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By Kwong Nui

This blog returns to the technology and doctoral study series, and comes from Kwong Nui who is a lecturer in e-learning at Centre for Academic Development, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Kwong Nui’s PhD thesis investigates the ways PhD students use ICT to support their doctoral research process – and right now she’s just waiting for her examiner reports! Good luck Kwong Nui, and thanks for this contribution which is such a fitting conclusion to our series on technologies for doctoral study.

In terms of technology contributing to my PhD dissertation, I guess the main use is for searching articles and writing my dissertation … my supervisors suggested I use some new software; I said I would take a look, but really I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle and frustration involved in learning how to use it. … My PhD is more important than learning to use a new software application.

Under normal circumstances, PhD students have to use computer technologies throughout their doctoral research, including for preparation, fieldwork, analysis and writing. But very often, PhD students also have reservations – as is evident in this participant quote from my own research into doctoral student use of technology. What does this indicate?

As a PhD student myself, I have been a keen user of technological devices, tools and applications. With the encouragement of my supervisors, I decided to engage with computer technologies throughout my doctoral research, particularly with the notion of being efficient and effective towards the goal of producing my PhD thesis. I set up my Endnote (a referencing software), OneNote (a digital notebook for research journals and reflections), and the dissertation format on Microsoft Word, as well as the proposed milestones on Outlook Calendar from Day One of my PhD study.

At the same time, I started setting up Netvibes feed (see the screenshot below) from the relevant library databases to retrieve literature in this research domain. This setup enhanced my literature search and updates as new publications in my field came out.

Then, in the data collection phase, I used smart devices to record participants’ audios during their individual and group discussion sessions (Voice Memos app of an iPhone and an external audio recorder as a backup) as well as for photographing purposes (the Camera on an iPhone). Also, I downloaded a licenced software application, Manic Time, onto the participants’ computer devices in order to capture their daily computer activities. At the end of the data collection period, I uploaded all my raw data onto a secure university cloud platform, Syncplicity, for data storage. During the data analysis phase, I used NVivo for coding purposes and SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) version 22 as well as Microsoft Excel for statistical analysis.

OneNote, that I had set up at the beginning phase of my PhD, played a significant role in both the data collection and analysis phases, in terms of generating, mind mapping and discussing ideas between my supervisors and myself (see the screenshot below). Such shared platform established research transparency within the team and enriched our communication on my PhD research development.

Like many other students I regularly used popular applications such as Microsoft Visio for diagramming purpose; Microsoft Power Point to develop and present my slides; and Skype for communication with people.

In summary, I hardly used any paper in the process of carrying out my PhD study for those two and a half years. Looking back, the computer technologies I used while undertaking PhD might impress no one; the experiences I created with them are what matters, and the fact that I’m gaining useful knowledge beyond my discipline expertise. Now that I have started my first academic position at a university, I am pleased that the computer technologies experiences I have gained from my doctoral learning have smoothed my emerging academic and research process.

However, I’m aware that despite the access to computer technologies in higher education, many PhD students are, to a certain extent, resistant to changing their methods of working for the reason portrayed at the beginning of this blog. While it is acknowledged that adaptation takes time, it could be important for PhD students who are at an advanced academic level to continually review, revise and improve their research practices based upon current and anticipated future needs. In my experience, PhD students definitely benefit from proactively taking up opportunities to learn to use various ICT effectively and efficiently during their candidature – whilst not neglecting the main objective of doctoral research and the production of the thesis.