CMC, Disability Studies and Educational Counselling/Advising

In summary my research interests include:

My doctoral research, completed 2001, crossed the boundaries of three areas of interest. These are: disability studies, computer mediated communication (CMC) and educational counselling/advising. My main study focused on an exploration of the effects of providing access to the services of an educational counsellor on-line in a 'Virtual Campus' environment for a group of undergraduate distance learners with long-term health problems. This work was supervised by Dr. Pat Fung and Professor Denise Whitelock at the Institute of Educational Technology and Ms Judy Emms, Faculty of Maths and Computing, The Open University.

"Computer Mediated Communication and Disability Support: Addressing Barriers to Study for Undergraduate Distance Learners with Long-term Health Problems". Doctoral thesis. Milton Keynes: The Open University. (Abstract available here).

Epistolary Interviews - a novel research method

A novel research method was developed and piloted during the final phase of this research. This is a form of interactive personal interview by asynchronous e-mail, which is introduced in my thesis and termed epistolary interview. The interview structure was adapted for text-based communication from the type of semi-structured conversational format described by Wilson (1996) as a suitable research tool for in depth exploration of interviewee experience in a face-to-face situation (Debenham, M. 2007: Epistolary Interviews On-line: A Novel Addition to the Researcher's Palette. York: TechDis. [Note: This paper was first published on the TechDis site, which sadly has been disontinued in 2015. A pdf of the published version may be downloaded here, posted with the agreement of the Higher Education Academy, so that the material will remain available to scholars with an interest in the field.])


Wilson, M. 1996. Asking Questions: in Data Collection and Analysis, ed. R. Sapsford, V. Jupp, pp 94 - 120. London: Sage.

Biographical Background

As an undergraduate in 1988 I became one of the first group of students to take the Open University's pioneering course in Information Technology, entitled "An Introduction to Information Technology: Social and Technological Issues". This introduced the use of computer conferencing for contact with the course tutor and fellow students in a distance learning environment. As an alumna of the course, I continued to use the medium on a self help basis to support my remaining undergraduate studies. It was this experience which later triggered my interest in undertaking research to explore the potential of the medium to support disabled distance learners.

For health-related reasons, I was myself registered as a disabled student with the Open University from the outset of my undergraduate studies in 1980. Later, when I was awarded a full time post-graduate research studentship at the Institute of Educational Technology (IET), commencing in early 1996, the department took great care in making special arrangements to accommodate and facilitate my study-related needs. These included permission to be formally based at my Regional Centre in Bristol, with a locally based supervisor in addition to my two departmental supervisors in Milton Keynes; extensive use of CMC and telephone for communication with my IET supervisors, other Milton Keynes campus-based staff and support services; and regular trips to campus for conferences, presentations and meetings. These CMC provisions were experimental in those early days, when data communication systems were still very slow and cumbersome in use — in contrast to today, when the highly developed Internet and fast broadband access have transformed the scenario for all distance learners.


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Page last updated 2 May 2017

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