Concluding reflections

Table of Contents:

This method has captured the individual nature of the students’ meaning-making on campus, contributing to an understanding of the diversity of meaning-making within higher education. A particular strength here is that it has captured what the students do as part of their meaning-making including when, where and why, and how this fits in with their life as a student, providing an insight that can be used to inform policy and practice to support students.

The strength of this diary-like photo-elicitation method is that it allowed for flexibility and choice in student participation, and as a result students have shared this sensitive and often private aspect of their everyday lives, one that they may not share with their peers. A visual rather than written diary allows participants greater control over privacy in its creation, and this was illustrated here in that some students chose to self-censor their photographs, and others used objects and private spaces to illustrate their religious practices.

There is inevitably a compromise when designing research, and what has been lost in the choice not to offer identification in this study (the potential to offer voice to students and to show their photographs as distinct from my descriptions and analysis of them), has been gained in that it created a safe space in which students could participate on their own terms and in their own way. Students took the choices offered (such as including selfies that they perhaps may not have included if they were to be shared beyond the interview), and made their own choices in the disclosure of their photographs (such as withholding them on their phone, or choosing to share more once in the interview).

It is therefore recommended that visual diary-like methods are considered when researching sensitive topics in higher education, and that in cases where identifiable photographs are created by participants a situated approach to ethics is taken in addition to consideration of current recommendations within visual research ethics. There is also potential here to encourage further inclusion by giving complete ownership of a photo diary to participants: inviting students to take photographs on their phone that would only be discussed in an interview rather than given to the researcher. While a private diary' is not without limitations (Harvey, 2011), what would be gained is that it would enable the inclusion of students who might not otherwise take part, and a greater insight into private, not often shared topics.


This chapter is based upon my PhD research, which was funded by' the Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship, Nottingham Trent University.


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