Students' construction of academic success in Higher Education.
Govender, Subbalakshmi Deenadeyalan.
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This study explored how students construct and perform academic success in Higher Education (HE) in the context of consistently high failure and dropout rates. The South African Department of Education (DoE) reported that of the 120 000 students who enrolled in higher education in 2000, 50% dropped out in in either the first or second year of study and only 22% graduated within the specified three year duration for a generic Bachelors degree. Research literature used in this study has indicated that failure and drop out in HE have been the subject of problem based research in South Africa with much more literature exploring the HE dropout rate and its contributory factors. The main purpose of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of academic success from the successful student’s point of view and how comparatively few students constructed, produced and performed academic success within a Humanities undergraduate programme at a South African university. The interest of this investigation lies in the area of the broader academic and social discourses that they, as successful students, inhabited and through which they produced and performed their success in undergraduate studies. International research literature used in this study indicated that although retention has been the subject of research for over seventy years in the US for instance, drop out rates in HE which are comparable to South Africa have not improved .Originating in the US, The Tinto Student Integration Model explaining student success proved to be useful as a starting point to understand both the way academic success was constructed by the participants in this study and why they constructed it in this way in relation to their social and academic integration at university in the context of their personal backgrounds. The model was supplemented by educational, psychological and sociological theories of epistemological access, motivation, agency and student engagement. This layered set of lenses was further deepened by seeing academic success in the context of Ubuntu, a particularly African philosophy of humanism which completed the conceptual framework of this study. This research study was located within an interpretative case study design. Four out of twelve successful students were purposively selected for this study. All participants had studied either for a three year BA or B Social Science in either the Drama and Performance Studies or English Studies programmes at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A dual method approach was used for the generation of data, including semi-structured interviews with each participant, which took place over a period of twelve months. Data gathering also included written autobiographies and research journal notes. The process of data gathering and interpretation went through various stages to produce a story portrait of each participant which encompassed research journal notes. In using an interpretative representation technique by designing the research instrument (semi-structured interview) around the themes of one of the novels studied by the English Studies students, I was able to access a worthwhile research tool for validation and it added another layer of meaning making in understanding academic success. The key findings which emerged out of a relational analysis of the narratives were based on a continuous dynamic movement of the successful student between and amongst the different areas of participation and integration at university in order to construct and perform academic success. One salient finding included the fact that while construction of academic success was designed on many levels with various points of entry and while performance was enacted in a multitude of environments (interpersonal, intrapersonal and institutional), neither construction nor performance could be concluded without motivation, self-regulation and agency which presented as elements of personal background of the participants in this study. I chose to represent the subtleties, multitude of dimensions and the breadth and depth of the experience of the academically successful undergraduate student in the summative illustration of the metaphor of the lemniscate. It captured the backward forward momentum and sometimes hurtling dynamic experienced by the participants of this study in their construction, production and performance of academic success in their undergraduate studies and assists one to navigate this journey the successful students revealed. It also assists in understanding how the participants circumvented dropping out of H E. The topography of the Resilience Capital Lemniscates Model of Academic Success typified not only momentum, direction and environment but also encompassed the emotional and psychological aspects which accompanied any movement through the lemniscates of academic success.