A couple of students have enquired about my
research so I thought I would share what it is about and what it will mean for
I am currently doing a Professional Doctorate in Education, exploring how students with mental health challenges can be empowered to be independent learners in the online learning environment. My choice of investigation was prompted by reading the research of Richardson (2015) which found that distance learning students with mental health challenges were significantly less likely to complete and pass their modules than other students. This concerned me as an Associate Lecturer who wanted all her students to reach their full potential, but also as someone who has bipolar disorder; I, too, dropped out of my first degree when I had a mental health crisis 25 years ago. I want to understand the barriers these students face and how they might be overcome so that I can support my students in their learning journeys.
Whilst there is some research into the barriers faced by these students, there is also an assumption that it is up to academics to decide how to overcome the challenges. But my knowledge of health and social care tells me that we need to go to the service user for their expertise on their needs. I am doing emancipatory action research study with an emphasis on student voice to explore the lived experience of students with mental health challenges, using case study interviews to plan, implement, evaluate and reflect on the support needs of these students, alongside data analytics to identify students at risk and intervene as necesary. It uses the affirmative model of disability, an inclusive and collective approach emphasising positive social identities, to develop relationships and deliver individual and proactive support. Participants are offered an initial telephone interview to discuss their experiences of studying with mental health challenges, the barriers they face, the resilience they bring and to negotiate the support they would like to receive from their tutor. The follow up interview happens at the end of the module when we evaluate and reflect on the experience of studying and being supported.
Doing research with my own students brings up ethical dilemmas that needed addressing. For instance, my research needs to be fair to all my students so I am careful to reassure that any student can have an interview about their support needs; they don’t have to take part in my research to be supported in their studies and whether they take part or not will not influence their assessment. My sample of students also needed approving by the Student Research Project Panel to ensure that students who have opted out of research invitations or have recently been invited to take part in research were removed from the sample. This means that not all my students will have received an invitation to take part. Taking part is voluntary and all students who participate are provided with information about the study and are required to sign a consent form detailing the purpose of the research and the use of data. The issue of consent is revisited throughout the research.
What I hope to achieve from my research is a greater understanding of the experiences of students with mental health challenges and the support they would like in achieving their learning goals. This is an exciting opportunity to influence how student support is provided and I look forward to working with my participants in developing new knowledge.