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Prof Doc review – the story so far

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:00

Well, it has been a quick 2 months! I’ve done a residential weekend, two modules of study, two seminar forums and submitted a 500-word assignment on context and ethics. I admit the writing was a huge slog but I’m loving the doctorate programme; it’s such a great opportunity to explore a subject I'm passionate about.

So, what are the key things I’m taking from my studies so far?

The module on developing as a researching professional has given me the idea to write a chapter in my thesis on my own reflections as a researcher with mental health challenges, adding my own perspective to the student voices.

Looking at the context of my research has enabled me to reflect more on who else is involved in my research and at what stage. I have established contact with several stakeholders, and this has helped me to identify potential issues and priorities within my proposal and enabled me to clarify key issues within it, as well as opening opportunities to share my work with my colleagues. The chat with a member of the Learning Analytics Department has enhanced my perspective on the importance of data analytics in my research, and the resources available to support me.

The ethics section of the module has highlighted the need to communicate my research to my colleagues and answer any questions they may have as their students may be participants; I had previously focused my attention on ethics just in relation to participants and the research community. I have started to address this via forums and meetings.

I’m using this month to catch up on some reading, update my development plan and get to know some referencing tools ready for the literature review module in the new year. Scary but exciting.

Annie


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Reflection on the first month of the Prof Doc

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:01

This assignment is harder to complete than I thought, and not necessarily due to the content. November is a busy time for ALs, virtually all modules have assignments due then and it is a tough schedule to work with, despite planning ahead and only working part time.

In spite of this, I have really enjoyed this term. It has reinforced my identity as a researcher within my own field and helped me to clarify what I want to achieve from my research, enabling me to develop my ideas on how to achieve this. The professional framework plan has provided me with a structure in which to develop goals within a manageable timeframe.

The discussion on macro context made me explore further into the government’s influence on higher education provision. Obviously, I was aware of the impact of politics on curriculum from my Master in Ed studies but I hadn’t looked specifically at mental health. I was surprised that meso was considered a neglected context, as my meso context is a central part of my proposal, and this made me reflect more on how the OU is a very different environment to other places of higher education and how working for the OU reinforces my own values in education and forms its own ‘bubble’. I thought writing about the micro context would be easier, it is, after all, where I spend my working life. But in many ways this makes it more challenging as I realised a lot of what I do is not tangible. But that, obviously, is one of the reasons why I am doing my research.

Completing this assignment will feel like a firm step on the path to achieving my doctorate and it is good to get into the writing early.


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Down the rabbit hole

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:02

Last week I was completing the module on the context of research. What a rabbit hole the macro section turned out to be! I was aware of my need to discuss government frameworks and policy in my research, most specifically the emphasis on value for money and student outcomes but actually trawling through government websites trying to find it seems an endless task. I did find some useful documents on government aims, though these were usually on higher education as a whole rather than distance learning. But there were a few helpful ones on mental health provision and I was especially pleased to find a reference to the social model of disability as that will link well to my discussion on the context of disability in society. That was something I found missing in the module materials on context, that as well as professional and government frameworks there might also be societal ones. I intend to put my research into the experiences of students with mental health challenges within the emerging emancipatory model of disability and it was useful to note how government policy was influenced by disability theory.

I was also surprised to read that many education researchers neglect the meso context and I wonder if it because they consider their work environment to be a generic situation. Working for the OU means that I see my higher education institution as very different to others available, in structure, ethos and cohort. Perhaps it is because its values are very much apparent, even in its name, and in alignment with my own that I have a strong sense of identity with it? This ‘institutional bias’ will be something for me to stay aware of in my research.

Annie

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My research proposal

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:03

One of the tasks on the Prof doc programme was to write 300-500 describing your proposal. So here it is!

My research proposal has a working title of ‘How can students with mental health challenges be empowered to become independent learners within the technology-enhanced learning environment?’. It is emancipatory action research; emancipatory because it has an aim of giving a voice to a disadvantaged group, and action research because it will be undertaken as part of my work as an Associate Lecturer with the Open University.  The subject has a personal interest for me as I have bipolar disorder and have a strong sense of empathy for my students who are studying whilst experiencing mental health challenges.

Technology-enhanced learning has the potential to make distance learning more accessible to students with mental health challenges as it offers a flexible format where the student has control over their social engagement and schedule. Consequently, more Open University students disclose mental health challenges than any other UK university (The Open University, 2018). But research by Richardson (2015) shows that students with mental health challenges are less likely to complete and pass modules than non-disabled students, though they attain just as good grades when they do pass.  Distance learning can be isolating and people with mental health challenges may need extra support to maintain their studying progress and reach their goals. Developing the skills to become independent learners can empower students to take control of their learning, build self-confidence and achieve their potential.

Using a flexible and participatory voice-led approach within an emancipatory action research framework, my research will use case study interviews to investigate the learning experiences of students with mental health challenges, alongside individual study skills support which includes positive reflection. It will be collaborative, encouraging participation in decision making and seeking negotiated meanings, whilst empowering participants to take control of their learning and influence teaching with the aim of developing an inclusive distance learning approach which is beneficial for those with mental health challenges and potentially other students within the university.

I will use interpretative phenomenological analysis to interpret my results. This is a qualitative approach which examines and interprets how the individual makes sense of lived experience and is particularly helpful in examining complex and personal perspectives which are highly subjective. I will encourage students to review transcripts and my subsequent analysis, enabling them to participate in the research process as a form of transformatory critique to question knowledge and inform practice.

Whilst research into the technology-enhanced learning environment is a dynamic field, there is little research into how those with mental health challenges respond to and develop within this environment. By developing greater understanding of their learning needs, this research can influence educational policy and practice within the university, and in the wider academic sphere, so that module development and delivery is more inclusive and retention improved. As emancipatory action research, this research has application at grass roots level, providing the opportunity for students with mental health challenges to be empowered through participation whilst building on skills for independent learning.

The Open University (2018) ‘The OU has the highest number of students declaring a mental health condition in the UK’, University News, The Open University, Milton Keynes [Online] Available at: https://ounews.co/around-ou/university-news/the-ou-has-the-highest-number-of-students-declaring-a-mental-health-condition-in-the-uk/ (Accessed 14th October 2019)

Richardson, J. (2015) ‘Academic attainment in students with mental health difficulties in Distance Education’, International Journal of Mental Health, vol. 44, no. 3, pp.231-240. [Online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00207411.2015.1035084 (Accessed 29th November 2018)


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Reflecting on 2018

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:08

2018 was a turning point for me. It was the 20 year anniversary of my diagnosis with bipolar disorder, the year my life was turned upside down and which led me to give up my dream job as a university lecturer, move away from London and start again.

So, in 2018 the time was right to reclaim my academic career at the age of 49. I doubled my working hours from 13 to 26 and took on higher modules to teach. I became more active in the university online community, starting my blog and generally contributing more in forums and community discussions. I also became more vocal about health issues outside the university, giving a talk to my church about mental health (which has led to a higher profile of the needs of disabled members) and I’m in discussion with community leaders about starting a local death café. I planned and wrote a research proposal for a doctorate which I hope will benefit students with mental health challenges.

I used a year off from study to reflect on what I learnt on the Masters in Education and put new ideas into practice, including improving how I maintain dialogue with students via email and the PT3 form. I recommend the Masters programme to other ALs, I learnt so much from it, especially about conducting research and transforming practice, though it was very hard work.

2019? I want to write more about the experience of living with bipolar disorder and start my doctorate research. I know I go on about my future studies but I find studying truly exciting as I came from a working class background and never went to college; my life has been changed by the Open University in many ways.

Have a happy new year

Annie


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