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AoIR conference

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James Lamb

on 21 October 2012

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Transcript of AoIR conference

Introduction What does it mean to be a student at Edinburgh who is not in Edinburgh?

We will report on themes emerging from the research, including
what it means to have a sense of ‘home’ in an educational context, what it means to be ‘nomadic’ as a student, and what it means to experience ‘campus envy’. Methods This research took place within a group of 150 students, spread across 35 countries, studying on a fully online programme at the University of Edinburgh. These are students who never visit the physical campus. Drawing on the ethnographic trope of the ‘arrival story’, we used narrative methods within a series of online interviews to explore with students the tales of their own ‘arrival’ at Edinburgh at the start of their studies. The notion of ‘arrival’ was used in this context deliberately to problematise the association of study with a fixed academic geography. Narrative methods have been little used in research into online education (Friesen 2008), yet the capacity for an arrival story to capture an intense moment as the familiar ‘place of home’ is brought intimately alongside the unfamiliar ‘place of study’ has proven to be richly generative for this project. Alongside the interviews, we asked students to provide visual data in the form of an image which encapsulated something of their arrival narrative. This form of ‘respondent-generated’ visual data (Prosser and Loxley 2008) has been an attempt to work with the broader ‘iconic turn’ in higher education practice (Kress 2005, Jewitt 2005). We also asked students to submit digital ‘postcards’ which showed their study spaces, using these to make a map of course geographies and perspectives. The postcards are visual, in the form of an image of the student’s study spaces, and auditory in that they embed short clips of the soundscapes of the student’s study environments, in an attempt to work against the tendency among internet scholars to privilege image over sound (Sterne 2006). In this paper, we will draw on theories of spatiality which emphasise that educational practices do not take place either ‘within’ or ‘outside’ a space, but rather consist of a range of practices which themselves produce what we understand to be the educational ‘space’ (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011). In providing an analysis of what this means for online distance students, we will report on a research project which has used narrative, visual and mapping methods to explore with distance students the question of what it means to be ‘at’ University when they are not ‘in’ the University. We will argue against the tendency within higher education to assume a ‘sendentarist’ view which ‘treats as normal stability, meaning, and place, and treats as abnormal distance, change and placelessness’ (Sheller and Urry 2006). In presenting the findings of our project, we will argue for a more nuanced theorisation of academic geographies, one which takes account of the ‘mobilities and moorings’ (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011) enacted within online distance education. Sian Bayne, Hamish Macleod, Jen Ross, Clara O'Shea, James Lamb, Michael Gallagher Online distance learning in higher education is growing internationally, with many institutions providing programmes in this mode (White et al 2010), funding bodies encouraging further growth in its provision (Brindley 2011), and institutions investing in order significantly to grow their numbers of off-campus students (for example the University of Edinburgh is investing £4.5 million over five years in new online distance programmes). Phase 1: Narrative thematic interviews * Arrival/Departure by Zachary Fabri Phase 2: Visual data collection Phase 3: Multimodal postcards In this paper, we will draw on theories of spatiality which emphasise that educational practices do not take place either ‘within’ or ‘outside’ a space, but rather consist of a range of practices which themselves produce what we understand to be the educational ‘space’ (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk 2011). ‘Campus envy’ and being ‘at’ University:
the geographies of education on the internet The emergent mobilities paradigm ... undermines sedentarist theories present in many studies in geography, anthropology, and sociology. Sedentarism treats as normal stability, meaning, and place, and treats as abnormal distance, change, and placelessness.
...[it takes] bounded and authentic places or regions or nations as the fundamental basis of human identity and experience.
Sheller, M. and Urry, J. (2006) The new mobilities paradigm Environment and Planning A 38, 207-226 'unsettling spatial securities' Regional, bounded space
Networked space
Fluid space
Fire space
(Mol and Law 1994, 2001) Bounded space Phillip Walley: I have not fully validated the research but the family records show the first departure from Scotland was around 1627. ... The second departure would come in 1828 when the couple decided to move their surviving Scottish-born children to the States... So, in terms of heritage, my attending the University of Edinburgh in an online programme is very much my own virtual “Homecoming Scotland". Rosaline Bohanek: My father is a Scots man and I have relatives living there [Edinburgh]. I've always loved the city and would love to have gone to the physical university. Also, the course had a brilliant reputation … but initially the sentimental connection gave me a 'visualisation' point. … I disappointed myself a bit in my under-grad course – I didn't go to the university I wanted (in Scotland) because I under-achieved at A Level and I didn't achieve that well at first degree. Coming to Edinburgh seemed to be putting that right – a Scottish university, at which I was going to achieve to my expectations. Also to make my Dad proud. Penelope Carrera: I couldn't wait to start. I filled out the forms and remember posting [them], thinking of how I hoped the box was safe and it didn't go astray. I was so excited, it was irrational. some of the papers were not releveant e.g. car parking, freshers week etc but I didn't throw them out,they made me feel like a 'proper' student, even though i knew I couldn't attend. Homing The 'sentimental campus' Campus envy Home, sentiment, campus envy Fire space ‘object constancy’ – depends on ‘simultaneous absence or alterity’, it ‘evokes a specific version of the relation between presence and absence: a link between a single present centre and multiple absent Others’.
(Law and Mol, 2001) ‘rearrangement of the materiality of places’
(Sheller and Urry, 2006) Erik Credle: The concept of being an Edinburgh student is something that I have been thinking long and hard about. It has not been completely resolved in my mind yet. I feel a sense of belonging to the University, but at the same time I dont feel that I am actually part of the University. Matthew Gillon: In a strange way, I didn't feel that I wasn't in Edinburgh. Phillip Walley: I may not be physically on campus, but … the campus goes with me - as part of my cognitive real estate if you will. an unsettling of our 'spatial securities'
(Mol and Law, 1994) our argument is for a more nuanced theorisation of academic geographies within higher education, one which takes account of the new mobilities and moorings enacted through online distance education. Lilia Banton: [to be at Edinburgh university] means to be online but also mentally, intellectually and even emotionally engaged with the course. it's not about where you live and breathe, but what you're reading about, studying, researching, creating. i think for me being at Edinburgh is being intellectually stimulated, thrown into uncertainty, sort of crisis, living with it, embracing it. i don't think i would do it while 'in' edinburgh cos the sheer physicality of the place could overpower me.
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