Hearing the student experience: Listening to individual voices
Hearing the student experience: Listening to individual voices and stories First Year in Higher Education Conference, 2007 Gardens Cathy Stone: QUT Student Support Point, Services Brisbane Sarah O Shea: The Centre for Teaching & Learning The University of Newcastle
Presenters Cathy Stone Sarah O Shea Deputy Academic Registrar Manager Student Support Services
University of Newcastle Australia Learning Development The Centre for Teaching & Learning Ourimbah Campus University of Newcastle Australia
Researching the Impact of Study on first year, female students who are the first in the family to come to university, as well as mature age female and male students in the 2nd to final year of their degree Discussion & Questions 3 Ourimbah Campus
Integrated Campus of The University of Newcastle and Hunter Institute of TAFE Approximately 3,500 University students 4 Where are we?
5 Ourimbah Campus Diverse Student population- approx 50% mature age, 5% international, many students first in their families to attend University Low socio-economic region:
One of the lowest participation rates in NSW for Higher Education Higher than state average levels of unemployment, low income earners and families in receipt of government pensions or benefits 6 Non-traditional students who are they? Lack of clear delineation & definition Defined within a life-cycle discourse i.e. non-traditional students = mature
with diverse educational backgrounds. Inconsistency of meaning globally Prior to the onset of mass education, simplistic & largely deficit definitions 7 What do we know about female students? Many older students may lack confidence & low self-esteem (Thompson 1983; Willen 1988; Coulter, 1989). Reasons for studying may limit or
prevent success. (Scott, Burns & Cooney (1998) For single women, children motivate persistence but combination of marriage & children is negative. (Leppel, 1984) Hayes (1995) women should be treated as a special group within education 8 Influence of gender on experience Women distrust their intellectual capacity more
often than men and feel less at home [in higher education] (Shands, 1998) Gendered expectations of family obligations women take on the 2nd shift . [of] children and home (Wolf-Wendel and Ward, 2003) 9 Two Research Projects Both qualitative studies utilising semi-structured interviews O Shea (2006) 15 undergraduate female students, all of whom are first in
the family to come to university. Interviews conducted throughout the first year of study 13 full-time & 2 part-time (changes) 9 over 25 years of age but 13 classed as Mature Aged (<21) Stone (2006) 20 mature age undergrad students in 2nd year or beyond 15 female, 5 male 11 full-time & 9 part-time
Age 32-52, median 40 9 married or living with a partner 19 have children, 26 yrs- 7mths 11 are single parents Oldest 44 / youngest 18 None have parents who attended 10 have children & 3 sole parents university 7 live with a partner & 3 live with parents 17 are first in their family (of
origin) to attend university 10 Themes to be explored: Beginnings Challenges Resilience Transformations 11 Beginnings - Deciding to Enrol
Incident that led to increases in self-esteem & confidence. An individual who touched or changed the students lives; intervention by one person at a critical time in the persons livesit was the human contact that made the difference. (Levine and Nideffers,1996, p65) Personal Catalyst leading to a sense of its my time now! Instrumental reasons Validation from friends & family Dream or Ambition
12 Increase in self confidence or esteem Yeah having probably 2 or 3 or 4 different teachers saying to me at different times yknow your great with the kids why arent you doing this made me think: Why arent I doing this(Sheila, 30s) .one girlfriend ..who has been saying: Why dont you look into it yourself and why dont you do this sorta pushing me there (Nicki, 33) I have a lot of teachers at the school I admire and they are going to support me I dont know if I can do it so theyre saying of course you can...(Linda,
13 30s) Similar for the 2nd final year students 3 women were inspired to go to uni following a Careers Education for Women course through TAFE. I started off doing the CEW course and right from that course I wanted to go to university (Anne, 36) I found a Wyong TAFE course called CEW and they were fantastic she [teacher] said if you want to go to uni you should do it, because you can. (Carol, 44) One was inspired by a Diploma of Adult Education. I loved it! It was a real culture change and ever since then I sort of
had a yearning, looking for something (Mandy, 38) 14 Some kind of catalyst I got a redundancy from the bank I was thinking what was I going to do with myself. (Evan, 44) My son started kindergarten and I thought I could either go and get another boring office job or I could do something that I actually want to do (Fiona, 35) It was all around the same time I lost my job, split up with him and thought Okay! (Anne, 36) I was hairdressing for 22 years and had a work place injury.
(Grace, 47) 15 Instrumental Reasons Future Security: all my jobs too all my jobs have been things where the money goes up and down all the time and you dont have the security of holiday pay and stuff like that its all like relief work so that was another thing that appealed to me.. (Catherine, 44) I suppose university I sorta see it more like a security thing like you go to university (Carly, 18) Choices: I kinda saw teaching as no matter what you do youre not
going to be unemployed when you come out of it because theres so many like children and so many jobs available(Annie, 18) Potential :so watching them get to the stage of graduating, I guess there was something in that it sorta brought up in me that Id always wanted to complete a degree and do that so I suppose yeah, seeing them get to that stage and I was sorta: Oh wow and they were my age or older umm, yes so seeing them get to that there was a little bit of that in me (Vicky, 40s) 16 Validation from family and friends So I spoke to my wife so she said go and get educated she
found out all the information and I made it by 3 days my wife pushed me. (Bob, 41) I have a friend who was doing uni at the time. Different degree but I saw her doing it with her family and I thought well maybe I could do it too (Tina, 38) Yeah, my husband and Mum and Dad, yeah, yeah theyre going well do it if you want to do it go and do it right. We will look after the kids and help with the children and things like that, get them to school when you cant so Ive got that and my husband saying yeah, go, go do it. Go, you dont want to be in the pubs all your life go and do it , do what you want (Susie, 30s) 17
Sometimes a long-term dream. I was a bit peeved that I didnt put enough effort into going to Uni and so it was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to go to Uni and do a degree(David, 52) It was never a question of if I would, it was when I would. (Helen, 33) I always wanted to go and study and I wasnt encouraged to do that It has always been a yearning (Mandy, 38) I wanted to do Nursing and thought it might be easier waiting for the kids to be a bit older. (Tina, 38) 18
Sometimes quite unexpected Never in my wildest dreams I knew I was capable of something but uni was just over my head I just thought it was all beyond me (Carol, 44) I saw one of the guys from school and he asked what I was up to and I told him I was at uni he said oh bullshit! He didnt believe me. I never thought about uni. Never actually thought outside of where I was (Virginia, 36) It was just through talking to people that made me aware Id probably be doing TAFE. I think I needed to do something but it wouldnt have been necessarily uni, because I wouldnt have thought I was good enough (Linda, 40) 19
Why not before...? Lack of opportunity or encouragement - Family - Prior Educational Institutions Life simply getting in the way 20 Lack of prior opportunity or encouragement Family My family life, as it was, was, like, get out and get a job
(Tina, 38) I left school in 4th form.. It wasnt even the thing to do the HSC back then maybe just go out and do a trade get a job (Carol, 44) Well my mother didnt encourage me to get my HSC, in fact she told me I wasnt smart enough, so I joined the workforce when I was sixteen (Mandy, 38) I had been told for so long that I wasnt very bright (Helen, 33) 21
Lack of prior opportunity or encouragement Prior Educational Institutions I didnt like school I moved around a lot of the time so I didnt really develop any close relationships (Anne, 36) No good. I didnt like it. I also have no HSC. I had bad school experiences. (Katrina, 42) End of year 9, things just went downhill from there I went on to Year 11, dropped out half-way through I just lost it with school (Bob, 41) 22 Or life simply getting in the way
I had wanted to be a teacher when I left high school but my father had died between year 10 and year 11 and Mum said I cant afford to buy your year 11 uniform, do you mind getting a job, so that was the end of that. (Nerida, 49) I started my HSC but I fell pregnant so I started doing it by correspondence but I couldnt concentrate. (Anne, 36) I had to drop out [of uni] I had a 3 month old child and I couldnt do it (Helen, 33) it was a really dysfunctional family and I just had to get out and I was going to then go back [to university] but that just never happened life happened (Catherine, 44) 23
Expectations about Study Derived from popular culture and friends Expectations and reality did not match Disappointed with reality Mature age happy more older students Amount of work! 24 Expectations Ummm my expectations were to come in sit in a lovely lecture hall get told lots of information, go home, study
and do some tests at the end but it is extremely different lots of self directed learning lots of internet learning in your own time (Katie, 33) I was glad that there was a lot of like older people mature people like they werent all teenagers straight out of HSC which is good it was good to see that there was so many people ya know that werent 18 [laughs] (Helen, 24) 25 Anxiety before starting I was very nervous before the lecture I was up most of the night feeling sick in the stomach
(Stephanie,34) Ahh, nervous as anything, I went through a week of not sleeping not because I thought I couldnt do it but just basically a fear of the unknown I was like so nervous (Sheila, 30s) 26 The First Lecture overwhelming (Candy, 39, B.Teach, F/T) scary (Jane, 30s, B.Teach, F/T) very daunting (Clara, 23, B.Ed, F/T) feelings of panic and an initial sense of Oh gosh what am I doing and questioning
myself (Clara). 27 The worst thing that could happen Yeah, failing did I say failing [laughs] (Candy, 39) Emm, probably to fail something thats probably the worst thing that could happen thats how it feels to me at the moment (Cathy, 20s) so I think failing would be the worst thing yeah and having to do it all again; I think everyone would say that (Susie, 38) 28
For the 2nd- final year female students Nervous, frightened The Intruder Syndrome First 6 weeks were a nightmare very overwhelming.. I was close to just giving it all away (Katrina, 42, widowed) It was hard to get out of the car it was hard to walk onto the campus. I had no right to be here (Helen, 33, divorced) But for some excitement outweighed the fears The first day I walked in and feeling just excited, oh all this knowledge it felt good! (Grace, 47, married) 29
For the males Fewer fears/anxieties expressed by the men, except for financial There were no real difficulties. I really really enjoyed it (John, 38, Married) There was no real fear. I guess the only apprehension was can I afford to come? (David, 52, separated) The biggest one was giving up work and not having an income. (Bob, 41) 30 CHALLENGES
Initial Challenges Institutional enrolment; timetabling Financial loss of income; unexpected costs Confidence Levels easily depleted Family resistance from some partners; juggling Technology level of expectation Guilt children; me-time; household duties 31 Very difficult I almost gave up twice [at enrolment] and but I persevered with it as it was something that I really want to do(Katie, 33) Im just drowning in debt like the books are killing
me and I still havent got one of them cos I just cant quite get there yet(Linda, 30s) I was sorta stumbling through on this CD disk its telling me to go to some program called Blackboard. Where do I find that? I was finding younger people in my group were having exactly the same experience32 (Vicky,40s) Keeping all the balls in the air MA students referred to responsibility of integrating uni & family life successfully: [I have to fit] the study in with work and family cos thats the biggest issue fitting all in and getting
them all to work together em then hes [husband] quite happy now to let me go ahead and do that (Stephanie, 34) Yeah, I am trying to work out a way to fit study in, I asked my husband for a spot in the shed and he wont give me that either umm so I might have to sit out in the driveway(Kira, 39) 33 For the 2nd- final year students still a juggling act! Financial
Time Organisation and prioritising Changes in relationships with partners and children Balancing needs of study with needs of children Juggling all responsibilities 34 Money and time! Financial adjustments is a big one but when it comes to the kids, trying to find time for the kids and the family. They dont always come number one which is really wrong. (Bob, married, 4 children)
Challenging to try to find enough time to do the assignments and do all the running around. (Tina, married, 3 children) Less money, crappier shoes! (Linda, married, 1 child) Because my daughter turned 16 the money I was getting from Centrelink almost halved(Virginia, single, 1 child) 35 Changes in Relationships some positives, some negatives I get a little bit frustrated with him sometimes because he still thinks the same and so we just try to cool off on the political debates (Linda, married)
I think its helped support it [relationship with partner] because we are both studying (Anne, living with male partner) I probably dont have as much respect for him as I once had, because now I know Im more confident and say what I think. (Mandy, married) Probably affected for the better. My wife is very supportive, always has been. (Bob, married) 36 Two relationships didnt survive the changes He wasnt too happy with it, he made things difficult for me and I had to borrow the neighbours car just to get here you
know, I was the wife at home, dinner on the table, house was always clean the house is never clean now! It got to the point where he would be drunk on the days that I was at uni it got beyond a joke. (Helen, now divorced, 2 children) It probably would have happened anyway [marriage breakup]. I think the big thing was I met somebody that I clicked with. (Evan, now separated, 3 children) 37 Juggling other responsibilities eg work I didnt give up my work, I still have a mortgage and Im still working generally 35 hrs a week minimum on top of
studies. (John, married, one child, studying full-time) I started this new job a couple of weeks ago. It started on a Monday so I had an assignment due on that Monday which Id already got an extension for and so I just had to stay up until I finished up to 3am so I finished it, and thats becoming the norm. (Tina, married, 3 children, studying part-time) 38 Housework, children, partners. I had to let go of the housework what a shame! Now we crunch around on rice bubbles and food Im finding it quite frustrating the mess. (Mandy, married, 5 children, part-time
study) I had this philosophy of why did I bother having a child if Im not going to spend time with him and especially at his age and with my husband trying to find the right balance. (Linda, married, once child, part-time study) 39 Multiplicity of Womens Roles University and family = two greedy institutions. Acker (1984) Mature aged women are pulled in many directions in an attempt to simultaneously play the role of
worker, student, parent, wife, friend and homemaker.. (Redding & Dowling, cited in Fleming and Murphy, 1997, p21). 40 Often a return to school creates significant role strain and feelings of guilt, inadequacy and selfblame over difficulties in handling multiple roles (Rice, 1989) Society places a different value on mens time and womens time (McNay, 2000) 41
Guilt and internal conflict. I found it very difficult last night, she was in tears [7 yr old daughter] and I put my time away to finish my essay, so inside I wanted to get things done Its a big conflict because we had a lecture and a presentation this morning (Katrina, widowed, 2 children) Just I do feel like a bit of a failure from having to push the kids aside a lot at the moment my son is going through some issues at school and you have feelings, is that because of me? is it all my fault (Tina, married, 3 children) 42
Male Time vs Female Time Study time for men taken for granted - wives/partners tailor their activities around male study time Women tailor their study time around other responsibilities at home, inc. children, partners needs Any work my wife is doing she has tailored it around my hours. (Bob, married, 4 children, full-time study) I finish everything by 4pm, I pick my husband up at 4.30 and after that its dinner time. (Grace, married, 3 children, parttime study) I always make sure Ive got weekends free (Anne, living with partner, 2 children, full-time study)
43 MEETING THE CHALLENGES -Friendships -Grim Determination -Family Support Increased self confidence: I can do this! -Time management 44 Friendships Initial interview, some students expressed
reluctance to make friends I didnt come here to make big groups of friends (Katie, 33) Im not trying to make lots of friends and not worry about getting clique with people (Catherine, 44) By mid year, this had changed for many. 45 Importance of friends I am realizing it is very important to have friends and people that you get along with really
well I feel maybe I feel a bit better in the last three weeks cos Ive been talking to other people on a level thats: Am I doing this right? When you dont know people that well you dont tend to open up as much(Katie, 33) 46 Determination I am big enough and strong enough to fit in the uni to fit in the work and to raise the kids and he can just pack up and leave if he doesnt like it [laughs] which sounds terrible but thats what I come to I
am not going to stop from doing it this is what I want to do.. (Stephanie, 30s) my determination to finish it I started it Im gonna finish it dont care what anyone else says Im gonna finish this.. (Susie, 38) 47 Support 7 of the 13 MA students mentioned support of mother: financial assistance, babysitting & advice Support from partners varied Support from children overwhelmingly positive
48 Looking back from later years of study Lecturers Support Services Fellow students The girls Im with our little study group that we made in Open Foundation I made some friends there and were all doing the same degree and we formed a little group and we support each other (Linda) 49
TRANSFORMATIONS - Identity Changes in identity reported by many of the 2nd final year students For the women: Significant internal transformations For the men: Growth rather than change 50 For the women in 2nd - final year significant internal changes Feeling fulfilled, completely filled the void. (Grace)
Coming to uni I sort of bloomed.Much more outgoing (Fiona) Ive gained confidence I feel happier - I guess self-esteem. I feel like Im going somewhere. Im achieving a goal. (Penny) I feel like Im an intelligent, attractive woman that is capable and confident and can hold an intelligent conversation (Mandy) My thoughts about myself have changed. I understand myself better. (Linda) 51 For the men growth in confidence and an addition to existing skills
I dont think I have a higher or lower opinion of myself but I knew I was a skilled boat builder this has just added to my skills (John) I see myself as more confident Ive always been socially aware, but I think probably more so now (David) I have grown as a person. Im a lot more tolerant I feel like I have got a bit more respect (Bob) Confidence. My people skills have always been good but just to be able to practice has been good. (Evan) 52 Still to come Follow-up interviews with first-year female
students, at the end of the second year of study Continuation of analysis of interviews in both groups Sense of future how has this changed? 53 Questions and Discussion 54
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