An analysis of socio-cultural congruence and its impact on diverse student cohorts in an engineering context

PhD Thesis


Devine, Josephine Maria. 2016. An analysis of socio-cultural congruence and its impact on diverse student cohorts in an engineering context. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

An analysis of socio-cultural congruence and its impact on diverse student cohorts in an engineering context

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorDevine, Josephine Maria
SupervisorBullen, Frank
Brodie, Lyn
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages295
Year2016
Abstract

Increasing numbers of ‘non-traditional’ students are enrolling in engineering. They include students from low socio economic status backgrounds or a rural upbringing, those who are mature age or first in their family to attend university, and those studying part-time and from a distance. They have varying levels of academic preparation and study skills, often coupled with significant additional personal and work commitments and pressures to be balanced with their studies.

It is often assumed that if students have the ability, motivation and determination then they should be able to succeed at university regardless of their demographic backgrounds. However emerging data suggest that students must also master the academic culture; the norms, discourses and tacit expectations of academia. Academic success at university depends on the student understanding these unspoken requirements and being able to respond to them appropriately. Unlike most traditional students, many non-traditional students do not have the socio-cultural background to navigate their way through their studies adequately, and so they struggle.

This social-constructivist research investigated the experiences of successful non-traditional engineering students. The dual aim of this research was to identify dispositions that enable these students to understand quickly and respond appropriately to academic culture in order to succeed in their studies and to identify institutional contexts which enable these dispositions to be successfully leveraged for academic success.

A conceptual framework developed by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, using his concepts of habitus, field and capital, was applied within a case study methodology. A series of interviews triangulated with observations and survey data was employed in the investigation of the localised case. Nationally published qualitative and quantitative data were also collected and analysed in order to situate the case in the context of higher education is Australia. The resulting qualitative data was subjected to a thematic analysis using the constant comparative method and descriptive statistics were used for the analysis of the quantitative data.

Improving our understanding of the key issues that influence positive and negative outcomes at university will inform the development of appropriate systems, programs and pedagogies to support more diverse, non-traditional student cohorts. The research concluded that consistent, high quality teaching and student support embedded throughout the curriculum of an engineering program is essential to optimising student academic performance. An institutional culture that is supportive of learning and teaching by disciplinary experts who have a student focus is essential to the implementation of effective student support strategies within the curriculum.

Keywordsengineering; non-traditional students; demographic backgrounds; university
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020390303. Higher education
390401. Comparative and cross-cultural education
390113. Science, technology and engineering curriculum and pedagogy
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Civil Engineering and Surveying
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