A paper based on the research conducted as part of the Dissertations at Distance project has just been published in Teaching in Higher Education. The paper introduces the idea of the ‘campus imaginary’ as a way of accounting for the tendency of online students to attribute difficult or challenging experiences of independent research to their distance from the campus.
[Campus imaginaries portray] the imagined institution and those in it as approachable, sociable, and a space more amenable to the sorts of activities interviewees found themselves undertaking as part of their dissertation. In part these imaginaries draw on assumptions about the advantages of ‘in-person’, as opposed to virtual, contact which are far removed from the experiences described in the literature on campus-based students’ independent research experiences. A number of interviewees, even those whose overall experiences of their online programmes were extremely positive, appeared to ascribe negative experiences to their status as online distance students. For example, issues such as unexpected obstacles, troubles with motivation, difficult supervisory relationships, lack of time and space to focus, and feelings of isolation and doubt were interpreted as features of the online dissertation process specifically. As we will see, however, these issues are common features of transitions from taught courses to independent study; the nature of supervisor-student dynamics; and the inherent challenges of conducting research, particularly for newer researchers.
Thanks in part to the discussions at the conference (some reflections on these by @cindyu , David Kernohan), we’ve been continuing to develop these ideas, and this article is the result. It takes a range of critical perspectives on openness as its starting point, and offers the concept of ‘not-yetness’ as a productive lens for examining meanings of openness that go beyond instrumentality, uniformity, and content.
I’m just back from a wonderful research visit to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I was invited by the fabulous Angelina Russo, who was the most amazing host, and made my trip truly unforgettable.
I spent most of my time in Sydney, staying in the visiting scholar’s flat at the Women’s College, which was a really good base for writing, visiting and seeing the city. There I gave a seminar for the new Centre for Research in Learning and Innovation, heard Pippa Yeoman talk about her research, met with Amani Bell and some of her colleagues to talk about educational innovation, and had an excellent discussion about cross-centre collaboration with CRLI’s director, Peter Goodyear. I also had a chance to meet with Mike Michael, whose work on speculative method has greatly informed my own.
I visited Canberra for a couple of days, mainly to attend the 2016 Whisper Workshop. The workshop was chock full of amazing people, some of whom I knew online and was delighted to meet in person (Kylie Budge; Narelle Lemon; Kate Bowles; Megan McPherson). It was great to meet Inger Mewburn again and to get to know Jonathan O’Donnell & Tseen Khoo. I was especially pleased to meet Tamson Piestch, whose work on the histories of higher education has made its way to the top of my reading list. I spent some time reflecting on Australia’s fraught histories in the National Museum of Australia, and my visit ended on a happy note, when Tracy Ireland and I picked up our conversation where we’d left off in Montreal at the Critical Heritage Studies Conference.
My last few days in Australia were spent in Melbourne, doing some more in-depth research planning with Angelina. We also met with Phil Pond from RMIT to talk about methods of tracing digital activities and objects; and with Seb Chan to learn about how the Australian Centre for the Moving Image has incorporated co-working spaces as a way of bringing new ideas and insights together with the work of the Centre. We went to part of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre’s ‘refiguring techniques in digital-visual research’ symposium. I especially liked the talk given by Alison Young; and was pleased to say a quick hello to Neil Selwyn and visiting scholar from my side of the pond, John Potter.
I loved Australia – there is an energy and a talent for networking and building partnerships there that I found really inspiring. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and I’ve come back with new ideas, connections and perspectives. I also loved the bird life!
The article, titled ‘Speculative method in digital education research‘, explores the concept of ‘speculative’ (or ‘inventive’) methods, commonly found in art and design disciplines but also increasingly in the social sciences, and argues that digital education researchers need these kinds of approaches if we’re to engage critically and imaginatively with issues in our field. Such an approach, as Lury and Wakeford put it:
is explicitly oriented towards an investigation of the open-endedness of the social world. … the happening of the social world – its ongoingness, relationality, contingency and sensuousness. (Lury and Wakeford 2012, 2)
in such a sphere of not-yetness, we must work with approaches to research which aim beyond determining ‘what works’, to engage in ‘intelligent problem solving’ (Biesta 2010) and ‘inventive problem-making’ (Michael 2012). These approaches can produce valuable insights and contribute to a flourishing ecosystem of knowledge practices that can respond flexibly to not-yetness. (p.1)
teacherbot – a project led by Sian Bayne which developed a twitter-bot for the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (EDCMOOC), to explore teacher automation.
artcasting – my current AHRC-funded project examining new approaches to evaluating learning and engagement in art galleries.
the tweeting book – Jeremy Knox’s RFID experiment to to problematise the emphasis in learning analytics on human activity and data.
Let me know what you think! And please do share the paper.
Speculative method in digital education research
Jen Ross, Digital Education, University of Edinburgh
The question of ‘what works’ is currently dominating educational research, often to the exclusion of other kinds of inquiries and without enough recognition of its limitations. At the same time, digital education practice, policy and research over-emphasises control, efficiency and enhancement, neglecting the ‘not-yetness’ of technologies and practices which are uncertain and risky. As a result, digital education researchers require many more kinds of questions, and methods, in order to engage appropriately with the rapidly shifting terrain of digital education, to aim beyond determining ‘what works’ and to participate in ‘intelligent problem solving’ [Biesta, G. J. J. 2010, “Why ‘What Works’ Still Won’t Work: From Evidence-Based Education to Value-Based Education.” Studies in Philosophy and Education 29 (5): 491–503] and ‘inventive problem-making’ [Michael, M. 2012, “‘What Are We Busy Doing?’ Engaging the Idiot.” Science, Technology & Human Values37 (5): 528–554]. This paper introduces speculative methods as they are currently used in a range of social science and art and design disciplines, and argues for the relevance of these approaches to digital education. It synthesises critiques of education’s over-reliance on evidence-based research, and explores speculative methods in terms of epistemology, temporality and audience. Practice-based examples of the ‘teacherbot’, ‘artcasting’ and the ‘tweeting book’ illustrate speculative method in action, and highlight some of the tensions such approaches can generate, as well as their value and importance in the current educational research climate.
The Manifesto for Teaching Onlineis a series of short statements first written in 2011 by the Digital Education group at the University of Edinburgh. It was designed to articulate a position about online education that informs the work of the group and the MSc in Digital Education programme. It was also intended to stimulate ideas about creative online teaching, and to reimagine some of the orthodoxies and unexamined truisms surrounding the field. Each point was deliberately interpretable, and it was made open so that others could remix and rewrite it. In 2015, we revisited and reassembled the manifesto ourselves. The new manifesto text can be found here: