22 SES 01 D, Development of Research & Teaching: Tools and Practices
This paper evaluates two modes of graphic elicitation interviews that were used to explore the factors that impact on students’ learning progress. Sparked by a concern over the slow throughput and high dropout rate of research master’s and doctoral students at the University of South Africa (Unisa), two research projects were undertaken within the interpretative and constructivist paradigm. In the first project the aim was to enhance the insight into the factors that socialised students to success; in the second investigation the aim was to explore the reasons for the students’ procrastination.
Since student learning and development are personal and social processes, interviews are often used to explore the factors that impact on the learning behaviour of the students. In this regard Banks (2007) believes that visuals can enrich interview data, and should be considered by social researchers in any project. The advantages of using visuals in research include the fact that visuals ensure a relaxed beginning and progression of interviews, stimulate memory, are particularly invitational for stories and reveal the relevant whole-part structures of topics. Accordingly, participant-created visuals (diagrams or drawings) were used in the graphic elicitation interviews to collect data in the abovementioned projects conducted at Unisa.
In both instances referred to above, social learning theories were considered and were useful in interpreting the data. In the first investigation, with successful students, the sociocultural theory was particularly valuable. According to the sociocultural theory, pedagogy in a relational sense refers to the initiation of relationships and actions across multiple spaces which provide the potential to learn. Student learning and development occur through social experiences when the students interact with people (using language), artefacts (e.g., books and journals), situations, work contexts or academic institutions and practices. In the second project, with procrastinating students, the situated learning theory, the social capital theory and the self-regulated learning theory were suitable to interpret the interview data. The situated learning theory, e.g., learning in communities of practice, indicates that learning is influenced by the culture, context and activities in which it takes place, and that social activity is a key ingredient of learning. Through activities in the academic community, praxis is renewed and insights are generated by the participating students. The social capital theories demonstrate how the social networks in an academic community are sources of information about norms or expectations and thus function as a source of social capital. Other valuable resources for research students are their peers and supervisors. The self-regulated learning theory explains why and how students learn independently, and what they need to know about themselves and their academic learning tasks. Self-regulation refers to the degree to which the students are actively involved in their own learning on a meta-cognitive, motivational and behavioural level, and involves setting goals, organising their learning, and consistently reflecting on and monitoring their learning progress.
With regard to the use of visuals in research on postgraduate student learning and supervisory practices, there is a dearth of publications which used visuals. One Finnish study used timelines to study engaging and disengaging doctoral experiences (Pyhältö, & Vekkaila & Lonka 2014), and a South African study used metaphor drawing in research on ideal supervisory practices with a group of supervisors as participants (Van Laren, Pithouse-Morgan, Chisanga, Harrison, Meyiwa, Muthukrishna & Naicker, 2014). This study found that the exercise supported the participants to reconsider their own supervisory practices.
Against the above as background, the aim of this paper was to compare the value of the two modes of graphics (diagrams and drawings) that were used at Unisa to explore the factors that impact on research master’s and doctoral studies.
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