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Tuesday, July 2 • 2:15pm - 2:55pm
Understanding first-year students' participation in the curriculum: A Specialization gaze

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First-year (both mainstream and Extended Curriculum Programme) students generally struggle with transitioning from high school to universities for several reasons, including issues of diversity, new curriculum content, differences in engagement with learning, and differences in assessment practices compared to their high schools (Bovill et al., 2011; Kift, 2008). In South Africa, and across the world, first-year students are typically expected to confront new kinds of knowledge, and to enact competencies in these knowledges in ways that often confound them. It is perhaps these new ways of knowing, doing, and being (Dall’Alba & Barnacle, 2007) that give rise to some serious contradictions between high school students’ school-leaving attributes and their readiness for university studies. While there is extensive literature on first-year students’ transitioning to universities, not enough attention has been placed in investigating how first-year students’ voices and individual experiences are reflected in first year curriculum in South Africa. More so, very little is being done to investigate how the design and enactment of first year curriculum could be more representative of first year students’ diversities.

This paper explores the design and enactment of a University 101 transition module at a university of technology in South Africa. The paper first uses Engeström’s (1987) concept of an activity system in cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) to examine how the University 101 module’s collaborative platform can serve as a mediating tool allowing for greater student participation in the curriculum. The paper then uses Maton’s notion of gaze in Specialization, specifically the varying strengths of two kinds of social relations: that of subjective and interactional relations, in exploring how a remedial module such as University 101 is perceived and appreciated by stakeholders in the faculty.

Data used in this study was collected during the piloting of a University 101 module throughout 2017, at a university of technology in South Africa. Both quantitative and qualitative data, sourced through surveys, interviews, and document analysis was used. 320 students, 12 lecturers, and 20 peer mentors were purposively sampled. Key findings in the study include how first-year students’ socio-economic background, and prior schooling experiences influence the way they engage with the curriculum; and the difficulties that the lecturers and learning support staff face in understanding the challenges facing first-year learning . The varying subjective and interactional gazes from first year students and their lectures exposes the depth of contradiction in first-year student support at the university. The findings demonstrate that through a participatory and collaborative enactment of a University 101 module, both first year students and their lecturers will find innovative ways to better support all first year students.

Tuesday July 2, 2019 2:15pm - 2:55pm SAST

Attendees (7)