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Ester Ehiyazaryan and Ivan Moore Sheffield Hallam University
Themes: problem-based learning and enquiry-based learning, the student experience and learning
Tuesday 2 September 2008, 10.10-11.10 in Penthouse Boardroom
The development of learner autonomy has had a key influence on shaping current higher education pedagogy. In the context of education guidance, research literature describes learner autonomy as the student's journey towards taking responsibility for their learning and developing skills of self-management and self-reliance (Weatherald, 2006; Usher and Edwards, 2005; Fazey and Fazey, 2001; McNair, 1996). Reynolds, Saxon and Benmore, (2006) identify enquiry-based learning (EBL) as an approach which plays a significant role in developing autonomy in students. At the same time the authors highlight the challenges which students experience in adopting such approaches to their learning. This makes implications for transition issues actively influencing students' experience of autonomy.
Within this context, this paper pays particular attention to the student experience of adopting approaches such as EBL (conference theme 1) which are characteristic of autonomous learning. In particular this paper places a focus on the diversity of the resources which students use in getting to grips with self-directed study and the factors which influence students' experience of learning autonomously (conference theme 6). The research and this paper are grounded in the social constructivist paradigm which underlies the notion of autonomy (Doolittle, 1999; Boud, 1988).
The paper draws on the findings of research within a UK higher education institution focused on the student experience of autonomous learning (conference theme 6). A qualitative methodology to data gathering and analysis was implemented. In-depth, individual interviews were carried out with a sample of thirty students who had used the education guidance service. The questions were open ended, allowing the students' perspectives to shape the discussion. Grounded theory and the constant comparative method of data analysis were applied, using explicit coding processes (open, axial and selective coding) in order to lead to generating theory in a systematic way (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). Through this approach data was coded enough to generate or suggest theory, as described by Glaser and Strauss (1967: 103).The findings of research can therefore be used as the basis of further, more rigorous, quantitative studies testing the theory and as a basis for raising discussion regarding the student experience and the student voice within the higher education community.
Through listening to the student experience this research has yielded new evidence regarding how the students interviewed engaged in autonomy, what transitional issues they faced and what sources of support they used in this process. The findings of research discuss the student experience of factors such as the uncertainty which accompanies having to take responsibility for the learning outcome once an area of enquiry has been defined and the lack of clarity in terms of what is expected of them as autonomous learners. The findings of research highlight students' use of education guidance in learning to address these issues. In this way the role of guidance as a support mechanism which is part of the hidden curriculum is made explicit, particularly in playing an active role in facilitating the processes of reflection and transition in students. The positive influence of such reflection and transition on the learner's understanding of autonomy and ability to face the challenges of approaches such as EBL is discussed.
The new findings which this paper reports on acknowledge the literature on transition issues (Clegg and Bufton, forthcoming; Smith and Hopkins, 2005; Pitkethley and Prosser, 2001), yet contribute with original analysis on the transition into higher education debate. Grounded in the research data, these findings highlight the role of education guidance as one source of support which, as part of the hidden curriculum, plays a distinct role in students' transition to autonomous learning.