|dc.description.abstract||Considerable attention is being afforded to the First-Year Experience (FYE) of University students to enhance student retention and success. The importance of social capital and acquiring academic skills and argumentative essay writing (AEW) in the FYE is seen to be influential for students. More recently, in response to these influences, there has been a trend for Universities to appoint specialist personnel, such as Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) Coordinators, First-Year Coordinators, Mentors, Subject Tutors and various Advisors, whose purpose is to assist in enhancing student success and retention.
The key research question guiding this thesis was - By examining the activity systems of first-year students, what approaches, and, personnel are most influential for student success? The supporting research questions were:
1. In what ways do academic skills development, and especially AEW, influence student success in the FYE?
2. In what ways do support personnel influence student success in the FYE?
Therefore, this study aimed to better understand approaches and support personnel who potentially assist University students to succeed and continue with their studies in the FYE, including how they make decisions about learning new academic skills, including AEW, in a contemporary education environment.
The research used a mixed-methods approach (Creswell, 2010; Neuman, 2011) through a combination of exploratory and descriptive research methodologies conducted in two phases. In Phase One, survey data were collected from 218 Education students at the regional University in Australia being studied. In Phase Two, case studies for four University students were constructed, and subsequently, a cross-case analysis was conducted. The four students in the case studies were:
1 One student who was defined as being first in family to study at University;
2 One student who was defined as not being first in family to study at University;
3 One student who was defined as being a school leaver; and
4 One student who was defined as being a mature age, non-school leaver and a Fail grade.
Data analysis of the student survey provided demographic information about the students surveyed, student perceptions about Orientation, academic skills, AEW skills, support personnel, and themes revealed through student perceptions of aspects of University that influenced student success.
By drawing upon Activity Theory, the study was significant for three main reasons, within the context that the FYE was critically important as it influenced student success and retention which has become a priority for higher education institutions in Australia.
First, it provided insights into the academic skills, including AEW, which students might have before entering University, and their perceptions of how these might influence student success. Second, it provided insights into the ways in which various support personnel might influence student success. Through investigating the activity systems of four University students, the importance of their perceived relationships with support personnel and others, such as other students, were illuminated. This also provided some guidance about who might be best in helping students with their FYE, and, for example, with developing their academic skills, including AEW writing skills. Third, it contributed to the use of Activity Theory through its application in this study within the context of the FYE in higher education.
From the findings reported, implications were identified from the student survey and from the case studies. The thesis concludes with reflections on the study, and suggestions for further research.||