22 SES 09 C, Support and Feedback in Teaching and Learning
This paper presents the outcomes of a recent study where we have sought to experiment with new ways of researching student transitions into and through higher education. In doing so we employ concepts from the work of Deleuze and Guattari (1987), and engage with the recent writings of Taylor and Harris-Evans (2018), to view transition from a different perspective than that is normally taken within the literature and within contemporary higher education practice. In consonance with the approach of Taylor and Harris-Evans, we explore ‘ways of doing transition anew’ (2018) and suggest that ‘such experimentations would be orientated to opening space for students’ becomings; that they would…provide opportunities for students’ messy, struggles with knowledge-ing’ (2018). In particular, we consider transition through the lens of key concepts such as ‘rhizome’ and ‘becoming’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). As such, this paper seeks to examine the questions of how can we activate theoretical approaches to better understand the complexity, diversity and individuality of students’ experiences ‘in transition’? Further, how might students' experiences of learning, unlearning and becoming, differ from that of other students in the UK, Europe, and beyond?
Within a traditional paradigm of students’ experiences entering and progressing through University, transition is presented as a linear journey. During this journey, the ‘transition process’ is expected to be made as smooth as possible, and students’ challenges and experiences are presented as broadly similar: much work has been done understanding and supporting ‘the first year experience’ for example. Moreover, within this view, students are often conceptualised within a deficit narrative where individuals are required to develop learner identities and academic practices that are acceptable to institutions, to acquire the appropriate cultural capital, and to assimilate within pre-existing institutional cultures.
This research study uses a range of innovative qualitative methods including story completion and concept mapping. Our findings suggest that in contrast to this traditional paradigm of student transitions, students’ learning development is not a one directional, linear process. We argue that instead students’ experiences are markedly diverse. We propose that a more helpful conceptualisation is to view students’ transitions as individual, as composed of learning and unlearning, as intertwined, ongoing, and rhizomatic.
Data was collected through interviews with three groups of participants: first year undergraduate students, academic staff and learning developer / librarians who work with students. Participants have been chosen to reflect a wider scope than that which is usually included in educational research. It has been acknowledged that learning developers and librarians voices are less commonly heard (Gravett and Winstone, 2018) although these staff often have valuable insight into students’ experiences within higher education and can be seen to occupy a third space within higher education (Whitchurch, 2008). It is the aim that by including more opportunities to surface the perspectives of different groups of staff working with students in higher education we can more effectively begin to understand the complexity of students’ experiences. Interviews included both concept map-mediated interviews for staff participants (e.g. Kandiko and Kinchin, 2013) and story completion methods for student participants (e.g. Braun et al., 2018). Concept map-mediated interviewing is open-ended and enabled staff to surface their beliefs and conceptions of students’ transitions through dialogue and the con-construction of a concept map. For students, story completion methods enabled participants to articulate their experiences through the use of imaginary stories, and this method been chosen as a result of the desire to provide opportunities for students to make visible their perspectives through writing and meaning making. Participants were given the beginning of a narrative, including short descriptions of a situation involving students transitioning into higher education. Participants were then be instructed to write a continuation of the story. Semi-structured interview questions were also be employed as a means to subsequently discuss with students their written narratives. Participants were recruited at two institutions. Students were first year students and were interviewed on two occasions: at the end of semester one, and then that the end of semester two, in order to enable data to be compared and for students to be able to reflect in their experiences. Full ethical approval from the authors’ institutions was obtained. Data was then analysed using rhizomic data analysis (Maclure, 2010), which seeks to enable the understanding of the complexity of students’ transitioning experiences, as opposed to traditional coding strategies that aim to subsume data into regular and hierarchical categories.
It is hoped that this research study will enable us to better understand both the nuances and complexity of transition, and that a more effective understanding of students’ experiences can help staff to better support their students. Our findings suggest that students’ learning development is not a one directional, linear process, and that students’ experiences were markedly diverse. Staff and students are shown to be heavily influenced by popular narratives and stereotypes of students in transition, and yet their experiences do not support these stereotypes. Instead we argue that a more helpful conceptualisation is to view students’ transitions as individual, as composed of learning and unlearning, as intertwined, ongoing, rhizomatic, messy, and fluid. Yet this conception sits in tension to the traditional University narrative of a linear pathway of development with clear milestones leading to a more developed, assimilated and employable self. Furthermore, it requires us to accept the inherent difficulties and challenges involved in the necessary messiness of learning, and perhaps ultimately to accept that we may, all of us, be always ‘lost in transition’ (Quinn, 2010).
Braun, V., Clarke, V., Frith, H., Hayfield, N., Malson, H., Moller, N. and Shah-Beckley, I. (2018) Qualitative story completion: Possibilities and potential pitfalls. Qualitative Research in Psychology. [In Press] Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. (1987). A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum. Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari. (1994). What is philosophy? New York: Columbia University Press. Gravett, K and Winstone, N. E. (2018). "Feedback interpreters”: the role of learning development professionals in facilitating university students’ engagement with feedback, Teaching in Higher Education, doi: 10.1080/13562517.2018.1498076. Kandiko, C. B., and I. M. Kinchin. (2013). Developing Discourses of Knowledge and Understanding: Longitudinal Studies of PhD Supervision. London Review of Education 11 (1): 46–58. Land, R., Rattray, J., and Vivian, P. (2014). Learning in the liminal space: A semiotic approach to threshold concepts. Higher Education, 67(2), 199-217. Quinn, J. (2010). Rethinking ‘failed transitions’ to higher education. In K. Ecclestone, G. Biesta and M. Hughes (Eds.), Transitions and learning through the lifecourse (pp. 118-129). London, UK: Routledge. Taylor, C. A. and J. Harris-Evans (2016) Reconceptualising transition to Higher Education with Deleuze and Guattari, Studies in Higher Education. Turner, L. and J. Tobbell (2017). Learner identity and transition: an ethnographic exploration of undergraduate trajectories, Journal of Further and Higher Education, doi: 10.1080/0309877X.2017.1311993. Whitchurch, C. (2008) Shifting identities and blurring boundaries: the emergence of third space professionals in UK higher education. Higher Education Quarterly 62 (4): 377–396. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2273.2008.00387.
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