Maunder, R. (2010) Learning through transition: the use of cultural tools, social comparison and personal reflection to negotiate the higher education journey. Paper presented to: British Psychological Society Psychology of Education Section Annual Conference 2010, Milton Keynes, England, 12-14 November 2010.
In this paper I will present findings from a project exploring students’ experience of transition in higher education which has revealed important insight into the role that transition might have on individuals’ ongoing personal development and self learning. Using a qualitative approach, a total of nineteen first and second year undergraduate psychology students have participated in focus groups and individual semi-structured interviews over a 2-year period to discuss their transition experiences. The research has been uniquely characterised by the involvement of undergraduates as researchers, enabling valuable insider access into the student community. Analysis of the data has identified key themes of university ideals, expectations and personal identity. Students held culturally-situated beliefs and ideologies about higher education which were used as tools to form expectations about normative university life. These internalised views subsequently served as a comparison point for interpreting and evaluating their own transition experience. As a result of moving through the transition process, learners reported a personal change where they reflected on their growing skills and qualities and considered how these attributes might contribute to their longer term development. In conclusion I will argue that the process of negotiating one’s way into and through higher education facilitates the development of personal identity. Thus, rather than being seen as a problematic obstacle that must be overcome, some aspects of transition should be regarded as a beneficial process for individuals - fostering self-reflection and development of personal skills and that will be resourceful for later life.