It is the end of teaching in UK higher education and we are heading to the Christmas break. I watched the Making of Elf and that got me thinking about “The Making of” my study for my PhD
I know there have been studies looking into the digital experiences of students and the ones I have read about are interesting and useful. Often the day to day experiences of students can be overlooked and we get caught up looking out for the new and interesting things that students get up to. This study is an opportunity for me to be able to gather some really rich information about the actual experiences of students who have decided to stay in their family home and commute to their local university.
Why is this interesting?
I had not really paid much attention to commuter students and thought like many, that they were literally students who had to expend some extra effort and travel to their university. I now realize that this is not the whole story and there has been extensive research into the reasons for students to choose not to move away and commute and miss out on their chance to experience the right of passage that is going to university.
To quote the Sutton Trust Report (Home and Away) Students from ethnic minorities and those from poorer backgrounds are “more likely to stay at their family home and attend their local university” with that in mind, I began to investigate what kinds of inequalities are present around digital access for students. As it turns out, the inequalities faced by these groups are magnified by digital technologies. Which is not a surprise to anyone considering what has been happening over the last year and a half. Headlines of “Covid 19 shines a light on the digital divide’ etc, plus swathes of research around school children unable to access school resources (depending on which school you attend) etc. How does that show itself in higher education in the UK? What are the inequalities and are they representative of what we already know about what Helsper calls “sociodigital” inequalities?
Why do I care?
I feel strongly that education should be available to everyone regardless of your class or personal circumstances. What I think about various government policies and how we have got to the state of higher education in the UK is really for another blog post, but what is clear is that there is no escaping that education and the digital are synonymous. Enormous advantages are gained by being able to access on demand resources, via high performance networks; unlimited data, hardware, skills and learning environments. For some, accessing high quality digital environments, regardless of location, is like air. Freely available and easily accessible. For others, it is a frustrating, difficult and demoralizing situation, a constant struggle because of their location and situation. I have not been able to find any research about commuter students and how their particular digital interactions impact their learning.
What will I do with the information I get?
I hope to get about 20 or so stories from commuting students. I thought it would be easier for them to use their phones to make stories (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat or even just photos) to show me what happens then we can talk about these when we meet and I can look for the issues and the themes around being a digital commuter student. This can then become a resource for all UK HE providers who will get a glimpse into the realities for these students.