Graduates’ Orientations to Higher Education and their Retrospective Experiences of Teaching and Learning

Rachel Spronken-Smith, Nell Buissink-Smith, Carol Bond, Gabrielle Grigg


In this article, we sought a relation between orientation to higher education and
curricular experiences, and elucidated the nature of transformative curricular experiences. Twenty-four graduates from humanities and science degrees in the
year 2000 were interviewed approximately five years later to obtain their retrospective views on the purpose of higher education, as well as their undergraduate experiences of teaching and learning. Drawing on phenomenographic principles, four orientations to higher education were generated. Four participant cases are analyzed, representing each orientation to higher education. In the ‘gaining a qualification’ orientation, graduates valued being told what to learn, as well as learning practical skills. For the ‘preparation for a job’ orientation, graduates wanted lecturers who were good at conveying information, but they also valued project work, having some autonomy over learning and practical applications. In the ‘developing skills and learning how to think’ orientation, graduates valued being challenged and learning in groups, but also wanted to learn professional skills. In the ‘growing as an individual’ orientation, graduates valued being challenged, gaining different perspectives, developing critical thinking, learning about theory, interacting with lecturers, research, and study for its own sake. Some curricular experiences transformed thinking about the purpose of higher education, including learning through discussion in small groups, authentic learning tasks including inquiry-based
assignments, exercises in developing critical thinking, opportunities to interact with teachers, opportunities to develop practical skills, experiencing different cultures and personal growth through lifestyle and social experiences. Our research has implications for advising students, as well as for teachers aiming to encourage a deep approach to learning.

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