Well, OK, there are the references and the appendices after this, but to all intents and purposes this is where the interesting stuff stops. In Chapter 9 I set out my conclusions. Did I meet the aims and objectives? Do I have answers for my research questions? What did I do that contributes to wider knowledge? What would I have done differently? In other words, I tell you what I did, why it was important, and I reflect upon how it could be improved. It’s the bit where I wave a big flag for the examiners telling them exactly why I deserve a PhD.

And that’s it. I will, as promised, write a summary post but that needs a bit more time than I have now.

Chapter 10 – references, appendices

So we’re here, Chapter 8, the discussion. Make yourself a cuppa, perhaps fetch a biscuit or two, and settle down, as it’s a bit longer than the other parts. I will assume you didn’t wade through the entire methodology, which is actually the longest chapter.

In the discussion, I set out why the things I found out are interesting, or useful, or just thought-provoking. We take a little tour around moral panic, and the internet and aging, church leaders’ opinions and all sorts of other bits and pieces. The discussion goes back to the literature, and shows how the work I did extends, challenges or agrees with other people’s findings. Lots more questions are posed – but if I were going to use any part of my thesis as a platform for world domination, this would be the one.

Chapter 7 is my favourite results chapter. It’s a mix of content analysis and interviews, like the preceding chapters, but we focus on three different areas on the welcome pages that some sites have, and I record a disastrous attempt to measure interactivity on the websites. Not disastrous because my research methods failed – disastrous because I have a whole table full of zeroes, where I found nothing. So none of the analyses I had planned were done. The third area is hyperlinks. Who links where? How are the links chosen? What do they say about a site? I could have done a whole other PhD just on this aspect itself.

You will also – because you probably picked this post up via Twitter – be interested in the ideas about representation of self, and how that is managed. At least, I hope you are, as I found this bit fascinating.

In Chapter 6, I discuss the main content analysis results. I frame the local church as information provider, and assess how good a job of this it does, via the website.

We find out – perhaps not surprisingly – that churches can be great at providing information about the getting married, the buildings, graveyards and other records – but not all of them tell you when their services are, or how to get in touch, or indeed what church or faith might be about. So the websites are more about ‘organisational’ elements than ‘evangelising,’ or ‘interacting’ or ‘community’ – I draw a comparison with an American study which uses these four categories.

Interviews add colour to the tables and figures. Leaders tell us what they think the point of a website is, who their audience is, and we discuss the needs of an aging congregation.

Here’s Chapter Five. I know you have been waiting with bated breath…

This chapter does a couple of things. Firstly, it presents the longitudinal work, looking at how the numbers of websites across the whole of England have changed over the past four years. They rose, then levelled off – which suggests something about the point we’re at now. All the churches that need one, have one? Or are people starting to use other online tools?

Then, you can find out how many local churches use a professional web design service – yet still let their sites become woefully out of date. Or how many pictures there are. Or how many sites are using frames. These are some of the content analysis findings – setting the scene for the later chapters.

Finally, we talk about what leaders think the ideal website should contain, the role of the national church in supporting web development and some really interesting things about governance, evaluation and skill. Once again, I think you will be surprised – if you thought my PhD was only about websites, you may find these interviews as fascinating as I did.

So  Chapter four is next. This is the first of four sections which describe the results.

This first one may come as a surprise if you thought the thesis was only about websites, because this is all about people. In this part, I explain who the interviewees were, where they’re from, what they’re like and we look at their use of, and opinions about, the internet. That’s including the information-seeking behaviour of the leaders, and some interesting views about email.

In the interests of anonymity, I gave all the interview participants a new name, and a new name for their church (sort of witness protection for the social sciences). So these are real stories, and real quotes, but the names are not real.

This is the longest chapter of the thesis, and unless you are particularly interested in epistemological justifications for choice of research methods, I’d suggest it may be one of the dullest. I don’t think the bits where I decide I am going down the empiricist, show-me-the-evidence, route, are particularly difficult reading, just not awfully interesting to the casual observer.

So if I were you I’d skip straight to section 3.6 which will give you all the gory detail about the sampling, and data collection methods. Possibly pausing at Figure 3.1 along the way which lays out the timescale and various parts of the project. I am quite proud of this diagram, and it took a disproportionately long time to do.

Or you might want to wait for the next blog post, which has the first batch of exciting results.

Today’s post brings you chapter 2, and chapter 10. Chapter 2 is the Literature Review in which I describe the existing research, explain what the current theories and practice and show how my PhD fills the gaps in the research. I’ve included the Bibliography in this post too, in case you wanted to look up any of the articles that are referenced in the review. The pdf also has the appendices in, which I would skip unless you are really bored and stuck for something to read…

Informing, inviting or ignoring? Understanding how English Christian churches use the internet.

Would you like to read the Introduction? This gives the rationale for the project and the aims and objectives. The file also includes the glossary, TOC, and acknowledgements.

Here’s the abstract.

This thesis investigates how English Christian leaders and churches use the internet for personal and corporate communication, and looks for evidence of challenges to traditional understandings of authority arising from online communication. Early studies in this area suggested that online religion would cause enormous change but more recent studies reflect less polarised opinions. Religious people tend to use the internet to augment rather than replace practice of their faith, holding true for different religions globally. Leaders use the internet for a wide variety of religious information tasks.

The project uses a longitudinal website census, quantitative content analysis and semi-structured interviews. 400 churches in four English denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Anglican and Catholic) were surveyed over a three year period to establish if they published a website. 147 churches from the same four denominations, located in an area equivalent to Chelmsford Diocese, were assessed on 75 categories of information and their hyperlinks analysed.

Interviews with church leaders and interested parties helped foster understanding of why and how sites were created, and explored the leaders’ personal use of the internet. The percentage of churches with a website increased over the survey period for all denominations. Content analysis showed that currency, extent and accessibility of information on websites varied, with some being out of date, others showing no contact details and few having specific information for newcomers to church.

Interview findings revealed perceptions of email overload, varying degrees of governance and control of websites by church leaders, and leaders’ own use of the internet and social media. Interactivity was rare on church websites. Different levels of expertise are mooted as reasons why control and governance varies between leaders. Perceptions of the internet may be influenced by moral panic. The influence of the age of congregations on adoption of social media, and the impact of volunteer webmasters are examined. Recommendations for churches planning to revisit or review their sites are included, limitations are noted and suggestions for further research made.

22 January was my viva. I don’t know what you know about PhD vivas, and I’ve only ever done one of them, so am not a great judge of whether mine was typical. If you read Tinkler & Jackson, or had a judicious Google, you’d learn a few things:

  • Mostly supervisors don’t let you submit if they don’t think you’ll pass
  • Vivas have an internal examiner, from your own university; and an external from elsewhere
  • They last between an hour and a day
  • Part of the process is checking that you actually wrote the thing & did the work described
  • The key thing is that you can ‘defend your thesis’ i.e. justify your research decisions, reflect on the outcomes and possible future work.

And that was about all I knew. I talked through some likely questions with my supervisors and they briefed me on the logistics. I prepared by reading the thesis again; marking up corrections (found a reference I had missed, as well as a few minor typos); and re-reading the key literature. Oh, and planning an evening out the night before with friends who would calm me down and not allow me to become too nervous.

Loughborough was lovely on Tuesday morning in the sunlight and snow and arriving on campus early (this is me we are talking about so of course I was early – been pacing about the hotel since 7:30, trying not to wake Phil up). Had a comedy unplanned icebreaker as I bumped into my external examiner, asking for directions – so I introduced myself there and then.

Sat for a few minutes with a hot chocolate checking phone messages – I was the recipient of many good luck texts and tweets – then ambled over to the Department.

And then we were off. The internal examiner told me the viva would only last an hour – which was either a really good thing or a really bad thing, so that was something of a wobbly moment.

I don’t really remember in detail the questions I was asked but I vaguely think we talked about…

  • Explaining a graph (at which point I had a total memory block about which is the x axis on a plot)
  • Justifying choice of mean as measure in one of the content analysis parts
  • Talking through the RQs
  • How might I use this work in future – discussion on early adopters/ lay volunteers/ ways of creating sites
  • Whether my discussion undersold the results
  • If I thought my content analysis was robust, reliable and valid
  • What were the interesting parts of the interviews that I couldn’t record (lots! some really great conversations)

I could see the list of questions being ticked off as we progressed. The further down the list we went the more I was thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be the tricky question – the next one will be the one I really struggle to answer…’ but it never arrived.

After an hour we were done, but it felt like about five minutes – the time whizzed by. Supervisors & I were sent out of the room for a few minutes. Then the judgment. Pass, with minor corrections. Phew! This is what I had hoped for, and what most had expected – it is a very common outcome. There is often a bit of re-writing involved, typos to correct, references to amend and the University allows six months for them to be made.

However, the mandated corrections were minor indeed – more than I’d found myself and anticipated following the viva. (All took me less than an hour to make). The external examiner said very nice things about the project and the thesis – that it was a good read, and very well presented and proof-read. So I was (still am, a week later) elated – pleased to have passed, and overjoyed to have ‘passed well.’

So that’s it. Corrections done, and informally passed by the internal examiner. Now I am just waiting for official notification from the University and instructions on submitting the final version.

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