Connecting Rural Education HDR Students through an International Digital Network

Year: 2017

Author: Fuqua, Melyssa, Downes, Natalie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation explores the development of a digital network connecting rural education HDR students from around the world, highlighting the challenges and opportunities to date. It is documented that research students experience isolation throughout their journey (Ali & Kohun,2007) and benefit from participating in doctoral student networks for informal learning and expanding their social capital (Pilbeam et al.,2013). The authors argue that rural-focused research students may experience more isolation with less access to relevant student networks due to the relatively small size of the field and the geographically large spread of rural-focused academics. This may lead to less of a rural 'presence' at any given university for HDR students to tap into. Rural-focused research students also encounter difficulty accessing education-related content and theoretical applications where the rural is explicitly and respectfully included, a vital element in rural research (Reid et al., 2010). Supporting the expansion of quality rural research, when there is an increased political focus on the rural in the West, is essential.

Having encountered these problems, an international group of HDR students have begun to organise online discussion forums, conduct and share interviews with rural education experts, and plan workshops. Challenges include developing and sustaining participation where members access but do not engage with content and pervasive time constraints (Redmond,2015). Ideally, contacts would be face-to-face (Pilbeam et al.,2013), but geography is a significant barrier. The authors perceive the benefits of providing support, reducing isolation, and opportunities for academic discussion (Kelly,2013, Pilbeam et al.,2013), outweigh the challenges. With universities coming under increasing pressure to ensure candidates complete their degrees, it is important to develop a strong community of rural HDR students. When these students have access to a collection of practical and relevant resources, it is hoped they will feel empowered and more connected, increasing their likelihood of success. This may help to strengthen the future of rural education academics and their research.