Factors impacting on first-year students' academic progress at a South African university

McGhie, Venicia F. (Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University, 2012-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Research project explored the learning experiences of two groups of first-year students in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of the Western Cape during the course of 2009/2010. The aim was to obtain insight into the learning challenges that these students encountered and the reasons why some of them were less successful in the learning process, while others were successful. The perspective of this study was therefore student centred. The project was undertaken against the backdrop of a higher education institution that caters mainly for so-called ‗disadvantaged‘ and ‗underprepared‘ students. Such students come predominantly from marginalised and poorly resourced education environments and socio-economic backgrounds, which suggests that they would find higher learning challenging and, as a result, would most likely experience failure in the learning process. The objective of the research project was two-fold: firstly, to identify and determine which factors have an impact on failure or successful completion of the first year of study in this faculty; and secondly, to derive from the data a socially situated, supportive and holistic learning approach that could assist more students to be successful in the learning process. The argument in the study was that learning is socially situated and constructed. To realise the objective, Vygotsky‘s social cultural theory and Bandura‘s social cognitive theory were used as theoretical orientation of the study. This qualitative, interpretive inquiry was characterised by multiple data collection methods. Qualitative data concerning the perceptions of the participants were generated via written reflective pieces, a questionnaire and individual interviews and content analysis. In addition, quantitative data were collected and this further contributed to the triangulation of rich, in-depth data. An ‗open coding‘ strategy for the content analysis was used, but the approach for the analysis was not purely inductive. A student-centred analytical framework based in part on theories and findings of five studies conducted on student learning, failures and dropouts, and the context of UWC as HBU served as a framework for the analysis but new sub-themes also emerged from the data collected. The results of these two Case studies revealed that some of the students experienced multiple learning challenges simultaneously which increased in severity during the course of the academic year, and that, in Case 1, these challenges became too overwhelming and severe for the students and that was why they were less successful; while in Case 2, the students managed to overcome and deal with these challenges successfully. The findings of this project, while specific to the context in which it was undertaken, contribute to the growing body of knowledge in the field of higher education and in the identification of enabling factors that could assist more students to be successful in their first year of study at a higher education institution. The findings provide guidelines for a socially situated, supportive and holistic learning approach that could help higher education institutions to mitigate the cumulative effects of learning on students‘ personal, academic and social lives.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie navorsingsprojek ondersoek twee groepe eerstejaarstudente se leerervaring gedurende 2009/2010 in die Fakulteit Ekonomiese en Bestuurswetenskappe aan die UWK. Die doel was om insig te verkry in die leeruitdagings waarvoor hierdie studente te staan gekom het en die redes hoekom party van hulle min sukses in die leerproses behaal het, terwyl ander suksesvol was. Die perspektief in die projek was daarom gerig op die studente en hoe hulle the leerproses ondervind. Die projek is onderneem teen die agtergrond van ‘n instelling van hoër onderwys wat hoofsaaklik vir sogenaamd ‗benadeelde‘ en ‗swak voorbereide‘ studente voorsien. Sulke studente kom meestal uit ‘n gemarginaliseerde opvoedkundige en sosio-ekonomiese agtergrond met gebrekkige bronne, wat daarop dui dat hoër onderwys vir hulle ‘n uitdagings sal wees en dat hulle gevolglik heelwaarskynlik in die leerproses sal misluk. Die doelwit van die navorsingsprojek was tweevoudig: eerstens, om te bepaal watter faktore ‘n invloed het op die mislukking of geslaagde voltooiing van die eerste studiejaar aan hierdie fakulteit; tweedens, om uit die inligting ‘n sosiale gestruktureerde, ondersteunende en holistiese leerbenadering af te lei wat meer studente kan help om in die leerproses sukses te behaal. Die projek berus op die uitgangspunt dat die leerproses ‗n sosiaal gebaseerde en gestuktureerde proses is. Die teoritiese raamwerk was daarom gebaseer op Vygotsky se sosiale kulturele teorie en Bandura se sosiale kognitiewe teorie. Hierdie kwalitatiewe, vertolkende ondersoek word deur veelvoudige metodes van inligtinginsameling gekenmerk. Kwalitatiewe inligting oor die deelnemers se waarnemings is verkry deur middel van nadenkende skryfwerk, ‘n vraelys en individuele onderhoude, en die ontleding van die inhoud daarvan. Ook kwantitatiewe inligting is ingesamel, wat tot die triangulering van ryk, diepgaande inligting bygedra het. Daar is ‘n ‗oopkode‘-strategie vir die ontleding van die inhoud gebruik, maar die ontledingsbenadering was nie suiwer induktief nie. Ontleding het plaasgevind binne ‘n studente gebaseerde ontledingsraamwerk wat gegrond is op teorieë en bevindings uit vyf studies oor leer, mislukking en uitsakking onder studente asook die konteks van die UWK as historiese Swart inrigting. Unieke temas het ook uit die inligting in hierdie studie na vore gekom het. Die resultate van hierdie twee gevallestudies het getoon dat studente veelvoudige leeruitdagings tegelykertyd ervaar het wat al hoe meer geword het deur die loop van die jaar en dat hierdie uitdagings in die een geval te oorweldigend en straf vir die studente geraak het, sodat hulle min sukses behaal het. In die ander geval het die studente daarin geslaag om hierdie uitdagings te hanteer en dit suksesvol te oorkom. Hoewel die bevindings van hierdie projek gekoppel is aan die konteks waarin dit onderneem is, dra dit nietemin by tot die groeiende kennisbasis oor die terrein van hoër onderwys en oor die bepaling van bemagtigende faktore wat meer studente sou kon help om in hulle eerste studiejaar aan ‘n instelling van hoër onderwys sukses te behaal. Die bevindings bied riglyne vir ‘n sosiale ondersteunende holistiese leerbenadering vir akademiese steun wat instellings van hoër onderwys moontlik sal help om die kumulatiewe effek op die studente se persoonlike, akademiese en sosiale lewens in die leerproses te help verlig.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20090
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