W. Bowen-Jones, V. Barber

University of Worcester (UNITED KINGDOM)
This study seeks to better understand the extent to which recently graduated students perceive that their academic potential was realised during their undergraduate studies. The work is set in the context of what is now widely understood in the UK Higher Education (HE) sector to be a ‘good degree’ (i.e. a first or upper second class degree). A series of interventions, based on the concept of academic tutorials, were implemented during 2009/10 and were designed to bring about an increase in the number of good degrees. Statistical evidence indicated that there was an initial spike in improvement in the number of ‘good degrees’, with 1 in 2 students achieving such a classification in 2010, compared to only 1 in 3 students in 2009. This percentage has shown a gradual increase, with 56% of students achieving a ‘good degree’ in 2014.

Initial findings, following data analysis using constant comparison (Strauss and Corbin 1998), indicate that students have differing conceptions of achievement. This supports Hattie and Timperley’s (2007) assertion that the student experience is a complex issue, but a key aspect is their ability to understand how to access the resources available to them. Analysis also confirms previous research by Bowen-Jones, Barber and Breeze (2011) that highlighted the importance of effective staff/student partnerships in boosting progression and achievement rates.
The principal research question was: To what extent do students perceive their academic potential was realised during their undergraduate studies? Four subsidiary questions also considered were: 1. What were students’ expectations and ambitions at the start of their courses? 2. What are students’ views of the quality of teaching? 3. How effective do students perceive the institutional learning support systems to be? 4. What were the key transformations in the student learning experience?

Data was collected during July 2014; following an earlier pilot study, which took place during October 2013, in which a sample of students were asked a series of open-ended questions by during a telephone interview. Although the earlier study provided an interesting data set, the project team decided to adopt an Appreciative Inquiry approach in the ensuing study, aiming to better capture student perceptions of what they valued and what they considered could be enhanced. This later study asked all students who had recently graduated to complete an online survey followed by a series of individual telephone interviews.

The interview questions asked students to reflect on their aspirations and achievements during their course. The interviews drew on the outcomes from the online survey, seeking to add more depth and clarity. Students were contacted by telephone following completion of their studies and asked a series of open-ended questions that sought to identify the factors they felt either supported or inhibited their progress.

The most significant factor which supported academic progress was found to be supportive academic tutors/lecturers - 62% of respondents reported this to be the case. Other significant factors stated by single participants included: Tutors emailing resources; effective tutor use of VLE; self-motivation/determination; creation of a healthy, positive learning environment; support of other students; library open 24 hours and open access to online and print journals.