By Camille Kandiko Howson
The SRHE Student Experience Network featured a discussion at the 2014 SRHE Conference exploring international dimensions of student experience research. We featured three international speakers to provide examples of topics and challenges faced when conducting international and comparative research:
- Madeleine Kapinga Mutatayi , from Congo DRC, Kinshasa, Phd student Department of Educational Sciences Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology at KU Leuven, Belgium
- Dr Johanna Annala, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Tampere, Finland
- Dr Rebecca Schendel, Lecturer, Institute of Education, UCL, UK
The event was chaired by Student Experience Network co-convenor Camille Kandiko Howson with co-convenor Matthew Cheeseman in spiritu.
The Student Experience is growing in importance around the world (Barber 2013), whilst at the same time decreasing in common understanding, shared definitions and research coherence. This may be due to variety of foci of research into the student experience, including:
- Curricular (learning gains, assessments, breadth and depth) (Douglass et al 2012; Crosling et al 2008)
- Co-curricular (additional opportunities, such as community engagement, study abroad, and industry collaboration and employability) (Mourshed et al 2012)
- Extra-curricular (accommodation, lifestyle, sports, societies, politics) (Thomas 2012; UNITE 2014)
These levels are then further compounded by levels of analysis, including individual, group (such as minority groups and international students), institutional (on topics such as governance, engagement and satisfaction), and inter/national (such as access, progression, labour market and rankings). Following the paradox of globalisation, and as countries around the world position higher education in society (such as dropping tuition fees in Germany and dramatically increasing them in the UK), what key issues about the student experience are of relevance across higher education research, beyond national politics and policies?
Two questions were used to stimulate topics for discussion:
- What research questions are not being asked about the student experience?
- What research and evidence could promote productive, effective educational models of higher education?
Across national contexts, the importance of measuring and researching learning strongly emerged. Several delegates raised troublesome issues when Western views of educational research and practice were used in other contexts. This encompassed staff and student perceptions of the learning environment and their relationship to each other, in terms of culturally-bound classroom and research practices. This highlighted power issues between staff and students, particularly the notion of students publically challenging or critiquing staff, even in confidential research settings. A fundamental question arose about different national and cultural interpretations of the concept of student voice, and the need for more comparative work about what student voice means in practice in different political contexts, inside and outside of the university setting.
The challenges of borrowing, or imposing, Western views were also discussed in relation to methodologies, particularly the use of large-scale surveys. The US-based National Survey of Student Engagement offered both the opportunity for comparative research of student engagement and student learning using a validated tool but researchers noted that many of the underlying theories are culturally-bound, such as ‘ideal’ forms of engagement between staff and students and notions of democratic participation, particularly in non-Democratic settings. From East Asia to Africa to the Middle East, different perspectives and modes of interaction were discussed. Related methodological issues were challenges in translating English-based research resources into other languages and cultural settings.
A useful framework picked up from conference presentations was that of using ‘powerful knowledge’ and ‘powerful understanding’ when crossing borders, using international methods and tools and in partnering with colleagues.
This seminar concluded with a desire to share opportunities for collaboration and participation in exploring these areas of research. This entry is a start to this endeavour, welcoming comments and proposals for projects that could carried out in multiple national contexts and engage the international higher education research community. So please comment, share and get in touch with one another!
Dr Camille Kandiko Howson is a research fellow at King’s College London and co-editor of The Global Student Experience: An International and Comparative Analysis.
Barber, M., Donnelly, K., and Rizvi, S. (2013) An Avalanche is coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead, London: Institute for Public Policy Research
Crosling, G., Thomas, L. and Heaney, M. (2008) Improving Student Retention in Higher Education- The role of teaching and learning, London: Routledge
Douglass, J. A., Thomson, G., & Zhao, C. M. (2012). The learning outcomes race: the value of self-reported gains in large research universities. Higher Education, 64(3), 317-335.
Staddon, E., & Standish, P. (2012). Improving the student experience. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 46(4), 631–648.
Mourshed, M., Farrell, D. And Barton, D. (2012) Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works, Washington, DC: McKinsey Center for Government
Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: a summary of findings and recommendations from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation
UNITE (2014) Living and Learning in 2034- A higher education futures project, University Alliance and UNITE.