In this essay I will examine the adjustments that students make when beginning university. I will look at how students become more reflective, and how this inner insight develops their critical self. I will take account of the discourse forms that students’ work must take and how their structure encourages original thought. I will then consider the impact of university culture on the student, and also extend this to the various sub-cultures that exist between disciplines at university. Then I will take a look at learning the language of university, and end with a personal reflection of my own experiences.
This essay argues that the university cannot directly change a student, but rather that the student must take an active role in their education to effect their own changes that will benefit them both within the educational system and beyond. The first step students take to adjust to life at university is to become more reflective. By understanding themselves, they can begin to better understand the world around them. Pavlovich (2007, p. 281) tells us “the purpose of reflection in education is to develop students’ self-awareness and inner leadership. The benefits of reflection not only allow students to become better learners and take an active role in their education, but also develop the “ability to relate to others and form strong interpersonal relationships” (Pavlovich, 2007, p. 294).
A deeper understanding of one’s self promotes a deeper understanding of others and helps students develop a critical approach to learning. A student who is not reflective cannot develop the skills in critical thinking needed to become literate at university. Warren (1995, Reader p. 208) tells us that “the critical self is a reflective self” and this is echoed by Brookfield (1989, p. 4), whose work also refers to the reflective dimensions of critical thinking. Strong skills in critical thinking are at the heart of what universities set out to provide students. Murdoch University’s mission statement states that it aims to produce “graduates with skills and attributes which will enable them to participate successfully and effectively in society. ” Read learning styles essay
Critical thinking is crucial to this aim. By thinking critically, students “question the phenomenon of study rather than simply accept and repeat the facts” (Craig et al, 1994, p. 5). Critical thinking is a vital skill at university and benefits the student because it engages them with the information they seek to learn and asks them to question it. Warren (1995, Reader p. 208) also tells us “one cannot process information, form reasoned opinions, evaluate beliefs, construct positions, or articulate a thesis without the use of critical thinking. ” In addition to the positive impacts on a student’s approach to university, critical thinking also actively engages people in life, as told by Brookfield (1989, p. ), who tells us that “critical thinkers see the future as open and malleable, not as closed and fixed. ” To truly become effective learners, critical thinking is essential to “say things that go beyond the personal and immediate” (Priest, 2007, Reader p. 198).
Students are asked to present their knowledge at university through strict discourse conventions, such as the argumentative essay, because these conventions generate original thought as opposed to simply repeating information. Bizzell (1986, p. 95) argues for the generating nature of discourse forms, and hypothesises that “the same intellectual work is not possible in different genres. ” While this adjustment can be difficult, as the genre of academic writing is foreign to many students beginning tertiary education, it is necessary to actively engage students with the knowledge they seek to learn. Once students can master these discourse conventions “they stop being passive consumers of knowledge and become part of the scholarly debate” (Priest, 2007, Reader p. 198).
Becoming aware of what Ballard and Clanchy (1988, p. 13) describe as the ‘deep rules’ of culture is the best way for new learners to successfully integrate into university. However, this is easier said than done. “Few seem to recognise the problem for what it is – an unsteady transition between cultures, … the problem of trying to fathom what constitutes acceptable behaviour in a new cultural context where the ‘deep’ rules are rarely made explicit” (Ballard & Clanchy, 1988, p. 13). The path of cultural transition is not made clear, and students are left to end for themselves in a trial and error of what constitutes appropriate conduct in this new uncharted territory. In addition, coming to terms with university culture is further complicated by the existence of the various sub-cultures that exist between disciplines at university, and also by the continually changing nature of culture itself. What is accepted in one discipline in relation to its “rituals, values, styles of language and behaviour” (Ballard & Clanchy, 1988, p. 11) may be harshly opposed by another.
Students must learn to “read the culture” (Ballard & Clanchy, 1988, p. 11). Craig and others (1994, p. 56) define culture as “dynamic, being subtly or even radically transformed or changed over time by the actions of people. ” What we must then ask ourselves is how can the rules of culture be made explicit if they are always changing? And is it even worth attempting to make these rules explicit when each student’s experience of culture at university will be unique to the combinations of sub-cultures they are exposed to?
A practical approach to students becoming acculturated in their chosen discipline at university lies in learning its language. Ballard and Clanchy (1988, p. 7) tell us that “language, whether oral or written, is indivisible from the culture in which it functions,” and go on to say that the degree of disciplinary languages or dialects is especially obvious at the sub-cultural level. The key to a student’s literacy lies in “exploring this fundamental relationship between the culture of knowledge and the language by which it is maintained and expressed” (Ballard & Clanchy 1988, p. 7).
Lucy and Mickler’s example of Frow’s lecture, which Bolt labels as “jargon,” demonstrates a use of language specific to a particular sub-cultural audience (2006, p. 88-90). Students must learn for themselves to interpret the dialect of the information that is given to them in the context of which it was intended. Bizzell (1986, p. 296) tells us that in making these adjustments, many basic writers who embark on university study experience “a radical loss in confidence” and this has often proven true in my case. I initially had much difficulty understanding my tutor and didn’t understand why he felt ompelled to reference the work of others in his comments. I thought that all this ‘name dropping’ fed his ego as a scholar more so than aided learning. I felt he was showing off the knowledge that he had and we wanted. However, now that I am beginning to learn his language, I realise that this way of communicating actually invites us to the academic table, if we have the nerve to take a seat. In conclusion, this essay has argued that by actively engaging in their own education, students initiate their own changes at university.
I have discussed that students become more reflective when beginning study, and that this is necessary to develop critical thinking skills and present knowledge in the discourse forms required at university. I have also discussed that students best integrate into university by becoming aware of its culture, and the key to this is by learning its language. While this opinion that students must effect their own change can be viewed as cynical, it is possible as the university provides all the tools at a student’s disposal to effect these changes, if they desire them strongly enough.