22 SES 11 D, Teaching and Learning: Students' Experiences
The general aim of our study is to explore students’ experiences and self-regulatory strategies used during the final year of university preparatory courses (hereafter, FYUP). Specifically, our objectives are twofold. On the one hand, we explore the way students visualize their transition to higher education studies, what are their expectations, plans and ideas about the university. On the other hand, we explore how students cope with the demanding academic environment of FYUP.
Regarding the way students visualize their transition to higher education, it is important to note that in the last year/s of secondary education students start to anticipate the change and adapt to it. That is why this stage has been considered the preparation phase of the transition to higher education (Coertjens el al., 2017). Many studies, both in Europe and the US, have focused in the variables that affect the process of choosing the university path. In this line, American and British researchers have emphasized how students’ socio-cultural backgrounds influence the choice, while some Scandinavian authors have focused in the construction of an attractive identity associated to a career choice (Holmegard, Ulriksen & Madsen, 2014). In our study, we have a different scope. We analyse how Spanish students visualize their transition in comparison to their academic life in the last years of secondary education and the expectations and ideas about the change.
Our second objective has to do with the analysis of how students face FYUP. This is a very demanding academic year due to several reasons. First, students must prepare a significant amount of content knowledge covering a high number of subjects in a short time (Benito & Alegre, 2012). Second, as in the case of Spain, many countries all over the world require students to pass general exams at the end of the year to enter in the university level (e.g. Appelrouth & Zabrucky, 2017; Muñoz-Repiso Izaguirre & Murillo Torrecilla, 1999). The scores obtained in the exam, usually in combination with scores from the last secondary education year levels, are used to determine the position of major choice for the students. Therefore, this exam is a major stressor for the students. Third, as mentioned above, students must take important decisions about their university itinerary that will affect their future career. Finally, research has found that secondary education students can experience negative emotions in relationship to at least academic and social failure aspects (Jackson, 2010). These factors are probably even higher among FYUP students as they are aware and stressed about the changes they will experience once they move into the university.
To explore how students view all these challenges of FYUP, we analysed the use of self-regulatory strategies, framed within the self-regulated learning theory (Zimmerman, 2000). These strategies can be classified as cognitive, metacognitive, management, emotional and motivational. Cognitive refers to strategies to arrange mental information so that it can be remembered easily in the future. Metacognitive strategies focus on think about thinking, while management strategies refer to actions to regulate the external learning environment (e.g. time management, study environment structuring, help seeking) and one’s own attention (e.g. effort regulation and perseverance). Motivational regulation strategies refer to actions aiming at maintaining or increasing the interest to perform an academic strategy (Schwinger & Stiensmeier-Pelster, 2012). Finally, emotional strategies refer to actions that regulate negative emotions and promote positive ones (Sang, Pan, Deng & Zhao, 2018). In our study, we ask students about their cognitive and management strategies in relation to study and learning, and their motivational and emotional strategies.
Participants In total, 75 FYUP students from two high schools participated in the study. 27 students were males (36%) and 48 females (64%). Regarding their socioeconomic status (SES), 53 participants were classified in middle SES, 11 in medium-low and 11 in medium-upper. Instruments Data was collected via an structured interview. It had 37 questions divided in 4 sections. The first section (questions 1 to 15) was general, and included questions regarding mainly the socioeconomic status of the students and the kind of support that the participants received from their families (academic, economic, and motivational). The second section, 8 questions, dealt with the expectations about the FYUP, the challenges of the course and their possibilities of success in that year. In the third section, between questions 24 and 30, students were asked about their strategies for learning, motivational and emotional regulation. Finally, the last section covered their concerns about the university life, some of their ideas about their future professional and academic life, their use of free time and a closing question to encourage them to share other aspects not included in the interview that they considered relevant. Procedure Two high schools from Madrid area participated in this study. The data collection team brought the participants individually to a quiet room to interview them. For reaching a final version of the interview script and for the research assistant training, the team conducted five pilot interviews that were not included in this study results. After that, 75 participants were interviewed following the 37 predefined questions, with a duration ranging between 25 and 50 minutes. All participants answered the different interview sections in the same order, though in some occasions the order of questions within sections changed for a better development of the interview. Coding categories and data analysis We carried out the data analysis using quantitative and qualitative procedures. First, we got the transcriptions for all the participants. Second, considering every question of the structured interview, we decided if it was more appropriate to analyse the participants’ answers by using closed or open categories (Bazeley, 2013). In the closed categories, we used an inter-judge Krippendorff’s Alpha agreement among 3 judges and we created a database for quantitative analysis. In the open categories we followed a qualitative coding and later we perform a network analysis.
Regarding our first objective, in relation to their plans, expectations and ideas about university life, the reasons given to study in the university are mainly three: (1) they expected to have a better future, (2) a way to pursue the profession they like or (3) desire to experience the university. Although university was attractive for the participants, most students had a sensation of insecurity about how the will adapt to the university. The most usual worries were failing or getting “stuck”, experiencing academic difficulties, finding it difficult to integrate in the new social context and that their parents would face an important economic burden. These particular concerns are supported by previous research from other countries (e.g. Nicolescu, 2015). Regarding our second objective, participants reported the use of few learning strategies, mainly based in summaries, diagrams and memorizing strategies. This shows a very limited range of metacognitive and cognitive strategies. When we look at the other two strategy categories the results are similar. Students reported low frequencies and range of motivational and emotional strategies, being the most used “reducing anxiety and negative emotions”, “self-consequences” and “denial and distraction”. It is relevant that students develop these type of strategies as they have shown to be crucial for academic achievement (e.g. Schwinger & Stiensmeier-Pelster, 2012) and well-being (Sang et al., 2018). Overall, if we consider the combination of reported challenges for FYUP and the limited repertoire of reported strategies, students do not have enough personal resources to cope with FYUP. As it is extremely complex to do this during such stressful year level, we need to prepare them academically and personally during, at least, the two previous years.
Appelrouth, J. I., & Zabrucky, K. M. (2017). Preparing for The SAT: A Review. College and University, 92(1), 2. Bazeley, P. (2013). Qualitative data analysis. practical strategies. London: Sage. Benito, R., & Alegre, M. A. (2012). The changing patterns of individual and school effects on educational transitions. Evidence from Catalan data (Spain). Educational Research, 54(1), 65-87. Coertjens, L., Brahm, T., Trautwein, C., & Lindblom-Ylänne, S. (2017). Students' transition into higher education from an international perspective. Higher Education (00181560), 73(3), 357-369. Holmegaard, H. T., Ulriksen, L. M., & Madsen, L. M. (2014). The process of choosing what to study: A longitudinal study of upper secondary students' identity work when choosing higher education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 58(1), 21-40. Jackson, C. (2010). Fear in education. Educational Review, 62(1), 39-52. Laborda, J. G. (2012). Presentación. De la Selectividad a la Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad: pasado, presente y un futuro no muy lejano. Revista de Educación(357), 17-28. Lowe, H., & Cook, A. (2003). Mind the Gap: Are students prepared for higher education? Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(1), 53-76. doi:10.1080/03098770305629 Muñoz-Repiso Izaguirre, M., & Murillo Torrecilla, F. J. (1999). La selectividad a examen. Estudio comparativo del acceso a la universidad en algunos países de Europa. Cuadernos de Pedagogía(282), 91-97. Niculescu, A. (2015). Hidden in plain sight: Capturing freshmen emotional experiences and their effects on performance at university. (PhD), Maastricht University, The Netherlands, Maastricht. Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 13-40). San Diego, California: Academic Press
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