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Widening Participation within Higher Education How academic engagement enhances students' learning experience of widening participation with higher education

Hausarbeit 2016 22 Seiten

Pädagogik - Hochschulwesen

Leseprobe

Abstract

Students in the higher education can be categorised under traditional and non-traditional. While traditional students are typically referred to as those belonging to the 18-24 years age group, of middle/ upper class with a family history of higher education, non-traditional students have been generally considered as those belonging to diverse ethnic race, gender, social class, economic background of family and finally age (Leathwood & O'connell 2003; Bowl 2001; Bye et al. 2007). Among these non-traditional students, mature students, those above the age of 24, who may not have had the opportunity to pursue higher education before, face significant challenges as students pursuing higher education (Reay 2002). Non- traditional mature students differ from the younger generation in many ways. Mature students could find it perplexing to adapt into a learning environment where they have faced many challenges to compete with the different level of age group students besides that fact that they have additional emotional and financial burdens. These barriers between mature students deeply affect their academic performance and may even prevent them in initiating new courses. The academic performance and its relationship with academic engagement of mature students in higher education need to be assessed in order to understand the influence on the Widening Participation programs across the UK. The aim of this paper is to explore previous research undertaken on the contribution of academic management and how it influences the widening participation.

Based on the research aim and questions developed, existing literature on academic engagement, student performance, academic learning experience, assessment models were studied in detail. Kirkpatrick's Four Level Model of evaluation was selected in the present study to assess its suitability for the evaluation of mature students in higher education. The analysis revealed the optimum evaluation model needed for mature students as well as the relationship between student learning experiences and academic engagement in Widening Participation scenario of UK. However, it is argued that mature students have major influences on younger students by enriching the learning experience of younger students and hence giving them the opportunity to learn a range of life skills (Mooney, 2015).

Keywords

Widening Participation, academic engagement, mature students, higher education

Introduction

The term 'widening participation' can be defined as encouragement of mature students, disable learners or students coming from lower socio-economic groups towards participation in higher education opportunities (Moore et al. 2013). Alternatively, there are other ways of viewing widening participation. It can be referred to as widening of prospects in higher education by encouraging diversity, inclusion, and equality. Diversity and equality are catchphrases within the area of widening participation. The government is working closely with both private and public institutions to ensure that there is a mixture of student diversity within the learning environment. (Armstrong 2008). Research has shown that some widening participation group (socio-economic groups) found it very challenging to join the higher education, which could be because there is a concern of lack of confidence to succeed. (Chowdry et al. 2013). As such, the government and other professional bodies suggest that institutions should have extra academic and wellbeing support to motivate such students to successfully complete their courses and seek between academic opportunities. (Armstrong 2008).

Despite the support of the government to increase widening participation in the higher education, there is still a major concern for some students who have financial difficulties. With the introduction of the tuition fees in 1998, it is clear that it has created a barrier for poorer students and lower class students. (Chowdry et al. 2013).

Research Aim and Questions

The aim of this study is to assess the contribution of academic engagement on the learning experiences of mature students in a Widening Participation scenario of higher education of UK. Based on this aim, several research questions have been defined:

1. What is the role of academic engagement on the learning experiences of students?
2. What is the role of assessment and feedbacks on the performance and hence learning experience of students in higher education?
3. What are the typical factors associated with the learning experiences of mature students in higher education?
4. What are the necessary characteristics of an Assessment Model for non-traditional students in higher education?

Promoting the Widening Participation

The impact of widening participation in higher education has become a key policy commitment of the British Education. Since October 2006, age discrimination is not a barrier anymore to higher education (Newson et al. 2011). The UK Government is supporting the institutions in embedding widening participation and student diversity as a part of their educational strategy. Despite the financial and funding policy, Higher education institutions (HEIs) can apply for government funding support without the need of producing widening participation strategies and action plan (Shaw et al. 2007). As clearly mentioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) (Brown et al. 2012) ' the institution is free to allocate that funding largely as it sees fit.' On the other hand, the HEFCW (Brown et al. 2012) stresses that it 'expects the premium payment to be used to support the activity for which it has been awarded.'

However, promoting the widening participation within the higher education is becoming very competitive and hence creates further barriers to change (Shaw et al. 2007). Despite the diversity and ethics, it is the responsibility of the institutions to ensure they provide enough pedagogical support to students to help to complete their degree. (Thomas 2012).

In order to promote the widening participation, it is important to understand the terms, Diversity as well as Differentiation. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, 2007, Diversity is defined as 'valuing everyone as individuals- as employers, customers, and clients.' On the other hand, Differentiation is a process where new entities (in this case, the students of different backgrounds) emerge within a system that is the higher education system and is hence different from Diversity that refers to variations within a period. (Vught 2007)

According to OFFA report, many British Universities and colleges have made considerable efforts in recruiting disadvantages students since the inception of the Widening Participation policies in UK (OFFA 2015). Promoting the widening participation is not about adding a number of the institution database but it is more about opening opportunities to students who believe they do not have the learning abilities to succeed.

Institutions under such situations should consider students as resourceful assets rather than as customers (Hawkins & Frohoff 2010). Helena Kennedy QC who leads Widening Participation Committee for the Further Funding Council, states that the aim of widening participation is not about revenue resources or increasing number but it is more about targeting potential learners from diversity background (Taylor et al. 2009).

Teaching needs and academic support of Mature Students

It is understood that there is a need for additional support to help mature students in their learning, mainly due to a possibility of lack of financial support or confidence or necessary skills for higher education. Classroom teaching is not enough to accommodate their learning mainly when they are scheduled to attend in large classroom size, which could further exacerbate the problems. However, research has proved that faculty support within the institution could influence the student learning in building their confidence in succeeding in their education and improves their life of study (Newson et al. 2011). The level of responsibilities and commitments between traditional and non-traditional (mature students in this case) students are comparatively different. As argued by Leathwood & O'connell (2003), mature students find it difficult to manage their studies with their other commitments such as finance, the ability to success, doubts regarding their potential and lack of academic support from the institution. The success rates for mature students vary within the widening participation. (Edwards 1997; Challis 1976; Burns et al. 1993). The variations in success rates and academic experiences for mature students have not yet been studied in detail, thereby leaving gaps regarding the curriculum structure, type and extent of academic support and pedagogical approaches that could meet the needs and expectations of mature students.

Research also found that some mature students who were classified under the lower socio­economic categories consider their limitations arising from families and related commitments, unclear objectives of what they want to achieve during their studies or strong belief that they are on their own during their studies with limited support (Tones et al. 2009).

It is also found that age group of the mature students has a major impact on student learning. In some case, students who are above the age of 35 seem to find their studies highly challenging, as they need to balance their university workloads with other commitments such as childcare. However, in case of students, who are above the age of 40, need extra support to enrich their learning skills such extra training on how to use a computer, how to make a presentation and how to write an assignment. (Newson et al. 2011).

Based on the above arguments, it can be denoted that there is a strong need for institutions to design learning and teaching approach to support widening participation. With the support of the UK government, institutions can apply for funding to support their widening participation strategies. A number of researchers have acknowledged that there are several approaches that institutions can develop to maximise the student learning experience and hence increase their level of confidence to success in their education.

Some of the core problems that institutions should revisit include information on the course programme, help desk support, well trained and qualified staff both academic and non­academic, flexible timetable to meet older students, small size classroom and on-going study skills support (Davies et al. 2002).

It is noted that the teaching and learning strategies have a major impact on the widening participation group and diversity. Scholars such as (Warren (2002; Powney (2002) dispute that a variety of students from the different background could lead to a change in teaching and learning as this could improve the learning and teaching innovation.

There are several literature studies on the widening participation, which focus on the teaching and learning. Some of the arguments relate to curriculum development while other sources look mainly at the financial implications towards widening participation (Shaw et al. 2007).

There is hardly any research done on the curriculum methods for traditional and non- traditional students. Widening participation and diversity students are classified under a different type of student body. Some institutions use the same assessment brief for mature and traditional students.

There have been many debates on curriculum development since University of Melbourne designed a new curriculum model called the 'Melbourne Model' (Devlin 2008). It is agreed that the model is well recognised within the higher education (Devlin 2008). However, many institutions within the UK have integrated other learning skills to reinforce student learning (Wintrup & Wakefield 2014). The aim of the extracurricular activities is to give students the opportunities to develop additional skills that will help them further in their career development. They are designed to allow students to use their academic knowledge and to attain concepts of independent life. Extracurricular acts as an integrative learning process for mature students because they line up with other knowledge and experience (Lunenburg 2010).

Assessment Policy

A major part of academic engagement in influenced by the assessments, in higher education systems, and increasing number of researchers has focused on studying the relationship between assessments and academic engagement in students. Academic engagement or Student engagement has been known to be malleable, highly influenced by environmental factors and highly responsive to contextual features, thereby giving it a multifaceted concept (Fredricks et al. 2004).

Assessment is becoming a major for students since it affects their perceptions of future learning (Hopfenbeck 2015). Lack of consistency in marking could affect the student degree classification. In order to maintain this consistency, it is necessary to identify what is being assessed, what the students need to prove and how their arguments or answers are close to the marking scheme (DETYA 2001). Using a grading rubrics policy for such cases will ensure reliability, validity and consistency mainly to subject specific modules and most essentially of enhancing learning (Jonsson & Svingby 2007).

Assessing students' performance should be based on fairness, manageability, moderation, scaling (Jonsson & Svingby 2007). It is the responsibility of the institutions to ensure that the teaching faculty has a clear understanding of the assessment policy and what are the aims of each process. It is imperative that students are given feedback on time so that they have an idea of what they are doing right and what needs to be improved. An important study was conducted to assess the reactions of mature students towards feedbacks on their assignments and the resulting impact on their personal attitudes. It was found that mature studies generally had a hard time with the assignments but in case of reactions, impact and self-esteem levels based on the feedbacks received, there were wide variations among the respondents. However, the mature students strongly wished for positive feedback (Young 2010).

The contribution of academic engagement

Maximising academic engagement within a diverse group of students is becoming challenging to achieve (Hockings et al. 2007). It is found that there are several elements that influence mature students to participate or engage in their education.

Socioeconomic factors

Studies have proven that any experience and skills that mature students generate from their groups (families, lectures, administrators) affect their learning environment. This could distract their decision about the idea of joining the higher education and how they affect their educational outcomes. Both social and economic factors also have a significant impact on their decisions. However, it is argued that social factors have a higher influence compared to the economic factors (Considine & Zappala 2002).

Epistemological factors

Mature students are facing a lot of obstacles and concerns during their learning cycle. As researched by Bernstein (2005), students are concerned with the learning outcomes of each module and pedagogically how will they learn and most importantly how their performance will be assessed. All these concerns are becoming the core responsibilities of the faculty conceptions and loyalty.

There has been a further study that has gone an extra mile to study the causal effect of epistemology on student learning potential. The aims of this research was undertaken with the view of assessing students during their learning process and have found that students learning are not only affected by epistemology factors but with other correlated influences (Lising & Elby 2004).

Pedagogical factors

In order for the teaching faculty to manage a high volume of widening participation, there is a need to implement what is so-called teacher focused strategies (Prosser & Trigwell 1999). Lecturers need to be consistent in their teaching techniques in order to measure how much of the knowledge has been captured by the students. It is imperative that both lecturers and students work as a team and create learning commitments (Abrantes et al. 2007).

Based on the previous studies, it has been found that a conceptual model has a major influence on perceived learning. The core discussion of the model highlights the relationship between students and lecturers, the lecturer's commitments, the curriculum delivery and how they affect the pedagogical, student's motivation and learning potential. They all influence the students' perceived learning and performance (Abrantes et al. 2007).

Monitor student progression: Using Kirkpatrick's Evaluation Model

Considering how assessments make up an important part in evaluating as well as motivating students in higher education, it becomes important to develop an ideal assessment model for such purposes. Furthermore, based on the available literature, it could be seen that an efficient model that appropriately measures and monitors progress of students can provide important information to external stakeholders like prospective students, professional accrediting organizations and governmental and regulatory bodies. The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model has been previously used in high schools, assessment of training courses and even for monitoring teachers (Rajeev et al. 2009; Praslova 2010; Naugle et al. 2000). This model is found relevant in this study because through the four stages of evaluation the model offers, teachers and policy makers alike can closely study and determine the progress of the target students with respect to the learning approaches used and subsequently make changes depending upon the evaluation results.

By using a systematic method to monitor student academic progress, it helps students to evaluate their own performance during their period of study. The process should start right at the beginning of the student life cycle. In some institutions, students are allocated personal tutor to support their academic learning. The role of the personal tutors is to ensure that there is a strong relationship with students. A clear portfolio of the student is crucial and this can be achieved by conducting an initial assessment of the student (Penick 1985). There are a number of evaluation models that have been designed to measure student learning. Some of the models include Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model, CIPP Evaluation Models among others. This paper will discuss the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model.

Evaluation can be categorised under micro and macro evaluation. The macro evaluation is mainly designed to measure the educational output whereas the micro evaluation is a method that is mainly used to measure student level of achievement (Badu 2013).

The Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model, which is also known as the four levels of Learning Evaluation, was developed by Donald L Kirkpatrick in 1959.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model (Donald L Kirkpatrick ,1959)

The first stage of the model, which is referred as 'reaction' allows the tutors to evaluate how the students feel about the course they are attending. The aim of the stage one is to improve the quality of the teaching programmes, which should help to assess the student performance and reactions towards their studies.

The learning stage allows the tutors to measure the correlation between student learning knowledge before and after joining the institution. The aim of this level is to measure what students have learnt so far towards their studies, what other skills or attitudes have been improved. Based on the evaluation assessment, tutors can use the feedback to improve the student's knowledge and skills, which they can use to reinforce their study skills (Topno 2012).

This level is the crucial stage as it allows the tutors to determine what students have learnt and whether they are able to apply the learning outcomes in their assessments or any practical assessments, such as presentation. Many institutions find it challenging to monitor level 3, as it is a time-consuming process and can be an expensive process to maintain (Rouse 2011).

The level 4, which represents the results or outcomes of the student progression or programme completion. It is mainly focused on how further improvements can be achieved in order to enhance quality learning.

Integrating the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model with the curriculum can be very resourceful tools to monitor widening participation group as it could offer the tutor the opportunity to assess the students' weaknesses and strengthens (Badu 2013). Based on some arguments, it is noted that the main focus is only on the first level (reaction) where the concentration is purely based on learner's satisfaction (Royle 2009).

Assessment Model for different Student Body

Assessment is one of the main concerns for any students studying a degree. It affects the student's career opportunities, futures and most importantly, the chance of getting a good honour degree (Boud & Falchikov 2007). Students do not have much choice but are required to undertake all mandatory assessments in order to progress towards their degree.

Over the last decade, many institutions have tried to restructure their teaching and learning curriculum in order to meet the changing assessment criteria. Many institutions in the UK recruit a diverse group of students that range from part time to mature and learning difficulties students, besides students of poor economic background. It is argued that it is important to have a change in practice in the higher education where the focus should be more how to support students to achieve the learning outcomes (Cox et al. 1998).

As an integrated part of the curriculum development, it is important that institutions design assessment that will fit for purpose. The assessment should be designed to measure what the students have learnt during their period of study and most essentially, to what level they can demonstrate that learning (Brown & Smith 1997).

Assessment should not be designed to measure only the learning outcomes. It should be set in such way to motivate and encourage students to learn, without affecting their confidence and self-esteem. In addition to traditional assessments such as exam, coursework, and report, there are various alternatives learning techniques that can be used to assess mature students. Assessment methods such as reflective log, portfolios, group work, role play, games, online discussions, short questions, multiple choices can all be used to measure the learning outcomes (Brown & Knight 1994).

Some institutions allow students to do their assessments at the end of the semester. This is very challenging, particularly where students have to undertake more than one assessment. In some cases, students are required to undertake a mixture of assessments in order to pass a module. The period for assessing students is crucial to ensure that all the learning outcomes are measured in a timely manner. Rather than asking students to complete their assessments at the end of the semester, it would be less frustrating if they were given the opportunity to submit several continuous assessments throughout the semester. The assessment techniques should emphasise more on the level of achievement rather than the ability to rehearse information, as this can have more practical implication in real world scenarios (Brown 2004).

As discussed by several scholars, the process of designing assessment needs to focus on transparency. A well-designed assessment should be inclusive of clear objectives of which learning outcomes it is attempting to measure (Brown 2004). In order to ensure consistency and transparency a clear marking scheme is crucial. As argued by Morgan et al. (2004) assessment and curriculum need to reflect each other in order to standardise grading (Koshy 2008). Lack of validity in measuring student-learning outcomes could potentially influence the student learning motivation and confidence (Ball et al. 2012)

Conclusion

The initiation of the Widening Participation policy of the Higher Education Funding Council for England in UK has led to significant increase in enrolment of under-represented groups of people in higher education, like ethnic minorities or economic disadvantage students. As a result, the demographics of students in higher education have changed considerably, with varied impact on the academic engagement. In the present study, the mature students group within the diverse student population of this policy will be studied for the impact of academic engagement on their learning experience. Mature students are influenced by different factors in terms of their motivation, performance, and academic engagement. Furthermore, assessments play a major role in the learning experience as well as performance of students in higher education and as such need to be modified or revisited for the present target group: mature students. Assessment and evaluation models in education systems typically depend upon the certain achievement indicators of students and accordingly needed to be modified for the mature students. The Kirkpatrick's Four Level Model of evaluation will be considered in the present study for monitoring and establishing the performance of the mature students, which in turn can give a clear picture on the academic learning experience and academic engagement of these mature students.

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Details

Seiten
22
Jahr
2016
ISBN (Buch)
9783668824430
Sprache
Englisch
Katalognummer
v442575
Schlagworte
widening participation higher education

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Titel: Widening Participation within Higher Education  How academic engagement enhances students' learning experience of widening participation with higher education