I am reflecting on a session I attended at a local university which focused on engaging mature students. Our table had the case study 'Claire' to explore. The table agreed that the scenario is well known and applies to quite a number of mature students.
Claire was the first person in her family to go to university. My table immediately started to discuss that aspect before reading on. It became clear that there can be quite serious pressures from the family to question why Claire wishes to go to university. “We never went and we did alright”; “do you think you are better than the rest of us” and “you are putting your family at risk if you don't earn money” were comments made by the table. Clearly, enrolling onto an university course can have additional pressures on some students even before starting. In addition, the logistics of traveling, balancing home/family life with study, issues such as traveling to university for one lecture is both costly in both time and money.
The case study described Claire as feeling isolated as she has been unable to attend social events or meet many other mature students to share the experience of balancing demanding aspects of their student life. Clearly, Claire does not appear to have strong support framework at university and home. Phil Race explores “What keeps learners going when the going gets tough?” (Race, 2007) identifies that 1 out of 10 are kept going by strong support and encouragement; 3 out of 10 by 'not wanting to be found lacking' and 6 out of 10 gave 'need' , e.g. “it was a necessary step” and “I need to be able to do it”. These interesting facts does confirm that support is one aspect that an educational organisation can help make a positive difference to the success of the student. The next activity explored how support could be provided.
Each table was provided with the 'What Works?' grid to identify how each aspect of the students' life cycle at university can be supported. The life cycle started from pre-entry to post graduation (or exiting). Opportunities for each target life cycle was provided by the 'system' i.e. Academic, Social, Professional and organisational.
The entries identify for the grid by my table had a social networking theme and identified a need for improved information provided by new communication conduits. The aim of the communication conduits are to help join students, tutors and the organisation together. A strong communication conduit based on research was presented at the end of the session. The research focused on a local university which identified that the communication conduits need to start at pre-entry via the website which revolves around a new and developing mature student section. This section provides information focused on mature students needs and offers the opportunity to connect with other mature students to aid a feeling of inclusiveness.
My own research suggests that barriers can be overcome by providing clear and transparent communication conduits, which leads me to consider... how can all the current communication conduits in an educational organisation be identified and even more importantly be assessed for effectiveness and efficiency?
Race, P. (2007) Making Learning Happen, SagePublication, London