Helen E. Whiteley

  • Improving student learning through emotional literacy development

    Helen E. Whiteley, University of Central Lancashire

    Research seminar

    Themes: skills development and lifelong learning, supporting learners

    As a consequence of widening participation initiatives, higher education institutions have an increasingly diverse student population. Partly due to this and partly due to societal changes in general we are faced with not only more students, but also more students with more problems. This change in the student population has serious implications for student progression and retention and, inevitably, for the student learning experience and for achievement.

    Recent theories of intelligence incorporate aspects of emotional and social competence (emotional literacy) which are seen as essential for attainment and for effective performance in life generally (e.g. Gardner, 1985). The research suggests that young people who are emotionally literate are better placed to be more effective learners and to deal with all that life ‘throws at them’. The most critical element for a student’s success is an understanding of how to learn. Key ingredients for this understanding are: confidence, curiosity, intentionality, self-control, capacity to communicate, and ability to co-operate – all of these are aspects of emotional literacy. In addition, a student who has well-developed personal and social competencies such as emotional awareness, empathy, good communication skills, the ability to build bonds, to work effectively in a team, to manage conflict and to develop others, will be best placed to function effectively in a widely diverse student community.

    The project presented is designed to facilitate emotional literacy development through a student tutorial system. It is based upon the emotional competency framework proposed by Mayer and Salovey (1997) and upon a model for change proposed by Boyatzis (2000). The project involves 40 students who participate in specific emotional literacy activities and a comparison group of 40 students who do not. All of the students and their tutors are introduced to the concept of emotional literacy through an initial awareness raising session. Emotional literacy development is measured (across a period of six months) through the use of the Emotional Competence Inventory (University student version, Hay Group, 2001) and through questionnaires and focus groups with the participating students. The process used to develop emotional literacy is also evaluated through the use of semi-structured interviews with both tutors and students.

    While the two presenters have considerable experience in the area of emotional literacy research and development, their previous work has focused predominantly on the implementation and evaluation of programmes to develop emotional literacy in primary and secondary school pupils. The undergraduate student project in this area is a new development. Delegates will be asked to consider their own students and to think how a lack of specific emotional competencies may affect their teaching and learning experience. They will be encouraged to think about how the development of emotional literacy skills in students might contribute to a harmonious and effective learning environment that celebrates diversity and promotes inclusion and will also be asked to exchange ideas about how emotional literacy development might be incorporated within the undergraduate curriculum and how we might best evaluate the impact of such initiatives.