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You are reading: Research examines how remote students handle move to higher education

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Team led by Professor Sarah O’Shea used digital stories to capture diverse student experiences.

New research from the University of Wollongong’s Professor Sarah O’Shea has offered an insight into the challenges faced by regional students as they move into higher education.

The study, led by Professor O’Shea, with colleagues from the University of New South Wales and the University of Newcastle, and funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), gave students the opportunity to use digital storytelling to capture their perspectives on the transition to university.

“Disproportionate numbers of early leavers from higher education are from regional and remote areas,” Professor O’Shea said.

“A better understanding of the ‘lived experiences’ of learners is essential in addressing the reasons behind this attrition.”

Digital stories use a combination of photos and narration. Workshops on how to create a digital story were offered to commencing Year 11 students as part of the University of New South Wales ASPIRE outreach program. This perspective was complemented by stories from university students who had already made the move, reflecting back on how they managed this transition

The report, Shifts in self and space: Moving from community to university, was released on 10 September 2019 by the NCSEHE.

The students who created the stories were from schools in regional and remote areas of the state, whilst the university students attended UOW.

“Twenty-six digital stories were created by students from seven schools who were asked to consider their post-school plans,” Professor O’Shea said.

“We saw common themes emerging through in-depth analysis of student narratives, including concerns about relocation, relationships and community, personal identity, and potential hardships. Importantly, this is an emotional or embodied move with participants reflecting deeply on what it meant to them to move away from their communities and families.”

The role of community emerged as a primary influencer of regional and remote students’ educational pathways.

“Policy, practice and research should recognise the rich diversity of populations and the significance of relationships with family, the broader community and the land,” Professor O’Shea said.

“United and cohesive outreach programs can provide multiple opportunities for regional and remote students and their families to engage with, and experience, a range of different institutions.”

The report recommended that universities should provide dedicated and targeted support, through pre-enrolment, enrolment and transition, designed with the regional and remote cohort in mind.

“These university initiatives should be developed in partnership with regional and remote students and draw upon strengths-based thinking that recognises the particular qualities and strengths of these students,” Professor O’Shea said.

The research also identified potential for online delivery of university subjects within the high school curriculum which could be creditable towards a degree. This would allow regional and remote students to develop fundamental study skills and advance their higher education.

NCSEHE Director Professor Sue Trinidad commended this novel approach to communicating the student voice.

“Defining the regional and remote student cohort by geography alone may not recognise the nuanced qualities of this group, or address their complex support requirements,” she said.

“This study has demonstrated the value of digital storytelling as a means for students to express their individual feelings and experiences. These subjective narratives are vital in the effective advancement of student equity policy, research and practice.”

The final report is available here.


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