Scholarship on social justice in education prompts questions concerning the purpose and culture of educational organisations that might (unknowingly) work to exclude some individuals or groups and furthermore that contemporary approaches to student recruitment and course design can result in alienation for students from learning. We propose to consider how we might contribute to creating and maintaining socially just learning environments and experiences for our students, paying attention to how the hidden curriculum within existing structures of teaching and learning, indeed, within the geographical and cultural spaces of higher education, might affect students’ approaches to their learning and their experiences across the campus.
While debating the challenges of engaging and retaining students in their learning, University of Bedfordshire staff were aware that we have limited knowledge of how our increasingly diverse body of students holistically experience and understand University life (both the more ‘formal’ teaching strategies and curriculum executed by the instructor/University and ‘informal’ extra-curricular activities and spaces engaged by students), and the diverse role Higher Education plays in their lives. UoB students in the department of Sport Science and Physical Activity are diverse in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status and geographical origin. We also recruit a number of ‘non-traditional’ students through widening participation. A number of students choose to remain living at home, commuting daily to the University. Additionally, some of the sport courses have a heavy weighting towards male students, which can affect the experiences and retention of female students.
Our project therefore is to launch a research programme aimed at exploring, through an innovative ethnographic/qualitative action research approach, a range of our student’s perceptions of, and identification with, their University experiences as understood from their own culturally and socially grounded standpoints.
The research element of the project incorporates multi-method qualitative inquiry among L4 and L5 cohorts and includes insider interviews, focus groups, participant observation and auto-ethnographies to investigate:
- Student identities: What is it like being a student at UoB?
- Student journeys: Identify the geographical, cultural and emotional dimensions shaping and defining students ‘Higher Education Journeys’ to, in and around University
- Student narratives: Understand the holistic role and importance of both ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ University provision in shaping students’ perceptions of, and identification with, their University experiences
- Teaching and Learning insights: How we can tap into students’ values in order to activate behaviour change toward increased levels of engagement.
Student participants/co-researchers are sought to begin the inquiry and to develop plans for shaping teaching/learning and informal experiences.
If you are a UoB student and would like to be involved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is run by Dr Joanne Hill and Dr Alex Stewart. It is possible thanks to a University of Bedfordshire Teaching and Learning Enhancement Grant.