Thursday, 21 February 2008

Paper on Enthnographic research methods - narratives

Dear All,
I am so happy that we got the Blog up and running last night - many thanks to James for getting us set up so swiftly and with so little fuss.

I note that Jamie has already started the ball rolling wth a post on a useful journal article for us.

EVERYONE: please remember to post NOTES on your research and reading EVERY WEEK. It would be useful if you can give: Author (date) TITLE, location;Publisher - and a summary of the key points of the piece that you read - indicating how useful - or not - it was - and how it fits into field.

Below I have pasted the Abstract from a paper that uses student narratives as a research methodology. Obviously what we are really looking for in a paper like this is a model of how someone else has justified their methodology...
If you would like a copy of the whole paper, please email me

Telling tales: a fresh look at student experience and learning in higher education
Dr Dilly Fung (University of Exeter)

BERA Conference 2006 Reference Number: 0498
Session: Parallel Session 5 Date: 08/09/2006 from 09:00 to 10:30

Drawing on sequences of oral narratives by first year university students, the primary research study on which this paper is based (Fung, 2007) brings a new perspective to some of the key ideas found in today’s literature on ‘learning and teaching in higher education’. The notions of student experience, students’ approaches to learning and their conceptions of learning frequently arise in today’s research into higher education (HE). Proponents of the ‘deep and surface learning’ model (Marton et al.,1997) and the related notion of ‘constructive alignment’ (Biggs, 2003) offer advice for educational developers and teachers in HE, with a view to encouraging ‘deep’ level learning for meaning, rather than ‘surface’ learning which aims only to reproduce; this approach has been referred to as a ‘new paradigm’ (Entwistle, in Marton et al., 1997). Underpinned by phenomenographic methodology, the field has raised useful questions about ‘student experience’ regarding students’ individual differences in approach to and conceptions of learning, and about the implications of these for practitioners.
However, this recent narrative research (Fung, 2007) takes a fresh look at the issues, using personal stories as a means of gaining a richer description of the lifeworld of students and their learning. Twenty-two first year students, arriving at an ‘old’ university to take English or English-related undergraduate degrees, were invited to talk at length on three occasions (at the beginning, middle and end of the first year) about their experience. No specific questions were asked; rather, narrative prompts such as ‘Can you tell me about this term?’ were given, encouraging students to talk as fully as possible about their learning within the wider context of their experiences of university. This resulted in 60 personal narratives, totalling more than 400,000 words. In this era of Widening Participation, half of the narrators were ‘traditional’ students and half ‘non-traditional’; a hermeneutic analysis (Gallagher, 1992) based on Chatman’s approach to narrative analysis (Chatman, 1993) of the transcribed narratives was then conducted, and the stories of students from different backgrounds juxtaposed.
As students represent at length their experience, it is noticeable that, whilst the traditional and non-traditional students express some differences in terms of their representations of experiencing HE culture, participants show a marked and common emphasis on the social and interactive dimensions of their approaches to learning. The centrality in the texts of the collective dimension of the learning experience raises strongly the importance of the notion of ‘education as relation’ (Bingham and Sidorkin, 2004), for students from all backgrounds. In turn, structural issues arise for those designing and delivering programmes of study, and some practical steps are proposed that may be taken by institutions, departments and lecturers to focus afresh on the importance of this dimension of the students’ experience, and its importance for their ‘learning’, and education more broadly.


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