Self and Open Studies : the impact of Open Studies on students' sense of identity and the educational implications
This thesis investigates the experience of adults undertaking Open Studies courses organised through Warwick University's Continuing Education Department. It focuses on a cohort of 13 students undertaking two-year certificated courses in Labour Studies, Women's Studies and Counselling. This longtitudinal period was chosen because it was felt it would allow enough time for the courses to make an impact on the students. To set this against a broader context, other Open Studies students not taking certificated courses were also interviewed. This included a group of five adults who started their own self-help Psychology group after being inspired by an Open Studies course. The aim was to measure the impact of the courses on the students' sense of identity, since it was felt that there was potential for the learning on the courses to change students perceptions of themselves; in Mezirow's terms, they would experience 'perspective transformation'. This was felt to be an important effect, since it implies the continuing potential for cognitive development, and thus learning, in adults - a contentious issue - and also the ongoing concern with identity, as adults continue to 're-make' themselves in the face of their experience in an ever-changing world. In order to reflect actual student experience, a qualitative approach is taken, relying heavily on in-depth interviews with the students. Although the research draws on the established adult education literature, it breaks new ground in its use ofRossan's model of identity to investigate adult experience in Open Studies (an under-researched area) and the implications of this for perception of adult potential generally, which until recent years has been largely negative. While the results are not as clear-cut as a 'hard' scientific project might generate, there is evidence that the courses did have an impact on adult identity, and that this project has introduced a fruitful area for future research.