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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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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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Revelations in literature searching

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:04

During the Prof doc residential weekend I was able to attend a couple of sessions with a librarian which I found really helpful. I've been an AL for 12 years and during this time I have taught students how to do literature searches and completed my own for my history degree and master's research. But it was nice to sit down with an expert and explore the functionality of the library and the other resources available for research studies.

The session introduced me to time saving software for storing articles and referencing. I'm very much a creature of habit and am actually very good at manually referencing but it was time to up my game and I have now downloaded Mendeley as a tool for citations. An organised and easily accessed storage system for articles will make my literature searching so much easier for my doctorate.

The other bonus for the session is that I found an article which fits in perfectly with my research. It is 'Barriers to learning online experienced by students with a mental health disability' (McManus et al, 2017). A lovely article because it is so rare to find academic studies which are so close to my own (distance learning and mental health disability being a niche combination, unfortunately, that's why I'm doing my research) yet from an different perspective. This article focuses on identifying barriers whereas I want to overcome barriers and empower students so it gives a good background for my own research to build on. It also considers the social model of disability and its critics which is relevant to my own philosophical approach to disability. As the first article in my literature search it is an encouraging start.

So, tomorrow afternoon's work is to critically review the article.

Annie

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Starting professional doctorate studies

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:04

Most OU modules start this week so it is always busy for an Associate Lecturer in the first few weeks of October but this year was extra busy for me as I started my Professional Doctorate in Education. Don't know what this is? Well, it is basically a part time doctorate for people in professional practice. Unlike most doctorates which are done at the beginning of a career, a professional doctorate is done later in a career within your own work environment. The OU offers a Professional Doctorate programme in Education or Health and Social Care  http://wels.open.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research/edd

The year 1 residential was last weekend and what an intensive time it was. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow students (it's a distance learning course so meeting others is a valuable experience) and to share ideas and interests, but it was a helpful approach to cementing identity at the beginning of doctoral studies. I was able to explore what it means to be a research professional, reflect on the ethics of research and learn more about critical review of literature. I saw a research project in action which had many similarities to my own. The library session was immensely useful; I may be an AL but it was very helpful to have one to one assistance from a librarian and to learn about relevant software to aid my studies.

Now I'm off on my research journey. I am lucky in that I have a firm structure to work within: 3 days of OU work punctuated by two days for study, an obvious necessity for a manic depressive who needs to plan her schedule clearly to avoid stress. There will be some overlap though as I am doing action research. My current working title is 'How can Students with Mental Health Challenges be Empowered to become Independent Learners within the Technology-enhanced Learning Environment?' but more on that another time.

Now to start my Researching professional development Plan.

Annie


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It's done!

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:07

I've finally submitted my application for doctoral research. And i don't even feel anxious about it (that may well change!), just an overwhelming feeling that this is the right time and what I need to do. It helps that it is a subject that I feel passionate about - students with mental health challenges. I feel very happy to take this next step on my journey.

And it's just occurred to me that I am sharing my 50th birthday with the OU this year. What a good year for both of us.

Annie

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