Emergent selves, emergent lives: the role of curriculum in the identity development of undergraduate students : a narrative phenomenological study




Sheppard, Janet

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The present study examined the self-learning experiences of 12 university students nearing graduation in order to understand the role of curriculum in the development of identity. This inquiry was conducted as a narrative study within a systems theory framework to examine the factors influencing higher education. The study used two rounds of open-ended interviews, separated by a researcher-created interpretation of participants‘ stories so that students could confirm their experiences and contextual influences. These included familial, cultural, and social factors. Phenomenological analysis revealed a process of repeating cycles of Disorientation and Reorientation in participants‘ self-learning experiences. Sites of learning included predominantly Expectations/Experiences and Learning to Manage Relationships. A directional theme of Seeking/Finding Fit appeared in areas such as Discipline, Program Fit, and Career. This trajectory showed distinct patterns of engagement, both in learning and social and community settings. Findings suggest that experiences outside the classroom contributed most powerfully to self-learning. Results indicate a lack of awareness of personal values or their role in finding disciplinary or career preference, and a lack of understanding of the ways students could apply their academic and self-learning to the world beyond post-secondary education. Opportunities for critical self-reflection appeared to contribute to the development of insight and self-awareness, but few opportunities occurred in classroom learning experiences. While all participants could be described as academically successful, a strong relationship between academic performance and self-knowledge was not apparent. The findings suggest that certain curriculum strategies encourage identity development in undergraduate students. These strategies use integrated, experiential learning with opportunities for self-reflection, and include interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.



self-learning, transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, career, teaching, systems, higher education, integrative learning, experiential learning, values