The development of academic skills: an investigation into the mechanisms of integration within and external to the curriculum of first-year undergraduates
Redding, Peter Marion
University of Wales
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This thesis investigates a change management project involving the attempts of a university faculty to develop the academic skills of first-year undergraduates. While much of this effort had taken place within stand-alone modules dedicated to research skills or personal development, it was recognised that there were multiple influences shaping the student experience. Therefore, the project sought to achieve a more integrated approach, as guided by current pedagogical theory and understandings of organisational behaviour. The project was conducted within an over-arching framework of action research, in which each year of delivery represented iterative cycles with modifications. In order to further investigate the practices and their context, a series of semi-structured, qualitative interviews were conducted with key personnel who had all contributed, in some way, to skills development throughout the organisational structure of the university. The interviews used a form of projective technique which focussed the participants on their roles within the organisation, their relationships with the curriculum and university departments, as well as their place within the student experience. The resultant data was analysed through a grounded theory approach. The analysis provided factual data, unique perspectives and, perhaps more importantly, a more holistic overview. From this, it was possible to propose a new analytical tool for guiding future efforts, one which encompassed the theoretical underpinnings of teaching and learning within HE, with the pragmatic considerations of implementation, thus combining pedagogical theory and management theory. Paradoxically, the paradigm embraced the instrumental or utilitarian tendencies exhibited by some students in order to achieve the longer-term goal of producing independent learners. This emergent paradigm guided further interventions which acted at a local level to foster better communication among key players and to integrate the contents with the wider curriculum and student experience.
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