Building a social learning community: Tips and tools for surviving a PhD and professional learning during a pandemic and beyond

Sue Beckingham, Deborah Baff, Suzanne Faulkner, Dawne Irving-Bell

Research output: Contribution to conferenceLecturepeer-review


Undertaking independent professional learning or further study such as a PhD or EdD can be an isolating experience. You may be juggling full-time work and studying part-time; have caring responsibilities; studying in person or as a distance learner. Irrespective of study mode, the experience of being a PhD or EdD student is very different to a taught undergraduate or postgraduate degree where a cohort of students study together and follow the same curriculum for the main part of their degree. The PhD experience whilst an individual learning experience, can still open up opportunities for serendipitous conversations. These may occur on campus in the corridor, seminars, guest lectures, in the workplace, during social activities or through attending conferences. However, during the pandemic opportunities for such interactions were curtailed and all contact was shifted online through remote learning. The session will be facilitated through a ‘fireside chat’ where we will share the spaces (tools), places (groups), and resources that have helped us through the pandemic; considering those we will take forward to support our continued journey, those that we will try to incorporate, and those that we are glad to leave behind. Through our personal narratives (Goodall, 2009) we will also reflect-in-action (Schön, 1991) on the challenges faced and how these were overcome. Our research is a critical self-reflection (Moon, 2000) of our lived experiences during the pandemic as a group of educators working in higher education, who are either undertaking a PhD or supporting others who are. This presents the opportunity for “reassessing the way we have posed problems and reassessing our own orientation to perceiving, knowing, believing, feeling, and acting” (Mezirow, 1990:13). Based on the outcome of this session we plan to undertake further research using a collaborative auto-ethnographic (CAE) approach (Chang et al, 2016; Roy and Uekusa, 2020) which will utilise self-narratives of these experiences. This session will provide input to a co-created toolkit which will be shared openly for use and adaptation by others. The toolkit could also be used by individuals undertaking other types of professional development. This might include scholarship, research or study, for example an Academic Professional Higher Degree Apprenticeships, Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice or applying for a Senior/Principal Fellowship, SEDA Fellowship, CMALT (Certified Membership of ALT) or other professional recognition scheme.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2021
EventThe Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference 2021 - The University of Glasgow, Glasgow , United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Dec 202114 Dec 2021


ConferenceThe Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference 2021
Abbreviated titleSocmedHE21
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • SoTL
  • PhD
  • Learning and Teaching
  • Collaboration
  • Social Media
  • Professional Learning


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