Questioning the ideal of the good student : A qualitative study into how business students view their own learning

Mynott, Gwenda and Jackson, Carolyn (2023) Questioning the ideal of the good student : A qualitative study into how business students view their own learning. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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This study investigates the ideal of the good student and the value attributed to independent learning. Business students are frequently thought of as being career focused and outcome driven to the detriment of their development as independent learners. Much of the research in this area looks at how we can support students to become good, successful, independent learners. The metrics of attendance, engagement and graduate outcomes are increasingly used to define what the good student does, and this is operationalised through institutional agendas that are focused on meeting national government policy. My research aims to illuminate the student view of what a good learner is and to investigate their perceptions of success. I have approached my study with a constructionist and interpretivist stance and have used qualitative methods. The research setting is a business school in a post-1992 university and the sample comes from undergraduate students. The setting is also my workplace and so aspects of insider research are acknowledged and discussed. Nineteen undergraduate students were interviewed using a semi-structured approach. These interviews took place in person and then moved online due to the Covid lockdown. These students all self-reported as successful in terms of attainment. The interview data were analysed using a thematic approach. The main findings are that the students come from diverse backgrounds and are interested in the subjects they have chosen to study. They feel personally responsible for their own learning and indicate an awareness of being part of a mass education system. They mainly expected having to learn independently but interpreted it as finding their own way of studying. They had not expected to be engaged in group work and indicated that learning with and from others, both students and staff, is very important. How the participants talked about what success means to them is nuanced and frequently is about emotion rather than grades. In contrast, the students felt that lecturers measured student success more bluntly and via grades. Students also highlighted that they felt under challenged by their programmes of study. The implication of these findings is that the idealised norm of the good student, who is independent in their learning and whose engagement and success is measurable, is unrealistic and therefore problematic in that there is no one version of a good student. I argue that the focus on independent learning is unhelpful and rather than seeing the ‘bad’ student as the problem the focus should be on learning as a social activity. This means that disciplinary context needs to be made transparent and that students should be expected to engage with and be challenged by this. This study is significant in that it calls into question some of the everyday assumptions that permeate much of higher education and provides a basis for seeing students and their learning differently.

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16 Oct 2023 11:35
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16 Jul 2024 06:05