Special issue


In this paper we present a case study of doctoral study at a distance, and we explore issues of belonging, pedagogy and learning as part of that process. As a team of one doctoral researcher and three supervisors, we critically reflect on the place of belonging in the context of doctoral study by distance. In this case study, the importance of belonging was heightened due to a high-risk and highly volatile context in which the doctoral researcher lived, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. We further explore the elements that developed a sense of belonging, aided by a range of digital technologies. Our findings suggest that the place of belonging in learning needs further examination in higher education contexts, especially when universities are keen to increase distance enrolments.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Belonging plays a crucial role in learning, including doctoral study, and should be considered in the design and delivery of all doctoral programs.
  2. Doctoral supervision, including supervision at a distance, is a pedagogical activity, and critical reflection offers a useful tool to understand how the pedagogy is working and to consider how it might be adjusted.
  3. Digital technologies, and social media in particular, can be highly effective in developing a sense of belonging in doctoral study from a distance.
  4. Doctoral supervisors should ensure that doctoral researchers, especially those studying at a distance, are introduced to a range of relevant academic communities, including their doctoral research peers, to build and expand their sense of belonging.
  5. Because doctoral supervisors need to tailor learning and pedagogy for each of their doctoral students, it is vital that they see themselves as learners who are willing to teach their institutions about the contexts of doctoral study at a distance.

Twitter Handle

@Sazan_Mandalawi; @hhuijser