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Transitions and Transformations of Post-Graduate Students in the UK

David Scott1Four Types of TransitionsPure to Applied Discipline International Context to UK National ContextWork Intensification From Traditionally Under-Represented Backgrounds to Academic Setting2Pure to AppliedThis transition refers to students who, having taken a first degree in a non-applied subject such as physics or philosophy, then undertake a higher degree with an applied orientation. Movement is from a disciplinary base with an agreed set of methodologies and approaches to a new practice-orientated setting.3International ContextThis refers to the gap between an international students expectations about learning, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment and UK HE approaches to learning, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

4Work IntensificationThis transition involves the addition of part-time study responsibilities to full-time work. Students may encounter a number of problems in making this transition, including those related to time, energy, and commitment.

5Non-Traditional BackgroundsThis transition refers to those students undertaking Masters-level courses having non-traditional backgrounds and particularly how this relates to current policy issues relating to widening participation (WP) agendas.

6Some Characteristics of Transitions (1)Time (all transitions are characterised by movement from one time moment (Ta) to another (Tb), and onwards to a series of other time moments (Tc to Tn)); Cultural Embeddedness (this refers to factors such as duration, intensity, import, etc.); Pathologising Capacity (i.e. whether and to what extent the transition is understood as a normalizing and thus pathologising mechanism); Position in the Lifecourse; 7Position in the LifecourseLifecourse as a stepped system of statuses.Lifecourse as a stepped system of learning markers. Lifecourse as a stepped system of resource. accumulations (resources are here defined as capital accumulations, such as cultural, social, economic and emotional. Lifecourse as a stepped system of career events, and thus as age-related Lifecourse as a stepped system of identity moments. 8Some Characteristics of Transitions (2)Focus (for example, learning transitions, which refer to issues such as familiarity, receptiveness, assimilation, negotiation, rearrangement, formalisation, assessment/ accreditation, and the like); Progressive or Teleological Nature (i.e. how the transition relates to some end-point);Transitions made by the person which do not fit expected and sanctioned forms of learning;

9Some Characteristics of Transitions (3)Environmental Transitions;Identity Transitions;Learning Transitions: Learning can be depicted as a journey of gaining familiarity and ultimately mastery of discourses and literacies belonging to new learning contexts and environments; Embodied Transitions;Discursive/Narrative Transitions.10IdentityIdentities created;Becoming and Surviving the Post-Graduate Journey;End Points: Public and Private;Start Points: Learning the Rules;Generic, Disciplinary, and Site Processes: incompatibilities.11DisciplinarityThe Complexity of Learning; in relation to the Generic Training Model;Deficit Learners;Training v. Education? Political as well as Learning;Conformity and Resistance to New Rules.12Control and PowerTemporal Regulation: Stepped Model; Prescribed Rules: Inspection;Abstract Trust (contra Mediated, Concrete and/or Personalised);The Power of Disciplinarity;Epistemological Constraints: Sanctioned through Policy, Controlled-Financially. 13Practice (1)Tension between forms of learning/experience of non-traditional students and forms of learning demanded by institutions.Use of grades over-emphasis on grades which cannot act in a formative sense confusion between processes of formative and summative assessment.

Students experience discipline-specific teaching approaches, interpretation of criteria, marking, etc. and in addition, students conceive of the experience of study in different ways.

14Practice (2)International students were critical of unhelpful organisational arrangements and inadequate feedback as they developed their unique personal and professional coping mechanisms. They were also highly critical of unhelpful organisational arrangements and bureaucratic assessment practices. Formal acknowledgement of learner progress and offering negotiation around published schedules were proposed as examples of showing such respect to these learners.

15Practice (3)Creating connections between work and assessmentOpportunities to collaborate with peers.There is a problem with being overloaded with assessments at key transition points.

16Practice (4)Self-direction is paramount for part-time learners, but showed that while such learners expect to be autonomous, they are not always successful at self-management, although this ability develops over time. There is an issue of level. Not only concerns about how academic levels are set but also the question (probably the most frequently occurring) of how am I doing? There is an issue of identity. For example, the very personal question: what is this course doing to me as a person? Or, who am I becoming as result of this course? How is any such change or transformation measured: against other students; against teachers, mentors and other staff members (including as role models); and against work colleagues?

17Practice (5)There are house-keeping issues. Questions about how the group and individuals are being treated. Some quite intense concerns have arisen about mutual respect, about potential double-standards, as reflected, for example, in aspects of communication, of organisation, of rule-making and rule-breaking, of expectations and delivery (including of resources), and of administrative standards in general.

There are a bundle of technical issues, including about IT environments, writing (format, style etc.), timetabling, and the scope of discretion and flexibility.

For some students, there are really deeply-felt cultural sensitivities. Not just about language, nationality, and ethnicity, but also class and prior preparation, disability and special needs.

18Learning, activities and meaning, and the making and remaking of meanings through those activities and which other relevant human experiences, and ways of experiencing them, are described in terms of their relationships with the pivotal concept, learning.

19Assessment Careers (1)Assessment is rarely seen in the wider context of the students prior experience, external influences and identity transformations. Much of the work focuses on students immediate and out of context experiences of assessment and feedback. What is missing here is an appreciation of how assessment fits into a complex individual learning career.It is suggested that it is helpful to view an assessment career as a significant part of a learning career.

20Assessment Careers (2)Assessment is an emotive process and we have already suggested that dealing with success or failure forms part of a learners identity.A focus on an assessment career highlights an underlying problem with many assessment regimes: that assessments are undertaken on a piecemeal basis and that there is little continuity. Feedback tends to focus on the immediate task and, not surprisingly, rarely includes feed-forward to future assessment. The concept of an assessment career is potentially very useful for capturing the complexity and diversity of experience of groups of learners and for recognising that there is not a distinct group of postgraduates, but rather individuals who may have commonalities with others because of the transitional moment of their learner career, their maturity and some overarching expectations for developing expertise and autonomy in postgraduate study.

21Learning Environments (1)The student finds out for themselves rather than being given answers to problems this is a problem-solving pedagogy.

The student is required to engage in a series of interrogative processes with regards to texts, people and objects in the environment.

The student is also required to use the skills of: information retrieval, information synthesis and analysis, and knowledge organization.

Learning Environments (2)The student may come up with inadequate, incorrect and faulty syntheses and analyses. However, this is acceptable because the learning resides in the process rather than in the end-product.

Learning involves the student in judging their own work against a curriculum standard and engaging in meta-processes of learning (i.e. understanding about processes of own learning; development of learning pathways; utilisation of formative assessment processes; development of personal learning strategies; internalisation of the curriculum, i.e. the standards).

Learning Environments (3)Classroom talk which is not dominated by the teacher is an essential pre-requisite of effective learning, and thus the teachers role is to organize activities which promote talk; this involves open-ended questioning.

The teacher acts as a facilitator of the process and not as the giver of information or even as a knowledge organizer.

The teacher needs to share learning intentions and success criteria with the learner; a prior articulation of a standard is an important step in effective learning.

PedagogyA pedagogic standard (i.e. approach, technology, series of activities) is derived from a curriculum standard.The pedagogic standard might include: i) task setting; ii) negotiation with the student about appropriate ways to meet the standard; iii) guidance about the contours of the task; iv) providing information to the learner on their performance to a standard (feedback).

LearningActive Learning