thesis 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 a 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 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

About this work
Crossing boundaries with #byod4l – some thoughts on sustaining and extending open: design, resources, practice by Sheila MacNeill, 28 January 2018

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.

Thesis submitted #go_gn

It was a milestone day for me as I posted the thesis to Edinburgh Napier and therefore submitted it officially for examination. There is loads I could say how I feel just now, but for now, I am adding the abstract below and need to get ready for the viva. I am not there yet…


one set for the internal examiner, one for the external and one for me

Towards a framework for cross-boundary collaborative open learning for cross-institutional academic development


Academic development in the United Kingdom (UK) has been criticised in the literature for being behind the times and for not modelling innovative and technology-supported practices. Concurrently there are increased external pressures on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK to engage large numbers of academic staff in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to gain a teaching qualification and/or professional recognition, to enhance their teaching practice, and to raise the quality of teaching in order to achieve teaching excellence. The UK Government view is that teaching excellence can be achieved through competition and financial incentives. However, academic staff collaboration combined with open education, can provide an alternative model. The call for more outwards facing and connected CPD by academic developers point towards real opportunities in this area where cross-institutional academic development and collaborative open learning can play a key role. This thesis reports research that provides some options tackling issues in this area. It is a phenomenographic study, which explores the collaborative open learning experience of academic staff and further open learners in two specific cross-institutional academic development courses. It also includes collaborative open learning characteristics using digital online technologies. The findings demonstrate the impact these courses had on the study,  participants’ experience and the benefits and positive nature of collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development. The study adds to what is known about collaborative open learning in cross-institutional academic development, and also provides new insights for academic developers and course designers about the benefits of crossing boundaries (i.e. open learning) in an academic development context. The study concludes with the proposal of an openly licensed framework developed with the aim of informing academic developers who may be considering and planning to model such approaches.


… I received confirmation from DHL that the yellow box is travelling North

Submitted the thesis 10 days ahead of my personal target… which was the 15th of May.