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Title: Educational experiences of occupational therapy students from non-traditional academic backgrounds
Author: Watson, Jo
ISNI:       0000 0004 2715 3023
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2010
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Occupational therapy (OT) pre-registration education in the United Kingdom (UK) stands at the intersection of the fields of higher education (HE) and professional practice. It is subject to various government agendas including an ongoing commitment to widening participation in HE and to diversifying the health and social care workforce to reflect modern cultural diversity. Both have contributed to a changing profile in the OT student population and in 2005, 67 percent of the intake was mature (College of Occupational Therapists, 2007b), and increasing numbers are entering with ‘non-traditional’ academic backgrounds, an umbrella term which subsumes a variety of entry qualifications. The early weeks of study in HE can prove challenging to students as they settle into the new learning environment and begin to comprehend the expectations held of them (Yorke, 2005). It has been suggested that those from non-traditional academic backgrounds may find this transition, particularly the need to take a high level of responsibility for their own learning, difficult as a result of the skills, experiences and expectations accumulated throughout their pre-entry education (Sambell and Hubbard, 2004). While small-scale studies suggest that OT students from such backgrounds are as academically successful as traditional school-leavers at graduation (Howard and Jerosch-Herold, 2000), there is little evidence offering insight into how they actually experience and negotiate the demands of their programme. Recognising that learning and teaching are embedded within the milieu in which they occur, this longitudinal research adopted a case study methodology to capture complexity and understand the issue within its natural context (Yin, 2003). In an instrumental single-case design (Stake, 1995), a neither unique nor extreme undergraduate OT programme became a vehicle for exploring the educational experiences of students with non-traditional academic backgrounds. Thirteen volunteer participants were drawn from a single cohort in one of the UK’s research intensive universities. Data were collected via initial focus groups exploring pre-entry educational experiences and expectations of studying in HE, reflective diaries recording educational experiences that participants considered significant or meaningful, and one-to-one semi-structured interviews conducted towards the end of participants’ first and third years of study which focused on exploring their learning experiences. Supplementary and contextual data were provided by analysis of institutional, school and departmental documents to provide insight into the culture and practices of the learning context and a progression routes study which considered the entry qualifications, progression and exit awards of four cohorts of OT students from a range of educational backgrounds. The nature of students’ entry qualifications or academic background were found to have no statistically significant impact on whether they passed at Level 4, 5 or 6, or achieved a ‘good’ (upper second or first class) honours degree, although male students and those from amongst the lower socio-economic groups had significantly poorer academic outcomes at all levels of analysis. Theoretical thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) of qualitative data underpinned by Bourdieu’s (1990b) theory of practice highlighted that students’ educational experiences were much less influenced by the nature of their academic backgrounds than by the congruence of individual dispositions or habitus, born out of social provenance, with the dominant culture of the particular field of HE they had entered. Emerging codes converged to represent themes suggesting clusters of shared experience amongst some participants, while examination of each individual dataset revealed varying positional tendencies and trajectories within the field. This research highlights the important roles played by academic, linguistic, social and practice-oriented capital in the way that students developed a feel for and learned to play ‘the game’ and present knowledge and understanding in the form ‘legitimated’ by the field. Juxtaposing the nature and expectations of the new field in relation to those previously occupied by individual participants and the established habitus each brought with them helped to illuminate the situation and adds a new dimension to understanding individual experiences of learning in HE.
Supervisor: Borthwick, Alan ; Nind, Melanie ; Humphris, Debra Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: LB2300 Higher Education ; RM Therapeutics. Pharmacology ; RT Nursing