Being ‘at’ university: the social topologies of distance students
This paper considers how online, distance students enact the space of ‘the university’, in the context of the rise of distance education within a traditional, ‘elite’ institution. Aiming to provide insight into how students translate into distance the space of a university which has traditionally had its basis in conventional on-campus education, it locates itself within the ‘new mobilities’ paradigm (Urry in Mobilities. Polity Press, Cambridge, 2007), drawing on four different kinds of social space delineated by Mol and Law (Soc Stud Sci 24(4):641–741, 1994) and Law and Mol (Environ Plan D 19:609–621, 2001) in order to analyse narrative and visual data generated with distance students at the University of Edinburgh. The paper shows that the material campus continues to be symbolically and materially significant for a group of students who may never physically attend that campus. Distance students, we find, need their own version of the ‘spatial certainties’ of bounded, campus space. Yet, in exploring the ‘new proximities’ of online distance education, we also argue that to define institutional and academic authenticity solely in terms of this bounded, ‘regional’ space is inadequate in the face of the other topologies which also come into play throughout distance students’ accounts of what it means to be ‘at’ university.
KeywordsDistance education Mobilities Space Online education University
This research was funded by a grant from the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme administered by The University of Edinburgh. We would like to acknowledge the input of the entire research team, which included Jen Ross, Hamish Macleod and Clara O’Shea in addition to the paper authors. We would also like to thank our students and research participants for their generosity in giving their time, words, images and soundscapes to this project.
- Allen, E., & Seaman, J. (2011). Going the distance: Online education in the United States 2011. Babson Survey Research Group Report. http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/goingthedistance.pdf. Accessed 16 July 2012.
- Brah, A. (1996). Cartographies of diaspora: Contesting identities. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Brindley, L. (2011). Collaborate to compete: Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education. Bristol: Online Learning Task Force/HEFCE. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2011/11_01/. Accessed 16 July 2012.
- Brown, J. S., & Adler, R. P. (2008). Minds on fire: Open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0. EDUCAUSE Review, 43(1), 16–32. http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/minds-fire-open-education-long-tail-and-learning-20. Accessed 16 July 2012.
- Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jensen, M., & Wiley, D. (2008). Open educational resources : Enabling universal education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(1), 1–11.Google Scholar
- Clark, N. (2012). Understanding transnational education, its growth and implications. News article. World Education News and Reviews. August 2012, 25(7). http://www.wes.org/ewenr/12aug/practical.htm. Accessed 11 July 2013.
- Counihan, B. (2013). The Aussie Coursera? A new homegrown MOOC platform arrives. News article. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-aussie-coursera-a-new-homegrown-mooc-platform-arrives-12949. Accessed 11 July 2013.
- Edwards, R., & Usher, R. (2007). Globalisation and pedagogy: Space, place and identity (2nd ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Enriquez, J. (2012). Being (t)here: Mobilising ‘mediaspaces’ of learning. Learning, Media and Technology (iFirst article). doi:10.1080/17439884.2012.685744#.Ud6JfPnCaSo.
- Fenwick, T., Edwards, R., & Sawchuk, P. (2011). Emerging approaches to educational research: Tracing the sociomaterial. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Hanover Research. (2011). Trends in global distance learning. Research report. Hanover Research. http://www.hanoverresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Trends-in-Global-Distance-Learning-Membership.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2013.
- Hine, C. (2004). Research relationships and online relationships: Introduction. In Christine Hine (Ed.), Virtual methods: Issues in social research on the internet (pp. 17–20). Oxford and New York: Berg.Google Scholar
- Hooley, T., Marriott, J., & Wellens, J. (2012). What is online research?: Using the internet for social science research. London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
- ICDE. (2009). ICDE environmental scan: Global trends in higher education, adult education and distance learning. Research report. International Council for Distance Education. http://www.icde.org/filestore/Resources/Reports/FINALICDEENVIRNOMENTALSCAN05.02.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2013.
- OpenUpEd. (2013). About OpenUpEd. Web page. http://www.openuped.eu/openuped-temp/59-about-openuped. Accessed 11 July 2013.
- Sterne, J. (2006). Critical cyberculture studies. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Urry, J. (2007). Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
- White, D., Warren, N., Faughnan, S., & Manton, M. (2010). Study of UK online learning: Report to HEFCE by the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford. Research Report. University of Oxford. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/projects/UKOnlineLearningStudy-FinalReport-Mar10-FINAL-FORPUB.pdf. Accessed 11 July 2013.