Keynote – Sian Bayne

The sentimental campus: online distance education and being ‘at’ University

This talk will focus on what it means to be ‘at’ University, for distance students who are never ‘in’ the University in the sense of being present on campus. It will discuss the question of how we understand the ‘distancing’ in space of students, particularly in the context of distance postgraduate teaching, and the provision of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The presentation will share the findings of a recent research project with distance Masters students at the University of Edinburgh, which gave some surprising insights into what the space of the university means to ‘non-traditional’ students who never physically attend. It will then move on to discuss the various articulations of space which have emerged through the offering of a particular MOOC (the ‘E-learning and digital cultures’ MOOC offered by the University of Edinburgh through Coursera).

Some of the themes emerging from this work will be discussed, including how ‘homecoming’ and a sentimental connection with the material campus remain important to students at a distance, what it means to be ‘nomadic’ as a student, and what it means to experience ‘campus envy’.

Using insights from mobilities theory, I will argue against the tendency within higher education to treat bounded campus space as the norm, and distance and ‘placelessness’ as a deviation. I will suggest that this fails to take account of the complex and creative ways in which distance students make University space.


Dr Sian Bayne is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, and Associate Dean (digital scholarship) in the College of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Edinburgh. She teaches on the MSc in Digital Education and the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. Her research is focused on the many ways in which the digital changes and challenges education, with a focus on distance and higher education. More at:

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