Title

Freshman interest groups: Linking social and academic experiences of first-year students

Date of Award

1993

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Higher Education

Advisor(s)

Vincent Tinto

Keywords

social experiences

Subject Categories

Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research

Abstract

A qualitative case study of students in Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs) at a large public research university in the United States was conducted. The intent of the study was to understand, from the students' point of view, how participation in FIGs influenced students' learning experiences, and how those learning experiences fit in with their broader experiences as first-year students.

Three one-week site visits were made during the 1991-1992 academic year; during the second and last week of classes in the Fall quarter, and during the middle week of the Spring quarter. Data collection consisted of participant observation in 12 classrooms, and 43 interviews with 24 students. Data analysis consisted of reviewing fieldnotes and transcripts, developing working hypotheses, and examining themes that emerged. The mainframe computer package Qualog was used to assist with data analysis.

Results were presented in three sections: (1) social interactions in college, (2) student views of the academic experience, and (3) student views of learning. Much of the influence of the FIGs was in the realm of social relationships between students and their peers. Comments focused on students' social interactions with peers, Peer Advisors, TAs, and professors. The importance of these social interactions was that they formed the social context within which learning occurred.

Students' predominant view of the academic experience was that large classes, combined with a lecture style of teaching created an atmosphere of alienation, distance, and detachment. Under these conditions, students reacted in a variety of ways: sitting passively in classes, skipping classes, and/or buying notes for classes. Students seldom spoke of the content of their courses, therefore it was difficult to determine how much they were intellectually engaged.

Students viewed their learning in a number of ways: as collecting information, as related to talking, and in relation to grades. Some students saw the learning process as one of collecting as much information as possible; grades indicated whether that information had been collected correctly. Other students learned better when they were able to relate the class information to personal experiences and talk about them with their peers.

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