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Promoting Student Engagement in Higher Education or Capital Accumulation and Working Class Students Learning How to Learn in HE HEA Conference, Leeds 3.

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Presentation on theme: "Promoting Student Engagement in Higher Education or Capital Accumulation and Working Class Students Learning How to Learn in HE HEA Conference, Leeds 3."— Presentation transcript:

1 Promoting Student Engagement in Higher Education or Capital Accumulation and Working Class Students Learning How to Learn in HE HEA Conference, Leeds 3 March 2010 Gill Crozier Roehampton University, London

2 The socio-cultural and learning experiences of working class students in Higher Education
ESRC RES Gill Crozier, University of Sunderland Diane Reay, University of Cambridge John Clayton, University of Sunderland I am drawing on this research which was funded by the ESRC and was part of the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. The research involved mixed methods with a cross section of students from different social classes and ethnicities and genders but are key concern was the experiences of working class students in HE. To that effect we identified 27 case study students who we followed across two academic years and interviewed them at key moments, observed some of their lectures and familiarised ourselves with their geographical and university-based social contexts.


4 And I just felt that [Norton pre 1992 university] might have been out of my depth, might have been a bit like, I don’t know, like something like a Harvard or, do you know what I mean, it just wasn’t where I should have been. Whereas here [Northern post 1992] would probably be more my level and I don’t, maybe it was more mature and I just felt that [Norton] might have been out of my depth, students here when I came to visit or because I was the only mature student there on the open day and they just seem to be at all mature students, whereas here they understood that I think they were a little bit more aware of family life and a lot of the lecturers on the history have got young families so they’re more aware that things happen and that you can’t prevent things from coming up. (Barbara, History,Northern)

5 The ideal lecture theatre is vast, truly vast
The ideal lecture theatre is vast, truly vast. It is a very sombre, very old amphitheatre, and very uncomfortable. The professor is lodged in his chair which is raised high enough to see him; there is no question that he might get down and pester you. You can hear him quite well, because he doesn’t move. Only his mouth moves. Preferably he has white hair, a stiff neck and a Protestant air about him. There are a great many students and each is perfectly anonymous. To reach the amphitheatre, you have to climb some stairs, and then, with the leather lined doors closed behind, the silence is absolute, every sound stifled; the walls rise very high, daubed with rough paintings in half-tones in which the moving silhouettes of various monsters can be detected. Everything adds to being in another world. So one works religiously. (History student, female, aged 25, Paris in Bourdieu,P. Passeron, J-C, de Saint Martin, M. (1994) Academic Discourse. Cambridge: Polity Press) And as Bourdieu has argued much of what has gone on in the university has been to maintain the stratification of society through social reproduction and as part of that to inculcate in the students their place in the hierarchy. Bourdieu describes the professorial code of behaviour between the tutor/professor and the student and expresses this relationship as ‘distancing’. Knowledge of course is a source of power; its acquisition is part of the process of social reproduction. Bourdieu implies that gaining entry to university is rather like gaining entry to an exclusive club whereby you have not only to pass various tests to get there but once in and to ensure that the right kind of use is made of this ‘exclusive’ knowledge then a series of other tests are required. But these are not the end of module exams but rather an adaptability to or accommodation of what Bourdieu has talked of in terms of the control exerted over students and learning, such as the “distancing of teachers” (Bourdieu et al 1994) through, for example, the organisation of teaching and the “professorial code” (op cit.). Professorial space is designed to maintain control of what is learnt and how knowledge is imparted and what happens to the knowledge once it is released from the professorial hands (or mouth) so to speak.

6 In the UK today we might hope that the approach in universities is rather different from this picture, not least given the Widening Participation agenda. Certainly most if not all universities are trying to change this picture of themselves as elitist, although as we saw from Barbara for example she still had a view of ‘dreaming spires’ and certain universities not for her. The point being made with respect to Bourdieu’s argument is not that students once at university are treated distinctively/differentially but that they are all subject to this distancing and the professorial code. However, some students arguably and I am arguing this, are better prepared (have the ‘right’ habitus) to react to and engage with this kind of treatment. University students are not differentiated in the same way as school students within the university although it is the case that some subjects are regarded as higher status and thus more valuable than others such as medicine; history or physics. But interestingly we found that the hierarchy of knowledge/subjects differed within universities depending on the type of university but also a range of other factors. However, there is a differentiation between universities in terms of resourcing and in terms of perception by employers; by society at large – such as the Sutton Trust who put resources into enabling working class students to get to elite universities rather than resourcing working class students’ entry into all universities and improving on the experience across all universities. Some of the working class students in our project also recognised this differentiation and some experienced first hand manifestations of such snobbery amongst students from Russell Group universities but of course at the hands of employers that attitude could and is much more damaging.

7 The four HEIs The research took place across three geographical areas and in four different types of HE institution: ►A post 1992 university – Northern ►A pre university - Midland ►An elite university – Southern ►A college of FE teaching Foundation degrees – Eastern College With: Undergraduates 18 years and above from a range of class backgrounds, including white and minority ethnic women and men. Tutors and Widening Participation Officers

8 Preparation for University and Learning Transitions
…when I first arrived I was completely unprepared for what [Southern] University would hold for me and it took me a while to settle in, a while to get to grips with what was wanted from me and a while to start producing and while I was still confident throughout that period I was on shaky ground compared to a lot of the other students who knew what it was all about. Now I feel like I'm a lot more cemented but it’s taken a while. There's other people who have come here and are completely prepared, know what's expected of them and are used to the sort of life. (Jamie Law student Southern University) All students everywhere I expect are anxious and worried on first going to university. But as Jamie explains some are more prepared than others. Some have been groomed for this experience. They are often still in touch with their school teachers and they most often are from families where at least one parent or close family member has been to university.

9 My thoughts have always been, at my lowest point, it’s
always I’m not capable of doing it you know and you realise you are capable when you get your marks. But the environment from a work environment to an academic one, has just been a right culture shock. .. it’s difficult when you haven’t, .. well I left school at 16, 15, nearly16, so there was a 25 year gap of study and it was, you know the simple things like reading a book, we all read books but reading a book to glean knowledge from is difficult.. It was difficult to begin with Anyway and like I say, I had no previous academic background, so I’ve had to learn as I’ve went along. Even sort of writing an essay, I’ve had to learn how to write an essay while I’ve been doing my degree … (Arthur, History, Northern Univeristy) And for the students like Arthur it wasn’t just about developing knowledge of the social and cultural aspects but he still had to learn some of the skills for higher education study. Self doubt and battling with previous memories of school failure was a significant issue for some of the working class students especially those who had come through the Access course.

10 Research has demonstrated the issue of belonging and fitting in and indeed as I have said that is a consideration for many students when choosing a university. However we found that belonging and fitting in was more complex than had hitherto been recognised. It involves students identities as learners and as social beings. At Northern for instance where the percentage of working class students was high and the majority of students were local to the area, working class students fitted in socially with great ease. But for those who were particularly passionate about their subject and did extra work around what was seemingly expected of the students, they felt they were at odds with their peers and had to hide their commitment. Their peers by contrast tended to be more instrumental learners and had a more laissez faire attitude to turning up and doing the work. On the other hand at Southern University working class students whilst at times were overwhelmed and anxious about the social aspects of the university life and rituals were comfortable in this highly structured and fast paced academic environment. On going there they find their academic, learner identities validated. They are surrounded by other ‘nerdy geeks’ as they themselves were labelled at school. For the Midland students there is more diversity in all respects and therefore more opportunity for students to find their niche and meet people with whom they identified or want to identify with.

11 Nothing really prepares you for going from a [school] teaching environment where you are spoon fed to coming to a lecture and you are responsible for taking notes; you don’t have to show up if you don’t want to; you’re responsible for handing in the work. It took me a little while to adjust to that. (Sarah, Law, Northern University)

12 In the first year I just felt totally lost you know, it was like in a lecture, in a module and that’s it and the rest of your time you’ve got to get the books which they tell you in the lecture to read and what’s in your module guide and it was just strange and difficult and hard to, it was hard to get into a set way of learning as well you know. (Arthur, History, Northern University)

13 … during the new year I was at home a lot, because you’re ten minutes
down the road and it’s so easy just to go . … I’ve got more understanding of what I’m doing, because there’s nothing else to do here. You can go on the computer but you get bored of that in about five or ten minutes, so then you go back to your work. You’re not distracted by TV, you’re not distracted by Big Brother, you’re not distracted by nothing, it’s just there, you have to do it don’t you. And there’s other times where we haven’t had lectures for four hours, I’ve gone home, whereas this time I don’t think I would, I reckon I would just stay here and do some work, because you know living on your own at home, well I live with S, so I do housework or I take the dog for a walk, or, I do anything but sit there and study. Whereas they always said at the beginning treat it like a full time job, come here nine till five and then go home and do what you want, and during the nine till five, you’ll find that you do enough work to get you through. That’s probably what I should have done. (Lisa, Law, Northern University)

14 O. There is a lot of competition…
O. There is a lot of competition…. One thing I noticed … is you quickly find out what people are like from supervisions, pretty quickly in fact. You know, for example, I got a pair of girls in my supervision with me, and one girl....Well, when I make a point, she goes 'Oh, I see what you're seeing, yeah. But, like, if it was looked at from this view, and you take it from here, then I think it's this, this actually not X, it's Y.' So she always picks me up on stuff. I: So they always challenge you on what you say? O: Yeah, yeah, and that’s brilliant. And then there’s another girl who’s like, ‘No, think about it, come on, think about it…you need blah blah’ and it’s just a bit too, trying to get one over on you. I: Combative? O: Yeah, definitely and a bit superior. And you quickly find out what people are like. (Owen, English, Southern University)



17 Support for Learning and the Learning Environment
The seminars I found a bit tricky to begin with and the idea that the lecturers weren’t there to say anything, it was all supposed to be us bouncing off each other for ideas so I think they were not quite there with seminars yet and I don’t think we’ve mastered the art of it, to be honest. I think the seminar leaders are rather cross with us at the minute. (Barbara, History, Northern University)

18 It was a massive culture shock, that it would be so much work, like I did 6 A levels and never did my work and then I come here and I actually have to learn how to work, they work you so hard, and everyone gets ill, tired, and you’ve got other stuff to do as well as that, and it’s just knackering. ….. (Amy, Engineering Southern)

19 These are all my reports from staff that I’ve had this year and they’re not just from my supervisors. I’ve been getting lots of feedback, positive feedback saying how much I’ve improved and how to make my work even better. It’s been excellent. (Jamie, Law Student, Southern University)

20 References: David,M.(ed) Bathmaker,A. Crozier,G. et al (contributors) (2009) Widening Participation Through Improving Learning. London and New York: Routledge Crozier, G. Reay, D. Clayton,J. Colliander,L. (2008) Different Strokes for Different Folks: Diverse Students in Diverse Institutions - Experiences of Higher Education. Research Papers in Education, 23:2, Reay, D, Crozier, G and J Clayton (2009) ‘Strangers in Paradise: Working class students in elite universities Sociology December Vol. 43, No Clayton,J. Crozier, G. Reay,D. (2009) Home and away: risk, familiarity and the multiple geographies of the Higher Education experience. International Studies in Sociology of Education Vol. 19, Nos. 3–4, September–December 2009, 157–174 Reay,D. Crozier, G. Clayton,J. (2010) ‘Fitting in’ or ‘standing out’: working class students in UK higher education. British Educational Research Journal.36:1, pp Crozier,G. and Reay, D. Capital Accumulation: Working Class Students Learning How to Learn in Higher Education. (forthcoming)

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