Higher Education Policy is an often shifting element that universities must deal with. The responses that universities make may have a profound impact on those who participate in the day to day work of higher education teaching and learning. Currently, these responses include: widening student participation; increasing online, open-access delivery; and casualising academic teaching. The aim of my doctoral research is to bring the impact of these trends into focus by examining the experience of those most affected, namely the students and tutors who are on the periphery of academia. My research focuses on a core, online, open-access unit which is situated at the nexus of where these three responses to policy meet and interact. The unit is designed to facilitate the successful transition of new-to-university students into academic life in on online environment. This is a complex task considering that the unit enrols an extremely diverse cohort with a high representation of non-traditional students, and is almost exclusively taught by casual tutors. These are two groups who are highly marginalised within the academy. The poster firstly presents an examination of how current literature in the fields of online learning, first-year pedagogy, student equity and the higher education workplace, interact and raise questions as a starting point for my research. It will secondly present the major themes identified from interviews I have conducted with selected tutors and students who have participated in the unit in recent study periods. Using Grounded Theory Method to analyse the interview data, within a Qualitative/ Interpretivist approach, my research aims to develop a deeper understanding of how these participants cope with the conditions, complexities and challenges created by contemporary higher education policies.
Addressing the theme/s of the Conference
Navigating uncertainty and complexity:
The majority of participants in the focus unit exist within a state of uncertainty and complexity. Online, open-access students express uncertainly about their identity as tertiary students and their capacity to succeed at university. They are often uncertain about their place in the world. They engage with the ideas and discussions of academic discourse, yet are physically absent from the university. Their language and thinking may be undergoing transformation, yet their daily contacts and relationships remain the same. They may experience a complex reality of navigating competing demands from families and workplaces. Casual academics deal with uncertainty due to unstable working conditions, often having no assurance of continuing employment from one semester to the next. This may render them as uncertain about their academic identity as the students they teach. Lack of access to adequate training, professional development and the collegial community may leave sessional academics ill prepared to deal with the complexity inherent in addressing the needs of a diverse, non-traditional student cohort in a fully online environment. The ways in which both students and tutors are affected by, and cope with, the high level of uncertainty and complexity they are confronted with is explored through my poster.