Longing for connection: University educators creating meaning through sharing experiences of teaching online

Brandi Fox, Margaret Bearman*, Robin Bellingham, Andrea North-Samardzic, Simona Scarparo, Darci Taylor, Mathew Krehl Edward Thomas, Michael Volkov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper presents a reflexive analysis of how university educators experience the shift to increasing online teaching in 2019. We explore what it means to be an online educator in contemporary higher education and aim to raise questions about how we approach online education and understand ourselves as educators, informed by a sociomaterial lens. The research utilised collaborative autoethnography (CAE) to facilitate meaning-making and uncover complex perspectives through collaboration and conversation. This enabled us to question what we as educators were losing and what we were gaining as a consequence of shifting to more online modes of teaching via university mandated platforms and processes. Through this methodology, various themes emerged: the role of corporeality; how we constructed ourselves through texts; how others materialised us in virtual spaces; the experience of online time; and our transforming practices and identities. This paper provides a snapshot of a significant cultural milieu in academia as we were afforded time to engage in reflexive practice about teaching online just as the academic world was abruptly mandated to shift almost wholly online. It also provides unique insights into the significance of understanding ourselves as both embodied and social, and the importance of community within academia. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Higher education's shift online, both before and during COVID, has had a substantial effect on university staff, including discomfort and loss of agency. What this paper adds Considering the material and embodied is important in online education, particularly because it can be taken-for-granted and hence overlooked. Feelings of disconnection can result from the inevitable gap between how educators represent themselves online and how others perceive (“materialise”) them online. Experiencing a lack of connection with online students provides the opportunity to question assumptions about student experiences and develop more nuanced online teaching practice. Teaching requires some kind of reconciliation between the linear time as laid out in learning design and the not-yet-here/always-there time of online learning. Implications for practice and/or policy Attention must continue to be paid to the experiences of educators as even experienced ones find teaching online disturbs identities and practices. Collegially sharing virtual spaces may assist university educators in making sense of the shifts demanded by online teaching and allow more active modelling of meaning-making processes for students. Teaching may benefit from deliberate consideration of developing online personas and reflection on how to accommodate them within academic professional identities.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 May 2021


  • e-learning
  • higher education
  • professional learning
  • qualitative research


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