New paper – free download and video abstract!

Another paper has come online this week – again relating to my Creating Better Futures ARC funded study. This one was my second publication with Anne Edwards from Oxford University – someone I admire greatly for her work developing and applying cultural-historical theory. We worked together on the analysis reported here while Anne visited UTS as part of our Distinguished Visiting Scholars scheme in 2016. It is a privilege to work with the world’s best researchers in my field.

Hopwood N & Edwards A (2017) How common knowledge is constructed and why it matters in collaboration between professionals and clients. International Journal of Educational Research 83, 107-119. doi: 10.1016/j.ijer.2017.02.007

A couple of firsts for me in publishing, too!

  1. This paper can be downloaded free of charge until 12 May 2017 – some Elsevier offered without me asking! Use this link:
  2. There is a video abstract to accompany the written version – just a couple of minutes talking through the key points. I really like the idea of video abstracts, and know Routledge/Taylor & Francis are offering similar options to their authors now, too. Here is the link:

And here is the text abstract:

Professionals are increasingly called upon to work with clients. We employ cultural-historical concepts to reveal how professionals and clients accomplish joint work on problems in services for families with young children. Professional–client interactions in day stay and home visiting services are considered, first focusing on how matters of concern are worked into departures of significance (employing ‘D-analysis’), then conceptualising joint professional–parent work in terms of common knowledge and the object of activity. The importance of motives and their alignment is revealed. We show the value of D-analysis in elucidating how common knowledge can be constructed and why this process may be problematic. Finally, we reflect on the fluid and situated nature of this kind of collaborative work.

New paper on partnership with parents of young children

Very pleased to announce publication of the latest paper from my Creating Better Futures ARC funded research project. This was written with partners from Karitane, Tresillian and Northern Sydney Local Health District, whose contributions to the study and the paper we greatly appreciate!

Clerke, T., Hopwood, N., Chavasse, F., Fowler, C., Lee, S., & Rogers, J. (2017). Using professional expertise in partnership with families: a new model of capacity-building. Journal of Child Health Care, 21(1), 74-84. doi:10.1177/1367493516686202


The first five years of parenting are critical to children’s development. Parents are known to respond best to interventions with a partnership-based approach, yet child and family health nurses (CFHNs) report some tension between employing their expertise and maintaining a partnership relationship. This article identifies ways in which CFHNs skilfully use their professional expertise, underpinned by helping qualities and interpersonal skills, to assist families build confidence and capacity, and thus buffer against threats to parent and child well-being. It reports on an Australian ethnographic study of services for families with young children. Fifty-two interactions were observed between CFHNs and families in day-stay and home visiting services in Sydney. A new model is presented, based on four partnership activities and the fluid movement between them, to show how CFHNs use their expertise to identify strengths and foster resilience in families in the longer term, without undermining the principles of partnership.

PhD 3.0 – Why research students have to be gardeners, curators, and selectors of knowledge

This blog is about skills that research students need to have today to make use of unprecedented learning opportunities and availability of knowledge via the internet.

I have just come out of a session I ran with UTS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences new research students. (These include PhD, Masters by Research, Doctor/Master of Creative Arts, and Doctor in Education, but I tend to use ‘PhD’ as a shorthand for all of these, because it seems to be what people search for most online).

My aim was to give them a sense of what is out there online for postgrad research students, as well as what is in the various UTS intranet sites (so they don’t have to annoy our staff with questions where the answers are already online).

From PhD 1.0 to PhD 3.0

PhD 1.0 was before my time (just) – when everything was paper based. Before the internet. Yes, people actually managed to make contributions to knowledge without email and online access to journals. They went to libraries and read hard copies, and have offices with shelves full of journals they paid to subscribe to.

PhD 2.0 was my era (I did my PhD 2003-2006). Lots of journals had started going online – new issues were often available digitally, although the older ones hadn’t been digitised yet. This made being lazy, staying at home or in my office, easier, but didn’t have the social interaction and user input we associate with the internet these days.

PhD 3.0 is what we have now. Nearly all journal papers and many books are now digitised (offering instant access, albeit with barriers around licences and payment that unequally and unfairly privilege some while disadvantaging others). But now, this is not just about one-way traffic, but about interaction. There are alt-metrics that track how many times people tweet or mention publications. There are webinars synchronously linking people all over the world, and blogs and twitter feeds that asynchronously allow us to have conversations and debates, as well as sharing resources with each other.

This is what I mean by unprecedented opportunity and knowledge flows. But with this comes new forms of skill, expertise and responsibility for students.

Decentred universities in virtually figured worlds

This all sounds rather hoity-toity doesn’t it? Well I wish I could claim the words are mine, but they’re not. They are from Russell Francis, with whom I shared an office when doing my PhD (happy days, Russ!). Based on his PhD he wrote a brilliant book (published by Routledge). He sat with students at uni (undergrads and postgrads) and watched what they did.

What he realised was that the uni, and face to face contacts, were not the ‘centre’ of their learning universe. They were an important part of a dynamic, adapting and evolving set of knowledge flows and connections that extended well beyond campus. His ‘virtually figured worlds’ included blogs, online and offline affinity groups, people interacting via emails, and other on- and offline platforms. An idea in this book points to the main thrust of this blog post, and what I was wanting to impress on our new research students today…

Cultivating and curating globally distributed funds of (living and digitally mediated) knowledge

More hoity toity words! But there’s a really serious point here, and this brings me back to my title.

With all that information out there, research students these days need to develop and deploy specific skills. Otherwise you’ll end up spending all day being busy reading twitter feeds but accomplishing nothing.

Gardening knowledge funds

What I mean by this is planting seeds, cultivating their growth, nurturing connections. This might be personal relationships with other students or academics around the world working on similar topics. This might be ‘software discipline’ in terms of setting up twitter feeds or automatic journal table of contents emails, but then modifying them as things come in and out of your sphere of relevance. This is definitely not about just adding more and more. You will have to cut, chop, weed out. Hence the gardening idea.

Curating knowledge funds

I like the idea of curating: it implies taking care, paying attention, management. This is not just about controlling what you’re bombarded with when you open your inbox, log into twitter etc. It’s about being respectful of yourself and the authors of the knowledge you are digesting. This might be adding a comment to say thanks for a really amazing blog post [hint, hint], or politely engaging in constructive critique to open up debate. It might be retweeting something you think is really useful to your followers. It is also thinking (as a museum curator would) about display – how you access, arrange, and represent all the information you’re dealing with, so you can cope with it and make good choices. Which leads me to…

Selecting knowledge funds

There’s *quite* a lot of information on the internet. You need to make choices. You need to make good choices. What counts as good will change, frequently. Back in PhD 1.0 there were lots of journals to read, but the physicality of it meant often part of the struggle was one of access rather than needing to filter out. Now more than ever, researchers need a really good filter: what to read (or what to read in full, what to skim, what to cheat read/pretend to have read), what not to read, what to reply to, what not to reply to etc.

This requires you to be discerning with your globally distributed funds of knowledge. What adds real value? What can you get there that you can’t get anywhere else? What is nice but not necessary?

And finally, a plug for my hero

Perhaps my biggest intellectual hero is Lev Vygotsky, a psychologist from the Soviet Union who died in 1934. I won’t get started on why his ideas are amazing. But there’s a real link here. He talked about how when we work on problems using tools (which can be ideas, concepts, twitter feeds, blogs etc), not only does that change our approach to working on a problem, but it changes us, too. Things we use to get things done (to do work), work back on us.

So if we use globally distributed funds of knowledge uncritically, and unthinkingly, then those actions work back on us and turn our brains into things that are full of unsorted, mixed quality (at best) sludge.

What we, as human beings, can do, is use this principle pro-actively. We can arrange tools, put them in place, make them available, with the intention that doing so will affect us or our behaviour in some positive way. You can put a link on your web browser to a blog you should read. You can set up a journal TOC alert so you don’t forget a particular aspect or topic. You can commit to a meeting with your supervisor so you can’t procrastinate any longer. You can stick a post-it on your wall saying ‘stop checking facebook!’ or disconnect your laptop when you’re writing so you’re not tempted to check emails.

These are all very Vygotskian practices: controlling ourselves from the outside in.

So, PhD 3.0 is about being a good ‘gardener’ of knowledge – from a range of sources (planting, watering, weeding etc!),  not just being a repository, a sponge that soaks it all up, but being Vygotskian and taking control of your own learning from the outside – whether that outside is another person you meet face to face, someone you email, a dead guy (like Vygotksy for me!), a twitter feed, whatever.

Make this 3.0

In your comment below, share where you get your knowledge from, how you know it’s good and worthy of your attention. What do you do to cultivate, curate and discern? Do you use any Vygotskian techniques – controlling your behaviour from the outside? Share!

New paper on interprofessional collaboration in health

I’m delighted to announce the #OpenAccess publication of this paper:

Lindh Falk A, Hopwood N & Abrandt Dahlgren M (2017) Unfolding Practices: A Sociomaterial View of Interprofessional Collaboration in Health CareProfessions and Professionalism 7(2) doi: 10.7577/pp.1699

The primary author is Annika Lindh Falk, whose doctoral research is reported in the paper. A practice theory perspective is taken in analysis of detailed ethnographic data from a rehabilitation ward in Sweden.

This is one of many outputs from a longstanding collaboration between myself and colleagues at Linköping Universitet, Faculty of Education and Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences. The online preview was made available in 2016, with the paper scheduled for inclusion in Vol 7, Issue 2 (2017).

The abstract is below – please have a read and tell us what you think!

Knowledge sharing is an essential part of interprofessional practice and will be even more important in the future in regard to the opportunities and challenges in practices for delivering safe and effective healthcare. The aim of this ethnographic study was to explore how professional knowledge can be shared in an interprofessional team at a spinal cord injury rehabilitation unit. A sociomaterial perspective on practice was used to analyse the data, and by theorizing upon this, we captured different aspects of interprofessional collaboration in health care. The findings illuminate how knowledge emerges and is shared between professionals, and how it passes along as chain of actions between professionals, in various ways. The findings offer a novel perspective on how interprofessional collaboration as a practice, involving ongoing learning, unfolds. This reveals the mechanisms by which different forms of expertise are mobilized between professions as health care work.

Why what you don’t do is so important in your Phd.

Doing a PhD (or any kind of doctorate) is hard, right? Yes. It’s supposed to be hard. That’s why it’s worth something. There is a lot of attention in resources for doctoral students about how to do things: how to do a lit review, how to design your study, how to analyse your data, how to write up, how to prepare for your viva or examination, how to publish etc.

But what about what you don’t do? What about how not to do things, and why this is important?

My argument in this blog is that pursuing doctoral study with an exclusive focus on what you do, rather than what you don’t do, can be counter productive.

So what might not doing be important in? Pretty much everything.

Not reading

I often talk to students about their reading and lit review work. A very common issue is a sense of there not being enough time to read enough, or an experience that the to-read pile gets higher and higher, despite hours and hours spent reading.

Central to all doctoral work, and indeed all research, is a clear notion of scope. Not only what you’re trying to do, but in regards to its relation to a wider body, or bodies, of work. You can’t read everything. Obviously. You can’t even read everything on your topic. Nor even in the journals that really closely relate to your work.

So one way or another, you’re going to be making decisions about what not to read. Doing this explicitly, and thinking hard about it, discussing it with supervisors and peers, is really important. Because, what you don’t read might have big consequences. But drawing these boundaries is also a productive, affirming aspect of being able to figure out what you’re doing and why it matters.

A sign of doctoral development in a student might therefore be a more sophisticated capacity to make and justify decisions about what not to read, and to articulate the significance of these decisions for the work at and.


Not theorising

This might be less relevant for some studies where there isn’t a big theoretical component. Here I’m really thinking about my experience working with students in arts and social sciences (and I’m definitely not saying there isn’t theory elsewhere). I have sat in many proposal presentations, and read many applications or confirmation of candidature documents, where the student proposes working with several theories.

Almost always, the response among assessors is ‘do you need all those theories?’. In some cases, there really is an imperative to draw on more than one theoretical resource, because different questions demand different analytical sensitivities (Nicolini’s 2009 work on zooming in and zooming out is good on this). But often, the really honest, deep down answer, to the question ‘why so many theories’ is ‘because they are there, they seem interesting, and relevant’. That is definitely not a good enough answer. If you don’t look at ‘power’, say, there will always be people who hear you talk about your work and say ‘but where’s power in all this?’. And if you do look at power, others will wonder where the gender aspect is, or class, or race, or materiality…


Not gathering data

This is a biggie, and it has two key components. The first is not using too many data collection / generation instruments in the first place. The second is knowing when to stop getting more data. Again this probably has more a social science feel, but I expect similar principles apply in some lab work, and probably archival and textual analyses too.

I honestly can’t remember the number of times I’ve read applications or proposals that have a design involving interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, and documentary analysis. Often, the best answer to my question of ‘why?’ is ‘because the student has read about them and decided they are possible’. I’m guilty of this myself. In my Masters I proposed observation, interview, focus group, think-aloud, a survey, and document analysis. I was rightly pulled up and told that this long list was a sign that I wasn’t thinking hard enough about the evidence I need. Just because methods can be used doesn’t mean they should. And even if they should, do they have to be? I wonder whether a criterion of necessity might be interesting to play with? Thinking about what is possible is useful in the early stages, so you don’t overlook interesting or niche alternatives. But then a shift in your thinking is needed. Too many methods risks overwhelming participants and setting up for a mile wide but inch deep analysis. The more methods, the harder it is to bring them together in a coherent whole, often.

The second component is when to stop. What is your ‘I’m a doctoral student, get me out of here?’ tacit when you’re in the field? Lots of students answer this by saying they will wait until they reach ‘saturation’: the point when they stop learning new things. Nice idea in principle? Possibly, but it’s a risky strategy in practice. I’ve been involved in studies where after years in the field, saturation seemed a long way off, because the data kept opening up new avenues of enquiry, and we were able to follow them. I’ve done others (my PhD and a recent ethnography) where something like saturation was reached. So it’s possible, but no guarantee that it will work as a good get-out strategy.

You might instead choose a time limit, or have one imposed on you by logistical issues in your research site, or by your university. Whatever the ultimate end-point, before you get there, it’s helpful and healthy to regularly ask yourself: am I getting valuable new data here? What would happen if this was the last piece of data I collected? Do I really, really need more data?


Not writing

A doctoral thesis can seem scarily, overwhelmingly big. It’s often the longest text you’ve ever written, and even scholarly books related to doctoral work end up being shorter.

One symptom that you’re not approaching your writing in the most helpful way is the sense (which may be subconscious) that everything is too important to leave out. It is not. The bar that an idea or piece of information, or reference to literature, has to jump over to be included in your writing should be a pretty high one. A reader can pick up very quickly when the author has set that bar too low. The writing feels loose, indulgent, unfocused, and leaves a sense that the text has control of the author rather than the other way round.

This is even more so when it comes to writing for publication in journals or book chapters.


Not arguing

This theme has two related but distinct aspects to it.

One is not making too many arguments, or not taking your arguments too far in your thesis. This is the argument of the kind that the word ‘thesis’ refers to itself: the argument “This is my contribution to knowledge, this is what I have found/done that no-one has found/done before, and this is why it matters”.

Again, you don’t want these to be mile wide and inch deep. But you don’t want to push them too far either. I remember being challenged by my examiners in my PhD viva to extend my arguments to say something about gendered differences in the learning of geography in schools. While my data seemed to fit with this notion, my sample was too small to say anything substantial about this, so I defended my decision not to take my arguments down that path. The examiners were pleased with my response.

As a regular examiner of doctoral work, the conclusions is something I read right at the start (something that many examiners do). I’m most impressed by clearly articulated, coherent, insightful arguments. Not by wide-ranging or over-reaching claims to grandeur or Nobel prize-winning, earth-shattering revelations. Making arguments is a fine balance between humility and boldly owning and ‘spruiking’ (a wonderful Australianism that refers to what traders might do to entice people to buy their products) your accomplishments. There’s no chance you’ll hit this balance unless you think long and hard about what you choose not to argue.

Then there is the other not arguing: not arguing with your supervisor, opponent, assessors, reviewers etc. Defending one’s work or position is central to scholarship, and learning the capacity to defend is crucial in scholarly becoming. But just as important is knowing when to defend, and when to say ‘oh, yeah, that’s a really important idea, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Hmm… I need to go away and think about this for a while’.

Now, what I’ve learned over the years, is that it isn’t always obvious what kind of response I’m expecting from students I supervise. Sometimes I’m goading them into defending their position. Sometimes I’m really trying to get them to think differently, or at least pause to explore alternatives. It would be useful if a little light flashed somewhere that told students which game it was at the time. There isn’t. What might you do to figure out which is which?


And finally, a reward for not doing…

For those of you who have reached the end, a prize! By thinking hard about what not to do, you potentially will benefit from:

Having less work to do

  1. Making what work you do choose to do count for more
  2. Enhancing the quality of your work because there is more critical selective thinking behind it
  3. Did I mention having less work to do?
  4. Feeling less overwhelmed by there not being enough time, or there being too much to do
  5. Having more time to do other things that really matter (like self-care, being with family and friends, watching crap telly…)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this. Are there other things that learning not to do would be useful? (reading blogs about PhD work, possibly?!)

New paper on emergent learning at work

I’m delighted to announce acceptance of a paper by the Journal of Workplace Learning, co-written with my UTS School of Education colleagues Ann Reich and Donna Rooney. I will update this and my publications list with final publication details as they become available.

The paper draws on data from three different studies to specify particular kinds of learning that can occur when people do work about how work gets done.

The reference is:

Reich, A., Rooney, D., & Hopwood, N. (in press). Sociomaterial perspectives on work and learning: sites of emergent learning. Journal of Workplace Learning.

The abstract is:

This paper introduces, explains and illustrates the concept of ‘sites of emergent learning’,
which pinpoints particular instances of learning in everyday practice. This concept is
located within contemporary practice-oriented and sociomaterial approaches to
understanding workplace learning.
This conceptual development has been resourced by a secondary analysis of data from
three workplace learning studies. These were: (1) an ethnographic study of a residential
parenting service; (2) a case study of learning among engineers working on a railway
construction site; and (3) a case study of a multicultural unit that aims to enhance health
services for a diverse community. All were based in Sydney metropolitan area. The
secondary analysis was undertaken by identifying regular practices within each setting
where professionals discuss past and future work. These were then subjected to
theoretical scrutiny, identifying common and distinctive features.
Sites of emergent learning were identified within the handover, site walks and catch-up
meeting practices. They arise through and are constituted in relationships between social
practices and the materialities of work. Sites of emergent learning involve negotiating,
exploring and questioning practice and knowledge associated with it; they are instances
within work practices in which work is done about how work gets done, developing new
understandings of the past in order to reshape visions for the future. Alongside these
commonalities, each site of emergent learning displayed distinctive features shaped by the particularities of the practices and materialities of each site.

This concept is presented as a valuable tool to assist researchers of workplace learning. It elucidates particular learning-intensive features of practice, extending sociomaterial conceptualisations of professional and workplace learning.

New paper on simulation in higher education

I’m delighted to announce online publication of my latest paper.

Abrandt Dahlgren M, Fenwick T & Hopwood N (2016) Theorising simulation in higher education: difficulty for learners as an emergent phenomenon. Teaching in Higher Education. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2016.1183620

The url behind the doi number will give the first 50 people to click free access to the full paper. Please only use this option if you don’t have access through your institution (so that free access is preserved for those who really need it). Otherwise you’ll need to go through the normal channels, or you can contact me for a copy.

The paper was co-authored with Prof Tara Fenwick (UK/Canada) and Prof Madeleine Abrandt Dahlgren (Sweden). We looked at data from three studies of simulation in health professional education, and explore how sociomaterial theory can help understand what makes simulations difficult for learners, how that difficult arises, and what this means for educators. This is the latest in a series of papers about simulation, arising from a project I’ve been working on with colleagues at UTS (see here for more information on the project, and this link for a full list of publications).

Here is the abstract:

Despite the widespread interest in using and researching simulation in higher education, little discussion has yet to address a key pedagogical concern: difficulty. A ‘sociomaterial’ view of learning, explained in this paper, goes beyond cognitive considerations to highlight dimensions of material, situational, representational and relational difficulty confronted by students in experiential learning activities such as simulation. In this paper we explore these dimensions of difficulty through three contrasting scenarios of simulation education. The scenarios are drawn from studies conducted in three international contexts: Australia, Sweden and the UK, which illustrate diverse approaches to simulation and associated differences in the forms of difficulty being produced. For educators using simulation, the key implications are the importance of noting and understanding (1) the effects on students of interaction among multiple forms of difficulty; (2) the emergent and unpredictable nature of difficulty; and (3) the need to teach students strategies for managing emergent difficulty.