Students and discourse : an insider perspective
A student's direct experience is used to explore the hypothesis that student
problems may be associated with lack of exposure to appropriate discourse. I
became a student again to find out about discourses that students encounter.
Literature associated with student experience is reviewed from two perspectives:
phenomenography and sociocultural theory. A critique of the former highlights
the pervasive deep/surface/strategicd istinction with respect to approaches to
learning and suggeststh at there may be alternative descriptions that take more
account of students' responsesto discourse. While phenomenography offers
some valuable observations on variation, the emphasis on outcomes and
student predilections may mask some other important aspects of student
experience. Sociocultural theory offers more reference points, at individual,
social and cultural levels of analysis.
I took an HNC and then a university module in Mechanical Engineering and
used a reflective journal to record "what a student notices". I used this to
produce "thick descriptions" of what was happening - that is, descriptions that
took account of the sociocultural context and also of my own intentions and
internalised , responses to the discourse. I explored exposure and barriers to four
kinds of discourse: engineering, pedagogic, institutional and social. I then
reviewed evidence for progress with the discourse.
The thesis contributes insights into the many actions that a student undertakes in
an attempt to engage in the activities of tertiary level education. A number of
tensions and contradictions in higher education from a student's perspective are
highlighted in the study. For example, access to HE may exclude access to its
discourses; "outcomes" are not necessarily what they appear to be; some
assessmenmt ay say more about a student's potential than about what they can
do unaided. To succeed, students need a good deal of exposure to appropriate
discourse practices as well as time to assimilate them.