Working On The Margins Of An Educational Organisation: The Experiences Of Online Tutors And Their Professional Identity. An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) Study.

Bowden, Sandra Louise (2019). Working On The Margins Of An Educational Organisation: The Experiences Of Online Tutors And Their Professional Identity. An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) Study. EdD thesis The Open University.


This thesis explores the experiences of tutors who hold online roles within a higher education context and provides insight into some of the challenges associated with the role. Participants were recruited from a single educational organisation and held roles in blended and traditional educational settings as well as within online modules.

Online tutoring roles are dynamic as they strive to keep pace with the development of more sophisticated online learning environments and advancing technology; together with increased student expectations linked with twenty-four-hour access to online learning platforms. Whilst the literature related to student experiences of online learning is significant, the available evidence associated with online tutor experiences remains somewhat limited by comparison. Current studies have been identified that have explored the experiences of online tutors and the relationship the role has to perceived effects on professional identity. The study provides insight into this area of education and is valuable in terms of highlighting the current strengths and weaknesses of the online tutor role.

Given that professional identity within educational contexts is historically bounded by social constructs and human interaction as well as perceived status within the remit of professional roles, this qualitative study seeks to understand and interpret the experiences of online tutors and how this role impacts upon professional identity. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used as the methodology for this study as the phenomenon of experience was central to the research. Although the sample of six participants was small, and purposive, the intention was to examine in detail the factors that shape online tutor experiences. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) study had a single-phase data collection and revealed the following master themes: 1: Making a difference: 2: Transitioning change: 3: Dynamic connections: 4: Sense of professional worth.

Data was further analysed according to IPA principles with sub-themes and associated concepts being supported with verbatim quotations from interview transcripts.

Research findings highlight challenges online tutors face and evaluates the type of strategies used to overcome these. These findings are framed in light of the difficulties associated with the delivery of online learning in terms of information and communication technology; the concept of the tutor role in general, and transitions that need to be made by educational organisations and tutors to support both students and tutors within the context of this environment. Analysis of the experiential data further explores impacts upon the online tutor role on professional identity and connections to the meta consequences for the learning process and tutor experience.

For educational practice, the findings of this thesis provide the basis for further development of virtual learning platforms, online learning materials and online tutor training and support

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