The project has formally drawn to a close, and we are working on a number of dissemination activities and outputs, including:
9-11 December 2015: Campus imaginaries and dissertations at a distance (Jen Ross & Phil Sheail). Society for Research into Higher Education Conference, Wales, 9-11 December 2015.
The topic of this paper emerged from an analysis of interview data from a research project investigating postgraduate student experiences of undertaking independent research at a distance. These interviews exposed a number of ‘counterfactuals’; ‘if only’ statements that identified difficulties or challenges in the dissertation process and attributed these to being an online distance student; while simultaneously constructing ‘campus imaginaries’ in which these difficulties would either not have arisen or would have been resolved by being physically located on campus. Taylor (2004) describes the social imaginary ‘not [as] a set of ideas; rather it is what enables, through making sense of, the practices of a society’ (p.2). Taking this definition as a starting point, can the campus imaginary be seen to enable the university, and if so, how? How should the existence of a campus imaginary shape our thinking about how we support online Masters students and supervisors?
10 February 2016: Online Distance Supervisor workshop, University of Edinburgh. At this workshop, we’ll be introducing the main findings from the project, and trying out one of our outputs: a board game for supervisors! More info on this coming soon. This photo is of some of our very kind colleagues on the Digital Education team playing a very early prototype…
May 2016: ‘Hospitality at a distance’: supervisory practices and student experiences of supervision in online Masters dissertations. (Phil Sheail & Jen Ross). Networked Learning 2016.
In this paper, we focus on the recurrent themes of connection and disconnection which emerged from our analysis of interviews with recent dissertation students. These themes are considered in relation to student accounts of positive experiences of support and continuity in supervisory relationships, juxtaposed with other reports of disconnection and isolation during the dissertation process, which were often accepted as an inevitable part of the experience of working on an independent research project. Building on Ruitenberg’s (2011) work on ‘an ethic of hospitality’ in education, we explore these experiences within the theoretical framework of ‘hospitality at a distance’. ‘Hospitality at a distance’ is a useful framework in the context of distance education supervision, where home and host, the ‘at-home’, might be contested, and where we might rethink what it is to ‘leave space for those students and those ideas that may arrive’ (Ruitenberg 2011) from beyond the campus. We suggest that achieving ‘success’ in dissertations at a distance may involve accepting the instability of relations between student and supervisor that are marked not only by power dynamics, expectations, and performances of student and teacher identities (as all supervisory relationships are), but also by the varied and shifting conceptions of home and welcome that accompany the distanced encounter.