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You are reading: NCSEHE research project update – Shifts in space and self: Moving from community to university

The NCSEHE conducts an annual Research Grants Program, building a solid evidence base to improve higher education access and outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

After receiving an unprecedented 55 submissions for the 2017 grants funding round, we look forward to publishing 13 diverse and progressive research projects, led by 10 Australian universities, in late 2018.

One of the successful projects Shifts in space and self: Moving from community to university led by Sarah O’Shea (University of Wollongong) is well underway, with the team now advancing project activities and reporting preliminary outcomes.

Project background

High numbers of students do not complete higher education and disproportionate numbers are from regional and remote areas. Too often it is the individual who is ‘blamed’ for this departure and perceived as ‘lacking’ the necessary knowledges.

Shifts in space and self: Moving from community to university intends to disrupt this deficit discourse by innovatively employing a digital storytelling methodology to investigate the subjective experience of this transition.

Digital stories are multimodal, digital text, which utilise a combination of photos, and voice compiled via computer video editing software. These short narrative films are highly personal; they act as avenues for self-expression, allowing individuals to represent their thoughts, memories, opinions or ideas (Hartley, 2008).

Following one cohort of regional and remote students as they transition into, and move through, their first year of university studies, the project visually explores the ways in which these students enter higher education and how those around them perceive and support this movement, and defines the repercussions that this educational undertaking has for their community of origin.

Recent activities

The project commenced in November 2017 with training for researchers and University of New South Wales (UNSW) ASPIRE staff on digital storytelling. This workshop was facilitated over two days at UNSW and was run by the Digital Storytellers film-making agency (

Following on from this workshop, a pilot project was run with Gilgandra High School. This activity was designed to introduce the digital storytelling methodology to the school community. Based on this pilot, a total of eleven schools agreed to be involved in the next stage of the project.

Shifts in space and self

In April 2018, seven schools located across Far West New South Wales participated in a digital story workshop held in Dubbo, facilitated by the UNSW ASPIRE team. Over 2 days, Year 11 students scripted, filmed, edited and narrated their digital stories, which considered how they see their futures upon completion of school. One of the ways the team encouraged the young people to consider their post-schooling options was to ask them to draw a picture of life after school, these also feature in the digital stories using time lapse technology.

Eight teachers participated in focus groups during the workshop and discussed the particular issues that regional and remote students encounter when considering higher education participation. These focus group discussions also served to contextualise the high schools and their student populations. The research team also conducted interviews with Year 11 participants around the theme of ‘ASPIRing for my/our future’, with final digital products shown at a celebratory screening.

Overall, this project has been greeted with enthusiasm by the principals of the schools; this response is largely due to long-term relationships with the ASPIRE team. Under the leadership of CI Ann Jardine, the project team has worked very closely with ASPIRE.

This type of relationship building is key to a project such as this one and needs to be complemented by a genuine form of giving back to the school community. To that end, the project team will also be developing a curriculum guide for career teachers in how to use this methodology and project resources for a lesson/unit of work on post-school education options.

Read the final report: Shifts in space and self: Moving from community to university

More information on the NCSEHE Research Grants Program is available here.