Discourses In higher education and their Implications for student experience. What are the ways in which discourses emerge in higher education and what are their implications for a student experience? Discourses in higher education are apparent in almost every interaction a student has with any aspect of the higher learning Institution including but not limited to staff and policies and procedures (including assessment procedures).
The notion of subjectivity, or the subject position of student Is also central to the following discussion of discourse. The use of language in promoting and maintaining such courses can be seen In higher education policy documents developed by both the Government and the higher education institution, documents with students as a large proportion of the Intended audience. A number of claims are made In these higher education policy documents that are ambivalent and ambitious (to say the least), and possibly even misleading.
I will qualify this statement by highlighting some of my own experiences as a student in higher education in which these claims are contrary to what occurs in practice, before suggesting some possible reasons for the disparity between policy and practice. Discourse theory, subjectivity and a number of higher education policy documents including Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System (up. 7-8), university Strategy 2011-2015 (p. 5) and School of Psychology Orientation 2011 : Course Induction Booklet (p. & 6) will be examined to suggest possible Implications of such discourses for student experience In higher education. Fox (2011) describes subjectivity as the ways in which all your experiences of your social world have Influenced you and will Influence your interactions with the world’. (p. 3) She goes on to suggest that your culture, country, he social groups to which you belong, communities you have previously or currently belong to, schooling experiences, friends and family will all influence you thoughts, communications and actions and how you engage with the world around you.
Henequen, Holloway, Ervin, Venn and Walker (1998) discuss the notion that an individual is not simply produced by forces external to them, but through a process whereby the individual forms within the context of their society. They also suggest that subjectivity involves individuality and self awareness, however subjects influence ND are Influenced by discourses that surround them In their social world. Furthermore, the resulting practices of such discourses result in non-unitary subjects who are active and dynamic.
Discourse Is a term that Is not easily understood, In part due to the many and varied definitions it has been afforded over time, and the vide array of contexts in which it Is and has been used. Even within a given discipline there is much inconsistency in how the term is used (Mills, 2004). Faculty (1972, 1980 cited in Mills, 2004) has provided an evolving view of discourse moving from the notion that It Is ;the general domain of all statements’ (p. ) to discourse being ‘an individualized group of statements’ (p. 6), before finally suggesting that discourse is toys ‘a regulated practice winch accounts Tort a under AT statements’ (p. Includes from this last definition that the actual texts or utterances are less important (in terms of defining discourse) than are the structures or rules that produce them. McDonnell (1986, cited in Mills 2004) thickens the previous definitions of discourse by adding that it is institutional in nature and highlighting the social nature of dialogue. She suggests that ‘discourses differ with the kinds of institutions and social practices in which they take shape and with the positions of those who speak and those whom they address’ (p. -10). The use of language is an important element of discourse and encompasses ways of speaking and being, assumptions, ideas, as well as structures and practices, which are socially constructed and linked to power (Fox, 2011). Power is an important element in the discussion of discourse. Faculty’s notion of power is that it is disseminated throughout all social situations and has the power to both restrict and produce certain types of behaviors (Mills, 2004).
Within the contexts of cultural theory and critical discourse analysis, the role of power relations in producing statements and texts is an important consideration when examining discourse (Mills, 2004). From the process of filling out the application forms to enter higher education there is a powerful discourse at play. The student is, in a sense, asking the institution to provide them with something that will make them more knowledgeable or desirable to employers (and perhaps society as a whole).
From here the relationship (or discourse) between the university and the student becomes even more apparent. The university knows what the student needs to achieve these goals, and sets about delivering it to them, providing of course the student is deemed worthy of the university attention by meeting certain entry standards. There seems little scope here for a two way street. Daily interactions between the university and the student usually involve the medium of the staff of the university, in particular its teachers. These interactions reinforce the discourse that has already become apparent.
The teacher stands at the front of a lecture theatre, a physical environment signed to have them as the centre of attention, and disseminates information. Alternatively, for those studying via distance education, interaction with teachers is generally on the forum. When a student makes a post, regardless of the content, it is presented in black. When a teacher makes a post it is bold, red, important. Assessment procedures are designed to determine the degree of a students success, and are another aspect of student experience in which discourses emerge and are maintained, and subjectivity is largely ignored.
Keep and Leach (2010) argued that for a students true success to be measured, teachers must ‘be aware of, be empathetic about and engaged with non-institutional influences as well as institutional influences on students individual and collaborative success’ (p. 670). In my experience as a student in higher education, to experience success in terms of assessment you must produce what a marker would like you to produce, and generally this should be free from all subjective experience. Even then the grade depends on the quality of responses from other students.
Furthermore, the same assessment item could yield a different result if submitted in a different session, depending on the quality of the work of other students in that session. It is the combination of language and power that allows discourses to emerge through higher coeducation policy documents I en TLS document to De examine Is Remonstrating Australia’s Higher Education System (up. 7-8). At first reading this document appears to provide the recipe for improving Australia’s higher education system, and producing better quality graduates.
Not too far beneath the highly glossed surface, the grandiosity of statements such as ‘higher education is central to achieving the key objectives for the nations future’ (Australian Government, 2009, p 7), and this country being amongst the most highly educated and skilled on earth’ (Australian Government, 2009, p 7) almost make one feel sorry for those poor individuals who do not (through choice or lack of opportunity) engage with higher education. The document is written from a position of power; a position that values higher education and its products above all other forms of training and vocation.
The document also states that ‘a fairer Australia’ (Australian Government, 2009, p 7) is a key objective in achieving these goals. Furthermore, the notion of Widespread equitable access’ (Australian Government, 2009, p 7) and ‘opportunities for all capable people room all backgrounds’ (Australian Government, 2009, p 7) assumes that age, gender, socio-economic status, race, culture, disability status, geographic location, family and other commitments have little or no impact in terms of access to higher education.
As a student that engaged with higher education at the end of high school and again some 15 years later I find these statements very difficult to accept. Coming from a rural, single income working class family of 5 children, University was not as accessible to me as it was for some others. In order for me to access higher education all members of my family had to be willing to sacrifice to some degree, and I had no option but to move a long distance from my home and support network.
That I was able to finish my double degree must mean that I am one of the ‘capable people’ this document mentions. Many of my cohort from high school were unable to access higher education (for a variety of reasons) yet I would be very reluctant to exclude them from the group labeled ‘capable people’. My return to higher education more than a decade later complete my Graduate Diploma of Psychology despite being a wife, a mother, a teacher and a small business owner/operator enforces this notion that I belong to the ‘capable’ group.
It is at this point, nearing the completion of my second (hopefully) successful stint of higher education I must remind myself not to fall for the romantic notions of such documents. Perhaps this document is correct when it suggests it is the role of the institution to ‘produce graduates’ (Australian Government, 2009, p 7), however I can’t help but wonder if a students subjectivity (their It is my experience as a student that this is far from the case. During my undergraduate teaching degree I was provided with opportunities to practice caching under the guidance of a trained teacher. In this instance I feel I there was an attempt to make me work ready, however I feel my that at the completion of the Graduate Diploma of Psychology I will not have any of the skills (with the exception of minimal research skills) to engage in the profession for which I am training.
Furthermore, it goes on to suggest that graduates will be given opportunities to ‘develop and apply international perspectives’ and ‘engage with indigenous communities’ (Charles Strut University, 2011, p 5). In my subjective experience as a student these are wildly misleading statements. Possibly the reason for my feeling that I have not reached such heights can be found in the final line of the document which states that ‘opportunities to develop these outcomes will be provided to throughout your studies at CSS’ (Charles Strut University, 2011, p 5).
Perhaps such opportunities have been provided (maybe the details were in the fine print), and it is my shortcomings as a student that have caused me to miss these opportunities. A disparity exists between policy and practice when these documents are examined in light of my own personal experiences as a student in higher education. Possible reasons for such disparity may include the differences in power between the author AT ten documents Ana myself (In ten student position as student), Ana ten powerful discourse this produces.
The purpose of these documents being produced, such as meeting legislative requirements, or promoting the institution to prospective students, may also be an influence. That these documents are written by individuals who have found success in the very institution they are embellishing (be it higher education per SE or a particular higher education institution) seems to emphasis the discourse at play.
The discourse is bolstered further by the fact that the intended audience (particularly for the last 2 documents) is predominately students whose interests may be best served by buying into the discourse and believing they have made the right choice by engaging with higher education; that they are among the best and brightest; and that after a short stint at university they will be transformed into a leader in their field.
Language and power can form a formidable partnership in terms of creating and maintaining discourses in higher education. These discourses often emerge, or find support from every day interactions that hose in the subjective position of student have with, and within the institution. These include (but are not limited to) interactions with staff, procedures and policy documents. Discourses that emerge in such ways have the potential to greatly impact upon students experiences and outcomes in higher education.