• Differences in students’ expectations and preparedness for university: a role for course designers?

    Ellen Jansen (University of Groningen) 
    Jacques Van der Meer (University of Otago)

    Research seminar

    Themes: the student experience and learning, skills development

    Tuesday 2 September 2008, 10.10-11.10 in Penthouse A

    Student departure from higher education is a world-wide issue and the last decades this topic is investigated from several points of view. Well-known is Tinto’s interactionalist theory with the central concepts of academic and social integration (Tinto, 1975, 1993). Elaborations of this theory are made by several authors (see for instance Braxton, 2000). Kuh and Love (2000) added the cultural perspective and this can be seen as one of the main problems first-year students encounter commencing in higher education. Drop-out in the first year of higher education is a global theme (Krause, 2005; McInnis & James, 2004; Yorke, 1999) and reasons to drop out can according to Yorke and Longden (2004) be classified in four groups among others unsatisfactory experience at university and difficulties in coping with the programme demands. It seems that first-year students are not clear about what is expected of them in terms of more generic foundation skills, and that they have unclear expectations about what is going to happen starting their study (Pitkethly & Prosser, 2001). The question is if the curriculum in the first-year and the teachers anticipate on these students’ expectations and their feeling to be prepared by their previous experiences (Waters, 2003).

    The University of Groningen (the Netherlands) and the University of Otago (New Zealand) started a collaborative project on measuring students’ expectations and readiness for university by developing the REQ (Readiness and Expectations Questionnaire, Jansen and Van der Meer, 2007)). This collaboration between two countries with different educational systems gives opportunities to investigate some special issues in more detail. In this paper we would like to discuss the expectations on being inducted in the academia and expectations on independence as a learner, and the perceived readiness on time management and working in groups. We have data on 1543 students (1208 Dutch students and 292 New Zealand students). During the conference data on the second cohort students will be available as well. We will discuss differences between health science students and take another look at gender differences. In the Netherlands there is a selection before students can enrol in medical school, in New Zealand the selection is after the first year. Does it make a difference in expectations and readiness?

    A greater understanding of what expectations students have of university studies, therefore, may prompt teachers to consider their approach to first-year students. Courses and modules can be designed in a way that fit in with students initial expectations, which may then contribute to students’ satisfaction or academic success, and ultimately to their decision to stay.