09 September 2008

The problem

The problem that the conventional printed thesis presents for research students who are exploring e-learning, especially where multimodality is foregrounded, is that such a printed format necessitates a linear, largely monomodal (i.e. verbal) medium for the presentation and conveying of the research. In much contemporary research, the print format is not problematic; even where screen shots and other images need to be included, they can be incorporated into the print medium of the conventional thesis. These images, plus moving images, can be appended in a CD that can be bound into the back cover of the thesis.

But such solutions are partial and transitional. The deeper problem is that a linear print-based format may not be suitable for the subject-matter of the thesis, which may require a different logic and a different rhetorical shape. For example, a research study on complexity theory or on a problem with many variables may require different points of entry, allowing the reader/user to choose which point of entry, and which navigational route through the material, bests suits their ends. Furthermore, in terms of curation, dissemination and speed of access, electronic formats for the PhD thesis will make it more readily available to other researchers and users. A 2007 survey of policies relating to electronic theses by the Consortium of Research Libraries, however, suggests considerable variation in approach to this matter (11 were considering the matter, 2 had voluntary schemes, 8 had mandatory depositing of electronic versions of theses). It will be important to bear in mind such university variation, and to ensure that readers/examiners are fully apprised of the need to read such theses as carefully as they would in conventional format.

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