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Presentation at 2014 FACE conference: Collaborate to Widen Participation: to, through and beyond Higher Education
Title: Coffee, Milk and a Sprinkling of Sand: An Initiative to Assist Non-traditional, Mature Students form Supportive Networks in Higher Education
Non-traditional, mature students face a number of complex psychological and structural barriers to higher education and their journeys are often characterised by initial aspirations and later disappointments, when classed, gendered and relational positionings conflict with students’ identities and contribute to their withdrawal from academia. It is not enough to chart these difficulties; rather we need to seek opportunities to create a more inclusive environment so that we do not simply widen access at the point of entry but ensure that mature, non-traditional students complete their undergraduate study.
In response to this challenge, the research project explored the student experience by asking non-traditional students to engage with innovative and reflexive process of sandboxing. This approach was developed drawing on the ‘world technique’ in which individuals create three-dimensional scenes, pictures or abstract designs in a tray filled with sand and a range of miniature, realistic and fantasy, figures and everyday objects. This presentation will discuss the usefulness of the sandboxing technique as a tool of qualitative research as well a reflecting on the associated difficulties with the method.
There will also be a focus of the themes that arose from the data production process; and these will be explored in relation to the ways in which institutions can work meet the needs of non-traditional students. In particular the paper focuses on a Coffee Club initiative that was set up in response to the feelings of isolation reported by participants in the study; which offered an opportunity to build a supportive peer network. In this way, the research draws on the affective accounts of participants to influence policy and best practice; aiming to improve student experience for marginalised cohorts and to engender retention and success in their transfer to Higher Education.