Doctor of Philosophy
This thesis examines the undergraduate experience from the student perspective, specifically as it applies to the dominant engagement success narrative. is narrative articulates that, for undergraduate students to successfully navigate and gain the most from their time at university, they must engage in educationally purposive activities and enriching educational experiences. Research also connects students’ motivations for enrolling in university to engagement and suggests that intrinsically motivated students are more likely to engage according to the dominant narrative, leading to a successful undergraduate experience. Conversely, students who are more extrinsically motivated tend to not engage correctly or at acceptable levels and are considered disengaged. However, this research excludes student voices and prescribes a universal undergraduate experience.
Using data collected from 33 interviews, I examined undergraduate students’ motivations for enroling in university and their expectations of the undergraduate experience. Data were analyzed using critical discourse analysis and compared students’ views of the undergraduate experience to the dominant engagement success narrative. Analysis showed that students’ motivations were a complex mix of various pressures, norms, influences, and personal wants, leading to an equally complex set of expectations of the undergraduate experience. This complexity resulted in tensions between students’ numerous and often competing expectations, leading to a variety of consequences. Additionally, students had to choose between these competing demands, picking between personal wants and normative expectations, highlighting this complexity and the challenges that come along with it. Students were shown to be differently engaged rather than disengaged, as they navigated and negotiated the undergraduate experience cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. These differently engaged students were able to respond to this complexity in ways that allowed them to meet their individual educational goals.
Findings highlight the complexity of the undergraduate experience that is missing in the current discourse and draws attention to the importance of including student voices in discussions that directly impact them.
Summary for Lay Audience
This thesis looks at the undergraduate student experience from the student’s point-of-view, specifically as it applies to the dominant view of being successful at university. This view suggests that students must attain high grades and participate in extracurriculars to be considered successful and get the most out of their university experience. Research also indicates that students’ motivations for coming to university impact their engagement—students who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to be engaged in the undergraduate experience, while students who are extrinsically motivated do not participate fully in the undergraduate experience and are labelled disengaged. However, this view does not include students’ perspectives and frames students’ time at university as a one-size-fits-all undergraduate experience.
I conducted interviews with 33 undergraduates and asked them about their motivations for enroling in university and their expectations of the undergraduate experience. Analyzing student’s words, thoughts, and feelings, I compared students’ views of the undergraduate experience with the dominant view. Analysis showed that students’ decisions to go to university were very complex and included a variety of pressures, influences, social norms, and personal wants. This complexity translated into students having many expectations of their time at university, such as needing high grades, wanting to gain job skills, and personal growth. However, students’ expectations tended to create tensions for them, as the various demands that students had of the undergraduate experience were often in conflict with each other. These tensions led to consequences for students as they chose between competing expectations. How students navigated these different expectations show that, rather than being disengaged by not participating according to the dominant view, students were differently engaged, employing a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural strategies to get what they wanted from university in ways that worked for them.
Findings highlight the complexity of the undergraduate experience that is missing in the current view and draws attention to the importance of including student voices in discussions that directly impact them.
Davidson, Clifford, "Disengaged or Differently Engaged? Students’ Motivations, Expectations, and Engagement in the Multi-Expectational Undergraduate Experience" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9330.