Teaching and learning in higher education : a case study of engineering students learning economics
Teaching and learning in higher education has not been receiving the attention it deserves and the assumption that good teaching is common in universities, needs re-thinking. The focus of this thesis is on a case study of engineering students studying economics in a university in Singapore. Two traditions of research on teaching and learning economics have existed: the economists' tradition in conducting quantitative research, and the educationists' who use qualitative methods for data gathering and analysis. These approaches are analysed and as a consequence of the weaknesses established, this thesis took a different research approach. Instead of focusing on teaching, course design and the prediction of students' outcome performances, its aim is to understand the learning experiences of the students. Data were collected from 12 students through semi- structured interviews and these data were analysed using a grounded theory approach to conceptualise and represent a phenomenon or an experience of the students. Five different categories were eventually discovered which represented the students' common experiences and conceptualisation of their experiences: 'difficult', 'interesting', 'unsatisfactory', 'pragmatism' and 'enriching'. Strauss and Corbin's Paradigm model of grounded theory was adopted to relate the data systematically and purposefully in order to capture the complexity in understanding the learning experiences of the students. It is hence the intention of this study to allow the students to tell the stories of their learning journey, an experience which may change over time and at times becoming contradictory. To complement this analysis of students' experience, the views of the academic staff were also collected by interview. The lecturers have a different idea of factors that affect students' learning, and these are categorised as students' motivation, students' heavy workload, assessment and the syllabus coverage - issues that are unrelated to their own teaching methods, which however are important from the students' point of view. In the final analysis, regardless of the variation in students' experiences, the two important direct influences on them are teaching methods and the attitudes of the academic staff towards teaching.