thesis now live in full and open to all to read ;) #go_gn

thesis (2)

Over the last 4.5 years I have been working on an exciting phenomenographic study through which I explored the collaborative open learning experience of learners participating in open cross-institutional academic development courses. This study brought new insights relating among others to the power of cross-boundary professional communities and the opportunities these bring for academics and other professionals who teach or support learning in higher education when learning collaboratively in the open.

The following is an commentary by Prof. Linda Drew about my study included in her pre-viva report shared with me on the 8th of September 2017, the day of my viva:

“The candidate has made an original and satisfactory contribution to the field of study. I enjoyed reading it. The candidate’s obvious enthusiasm for the topic area – and her commitment to collaborative open learning – is clear, leaving me in no doubt that this is an independent, authoritative and substantial piece of work.

The conceptual framework is clearly explained and the candidate’s personal standpoint in relation to the study is outlined in considerable depth. The choice of methodology seemed appropriate and linked well to the conceptual framework that had been established. The choice of methodology and research methods were well articulated and well defended. Limitations were acknowledged appropriately.

The work reads well overall, and is extremely systematic. The candidate is well able to explain and critique her field of research. The thesis presents a sustained argument throughout, which is well-developed in a persuasive way.

The study takes a novel, arguably radical, stance in relation to the field of academic development. I consider this to be a particular strength of the thesis. It’s novelty lies in the ways in which it evidences and illuminates participants’ experiences of ‘alternative’ continuing professional development opportunities for academics.”

My thesis has in the last few days been made available in full through the Edinburgh Napier University repository. To access it click on the link below.

Nerantzi, C. (2017) Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development. PhD thesis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier University, available at 

Thank you everybody who helped me get there! See who they are in the thesis. A big thank you also to my examiners Prof. Linda Drew and Prof. Kay Sambell. I will never forget viva day and what a valuable experience this was 😉

This phenomenographic study, explores the collaborative open learning experience of academic staff and open learners in cross-institutional academic development settings, and adds to what is known in these settings. It provides new insights for academic developers and course designers about the benefits of crossing boundaries (i.e. open learning) in an academic development context and proposes an alternative model to traditional academic Continuing Professional Development (CPD). It engages academic staff in experiencing novel approaches to learning and teaching and developing as practitioners through engagement in academic CPD that stretches beyond institutional boundaries, characterised by diversity and based on collaboration and openness. Data collection was conducted using a collective case study approach to gain insights into the collective lived collaborative open learning experience in two authentic cross-institutional academic development settings with collaborative learning features designed in. At least one of the institutions involved in each course was based in the United Kingdom. Twenty two individual phenomenographic interviews were conducted and coded. The findings illustrate that collaborative open learning was experienced as two dynamic immersive and selective patterns. Boundary crossing as captured in  the categories of description and their qualitatively different variations, shaped that experience and related to modes of participation; time, place and space; culture and language as well as diverse professional contexts. Facilitator support and the elasticity of the design also positively shaped this experience. The community aspect influenced study participants’ experience at individual and course level and illuminated new opportunities for academic development practice based on cross-boundary community-led approaches. The findings synthesised in the phenomenographic  outcome space, depicting the logical relationships of the eleven categories of description in this study, organised in structural factors, illustrate how these contributed and shaped the lived experience, together with a critical discussion of these with the literature, aided the creation of the openly licensed cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework for cross-institutional academic development, the final output of this study. A design tool developed from the results is included  that aims to inform academic developers and other course designers who may be considering and planning to model and implement such approaches in their own practice.

Keywords: Academic development, collaborative open learning, boundary crossing, cross-institutional professional development, open education, social media, framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning


Almost there now… new #open booklet in preparation #legoseriousplay #LSPHE #opened #creativecommons

The first full draft is ready (22,000 words). I have decided to share co-authorship with Alison James. Together we have done interesting work in the area of playful learning and LEGO. Bringing Alison in will enrich the booklet further as we will be able to incorporate her voice and perspective.

What it is? A booklet about using LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) (LSP) in Higher Education (HE).

I have been using LEGO(R) since 2010 before discovering LSP when writing up some related research. Using LEGO(R) came natural to me as I have always been playful and experimental and tried new things as a learner, in my practice as a teacher, translator and academic developer but also in my life more generally. I still do. My curiosity and the novel opportunities problems present seem to be my driving force. In 2013 I completed my LSP facilitator training with Robert Rasmussen. The journey has been fascinating so far. LSP opened my eyes and mind to new ideas and possibilities that have extended my repertoire and toolkit as a facilitator aiming to create stimulating and meaningful learning experiences that help us understand ourselves, others and the world around us better and make valuable discoveries through playful making and shared reflection. I have created a range of LSP workshops and courses and am often invited to work with colleagues and their students to develop tailor-made LSP provision and courses for staff development. LSP  is such a versatile method and the potential to use in diverse HE settings is there and waiting to be explored further.

book_coverSo, what is in the booklet? After an introduction into the LSP method and its potential uses in higher education, a series of short LSP stories follows. These stories showcase how specific practitioners from a range of disciplines and professional areas currently use LSP in an higher education context. I would like to thank the following colleagues for making the time to contribute their LSP story to the collection:  Dr Stephen Powell, Neil Withnell, Sue Watling, Prof. Alison James, Graham Barton, Lesley Raven, Prof. Dr Tobias Seibl, Dr Thanassis Spyriadis, Dr Sean McCusker, Lisa Higgings and Haleh Moravej. Also a big thank you to Alison Laithwaite, Dr Gayle Impey, Dr Maren Deepwell and Tom Palmer for commenting on specific LSP activity sets.

The basic structure of the LSP in HE booklet is the following:

  • Part 1 Method
  • Part 2 Stories
  • Part 3 Activity set
  • Part 4 Variations
  • Part 5 Final remarks

Within part 3, a selection of practical activities, quite a lot of them, have been designed and added, arranged as you can see as activity sets. These are intended to support LSP workshop design and planning activities in a wide range of HE contexts:

  • LSP warm-up activity set
  • LSP activity set for learning and teaching
  • LSP activity set for recognition of teaching (HEA)
  • LSP activity set for academic development (SEDA)
  • LSP activity set for use of learning technologies (ALT)
  • LSP activity set for coaching and mentoring
  • LSP activity set for research

These LSP activities included in this booklet can be used and adapted by practitioners in their everyday practice. The booklet concludes with the introduction of LSP variations. These have been tested and used in HE settings and provide food for thought for other practitioners to consider tailoring the standard LSP method to their needs were needed and/or mixing with other pedagogical methods, frameworks or models.

January 2018 update: Prof. Alison James has joined as a co-author. We will be working on finalising the draft of the booklet soon. 

Oh and by the way, the LSP in HE booklet will be openly available online under a Creative Commons license so that we can all use it and further develop it, together as practice diversifies and related research grows.

Chrissi @chrissinerantzi

If you are new to LSP in HE, the below might be a useful starting point:

  1. In this clip colleagues share their LSP experience through an LSP course I led at Manchester Met.

2. An example of how we have used LSP with a colleague in an undergraduate module at Manchester Met is the following. This has been written with the colleague and one of her students: Nerantzi, C., Moravej, H. & Johnson, F. (2015) Play brings openness or using a creative approach to evaluate an undergraduate unit and move forward together, JPAAP, Vol 3, No. 2, pp. 82-91, available at

What are our big ideas about a #coopuni? 9 November 2017 in Manchester


#coopuni event, 9 Nov 2017, Manchester

I attended the inaugural event about a future Cooperative University as I was intrigued to find out more about it. Could a cooperative university present an attractive alternative higher education model? Thank you Ronnie for bringing this event to my attention.

A cooperative university, is a thought provoking idea. But what is the need for such a university? What would it achieve that other universities don’t and how? Is an alternative higher education needed and could such a university progressively transform existing institutions? Is this desirable? Are there opportunities within existing universities to have cooperative clusters, for example? How about open cooperatives?

I was looking forward to find out more about the cooperative university and meet Ronnie Macintyre my open practitioner buddy and others who have a vision to create alternative higher education opportunities through democratic participation. However, is this not what open education is also working towards? How does the idea for a cooperative university link to the ethos and values of open education?

Furthermore, I was interested in finding out how my practice and research in open education (Nerantzi, 2017) and particularly in open and cross-institutional academic development and collaborative open learning relates to cooperative ideas and the cooperative movement.

The aims of the day as communicated at the opening of the day were
> bring ideas together
> facilitate a mutually supportive environment
> establish a co-operative higher education forum (CHEF)

From the delegates list, I could see we were around 90 from a range of backgrounds. In the morning, after an introduction to the history of the cooperative college and related activities especially since 2010, a range of cooperative projects from across the UK were shared. After listening carefully, I think what is different in these educational initiatives is how they operate.

This is what I noticed: I can see how they are (more) cooperative. Or are they actually collaborative? I don’t know much, or very little I should say about the governance dimension of cooperatives. This is something I would like to find out more to better understand what this is all about. But I suspect that the area of governance is what differentiates a cooperative from other initiatives and businesses. It seems to me that cooperatives have the community at the heart, the collective. They aim to empower individuals but also the cooperative as a whole. The cooperative as a community. I think also to create a sense of belonging. The example from Spain of the cooperative University of Mandragora illustrated this really well through its flat structures, autonomy of faculties and the lived and dynamic culture of innovation in learning, teaching and research. It was refreshing to hear about this model that was not just an idea but something that was implemented and working. I would have liked to ask questions especially around the challenges and how these are resolved but we watched a recording so this opportunity was not there. I will have a look online to find some more information about this university as well as related research.
In the earlier examples, learning for life and for learning’s sake where mentioned, often as an alternative model to a focus on employability which is often the case in universities. While I can see value in empowering individuals to love learning, often the people we would hope to reach, are the ones who might be disadvantaged and helping them get a job would be a great achievement. Otherwise, I think otherwise any cooperative university could become exclusive and elitist? Don’t know where these thoughts are taking me now but it is something that popped into my head and wanted to share.

I can see the potential links between the idea for a cooperative university and open education but I struggle to articulate them. Could the cooperative movement provide an attractive business model for open education? Could you have open cooperatives? Not sure if business model is the right term here… but is there an opportunity to marry the two?

As I was seeing the links between open and cooperatives, it was obvious to me. I was expecting to hear something around open education, open practices, open educational resources, open badges but none of the examples shared mentioned something related. The ecological university (Barnett, 2016) and learning ecologies (Jackson, 2016) also didn’t feature. And what about the Porous University (Lennon, 2010; Macintyre, 2016). These concepts don’t promise new higher education institutions but propose to transform the existing ones from within. At least this is my understanding.

Because none of the above were not mentioned during the day, does of course not mean that the links have not been made. I need to do some reading!!! The ethos and values of open education, however, were at the heart of the initiatives that were shared. I am wondering if there is an opportunity or even a need to closer link up cooperative and open learning? What about collaboration? It was hardly mentioned… Also, are the UNESCO and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals relevant to a cooperative university?

Themes that provided discussion foci in the afternoon workshops were the following:
> Democracy, members and governance
> Knowledge, curriculum and pedagogy
> Livelihood and finances
> Bureaucracy and accreditation

I joined the pedagogy group in the afternoon as I felt that my interests would fit best but wondering now if the workshop around Democracy, members and governance would have been useful too. Would this have given me a flavour of what this is all about? We all had questions. I had more questions at the end of the workshop than at the beginning which really made me think hard about what a cooperative university would be about. I am searching for an answer myself and with others in some of the discussions we had. I think more work needs to be done to articulate the purpose and vision for a cooperative university before embarking on defining a specific pedagogical model. I think the working group that has been set-up has this purpose. Something much more organic, flexible or even elastic and open, is needed that would give learners choice. Choice to pursue what they want. And while there were some discussions that the courses might not be accredited… I think accreditation is still very important, especially in cases where such an accreditation of learning through the cooperative university would be a lifeline and not a luxury some individuals can easily find or afford elsewhere. There were mixed views about the use of technology in a cooperative university and my thoughts are that for some the online engagement might be the only viable option, for others it might not work. If such a university is going to empower the ones in real need to engage in learning, they should also have access and be able to work towards accreditation, if they wish. In my mind, a cooperative university shouldn’t be a second or third class university. And I am thinking here of providing access to education to homeless citizens for example for whom such education would give new hope and a new positive purpose in life and help them return to become contributing members of our society.

During the day, I did a lot of listening. What hooked me was the idea of and for positive disruption and making big ideas happen. But what are these big ideas linked to the cooperative university? Have they been articulated? Are they still work-in-progress? I was searching for some of them myself and in discussions with others. What makes a good idea, a big idea that gives it importance, urgency and empowers us to act?

Thank you to all organisers for a thought provoking day. Ronnie also reflected on the day and you can read his thoughts here. An article about this event was also published in THE.

Maybe there is now an opportunity to come together to draw our cooperative university or make a model of it. Such playful and pan-participatory approaches have the potential to release our inner big ideas… share them with others so that we can link them, develop them into concepts and make them happen… together…


Barnett, R. (2011) The coming of the ecological university, Journal Oxford Review of Education, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp. 439-455, available at

Jackson, N. (2016) Exploring learning ecologies, Chalk Mountain

Lennon, E. (2010) ‘The Porous University‘, New Perspectives: Arts and Humanities Enter a New Phase, London: Times Higher, Supplement on Trinity College London

Mackintyre, R. (2016) The Porous University, RoughBounds, 9 November 2016, available at

Nerantzi, C (2017) Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development, PhD thesis, Edinburgh Napier University: Edinburgh

18 years later… #phdchat

… when I arrived in the UK in 1999 I was a PhD student in the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpretation of the Ionian University and almost ready, I thought, to submit my thesis in the area of translating German children’s literature into Greek after three years of full-time and immersive research in Greece, Germany and Austria. The thesis, 80,000 words, has been written and lives in a yellow folder under my bed for 18 years… these studies remain incomplete.


Instead 18 years later, in 2017, I managed to bring new doctoral studies I started in 2013 at Edinburgh Napier University, in another language, in another country and in another discipline to fruition. I finally got there.

As living and working in between cultures is part of who I am, and translation has always been dear to my heart and helped and challenged me to develop my creativity and playfulness, I will start my new search to bring closure to these early doctoral studies I started in 1996… 21 years ago. Will I find a solution this time?

Looking back… #HEblogswap

Note, this post was first shared via Sue’s blog. It was also reblogged at GO-GN.

Thank you Santanu Vasant (@santanuvasant) for bringing #HEblogswap to life. It is a great way to share and connect experiences among practitioners.

Doing something in tandem with Sue Watling (@suewatling) came to my mind as soon as I received the information. Sue’s post can be found here. We first met at Lincoln University in 2012 during an HEA OER Change Academy project. Since then we both changed institutions. But we stayed in touch. We worked and work together in the open and are both PhD students. When Sue invited me to write about my PhD journey for this blog swap, I thought do I really want to reflect on the experience of the last 4.5 years at this moment in time? I just survived my viva last Friday. Everything was still very fresh in my mind… I decided to go ahead and am looking back not at the whole experience but specific only aspects of it.

Ok, how did it all start?
When I was an academic developer at the University of Sunderland, I started an MSc at Edinburgh Napier University in Blended and Online Education. My dissertation brought me to experiment with academic development initiatives that had a cross-institutional and collaborative dimension. I immersed myself into this study. The seeds for my doctoral study are in there and for the many open projects that followed. I was encouraged to consider a PhD by my personal tutor. That was then Dr Keith Smyth was leading the programme and who moved to a different institution and is now a Professor. The PhD I started was at a distance, part-time, self-funded, while working full-time and with a young family. Even before I started it was evident that it wouldn’t be a smooth ride. In fact it became a rollercoaster ride. There were ups and downs… Good times and bad times. I will focus only on a few aspects of the journey today.  


How does your journey look like?

Closing my eyes and transporting my self back in time, the following fills my mind…

Community, or the lack of community, during the first years. I felt lonely and in the dark for a long time. I had no cohort, no peers to turn to. I was doing this study on my own and really felt it. It was hard, super hard. I missed the conversation with peers, other PhD students. People I could share my struggles with and my ideas. The lifeline came when I joined the Global OER Graduate Network for PhD students in open education from around the world. A project led by the Open Education Research Hub at the Open University in the UK. The network literally saved me and helped me grow and believe in what I was capable to do. The network has a face-to-face and online dimension and both are equally important. My own research has illustrated the importance of community in the context of professional learning. Find your network and if there isn’t one consider creating one. My colleague Penny Bentley did exactly that. She needed help with phenomenography, the methodology we both used in our study and decided to create a FB group, which has become a small but useful hub for phenomenographers, where we can support each other. So a sense of belonging was important to me and when I found my home as a PhD student, I started growing and gaining confidence in who I was and what I could achieve. 

Oh, no, what time is it?
There were time pressures from work, my studies and often I felt that I neglected my family. I felt guilty. Guilty for coming home switching on the laptop and working. Guilty for working during many many weekends and holidays. “Mummy will you get that PhD?” Is a question that my boys often asked. I needed to be disciplined, determined and stubborn, I guess, to keep going and bring this study to fruition. The discoveries I made during the study fascinated me, helped me to look beyond time. I did find time where there was none. In the end everything came together. It was an exhilarating process and I wanted to share my findings with others. I started sharing my work in progress with others through conferences and articles but also used my learning to develop open initiatives. Some might thing/say that these were distractions but in reality they helped me test some of my ideas and were invaluable for my development as a researcher and practitioner. I could do all this as my study was linked to my work. Some might not have this opportunity. 

Writing is super hard! 
It is one thing to do the research and another to write about it and articulate it so that it makes sense and is appropriate for a thesis. I am not an English native speaker, so conducting the whole research in English was not easy. However, I am not sure if it would be any easier in Greek or German, as my professional language is actually English. Whatever the language, academic writing does not come naturally to me. My background in teaching languages and translation literature, means that some of that more playful flavour was making its way into the thesis. What helped me was sharing early drafts with colleagues and friends. Even my husband read multiple versions… They could see much quicker what didn’t make sense, what needed to be explained better… Write everyday a little bit, set realistic targets so that you get a sense of achievement. Stick to the routine. Write, write and rewrite. We are all getting better at it through writing. I accepted criticism and learnt through this process. More recently, I have started helping other PhD students unofficially and I can see that I have grown and can help others. Something else, I did to get a break from academic writing… I started writing children’s stories again, especially near the end when I was preparing my thesis for submission.     

There were sunny times too
Some might get the impression that it was all a struggle… Yes, there were moments when I thoughts this is never going to happen. But I kept going. My supervisors kept saying “keep going”. I kept going. They were right, I got there in the end and much sooner than the supervisory team expected. And the feeling was amazing. You just need to get through the challenges and you will. A massive portion of determination and stubbornness is of course needed. And support! So so vital. Becoming a member of a  community really helped me and filled my batteries with determination and self-belief. I can do this and so can you. 

Viva o’clock
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I just had my viva on the 8th of September. There were many moments where I thought this day would never come. But it did. Today, I feel a real sense of achievement and can see that I have contributed a little something that can make a difference to my own practice and help others consider collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development settings through the cross-boundary framework I developed and released under a creative commons license and the specific new insights I have gained into collaborative open learning and the course characteristics that play a key role in shaping that experience. If you would like to read about my viva experience, the preparation I have done for it, check out and related posts to the viva.


I hope some of these reflections on the journey will be useful for other PhD students, potential and current ones, especially those at the initial stages of their studies.

If you need help, remember to reach out! I think this is key!
Through the PhD journey you will discover who you are and who you are becoming.

I hope some of the above will be useful for you.

If you would like to get in touch with me, feel free to tweet me at @chrissinerantzi.

I survived Big Friday #go_gn

I remember packing my suitcase (not the tiny yellow one unfortunately… as I had just too much stuff, you can imagine, many women find it hard to travel light, but the thesis itself took up a lot of room in the tiny suitcase… so I had an excuse this time) on Wednesday and travelling to Edinburgh via Liverpool. In the train I was convinced that I had forgotten my toothpaste and some other little special things I wanted to take with me for the viva. I opened the suitcase in the train to check and couldn’t find these… I thought, that is just typical! Easy to buy some toothpaste, of course, and I did when I arrived in Liverpool. But the other little items I couldn’t replace especially the ring Adam bought me and I wanted to wear. I was upset but I couldn’t do anything about it… When I reached my hotel and opened my suitcase I found everything I thought I had forgotten. The ring was also there. Am I panicking? I think I was. My viva was on Friday and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go back home before then.

After a fascinating day and evening at the ALT conference, seeing many friends and colleagues and celebrating the ALT awards together as well as getting loads of valuable last minute viva advice (thank you especially to Nicola, Stathis, Glenda, Rob and Martin), my journey the next morning continued towards Edinburgh. I left very early and was very anxious. I had some notes in my bag and during the trip I looked through some of them but I couldn’t focus. Most of the journey, I looked out of the window and the beautiful scenery,  the green hills, the clouds in the sky, the sheep in the fields, while trying to imagine what would happen in the viva.

I had booked the Eden Locke hotel (well, not the whole hotel!) and it was definitely the best choice. It felt like a home. Friendly service, super clean, quiet, tastefully decorated and with so many little touches that made a huge difference (that massive shower head was just amazing! Just like a waterfall) and helped me feel relaxed ahead of a very important day. Even the spacemask (you must try these!!!) and the shower gel and shampoo really (especially made for this hotel, that is what it says on the bottle) helped me relax and prepare for Big Friday.

While I had said that I would be quiet (see above tweet…), I kept capturing my last pre-viva day by posting some photos on instagram and talking to very close friends and family. Thank you especially to Cristina and Adam. I guess, this helped me feel somehow connected with the outside world. Their support in these hours was invaluable.

The hours started passing and I did some last minute checks in my thesis and the notes I had printed and other ones hand written. Even looked up one or two things I wasn’t sure in some of the literature. I went through the summaries of my chapters (not in detail this time, I found it hard to read these again… it was all blurring into one big pot of letters… like an alphabet soup if you ever had one).

Going for a walk and rediscovering the baked potato shop which I first visited many years ago with Adam,

touching the toe of David Hume’s statue which apparently helps students in exam situations (I was hoping the magic toe would help me too).

I prepared a simple healthy meal in the evening. That worked as well.  I had salmon (just smoked), broccoli (very lightly boiled) and a red pepper (raw), strawberries (without sugar) and apricots from Kent (my curiosity made me by these in the nearby supermarket. Never thought they grow in the UK). So nothing unhealthy. Everything was light. And a really aromatic camomile tea. I switched on the TV for a tiny bit but couldn’t stand the noise so switched it off again. Silence.


I had no idea that apricots grow in the UK…

After waking up at 2.30am from a nightmare… I managed to sleep again but then woke up for good much much earlier than I had set the alarm clock. I had another waterfall shower in the morning. I can’t remember how long I was in there but it was really really relaxing. Maybe I tried to wash all my worries away.

I ironed my clothes the night before. I didn’t have to think what I would wear, which often can be a challenge… As I had no idea if there was a dress code (apparently some unis have one!), I had asked Sandra during our last chat a few days ago. She confirmed that I could wear whatever I wear when I go to work… she told me this when I was actually wearing jeans (she couldn’t see me)… I assumed this wasn’t appropriate and that she meant something a little bit smarter. As I didn’t want to distract from the actually viva and the conversation we would have, I decided to wear black trousers and a black top (this reminded me of Cristina). Another reason was that these clothes were comfortable. Now shoes were the problem and while I had decided which ones to wear (after a long process of deciding… back home with Adam actually…), as the weather looked a bit rainy I picked my red ankle boots (which added a little bit of colour) and not the black shoes I had selected originally. Women always change their minds about shoes… Some might think who will actually care? But I think it matters and we need to feel good in our own skin. An outfit can and does help us in this process and make a difference at least to us. Adam had bought me recently a lovely ring (the one I mentioned earlier, which I thought I had forgotten at home) for our last anniversary which reminds me of the sea, so I did wear this as it helped me feel that I had him and my whole family with me.

I started getting ready, packed all my stuff, had a healthy breakfast which included cereal with nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. I also had a green tea. There was still some “energise” super smoothie from the day before so I finished this as well.

I left the hotel early, around 8am. I had plenty of time. The viva was scheduled for 10am.

On the street, my suitcase suddenly felt even heavier than the day before.

It was finally Big Friday.

I felt that I couldn’t remember a thing that I had done in the last 4.5 years. And I started worrying again. I took the bus to Edinburgh Napier University. I arrived early. I went to the cafe and had another green tea… I felt like a proper student. It was a good feeling. I tried to relax and tell myself that everything would be ok. My biggest worry was that I would be asked a question which I couldn’t answer. But everybody had been telling me “nobody knows your work better than you do”. Was this the case? I guess, we would find out soon.

Then it was time to meet my Director of Studies, Sandra, 30 mins before the viva. We had a chat and then the Chair of the panel took us down to the room where it would all happen.

That was it.

I was in the room and the viva was going to start.

Sandra experienced the viva with me. I sat much closer to the examiners than I thought I would. Around a table. Not them on one side and I on the other. I was inbetween them. This was a good thing as it didn’t feel like “them” and “me”. It was “us”.

It was estimated that the viva would last 2 hours.

We finished in 1.5 hours.

When I entered the room, the atmosphere was very friendly. The room was filled with  smiley and welcoming faces. I saw the two copies of my thesis that the examiners had in front of them on the table. They had loads of colourful sticky notes and I thought “Oh my god, this is going to be tough! It will take us ages to get through all these…”

I was asked a series of questions but it didn’t feel like an interrogation. It was a professional discussion. I relaxed into it and was surprised how natural it came to me to respond to their questions and stay focused on the work I had done. Adam had advised me “Don’t waffle. Focus.” I guess, he knows me… But I did stay focused 😉

I got a sense that the examiners found my work interesting and were positive throughout. This helped and I could just be me. I was open and honest about the work I had done and I think the examiners appreciated this. One of the examiners said that they liked the approach I had taken in the literature review (this happened near the beginning) and felt that my study makes a significant contribution to knowledge and that I should target heavy-weight journals and that this is REFable work (near the end of the viva). I had written these comments in my notes.

After the viva, Sandra and I were asked to leave the room. Sandra had captured important bits from the discussion and I am grateful for this. I could already sense that there were a few things that I would be asked to fix. But that was fine.

During the viva, I had my thesis and the appendices in front of me but didn’t need to open them at all. I didn’t open them. What I did find useful is writing down keywords relating to the questions. This helped me stay focused and respond to the questions with greater accuracy. I also had my notes (some copies of pages from the thesis). I mainly used the framework and the outcome space figures. I think it did help that I had printed these out. The little bag with LEGO(R) bricks was used to explain the methodology. I wasn’t sure how this would be received… But I decided to take this risk. I am pleased I did, as it helped me relax a bit more and show that complicated things can be explained in simple and creative ways.

Sandra and I stepped outside when it was all done and we then waited for an hour to be called back in. This must have been one of the loooooongest hours… I spoke with Adam and told him that the viva was a positive experience but didn’t know the outcome yet. Then it was time to go back in. The outcome was…

Award PhD subject to minor corrections:

  • some typos and repetition
  • enlarge the picture of the outcome space and the framework I developed
  • explain briefly the link between the structural factors and the lived experience area of the outcome space
  • rewrite the abstract as I didn’t sell my work
  • remove some of the appendices

Well, I was informed that I have 2 months to fix these and submit the changes (from the moment I receive the official letter from the Research office) to the internal examiner… I have already started working on the above (Sandra predicted this) and hope that by the end of next week (we will of course need to wait to receive the official notification from the Research office first), we will be able to submit the final final thesis with a record of the changes made.

In my hands, I have a copy of the informal report from the external examiner which says some very encouraging things about my work and definitely made me smile. Not sure I am aloud to share this in public, so will wait until I find out.

I received a text message from Nassi (15) my eldest just after 2.30pm who I guess was thinking of me. He asked me “Πώς πήγε;” It is always so nice to receive messages from my little boys. They always come through in Greek despite the fact that when in the UK they always speak to me in English. But that is ok.

When I arrived home, two big bunches of colourful flowers were waiting for me. Ody and Nassi had picked them. It was such a nice feeling to be back home.

Thank you to the Chair of the viva panel, both examiners, Sandra for being there with me, the whole supervisor team, Norrie who chaired all progress meetings also for suggesting the examiners  and all family, friends and colleagues who have supported, encouraged and believed in me in this process over the last 4.5 years.

Thank you so much Simon Rae for creating this and Sally for sharing with me and all. You touched me deeply.

If you have followed my viva prep chronicle here on this blog (there are multiple blog posts that capture my whole viva prep since I submitted the thesis on the 5th of May 2017)… I have to tell you that everything I did helped and I am pleased I started this preparation.  I am grateful to everybody who has helped me. Even the early and little last minute rituals made a big difference, even my little art projects and the pottery I made with my sister in the summer, to my readiness to perform in that viva. Some of it might have seem too much (I think a colleague of mine said, “I don’t know anybody who has prepared for their viva that much”, I think it was Rachel), but my body and mind did synchronise and worked together in harmony and I achieved a good result. I am very happy.

Thank you Sandra for being there with me on the day.

Note 1: Below is the Powerpoint I had put together in preparation for the viva. 

Note 2: By 8.20am this morning (9 September) I had made most of the corrections. Three more to go and I am done ;).

Note 3: Just the abstract now and I am done 11.55am (9 September).

Note 4: Working on the abstract (10 September), the final change I need to make and I am done.

Note 5: Everything is done now (10 September pm). Sent everything to Sandra for a final check.

Note 6: Contacted the Research office (11 September pm) asking when I would receive the official notification so that I can submit the requested changes to the internal examiner.

Note 7: Received the official letter today (14 September) about the outcome of the viva and what I need to submit, in what format and where. Have done all this and forwarded to my Director of Studies today. Hope to be able to submit final thesis to the Research Office beginning of next week. 

Note 8: I sent all the changes, the thesis with highlighted the changes I made and an accompanying document with the location of the changes to the research office (15 of September, exactly one week after the viva). The internal examiner will now check these. Hopefully everything will be ok. 

Note 9: Examiners approved the amendments (21 Sep). Committee meets on the 4th of October. I can graduate end of October. Yeah! I can wear the silly hat… this will be my first ever graduation I attend. It will be end of October.

Note 10: BTW I registered for a Research supervision and examination module.

Important stuff (pp. 4-6 from my thesis)

Thanks and Acknowledgements

First of all, I would like thank Adam Frank, my husband and father of our two boys, Thanassis and Odysseas. There have been extremely difficult and demanding times for all of us while I was working on this research which took me away from many precious family moments. I know that I would not have been able to carry out and complete this study without his patience, understanding, tolerance and unlimited support in so many different ways. I will be forever grateful to Adam for his unconditional love and support and the boys for their unlimited patience and understanding.

A big thank you goes to the supervisory team who believed in the importance of this research and supported it.

  • Prof. Keith Smyth, initially at the Edinburgh Napier University and then at the University of the Highlands and Islands, for believing in me and my initial research idea which was a result of my MSc Dissertation in Blended and Online Education, and for his valuable support and advice throughout.
  • Dr Karen Aitchison, Head of Academic Practice, of the Office of the Vice Principal (Academic) at Edinburgh Napier University in her capacity of Director of Studies until March 2014 and supporting the application and start of this research especially.
  • Tom McEwan as second supervisor from April 2014 to July 2015 for his critical comments and advice during this period.
  • Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal at Edinburgh Napier University and Director of Studies since April 2014. Her systematic approach and persistence played a key role in bringing this research to fruition.
  • Dr Norrie Brown, Senior Lecturer and Senior Teaching Fellow, School Academic Lead for Quality Enhancement, School of Health and Social Care at Edinburgh Napier for chairing the progress meetings during my studies with great honesty and directness and for his constructive feedback on the draft thesis.

As an open researcher I would also like to acknowledge the following individuals for their help on this journey:

  • Lars Uhlin, Karolinska Institutet, for his interest in my PBL work and for co-developing and co-delivering three times the open course Flexible, Distance and Online Learning (FDOL132) and all further colleagues who supported this initiative and participated.
  • Sandra Sinfield, London Metropolitan University, Dr Nikos Fachantidis, University of Macedonia, Sue Watling, University of Hull and Prof. Norman Jackson, Creative Academic, who embraced the open course Creativity for Learning in HE (#creativeHE) and co-organised and co-facilitated this and all course participants.
  • Penny Sweasey, my line manager at Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) for granting me some time to work on this research in the form of study leave.
  • Carol Yeager, Dr Charles Neame, David Hopkins, Frances Bell, Dr Leslie Robinson, Prof. Norman Jackson, Dr Janice Whatley, Viviene Vladimirschi, Dr Bea de los Arcos, Dr Beck Pitt, Dr Cristina Costa, Barbara Thomas, Dr Javiera Atenas, Dr Anne Algers, Prof. Ale Armellini, Bernard Lisewski, Prof. Carol Haigh, Chris Rowell, Simon Thomson, Dr Caroline Baylis-Green and especially Dr Stephen Powell and Dr Peter Gossman for our valuable professional discussions and moral support.
  • Colleagues from the Global OER Graduate Network who found me and helped me to connect with fellow PhD students in Open Education from around the world and participate in some of the network activities, which I found invaluable for my development as an open researcher and made me feel part of a community of open researchers.
  • Further individuals from my social media networks such as Penny Bentley, Prof. Åke Ingerman and especially Margy MacMillan, who responded to my calls for help on social media. All of them were instrumental in my development as a phenomenographer.
  • Colleagues Stephan Caspar, Viviene Vladimirschi, Dr Stephen Powell, Frances Bell, Ronald Macintyre, Nikos Moratoglou, Denis MacGrath, Dr Whitney Kilgore, Dr Sukaina Walji and Dr Carina Bossu who reviewed the draft framework of this study.
  • Many colleagues from the ALT and SEDA communities and especially Prof. Sally Brown, Prof. Phil Race and Dr David Baume, for helping me fill in some of the gaps in the academic development timeline.
  • Study participants from FDOL132 and #creativeHE for being so generous with their time in providing demographic information, participating in the interviews, checking the transcripts for accuracy and commenting on the phenomenographic findings including the outcome space.
  • Thank you goes also to everybody who participated in FDOL132 and #creativeHE.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank the Higher Education Academy for awarding me a National Teaching Fellowship in 2015 and Manchester Met for supporting my application. I used part of the award to pay the fees for the last two years of these studies.

This thesis is dedicated to Adam, my boys, Thanassis and Odysseas, as well as my Mami and Papi who always supported my love for learning.


Nerantzi C. (submitted) Towards a cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework for cross-institutional academic development, Doctoral thesis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Napier.