Education students' first year experience on a regional university campus

PhD Thesis


Black, Trevor Scott. 2015. Education students' first year experience on a regional university campus. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

Education students' first year experience on a regional university campus

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorBlack, Trevor Scott
SupervisorJamieson-Proctor, Romina
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages294
Year2015
Abstract

This study investigates the factors which impact on the first year experience of pre-service education students on a small campus of a regional university, the timing and interaction of these factors across the full first year of study, and the effectiveness of the research method to gather data on the students’ first year experiences, as well as a unintended but effective method of supporting students to be successful. The initial impetus for the investigation was the researcher’s concern that despite the efforts of secondary schools to equip students with the required academic, social, and emotional skills to transition to tertiary study, a substantial number of university students continued to withdraw from university either during, or shortly after, their first year of study. With the researcher’s move from secondary school to take up a teaching role on a small campus of a regional university, the difficulties the students faced when transitioning became more evident, as too was the knowledge there was extensive support available to these students if they so wished.

The literature review undertaken in this study enabled the researcher to identify a range of factors proven to impact the students’ first year experience in higher education, as well as identify the predominant theories that formed the basis for those studies. While this knowledge provided the researcher with some valuable insights, the fact that there had not been a significant reduction in the number of first year university students considering, or actually withdrawing from their studies, it was clear there were still aspects of the students’ first year journey that were unclear or hidden. Further, students identified as originating from low socio-economic status, regional, or families with limited previous involvement in tertiary study (first in family) continued to be over-represented in withdrawal statistics and could be seen as particularly ‘at risk’ (Devlin & O'Shea, 2012). Thus, an in-depth study of the students’ first year experience was strongly supported by the literature, especially one focussing on students deemed to be most ‘at risk’.

Within the first year experience literature a key message that emerged was the need for more creative methods of research, ones more nuanced to the local settings and focussed on the students’ perceptions of what they experienced (Harper & Kuh, 2007; Kahu, 2013; Karp, 2011). The researcher chose to use a mixed methods
approach including a small survey instrument (quantitative) and semi-structured interviews (qualitative). The survey instrument, called the Student Experience Scale (SES), consisted of seven broad dimensions that required students to rate their perceptions of their experience using a score between 1 and 10. The SES was distributed to students on 13 separate occasions throughout their first year of study, reflecting an Experience Sampling Method (ESM) (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987). The SES data was used as a stimulus for student interviews, as well as being graphed to create pictorial representations of the students’ full first year experience. While monitoring the SES results, the researcher invited students to complete semi-structured interviews to describe in their own words their first year student experience with special attention being paid to students whose SES scores dropped by 3 or more points (on a 10 point scale) between subsequent surveys. Over time the interview questions were expanded as new lines of enquiry emerged, specifically in relation to the personal outcomes achieved by students due to their involvement in the study. In depth analysis of the semi-structured interview data was conducted using the Qualitative Analysis Guide of Leuven (QUAGOL) to ensure that concepts and themes emerged from the student responses and were not abstractions from the researcher’s own experiences (Dierckx de Casterlé, Gastmans, Bryon, & Denier, 2012).

The findings from this study identified factors perceived by the first year students as having the greatest impact on their first year student experience. Of special note is that the majority of students providing this information were from ‘at risk’ backgrounds (low SES, first in family, regional). Further, the variability of the student experience across their full first year of study provides valuable information which can be used by higher education institutions to better support students during times of need. The implementation this innovative ESM research method to monitor the students’ first year experience has also provided new and important insights into strategies which will not only enhance the reliability and trustworthiness of the student data, but also in itself can act as a highly effective support mechanism for the students.

KeywordsEducation students; higher education; university; first year experience; student experience
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020520102. Educational psychology
390303. Higher education
390404. Educational counselling
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Teacher Education and Early Childhood
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https://research.usq.edu.au/item/q3362/education-students-first-year-experience-on-a-regional-university-campus

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