Stories of Emergent Cultures of Distance Learning and Collaboration: Understanding the CELSE-Hellenic Open University Project

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study presents and explores the narratives of participants including the author in a ten-year, international distance learning (DL) collaboration and curriculum development project in the field of language teacher education. The project is innovatory in several important ways: first, one partner institution, the newly-established Hellenic Open University, is pioneering DL in Greece; second, since 1997, the HOU’s MA TEFL programme, the first of its kind in a public institution in Greece, has provided professional development opportunities for over 500 English language teachers in Greece; third, the other partner, the Centre for English Language Studies in Education (CELSE) at The University of Manchester, has been a pioneer of DL within its institution since the mid1980s; and, fourth the collaborative model involves the operationalisation within the new HOU context of DL courseware developed by CELSE, an arrangement requiring consideration of the effective adaptation of the methodology and content of that courseware in the interests of appropriacy for the HOU context.

During the author’s project sojourns in Greece, the sense-making power of the project narratives was noted. This possibility was developed through a consideration of the characteristics of narratives and the objectives and procedures of narrative research. After an exploration of the complexities of narratives and narrative positioning in general and, more specifically, of the narrativity of this research text, the narrative approach used in this study is delineated. The study presents and interprets four types of project narratives:
the co-constructed restoried narratives of key participants from the pioneering generation of activity; the author’s archive-based Project Co-ordinator’s story; the narratives, based on project-related texts and events, of the development of the practitioner-shaped conceptualisations of distance learning, appropriate distance learning methodology, interculturality and Greekness; and the author’s research story as embedded in the project.

A cross-cultural, comparative study of the project in terms of its UK and Greek aspects has been rejected in favour of an intercultural understanding based on a Holliday-an model of emergent cultures of DL and collaboration located within the Host Culture Complexes that the Manchester and HOU represent. The combination of the narrative approach and the intercultural conceptualisation has enabled an examination of the factors aiding and hindering the project as seen from a
participant perspective. A combination of factors contingent on the particularities of the project and its participants is found to be involved in both the establishment and development of the collaboration. Interestingly, although the collaboration itself is seen to be strong, effective, and innovative, the pioneer groups involved have an outside status within their own institutions. This has meant that the collaboration, although impacting on the professional practice of language teachers, DL tutors, writers and mentors in many ways, has nonetheless failed to fulfil the potential that the participants saw in its pioneering beginnings. Their disappointment is understandable and tends to place the many project achievements under a cloud. The vulnerability of the collaboration to institutional politicking and maverick management raises questions about the fitness of the
UK institution for such collaborative activities.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
Award date3 Dec 2004
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • distance learning
  • appropriate methodology
  • emergent cultures
  • Greece
  • appropriate distance course design
  • appropriate distance learning methodology
  • Hellenic Open University
  • Culturally-appropriate


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