Ways to engage widening participation students
Authors: Dale, P. and Rutter, L.
Editors: Brophy, P., Fisher, S. and Craven, J.
Publisher: Facet Publishing
Place of Publication: London, UK
Widening Participation (WP) covers so-called “non-traditional” students from diverse backgrounds who are being encouraged to consider further and higher education. This paper seeks to show that by identifying the learning issues of two different groups of WP students it is possible to find better ways of responding to their needs. Without this understanding we are relying on 'what the teacher does' rather than 'what the student does' within the learning environment and thus failing to engage the student fully (Biggs 1999).
In the absence of engagement, information skills work cannot be embedded or integrated, and is thus perceived to be unconnected with study, work or professional practice. It is seen as a means to an end only; i.e. encouraging a surface learning approach (Marton and Saljo 1984). It can also be counter-productive as students who are not engaged can display negative behaviour, be disruptive and spoil the group dynamic. At a surface level there can be little real engagement for the student, no matter how well sessions are planned or how good the content.
Students' prior and present learning experiences affect their perceptions and expectations and can be associated with the three barriers to learning as identified by Cross (1981) and cited by Merrill et al. (2000). Within new situations these perceptions and barriers can have a significant influence on learning approaches and styles (Prosser and Trigwell, 1999). WP students from FE or a professional background, are likely to have more varied learning experiences than traditional students. To understand this relationship and determine how students perceive their situation is a further step towards developing appropriate learning and teaching contexts for successful engagement and deeper learning.