Time-shifting in the digital university: temporality and online distance education
This thesis is situated in the context of the emergence of the ‘digital university’ in higher education. It addresses research questions which focus on organizational change, particularly on how a strategic shift to increase the provision of online distance education in a traditional, research-intensive, campus-focused university, affects the existing temporal and spatial practices of the institution. The research undertaken focuses on a UK university, during a period of strategic digital expansion in its postgraduate taught degree programmes, where funding is allocated by the institution to support a number of new courses and programmes, developed and designed to be available to students on a fully online basis. I take a narrative ethnographic research approach, which draws on interviews with university staff and students, alongside higher education policy and think-tank documents, and institutional websites. Particular attention is paid to the temporal aspects of each narrative account, in order to surface temporality over what I consider to be the spatial preoccupations of the literature and practices of online ‘distance’ education. Sustaining a critique of ‘anytime, anywhere’ accounts of online education, with a reminder that education takes place over time and in particular times and spaces, I draw on Sharma’s (2013) work on ‘critical time’, and particularly her notion of temporal ‘recalibration’ (2014), to think about complex temporal relations in the digital university. I go on to explore the idea of the digital university as transtemporal, as an alternative conceptualisation which opens up possibilities for imagining the university beyond its traditional temporal and spatial boundaries. I argue that understanding the dominant times and spaces of the university campus as central, and those accessing the campus in asynchronous or asymmetric ways as peripheral, may not just lead to spatially biased practices of distancing, but to a lack of recognition of emergent inequalities which are digitally reconfigured and potentially invisible. I conclude with some reflections on theoretical and methodological approaches to time and the digital in higher education and propose areas for future research.