll be able to talk to the students about it tomorrow, as I can see from some of their faces looks of confusion.  Back home after this to prepare the seminar and read some more papers.  I confess I did end up in the study-bed at the end of the afternoon reading papers (our house is always cold, and on fasting days I nearly freeze) but it was surprisingly productive.  Unlike Monday, I wasn’t fighting the desire to sleep the whole time!


Reading and note taking on various papers and news articles in the morning, and then what looked like being the lamest of the seminar series.  Since all the time (bar a lecture recap) was given over to group work time I wasn’t surprised half the students didn’t turn up.  Hopefully those that did, got something out of my suggested directions for their work.  Or maybe I horribly confused them; we’ll find out in mid-April when the deadline hits.  Also struck me how much I’m going to miss my students after this course ends.  Unlike a lot of the tutors I won’t be teaching them again (well, not unless NTU extends my contract and teaching remit – hint hint), and I’ve grown really fond of them, watching them develop.  I’ve never had that opportunity in the past as a librarian, as all the lectures I gave were one offs.  Here, I’ve been able to see how you can develop scholastic relationships with the students, and get to know their strengths and weaknesses, not to mention what works and what doesn’t in terms of educational praxis.

Came home, and managed to grab a very productive final hour of the day reading a few more papers.




A day that began with mutterings about the lack of NVivo training NTU makes available, and which ended with a moment of revelation as I figured out how to run some analysis tools on it.  In between I was cleaning up data, working out how to configure source classifications (more straightforward than I first thought), and then adding more context to my data.  I will confess that the moment I suddenly got a graphical representation of my data out of NVivo was rather like looking into the face of God for a moment – there’s a lot of thinking ahead, but suddenly all the months of interviewing, transcribing and coding have yielded something concrete and impressive looking.  Now I just have to add scholarly context and start writing about it next week.

A really, really good end to the week.

Posted by: llordllama | 14 March, 2014

A Blur of Activity

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last did a post, as I’ve been a bit run down of late so I’ve let this slide.  However, that’s not to say exciting things haven’t been happening – so here they are in brief.

  • Work: Coding. Coding. More coding.  Teaching prep. Teaching. Marking oversight.
  • Meeting: Had a meeting with my second supervisor (first time in about 5 months as he’s been on research leave). Very useful and positive discussions.
  • Teaching: Carrying on with my seminar teaching, which continue to be the true highlights of my week.  Both classes have managed to make me genuinely smile (and even laugh) with their insights – they’re definitely all getting a whole lot better at their studies.
  • Mrs Llama: Mrs Llama finally got a proper job again, which starts in April.  Which means we can stop eating gruel for every meal (slight, but not that slight, joke).
  • UKSG: I won a conference award to attend the UKSG conference next month.  I’m overjoyed, as it is far, far too expensive to attend.  And not a little smug that I’ll be using money from academic publishers.  Going to be a great conference, where I’ll be a man on a mission to make some cross-sector contacts.
  • Excitement: I’ve also been approached about something very exciting professionally, but it’s not set in stone yet so I can’t talk about it in public yet (he said mysteriously).  Even if it doesn’t come to pass, it’s deeply flattering to have been approached about it.
  • FAIL: I tried to attend a webinar and an afternoon event, but thanks to technical issues with the first and feeling dog-rough for the other I didn’t. Damn. Although I did get to see my BFF as part of my attempts to attend, so it wasn’t a totally loss.
  • Finalé: And most importantly today I finally finished coding all my interviews.  It has been a long, and painful, slog but this phase is at least done.  Of course now I have to make sense of the results, but I’ll worry about that next week.

Next week…I have to start serious thinking again. And, oh yes, catch up on a pile of reading!

Posted by: llordllama | 28 February, 2014

Getting Ready to Rumble


For a change this week’s title has nothing behind it (aside from the fact I’m writing this on a fasting day and I can hear my stomach crying out for sustenance).  Spent a couple of hours dealing with the administrative stuff around the student coursework I’ve marked.  Must remember to take the ones due for moderation in on Wednesday so they can get double marked.

And other than that…a day spent glaring at a PC screen coding.  A bit more a struggle today than I’d hoped.


Coding most of the day (35 down, 47 to go) aside from, discovering that in a couple of weeks we’ve got a student feedback thing to run in class which will take up 1/3 of the tutorial time.  If I hadn’t already complained bitterly about the ongoing neo-Taylorisation of higher education in one of my thesis chapters…well I think I might have found a way to work it in.  Yes, useful for the students to do it, but it means they lose out on a big chunk of their teaching.  I get paid the same mind you, so perhaps I should just shut up and take the money.  Seems that what most academics do.  *sigh*

Since Mrs Llama’s PC has all but died I’ve been popping into her room on and off throughout the day upgrading it to a new version of windows.  Must say it is now working like a charm, although had a bit of an issue at one point when the auxiliary HDD refused to engage.  All sorted now. 


Lecture day, and today Wikipedia was in the spotlight.  Amused to see the reactions from the students in front of me who thought this was clearly going to be a waste of their time.  One of them started playing Tetris (or at least an interesting variant that distracted me for a few minutes over his shoulder).  The lecture was actually looking at Wikipedia as a model of social production and collaboration, not to mention exploring how Wikipedia manages its contributors.  We’ll be debating some of the issues around peer production tomorrow in the seminar, so I’m glad to see that it’s another topic I know a bit more about.  Hopefully we’ll have more of a turnout this week than last!

Back home for an afternoon split between seminar preparations and then after 4pm some more coding.  Wading through a long interview (2nd longest) took most of that time!


A morning coding, and then off to run this week’s Wikipedia and social production seminar.  Once again the students got to watch a TED video (from the steam ages…okay, 2005) and then discuss it.  Think it got a bit heavy weight later on in the seminar once we got into thoughts about economic theories and alternatives to capitalism.  Not sure that was really their bag (baby).  Was amused in one of my groups when two students got into a spirited discussion on the point “Professionals produce quality, amateurs don’t” – pro and anti the idea.  First time this year I could sit back on the sidelines and let them have the debate without me having to get my oar in.  More like that, yes please!

For interest – here’s the aforementioned video


Coding. Lots of it.  I now only have 34 interviews left to code (or only 42% of the total pages of text).  Still a hell of a lot, but I’m more than half way now.

Thankfully.  Next week I have to go to the University of Sussex for a conference one of the days, so that’ll be a nice break in the routine – even if it does mean I miss the weekly lecture.

Posted by: llordllama | 22 February, 2014

Two Steps Forward…


Final tweaks to code, and finalising all the definitions in my codebook.  At this rate I should be working at Bletchly Park soon.


Crack open the champagne and call me mother, for I have worked out how to create multi-level classifications in NVivo.  Only took me about 15 minutes of scanning through various websites to find out how, and it’s surprisingly simple.  As I suspected it might be, but it’s not that obvious.  So spent the day happily building my classification scheme in it, and after a few minor tweaks its good to go, and I can start coding.  Feels like a big step forward after three weeks of head scratching.

Useful pages today – this handy intro to NVivo from Durham University (NTU, where’s your version eh? Poor show) and the right page in the NVivo help pages.

To be honest I’ve even felt like reading some more social theory rather than crack on with this analysis at times – so you can tell how desperate that’s been making me!  Only downside is in backing up my files today, I’m now using nearly 70% of my online uni file store.  Time to lobby the IT people for more space on NOW I think.

And in other news they’ve announced NTU’s got a new Chancellor from this summer.  Which is a shame as Sir Michael Parkinson is the current one, so I won’t see him when I graduate.


A morning fiddling with code, and then in for a foreshortened lecture as the students had their second class test.  Which I’ll have to mark for both my seminar groups.  Gah.  Hope it’s easier than marking the first round!  Lecture was on the social/semantic web (2.0) and was another interesting one.  I least I feel more confident around this topic, which should make for an engaging seminar tomorrow.  Not enough time (or will from the students) for the video on the dark side of the social web that the tutor had suggested they watch.  So here it is for interest.

Back home for a spot of coding, and sorting out the seminar materials for tomorrow.


A morning coding (and trying to figure out how classifications work in NVivo), and then a drive to Uni to run my two back to back seminars.  This week we were looking at social media, and I had a couple of videos for the students to watch.  The first I have to say I found myself, and thought it was actually a pretty good bit of political social media use, well done Labour, really grabbed the zeitgeist (these things have been clogging my Fb channel the past couple of weeks).

The second, which I made them watch and discuss is the counterpoint to the previous video – a more “Gee whizz, the future is social”.  Featuring a speaker who speaks faster than I do…which is pretty shocking!

New group were fun, a bit more talkative than the others, perhaps a bit too much…not 100% sure how much serious work was being done during the session at times, but eh, they get out of it as much as they’re prepared to put in.  And there were some fine points made by a lot of the class, so some of them were engaging.  My original group were quite good with the topic too, suspect this speaks to them a bit more than the earlier parts of the course.

Did end up explaining to one student how Fb makes money using an analogy involving a lot of hand waving and contrasts with traditional entrepreneurialism.

Came home after this, did some admin, then ran out of energy (lousy night’s sleep) – hopefully tomorrow will be more productive.


Baby steps coding for real today, having decided that my scheme is close enough to pilot for real with a few interviews.  I also glanced at the exam scripts I’ve got to mark, and decided I’ll leave them until next week or perhaps the week after.  I at least want to get the coding well underway before I sidestep to another task.

Monday & Tuesday (2)

Yes it’s another two-for blog entry – mainly cos there’s not that much exciting happening at the moment.  These two days – spent coding interviews with NVivo. 20 down, 61 to go.  Unexpected highlight on Tuesday, a visit from my favourite uncle who was passing through on the way to a job (he’s in building control, a role that takes him all around the world – and today, Loughborough!).

Oh, and I saw The Lego Movie on Monday night…which means:

Wednesday (2)

Mrs Llama spotted a conference bursary last night with a tight deadline, so I’ve been writing the application for that today.  Not sure I’ll get it, but it would be fab if I did as I’d dearly like to get out to a few conferences this year, and right now I can’t afford it!  Also had to get my supervisor on board to write a reference for it, trickier than it sounds but he came through magnificently despite being horribly busy.

The other event of the day was the weekly lecture, this week on digital media literacy.  Well I didn’t anticipate learning a lot, having taught this subject myself for well over a decade in some of the top universities in the country with my academic librarian hat on.  So I spent a lot of the time tweeting about it and having some engaging discussions with my fellow twitterati on the topic.  Most illuminating.  At the end of the session mind you the lecturer (my supervisor) said he thought I should teach the session next year.  And more to the point run a training session for the department/school on the subject.  Eeep.  Wonder if I can get them to pay me for that?

And then to cap it all passed the Dean on the way off campus who greeted me by name.  Guess I’ll chalk today up in the success column!

Thursday (2)

Double seminar day, and for a laugh today I’ll try and run hour long sessions teaching as many websites as I’d have taught over about a 4hrs session as a librarian, so I hope the students will get something out of it.  If I am still teaching this next year, this seminar is getting seriously rewritten by me!  But first coding…

[Later] Well it wasn’t a total flop, although being stuck in a strange computer room through a locked outer door didn’t make for the most accessible of locations.  Certainly it seemed to put off about half the class – can’t say that I blame them.  Did have a good chat with a number of students about various resources and the like, so I guess it was okay.  One of them even told me how much they enjoyed the debate a few weeks ago, which was great – as that was my personal favourite session too.  Wish we had more debating sessions and less “read the paper and think” ones which just kill any attempt to teach I think.

Friday (2)

Today I intend to mark as many of the student’s class test (2) papers as possible.  Come with me on the adventure…

  • 9.20am: Sitting down at the dining table.  Wait!  I need a cup of tea.
  • 9.40am: Right, 46 students in my class and 9 of them haven’t bothered to sit the test.  Fair enough, no marks for them,  Only 37 to go!
  • 10:10am: This seems easier than the first time, as I’ve more of an idea of what I expect from the students – certainly in terms of a good and not so good set of answers.  It’s telling the differences between those in the middle range of the marks that’s more of a challenge.
  • 11.30am: Have marked about 5 papers.  Had a bit of a panic when I couldn’t find one of them that I knew I’d glanced at when I first picked them up.  After ten minutes tidying realise it’s because he’s used a variant of his name and I missed it.  Phew.
  • 1.03pm: Better stop and make some lunch, think I’m half way through…*counts* Gah, no not quite halfway.  I thought marking my old seminar group would be easier as I’m used to their handwriting and style more. Ha.
  • 2.30pm: Force myself to start up again, and vow not to leave this spot til it’s all done.  I mean, how hard can this be?
  • 4.15pm: How did it get to be this late?  I’m well into the second group of marking now, but it’s still taking at least 15 minutes a paper.  And longer where the writing (hand or style) is harder to understand.  Still writing constructive feedback but think some of my margin notes have acquired a more sardonic colour now.
  • 5.05pm: Feeling dedicated now, as normally I have an early night on a Friday and stop working at 5pm, but there are still 10 papers to mark.  Really don’t want this to eat into my research time on Monday so carrying on, although I’m aware I need to do the weekly shop after this.
  • 6.05pm: Start laughing manically at a blooper by a student.  Or is that maniacally? Oh my stars and fishes.  Takes me nearly 5 minutes to stop laughing and write something sensible back on their paper.  Oh dear, I’m beginning to think I won’t do them all today.
  • 6.20pm: Glancing up I see it’s gone dark outside.  Where did the day go?
  • 6.55pm: Two more.  Just two more to go, but I’ve managed to leave a couple with a lot of text to read through. Gah!
  • 7.20pm: Have I finished?  Re-reading the last paper to make sure I’ve been fair on the marking, not too generous, not too mean.  Quick flick back over some of the earlier papers to make sure I’ve been marking consistently.
  • 7.35pm: Finished!  Finally.  That has been one hell of a long day.  Wish I got paid for this bit of the job, but no – marking is a freebie the university gets out of me.  Thankfully I’m only doing it three times this year though.  Really pleased to see the improvement from the students as well, they’re really growing as scholars.  Wish I could claim that was down to me and my teaching!
  • 8.10pm: Walking round Asda and finding my brain is still considering some of the student answers.  Gah, turn off brain I need to work out what’s the cheapest deal on these tomatoes.  Not to mention Mrs Llama is getting pretty sick of me talking about marking…
Posted by: llordllama | 7 February, 2014

Self-Arguement and Self-Doubt


On campus all day to work through my coding frame and write the outline description for the categories   Sounds a light and fluffy task, but in fact I’ve spent the day agonizing over decisions and thinking through the logic of the framework at every twist and turn.  The result at the end of the day is a tool that is a whole lot more sophisticated that the original draft of last Monday, and bears only evolutionary traces of the rough notes I made two weeks ago after the first read through.

Of course I’ve also spent the day trying to second guess myself, and running into great big walls of self-doubt over the structure as well.  Probably good for me to be this skeptical about my approach, but it would be nice, just once in a while, to run into some great oceans of positivity and self-confidence!

Anyway, it’s way past 6pm now and I ought to think about finding my car and driving the 30 minutes or so home.  If the traffic has calmed down enough for me to escape, and if I can stay awake long enough!


A bit more positive today as I worked through some more interviews with my coding frame.  Pleased that increasingly I’m making smaller structural changes, and more subtle refinements; along with merging some categories that are clearly coding for the same thing.  Need to remind myself that in a way I’m in the pilot phase with this, and that it’s always going to be a grind – but it will make the final coding much easier.  Did have a chat with Mrs Llama over one aspect and she made a very insightful comment about something I’d overlooked.  It’s all too easy to get too close to this I suspect, so I shall; have to pick her brains again later in the week!


No prizes for guessing, but yet another coding development day.  A tweak here, a test there, and then a couple of hours writing up more detailed descriptions of the thumbnail; notes I’ve got for each category.  As it was this was useful as I refined a couple of my main nodes quite nicely.  Beginning to think that my target of having a semi-final coding structure by Friday is now realistically achievable.  Which then means I only have to learn how to us NVivo and I can be away coding.  I also want to get back to thesis writing as well, so I plan to alternate that with the coding so I can get both things developed at once.

Busy? Hah!  Lord yes.


Coding. Revising framework. Writing code descriptions.

Also baked a cake.


Just like yesterday. Except no cake.  Think I am just about ready to really pilot this framework from Monday…but I need a morning going through the descriptions with a fine toothed comb first.  Think I might be seeing the light at the end of this particular tunnel.  Or I could be utterly wrong (hope not).

Hope I don’t get blown away over the weekend…

Posted by: llordllama | 31 January, 2014

Noodling about Nodes


My private office

My private office

Today I went to work on campus again in what turned out to be my own private office for a large chunk of the day.  Thank you NTU library.  Sadly around 2pm another (quiet) student came in, and then another (very noisy one), so the office went downhill from that point onward.  All the same though, it is nice to have a space I don’t have to fight undergrads off for and I’m very surprised more people don’t use it.

Maybe I’d better not advertise it too much!

Spent half the day sorting through my draft tags for the transcripts and trying to get them into some sort of cognitive order.  Wrote half the seminar for Thursday as well, just need to do the introductory slides on Weds after the lecture.  Suspect my students won’t have a lot of laughs with this one (it’s a discussion) but they will learn something!  I also discovered while I was on campus, and thanks to the helpful ITS people, that not only do we students have access to NVivo software, but that I can install it on my home PC.  Which I duly did when I got home late afternoon.  And then stared at it for a while.

Okay, I think I’m going to have to seek out a few tutorials on this to really get to grips with it.  I did glance at how much the training workshops were – but sadly I don’t have £400 just lying around, and as far as I can tell the university doesn’t offer anything in the way of training either.  Oh if only the RTP last year had included a 2hr session on this, rather than wasting time getting us to draw posters and colour in pictures of “the ideal researcher”.  In the meantime, at least I’ve found the first video to watch on the subject – I just need to go track down a few more now.


More coding, more notelets, more thinking.  Not to mention keeping myself awake in the middle of the night worrying about coding and how I’m ever going to get it done to a level I’ll be satisfied with (let alone my supervisors).  Gah, yesterday I was looking forward to getting into this – today I’m finding the stress is getting in the way way of the thinking.  Not fun.  Going to be glad to be out of the house tomorrow for a change of pace.


Went in first thing to campus to do some work and print some things off, and then went to this week’s media studies lecture – on The Internet.  I’ve heard of that, and I think it’s going to be really big someday!  An especial treat as it was my supervisor who was giving the lecture, so it was nice to see him in action.  I’ve seen him doing seminars, and I really like his laid back lecturing style.  Wish I could be like that rather than a llama on a hot tin roof.

Went home after this and did  some more coding work, even if my concentration levels were less than stellar I’ll confess.  I don’t like the winter months as I feel wiped out all the time.  Roll on spring and some sunlight!



In other news I baked a cake in the evening. Tasty!


A morning spent working on coding (not much progress made), a few hours seminaring and then trying to write a book review in the late afternoon.  All while it snows/rains and is basically horrible outside.

Without a doubt the seminar was this week’s highlight, which is a real turn up for the books.  Started with only 6 students in the class due to traffic and it being cold and scary with wolves on the road (I assume) so most of the rest didn’t show.  We had a debate about technological and social determinism and British society in the wake of the Internet.  And my students, bless them, contributed nicely.  They even made me laugh and smile with some of their insights, which was great – nice to feel I’m getting some insight into their views and thoughts as I’m sure they’re sick to death with my anecdotes at times.

That said I did manage to work in the image of Mrs Llama and I in bed reading our tablets as an example of (arguable) technologically determined behavior.  Came out with a real glow after that session because it felt like they’d really engaged with the topic!  Now, if they can just get through the class test in two weeks with good marks I’m gonna be really happy.


Me, nose frozen

Me, nose frozen

Building coding frame.

Frame code building.

Coding frame building.

However you rearrange it – this was pretty much my entire day.  Plus the house was cold, but actually I made some good progress – even if I did rip my frame apart yet again and rebuilt it largely.  Also heard a confirmation that my teaching is increasingly to a solid 2hrs a week after the reading (RED) week next week.  Excellent, will enjoy the extra practice and even more the tiny additional weekly boost of funds.

But with the rain and wind lashing against the house, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go and sit in my oven and try and warm up.  Think I’ll be heading into campus on Monday again to thaw out!

Posted by: llordllama | 24 January, 2014

Out and About


Looks like this week I’ll be out of the house on no fewer than 3 days.  It’s the usual lecture and seminar, plus at the last minute I’ve bagged a place on a conference tomorrow entitled Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes.  As it’s at the University of Leicester I’ll be able to pop in to this quite easily.  Should be interesting, especially as I’m all about the fieldwork analysis at the moment.  Well I will be once I finish reading this ILL book I have which is a bit tough to get into, but does have some interesting bits in it.  Reading it mostly just to stretch my mind further, so fingers cross it works.


Leicester conference centre

Leicester conference centre

Day out at the aforementioned conference. Very productive!  Also ran into some old library colleagues, which was lovely as I hardly ever see anyone from there any more.


Spent some time writing up the notes from yesterday’s conference.  Attended the weekly media lecture, this week on the rise of the modern press.  Somewhat annoyed by how loudly and constantly the undergraduates were talking throughout this session.  If you want to chat, kindly vacate the room folks and let those of us who want to listen, listen!  The rest of the day spent reading and preparing for tomorrow’s seminar.


A spot of reading, and a spot of seminaring. This week the topic was the impact of the press (media) on enabling the flowering of liberal democracies in the western world.  I confess it wasn’t the most exciting of group work for the students (read two papers…and discuss) but I did my best to try and make it a bit more engaging for them.  Clearly either I failed them or the content baffled them, as they were quieter than ever.  I even found myself employing the painful silence technique in order to get them to speak – but it didn’t bring much joy.  Even those who did say a bit more at the start of the year, are now getting a whole lot quieter.  *sigh*

I think in particular it’s a shame this topic didn’t grab them, as it ties directly into stuff later in the term on the Internet, Web 2.0, social media and citizen journalism; and asks the question: are these are enabling the reflowering of Habermas’ social sphere?  I think the answer is largely yes.  Perhaps though they’ll shock me next week and be more engaged with the topic of public service broadcasting.


For one, back home all day – and finally time and inclination to finish the book.  Really knuckled down and forced myself to struggle through it, and after a while I realised I was really enjoying it.  Good book to read, and even better quite a few of the references and authors are things I’ve already read, rather than completely new.

Whole lot of new extra words for my glossary though.

Exciting news during the day, as I’ve been asked to take over another seminar group for a member of staff on study leave. This is good news as I could a) do with the cash and b) do with more experience.  Looks like it’ll be on a Thursday as well as my current session, so I won’t really lose much additional time – and I can obviously reuse the same seminar material, so there’s no additional preparation time.   Despite some seminars not being a lot of laughs, I do really enjoy the teaching side of things – and even more so, teaching things that aren’t tedious “library skills”.

Monday (2)

My desk today

My desk today

Well, as I forgot to post this last week – let’s make this a double value post!  Today I spent over 6hrs sitting in the Clifton library reading through all my interview transcripts.  Fun.  At least it was sunny outside.  Or it was when I started, but the end of my time there it was pitch black outside.  Printed off all the transcripts in one big fat file – all 212 pages of them before I went home.  Think the undergrads would have been grateful I didn’t dominate the printer earlier in the day!

Tuesday (2)

Today…I re-read the transcripts.  A bit slower this time as I was making more scribbled notes on the side and even assigning a few proto tags on the master print off.  Of course not helped by discovering that somehow I’d missed off 35 odd interviews from the master file print yesterday – but no matter, I have hard copy back ups and I’ll just run them off tomorrow when I’m on campus again.

Depressingly familiar sight

Depressingly familiar sight

For the record there are 204,072 words on 347 pages in the merged master transcript file.  Just give you an idea of how much data I’m dealing with (and yes, every bit of it hand typed by yours truly).  Ouch.  On the other hand though I am beginning to have some deeper thoughts about things I’m seeing in the data.  Mostly questions, but I’m hoping these will develop once I get to the third read through at the end of the week – once the lecture and seminar are over for the week.

Keep wondering if I should be exploring if campus has any analysis software (like NVivo) to use for this content analysis work.  On one hand doing it all by hand means I really am in the data, on the other I do get slightly uneasy about lack of backups.  Found myself photographing my scribbling thoughts again today – just in case there’s an incident and I lose them!  So they’re now squirreled away on Dropbox as a sort of backup.  Not sure what to do if my head crashes (and considering the whack I managed to give it going up into the attic earlier to find a ring-binder, it currently feels like that might be a thing!)

Wednesday (2)

Campus day, and early as I wanted to print off the remaining 140 pages of my interview transcripts.  That done I made the pleasant surprise that they’ve upgraded the PCs in the Graduate room in the library (all 8 of them, it’s not that many – but at least the filthy undergrads don’t come in here). Always baffles me a bit that this room is only ever half occupied at best, and this morning only me here – there’s no lock on the door, so always surprised the lower orders don’t take it over.  Kinda glad they don’t.

No sign of NVivo on the campus network, so just as well I wasn’t relying on it being here!  Maybe I should ask IT if they have it?

This is the BBC Home service...

This is the BBC Home service…

Lecture today on public service broadcasting and then off to a CRDC meeting.  I was supposed to get out of this one, and let me deputy rep attend for the experience but she’s not able to make it.  Not a problem, as I’d pretty much assumed I’d have to be there as I’d not heard from her (until first thing today).  Thankfully the meeting was very short and fairly uneventful, aside from hearing that there is now definitely no PRP block teaching for the second module; which would have been the last bit of interest I would have had in it.  And since that’s gone I think I can wave goodbye to the programme for good and just pick up workshops locally and externally that are directly relevant to me (like last week’s session at Leicester).

Came home and did the background reading for the seminar, and then wrote my version of the session.

Thursday (2)

A morning at home to do more reading through the transcripts, and then in to run the public service broadcasting seminar.  This week I had the students reading an eight page article on the BBC and governmental interference and writing summaries.  Sounds easy?  Well it wasn’t that readable an extract, and while rich in information quite a few of them were clearly struggling to do it in the allotted time.  Can’t say I blame them, as it wouldn’t have been my first choice for a thriller of a session. Hopefully in between the writing my bouncing around kept them entertained and maybe even slightly informed and educated.  Just like public service broadcasting should!

Many, many papery bastards...

Many, many papery bastards…

Came home and…yes, read transcripts.  Finished the second read through when a thought struck me.  One swift Google search later I discovered the average novel is 80k words long.  So essentially each read through of my interviews is like reading three novels.  No wonder it’s a bit tough on my grey cells.  I have noticed as a result I appear to have the voices of the repository managers, research office staff and librarians I spoke to floating around in my head 24hrs a day now.  Is this a good thing?  Does this mean the data is starting to form new and exciting shapes in my brain?  I wish I knew…

Interestingly Kornelia says NVivo is on the campus network and we can download it for home use if we ask.  Skeptical, but will mail and ask our ICT people tomorrow as they were very helpful with the MS Office suite.

Friday (2)

Not so much reading the transcripts today, as trying to see if I can bring some nascent order to my tags and classification.  Harder work than I thought it would be and haven’t made anything like the level of progress I expected today.  Guess there are always going to be days like this when it all feels like an uphill struggle.  Hopefully a weekend of distractions will take this all forward.  I can see I’ll be on campus all day Monday in order to refocus my mind a little, since I worked so well there last week.

Booked for an event down at the University of Sussex in early March, which is good – if a bit of a long drive.  As cheap to drive as it is to attend, and it gives me the excuse (not that I need one) to go visit my bff  on the way down.  Also finally booked for OER14.  As I’ve said before this isn’t cheap and £300 is a lot of money when you’re paying it out of your own pocket.  It had better be damn fine conference when all is said and done.  Better get on and book the train tickets next, to try and keep costs down further.

Do hope Mrs Llama find paid employment soon, as currently finances are somewhere between precarious and knife-edge :(

The venue in frosty Leicester

The venue in frosty Leicester

On Tue 14th I returned to my former employer to attend a conference entitled Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes: The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research.  I’d spotted this last week online, and managed to squeak in a place at the last minute thanks to a drop out.  I wasn’t 100% sure the day would be that relevant to me, but since I’m doing social fieldwork as part of my PhD I thought it would only be to my benefit to attend, so at the very least to expand my knowledge a bit more.  As it was it turned out to be an excellent, stimulating and enjoyable day; and the following is just the highlights. The day was introduced by Henrietta O’Connor  and VC Sir Bob Burgess (UoLeicester)

  • Paradata then and now (pt1): Heather Elliott et al. (Institute of Education)
    • Looked at paradata on the field notes from the famous study from the 1967-68 by Peter Townsend on poverty in the UK.  Neatly identified a typology of 6 types of paradata (amplification, justification, explanation, evaluative, debriefing and standpoint).  These typifications come to life when we do a narrative analysis, depending on the sort of stories that the field researchers are revealing in their marginalia.  Position within the field team hierarchy can also be an important issue.
    • There was also an exploration of a narrative analysis of the sources based on this approach, demonstrating how the story of one informant in the study could emerge from the paradata – noting that the field worker themselves in the original study could have positioned the narrative to a degree.  This reflexive approach also applied to the modern researcher, where their cultural position in considering the data may shape their interpretation.  It was noted that where the field worker sat in the hierarchy of the research team and their own background (student, market researcher etc) could also colour their approach and their willingness to add useful paradata.
    • The question of for whose benefit paradata notes were made and the audience to whom they were intended to speak was raised (reflecting on the work of Heather Jackson).  The advantage for the field worker seems to be offering
      opportunities for clearer, better coding, and provides an opportunity itself to provide further insight into their interactions with subjects. It was noted that

      different styles of marginalia could be seen from different field workers. For example some who made a lot of paradata notes in margins ignored the space at the end which called for such additional comments. One commonly noted addition was field workers adding paradata/marginalia when they were skeptical of the responses from the interviewees; seeking a way to try and reveal the truth – even if the explicit research responses didn’t give this.

  • Achieving high response rates and balanced samples in household surveys: The role of paradata. Mark Hanly (UoBristol)
    • In this study there were three types of paradata – call records, interviewer observations and interviewer-respondent interactions.  They were used to (1) inform the non-response results (2) Improve the field work in a cyclical process (3) Correct where it was possible to ID the non-respondents (statistically).  There was also work reported on that related to doorstop recordings and how closely fieldworkers adhered to the interview script, noting that a low use of filler words (er, ahm, ah etc) was as counter productive in achieving a good interaction with potential subject as too many of them.
    • Mark also talked about about digital/web paradata that can be captured using online surveys today.  For example key stroke information can be automatically collected and is a cheap, effective and hidden way to capture additional information on how people approach surveys.  
    • It was also possible to capture device type information (browser, device model etc) as a user agent string and questionnaire navigation (mouse movement, clicks).  This information can be used to reshape, develop and revise surveys so that areas where people struggle are enhanced.  He also demonstrated a pop-up where people spent too little time thinking before answering a tricky question, and explained how this had helped to refocus participants attention and subsequently they would approach the survey answers with more consideration.
  • Fieldnotes, marginalia and paradata in youth employment restudies, 1960-1985. Henrietta O’Connor & John Goodwin (UoLeicester)
    • Very interesting talk which stemmed from research on the paradata left behind by an earlier failed social experiment and involved following up with some of the subjects and workers.  Included the key point of setting up a file for fieldworker notes, so as to capture everything (ephemera and substantial materials) for future use, inspiration or analysis.  Some useful discussions around the ethics of doing secondary research on materials and following up with subjects; given they had agreed to participate in the original research did this still apply 40 years later for follow up?  Given that there was often candid data about their lives, habits and circumstances, it was an area to tread cautiously but positively for the benefits and insight that further research could bring out.  Some interesting comments on the paradata from fieldworkers on their subjects demonstrating more positive insights into the circumstances of the better off, and more critical notes on those in the working classes.
    • Issues over interpretation of fieldnotes paradata were raised, such as understanding shorthand and abbreviation; sometimes standardised across multiple fieldworkers but not always.  In some cases going back to the original fieldworkers was the only way to demystify some of this.  The same was true of some of the actual data where numerical codes were note associated with any key, and needed additional input to translate.  However, the conclusions were that massive information on subjects can be just hidden in the paradata – e.g. medical information, that otherwise would have lost or unrecorded.  Trends to archive research data digitally may mean that this sort of paradata would be lost.
  • Paradata then and now (pt2): Dave Gordon and Eldin Fahmy. (UoBristol)
    • I confess of all the talks, this was the one where my concentration or interest probably lapsed the most.  Not sure if this was a result of the subject matter, post lunch fugue or due to the heavy qualitative element involved.  Did highlight that paradata in C20th is easier to capture and work with, whereas C21st (and late C20th) is harder, due to being born digital.  Talk also covered aspects of behaviour coding and cognitive coding.
  • Marginalia and the History of Reading: The example of the UK reading experience database. Shafquat Towheed (OU)
    • A slightly different tack coming from an English rather than social scholar, but did raise some very valid points about the loss of paradata through the work of archivists to clean up books that have been annotated by readers.  Chimed with earlier comments about digitsation of field notes which also lose this additional data as it’s not considered key data by some doing the digitisation process.  Had some interesting points also on capturing stealthy surveillance data, and some lessons from the Mass Observation experiments of the 1930s and 40s.  Finally covered an examination of the prolific reader and writer Vernon Lee, and the value of capturing her annotations on the hundreds of books she had read and written about.  A key lesson to come from this was that paradata is produced by researchers in the process of doing their research all the time, and what is peripheral or accidental in one field may well be core for other fields. As paradata are are temporal, contingent and vulnerable to loss their retention should be included in research and institutional data policies and practices.
  • Lunch Discussions
    • Over lunch I was lucky enough to sit down with 3 other PhDs and one soon to be PhD students, where we had a range of discussions largely about the changing HE environment and the scholastic nature (or lack thereof) of undergraduate students as the result of the perceived dumbing down of the school curriculum.  Given my recent thesis chapter on marketisation of HE I had a few things to throw into the ring.  Our discussions carried on so long, that we had to suddenly scamper back up the stairs for the afternoon session!

    Impressive hot water device

    Impressive hot water device

Three key things I learned during the day:

  • Is it MaringAYlia or MarginAHlia.  Turns out the pronunciation doesn’t matter, although one sounds much posher than the other.
  • What Marginalia and Paradata actually are. Annotations in the margins and notes scribbled by researchers around their field notes which can amplify, enhance and reveal more than just the raw data.
  • Set up a file. A simple tip for fieldworkers, and one that I’ll endeavour to follow – but having a box file to just throw everything into (including random thoughts, and scribbles) is as valuable a resource for the original researchers as it is for future secondary researchers.

For the back channel discussion (and there was a lot of it) – have a look at the twitter feed generated from the day.  For once you’ll see it wasn’t mainly me (partly as I was trying to type notes, and partly because there were times when I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say).  Overall though the day was well worth my £4.70 rail ticket, and the refreshments and facilities were excellent.  My thanks to all who participated and organised the day.

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