Graduate student research as life on the edge: Examining one’s own learning environment

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 34: Higher Education on the Edge

July, 2011, 394 pages
Published by
K. Krause, M. Buckridge, C. Grimmer, & S. Purbrick-Illek
0 908557 85 X

Qualitative social research is often fraught with emotional, political, and ethical dilemmas. These are generally framed in terms of a researcher-researched or outsider- insider binary. However, the researcher’s location in relation to research participants and the research ‘field’ is not always straightforward. Research often involves the negotiation of multiple accountabilities and competing stakeholder interests. Graduate student research that examines aspects of students’ own learning environments is a case in point.

In this paper I consider graduate student research on teaching and learning environments as ‘life on the edge’: risky business that exemplifies the political, ethical and emotional complexities inherent in qualitative social research generally. Using emotional geographies literature as a framework and taking an autoethnographic approach, I discuss some risks and dilemmas that I grappled with when researching aspects of my learning environment as a doctoral student during 2005 and 2006. After describing the research project and discussing my location as researcher-student-participant in relation to other stakeholders involved, I draw on excerpts from my fieldwork journal to illustrate the emotion work inherent in the research. I conclude with some suggestions as to how we might effectively support graduate students in doing ethical ‘edgy’ research on learning and teaching environments.

Keywords: Graduate student research, learning environments, emotion