Metaphors postgraduates use to depict their student experience

Individual, community and digital presence


  • Shelley Kinash
  • Linda Crane
  • Gary Hamlin
  • Ann Bannatyne



metaphors, post-graduate experience, digital presence


In an Australian national study into student constructions of postgraduate education, 38 students (masters and doctoral) were asked to draw literal or figurative pictures of their experience. Manual thematic analysis of interview transcripts revealed 33 metaphors. Metaphors were coded into individualistic, personal constructions (Me), relational community depictions (Us) and digital or information technology conceptualisations (IT) which were mapped to the Community of Inquiry (CoI) Framework’s elements of Cognitive, Social and Teaching Presence. The highest proportion of metaphors were about personal gain and process. The next largest thematic category was relational, mostly depicting what students think others should give, rather than student contribution. Aligned with this theme, students also used metaphors of isolation and perceptions of a missing ‘us’ factor. There were few metaphors drawn from the language of information technology and/or digital presence, which seems to flag a domain of the postgraduate student experience that requires further development. The key takeaways from this paper are expanded information about digital presence in postgraduate student experience, as well as quality improvement recommendations for universities.








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