The development of undergraduates' approaches to studying and essay writing in higher education
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Higher education has undergone a massive expansion particularly over the last twenty years. However,the value of this expansion is difficult to as certain. Despite a growing field of research in to adult learning in higher education little is known about the type of learning developed in this system. Biggs (1996) expressed concern that university learning is represented by increased knowledge and assessment requiring students to reproduce content, not demonstrate critical thinking. He claimed that this type of learning exists even in course-work essay writing. These concerns formed the theoretical framework for the current research, which explored the development of approaches to studying (using the ASI) and course-work essay writing in highere ducation. Students were not examined as homogeneous but as traditional and non-traditional entrants with different experiences of learning. Students' approaches to essay writing were measured using the Essay Writing Process Questionnaire (EWPQ) and the Essay Writing Orientation Questionnaire (EWOQ). The development of these tools was informed by a Grounded Theory of course-work essay writing, developed in the current research using focus group data. Results revealed that the meaning orientation of the ASI and understanding orientation of the EWOQ increased systematically across all age groups. Deadline motivationin essay writing and a generic reproducing orientation decreased across a ll age groups. This indicates that traditional aged students' previous experience of learning may have predisposed them to less sophisticated le rning styles. Few changes were observed in students' writing processes across the year sof a degree. Approaches to studying and essay writing orientations did not become less sophisticated with exposure to higher education but neither did sophistication increase. Fligher education did not compensate for traditional students' previous experience. Their learning styles remain the same across the three years of a degree. These findings fail to support Biggs' concerns that surface type approaches increase with exposure to university. However, neither do they indicate that higher education, specifically essay writing, encourage critical thinking and understanding. Rather university maintains the level of deep and surface approaches to studying and essay writing with which students enter university.
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