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)