Explore A Fellow Students Experience Education Essay

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The aim of the study was to explore a fellow students experience while undertaking postgraduate study both in terms of the challenges of such study and its impact upon the student's day to day life. This is a piece of coursework for Advanced Methods in Health and Social Care Research. For this module students where required to undertake one piece of qualitative data collection, analyse and write up the findings. In order to achieve good practice, informed consent statements should be completed that describe the purposes of the research, the background of the researcher and points out the benefits and possible risks to those involved (Appendix 4). I selected a student that I currently study with, who is currently engaged in the post graduate study experience. I collected data using visual recognition throughout the one on one interview, I noted physical appearances with relation to the subject throughout the interview and I recorded the interview using a tape recorder. The main findings showed that the subjects experience and aim to succeed was based mainly on intrinsic motivation but this motivation was increased greatly by extrinsic factors such as the possibility of increased job prospects as well as essential tutor guidance and competency in using technology and library facilities. Findings also illustrates the financial difficulty the subject experiences whilst trying to pursue the postgraduate diploma. My personal presumptions on the post graduate study experience perhaps confounded my findings, and negated validity. However, we cannot assume that these are the experiences of every postgraduate student; the actual conduction of such an experience is very individualistic.

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Introduction:

To understand what exactly 'qualitative research' refers to, the author shall begin by defining what the word 'research' means. According to Treece & Treece (1982 p.14):

'Research… is an attempt to gain solutions to problems… it is the collection of data in a rigorously controlled situation for the purpose of prediction or explanation.'

The following quote describes what qualitative is:

'Qualitative approaches value respondent's views and seek to understand the world in which they live. Implicit in some approaches and explicit in others is the notion that respondents have experiences, wishes and rights that must be respected.'

(Parahoo, 1997 p.60)

The tools of such research can include the use of interviews, focus groups, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, participant observation and diaries to help collate all relevant information from the participants (Hyde et al 2004, p44).

The topic selected focuses upon the experience one has interpreted while studying at postgraduate level.

The interpretative nature of Qualitative research and the focus of my study aim, presents itself to be studied amongst the theory of phenomenology, and more importantly the idea of 'transcendental phenomenology'

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology). Moustakas (1994) claims that in order to justify the research question, it is important to extract the essential features of a persons experience and the essence of what the experience means through a comprehensive description. The interpretation of meaning in qualitative research is vital in developing and analysing data. The content and the expression obtained from data collection is fundamental in establishing theory, and the subsequent collected paradigms, according to Denzin and Lincoln (1998, p.252-253), are vital in constituting fields of argumentation. The research is focused on exploring the phenomenon of post graduate study, and more importantly, the intrinsic factors that one experiences with regard to postgraduate study, factors such as motivation and self discipline. However, the concept of grounded theory can also be investigated. Grounded Theory and its concept, according to Flick (2002, p.40) gives preference to the data and the field under study as against theoretical assumptions, and the openness of such investigation promotes the discovery of new concepts and ideas. With the practice and implementation of post graduate study being such a new concept to the student, the attitudes towards such an experience can be undiscovered. Nonetheless, and maintaining a sense of realism, the grounded theory approach is unrealistic when applied to one interview subject. Studying a large and relevant sample size on the other hand could provide interesting data results that further induce this theory.

Data collection

The teaching of Aristotle, with regard ethics, focused on the concept of embracing what he terms 'virtue ethics'. He appreciated the nature of virtue, excellences of character and intelligence, and highlighted the need to treat individuals as equal beings. Ethics is extremely important in modern society and the need to support and protect the vulnerable people of society must be upheld. It is also vital to maintain trust and present our motives in an honest environment. Knowing ethics and applying ethics however according to Erde (1997) (Cited Begley 2006) illustrates separate identities, and claims that,

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"There will always be students who cannot for whatever reason, learn to be good. They may be able to learn theoretical ethics, write good essays, and pass examinations, but stop short of becoming the sort of person who examplifies the moral virtues and practical wisdom"

In order to conduct a research proposal, it is important for researchers to submit their research plans to Institutional Review Boards and demonstrate how they will protect interviewees. Rubin and Rubin (2005, p.104-106) state that the inclusion of informed consent statements are greatly encouraged on-toward research students. In order to achieve good practice, informed consent statements should be completed that describe the purposes of the research, the background of the researcher and points out the benefits and possible risks to those involved. It usually promises to share the results with those being studied, indicates the degree of confidentiality of the findings, and, most important, emphasizes that participation is voluntary. I have planned to conduct my review in such a manner.

In order to conduct the research I have selected my participants using Purposive Sampling. The postgraduate study experience is not accessible to all. The University of Ulster has a student population of approximately 28,000

(www.educationireland.ie/index.php?option=com) split between four campuses studying at either undergraduate level or postgraduate level. With this in mind it is important that I select participants that suit the characteristics associated with such a study. My criteria for selection include those individuals studying at postgraduate level at the Jordanstown campus who have previously studied at undergraduate level.

My format for data collection centers on the concept of Interview. I have selected a student that I currently study with, who is currently engaged in the post graduate study experience. The interview is unstructured, in an open situation and interaction is planned. The focus surrounds the perception of post graduate study.

The location of the interview is situated in a medium sized room, measuring approximately 4m x 4m. The room is a non-smoking room. There is appropriate space for which to conduct the interview, with two chairs laid out facing each other (yet at a slight angle), and a small table from which tea, coffee and a small plate of biscuits rest. In addition, there is a small plant situated in the corner, and a table from which the tape recorder rests. The temperature of the room is approximately 18 degrees Celsius. The room is brightly lit, as a window is situated to the left of the interviewee. The plant is purposively included to improve the look and feel of the room and furthermore, plant or flower inclusions have been found to boost retention and focus of individuals. The choice of tea or coffee, supplemented with biscuits is aimed to enhance researcher/interviewee rapport and to further enhance the comfort of the interviewee. The style of the interview is relaxed, unstructured and questions are asked confidently. The interview lasts approximately 16 minutes and is conducted at 14.10pm on the 11th December 2009.

Data collection was obtained using a tape recorder that is included to enhance the validity and accuracy of my written transcripts. Throughout the interview, I use the assistance of a notepad to note the varying body positions that the interviewee may adopt. Semiotics, as mentioned by Culler (1975) (cited Denzin and Lincoln 1998, p.252-253), can represent meaningful connections between the expression and content that may be socially created and maintained. Including this in my transcript will enhance the accuracy, interpretation and meaning of my transcripts.

As we did not cover interview techniques during this module I was unable to conduct a pilot study.

For Transcript, See Appendix Two.

Data Analysis:

When beginning the analysis process it is vital to make multiple copies of your transcripts. I collected data using visual recognition throughout the one on one interview, I noted physical appearances with relation to the subject throughout the interview and I recorded the interview using a tape recorder. I then thoroughly assessed the interview transcript and attempted to make sense of the interview, establishing statements that were relevant to the phenomenon being investigated. Rubin and Rubin (2005, p.207) identify the need to establish themes and concepts that are relevant to the particular focus. The idea of recognition is vital in progressing data analysis in order to establish theory. Similarly, Holloway and Wheeler (1996) illustrate the significance of Colaizzi's seven stage process for data analysis. In order to develop the understanding of concepts and themes it is important for the researcher to fully understand the transcript and further acknowledge what they are trying to achieve. The concept of post graduate study is relatively new to the student and each post graduate student will experience different challenges which will have many different impacts upon their day to day lives. From thoroughly reviewing the transcript, I have decided to extract themes and sub-categorize statements into what I feel, represent the true meaning of the interview. Interpretation is vital. In order to achieve this, I have developed four sub categories, one that focuses on the personal feelings that are mentioned throughout the interview. Subsequent words include that of feeling good, study is going well, motivated and those which highlight comfort or discomfort. Personal traits are further sub-divided and include words and descriptions in which, from interpretation, the interviewee relates to the post graduate study experience. This includes motivation, discipline, organization, the need to succeed and goal setting. Furthermore, issues regarding the course content, quality of teaching and interaction are further separated and embrace the idea of how the student feels about tutor helpfulness and assistance with course content. Finally, the matter of technology completed the categorization and theme process where the student discusses openly that they are comfortable and competent in using technology but that they had some issues with certain research packages. This categorization allows for further development through the axial coding of such phrases and statements. For instance, personal feelings of feeling good can be linked with personal traits of motivation and discipline. Depending on the individual, we can assess the extent to which each category affects the other.

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I managed the data through the use of a computer word processor, notably the software package Microsoft Word. I devised two transcripts, one that included the full interview transcript and one that included the interview transcript as analyzed. This included the addition of participant semiotics that I noted throughout the interview, and the categorization of themes and statements that were colour coded using highlighting that was available in the Microsoft word package. Each category was assigned a specific color code, as can be seen in Appendix three: Interview analysis, which greatly assisted in the processing of data.

(Table: focusing on conceptualizing terms that repeatedly appear in the transcript.)

Organisation of Categories/Coding

Category 1

Category 2

Category 3

Category 4

Personal Feeling

Personal Traits

Course Content/Tutor support

Technology/Software

-Going well

-Financially difficult

-Lucky to be granted funding

-Disappointed when goals aren't achieved

-'Makes me feel good about myself'

-Feeling 'fine'

-SPSS package annoying and difficult to grasp

-Feeling competent 'I have no problem with this at all'

-Advanced 'up to date with finding all books and journals'.

-Feels LRC staff are excellent, pleasant and helpful.

-'Just keep reading'

-Discipline

-Work at every opportunity

-Having a job makes you work harder

-Plan

-Set time limit

-Goal

-Working extra hard

-Work in groups

-Have a reason for studying

-Maturity

-Class attendance

-'it's in out best interests not to have a job

-'They have been great'

-Excellent

-Have no complaints

-Queries clarified in reasonable time limit.

-All information provided 'informed during our induction'

-Lack of interaction with lecturer during large group lectures could impact on module.

-Very good at giving the lecture and know what they are talking about

-Clarify any misunderstandings

-Tutors recommend to work in groups

-LRC induction provided

-Essential tutor guidance needed but tutors can only help so much

-'Yes I am' comfortable using technology

-SPSS package within quantitative research study was very difficult.

In interpreting the data, the categorization process assisted in making sense of what was to be understood. It was noticeable that the categories seemed to interlink. For example, and quoting from the transcript the subject feels that 'so far it is going well' regarding the experience as a post graduate student. Following tutor guidance and reading everything that is suggested, working in groups when times are difficult and studying at every opportunity possible are key factors in being successful. The subject also states the difference experienced being a postgraduate student to that of being an undergraduate student for example "As I don't get a student loan the way we did at undergraduate level I have found it financially difficult". The subject also compares undergraduate level to that of being back at school "you get chased up for work and in ways it was like being back at school" but at postgraduate level you have to have a certain amount of maturity and be competent to work on your own initiative.

The subject states how at postgraduate level you have to have a motive for being there which is the first motivation factor of wanting to succeed. By setting unrealistic time limits and failing them makes the subject work harder to achieving the goal to feel good about themselves and provide them with self motivation. The determination and experience of post graduate study it seems is based around extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Positive feedback and guidance from the tutors are extrinsic motivations which increase the many intrinsic motivations within the subject. Although certain computer packages such as SPSS where difficult tutor advice to work in groups helped the subject through difficult stages and made them feel positive.

A study by Zimmerman (1992) explained that "Students' beliefs in their efficacy for self-regulated learning affected their perceived self-efficacy for academic achievement, which in turn influenced the academic goals they set for themselves and their final academic achievement". Intrinsic motivation remains an important construct, reflecting the natural human propensity to learn and assimilate. However, extrinsic motivation is argued to vary considerably in its relative autonomy and thus can either reflect external control or true self-regulation. Extrinsic rewards such as verbal rewards from tutors are found to be more enhancing to university students than that of children. Reiser et al (1998) argues that discovery learning (independent learning) creates more opportunities for students to assess how well they can overcome obstacles and their past and future success on the domain relies heavily on this type of attribution. Although Reiser et al (1998) highlights the importance of individual learning it is also stressed that feedback from tutors is essential in motivating the students to achieve goals as low ability students tend to exhibit more negative judgment on their performance if reassurance is not granted.

Discussion:

The focus of this assignment was to assess the challenges, feelings and beliefs that students suppose towards the post graduate study experience. My focus intended on establishing the challenges in completing such a task and the impact of these challenges upon the students' day to day life, with both extrinsic and intrinsic motives playing vital cognitive factors. Other psychological traits such as self-determination and discipline were also considered to be strong contributories, with Deci and Ryan (1991, 1996) (cited Fox (1997, p.130)) claiming that in order to feel self-determined, people must feel that their successes are truly their own. The post graduate study experience signifies that teaching stems from the individual. You are provided with the course content however, unlike schooling at key stages 3, 4 and even 5, you are not 'spoon fed' the work. Feelings of mixed emotion may be often established throughout such a task, but the data collected perhaps signify that the post graduate study, whilst extremely challenging, is perhaps one of admiration. My method for data collection was conducted in a professional manner. I noted body language throughout the interview, I recorded the interview using a tape-recorder and the environment in which the interview was conducted was comfortable and pleasant. My transcripts were documented accurately, and analyzed appropriately, and I felt that the unstructured interview approach enabled me to probe specific responses. Nonetheless, the person that I interviewed was a fellow student studying the same course. It was therefore evident that interviewer bias could disrupt the validity of such findings. My method of analysis regarding the transcripts was well presented and my findings were clearly documented. I felt that this made it easy to refer to specific words or statements. My questions were appropriate and with the many challenges and negative experiences in regard to post graduate study overall I felt that they looked at the post graduate study experience in a positive light. My personal presumptions on the post graduate study experience perhaps confounded my findings, and negated validity. Furthermore, I understand that qualitative research is an interpretative science. I was the only person who analyzed the findings, and according to Slevin and Sines (2000), it is encouraged that research analysis is analyzed independently by experienced researchers. This however was unavailable to me, due to the significance of the assignment.

My question intended to establish a positive or negative viewpoint of the post graduate study experience, where I tried to draw out the meanings of why such an opinion was formed. Studying the findings of one transcript however, realistically was never going to allow me to categorically conclude with a result finding. I did however establish the concerns that were experienced by the individual and further rank them under coded categories. This allowed me to conceptualize my findings and explore a particular phenomenon. Upon reflection, I felt that I established vital emotional contributories that are experienced in the post graduate study process; however, the actual conduction of such an experience is very individualistic.