Exploring Stories of ‘Becoming Student’

Issues surrounding transition and becoming student have been highlighted in research as troublesome (Merrill, 2015; Christie, 2009; Palmer et al. 2009). Recent policy developments have resulted in student learning experiences that are not always positive (Burke, 2013; Morgan, 2013) indicating that students can feel ‘disempowered, lack confidence and feel completely unprepared for university study’ (Hirst, 2004: 70). They particularly struggle to ‘decode’ new and unfamiliar practices (Gourlay, 2009), experience confusion and mixed messages regarding academic conventions, much of which is implicit or hidden within the curriculum. Rarely do we explore such experiences with our students, nor do we utilise, beyond formal settings, the peer and linked peer ‘resources’ that exist in terms of students’ critical reflections at key stages of their academic careers.

Academics and students at Plymouth University addressed these questions as part of a qualitative research project 2015-16, entitled “Becoming Student”. In the first stages project members explored their own personal stories. These ranged from poems to artwork and speech from which themes and questions were drawn for use in subsequent Focus Groups. Two Focus Groups were established each comprising of approximately three to six undergraduate students from the Institute of Education along with two project members as facilitators. Each group was representative of the university’s diverse student body.

This paper explores the stories that were shared and draws out findings which move research forward in this field. It is hoped the outputs will make an impact in terms of supporting students as they experience and manage the demands and challenges of transition and growth when ‘becoming student’.