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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

The alchemy of learning dialogues in Higher Education: a study of students’ experiences of one-to-one learning development tutorials

Rafferty, Victoria (2020) The alchemy of learning dialogues in Higher Education: a study of students’ experiences of one-to-one learning development tutorials. Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)


At a time when market principles are significantly impacting on the purpose and positioning of HE, universities need to be reminded of the valuable work done at an individual level, to facilitate students’ learning. Offering a fine-grained exploration of an area of learning and teaching practice which is part of university provision across the UK, this study captures the work of Learning Development (LD) practitioners who work with students as they make sense of study practices. Traditionally positioned as study skills provision, this area of practice is not only becoming more established within universities, but is also an emerging profession.

Focussing on 1-1 discussions between students and LD practitioners, this study interprets detailed accounts from eleven student-participants about their experiences of approaching and engaging with these highly interactive learning and teaching practices. Drawing on the theoretical work of Vygotsky (1978), Carl Rogers (1969), and Lea & Street (2006, 1998), this study constructs an interpretation of the complexity of these interactions by analysing student-participants’ in-depth accounts. More specifically, student-participants acknowledge not only threshold practices being discussed, but also the impact of this learning, and the nurturing approach taken in these focussed interactions, on their developmental learning about themselves as learners within HE.

The richness of the analysis of student-participants’ accounts of their experiences of 1-1 discussions is owing to the interpretivist methodological framework underpinning this study. Drawing on phenomenology, social interactionism and hermeneutics, these philosophical dimensions enable a nuanced analysis of student-participants’ accounts which take into consideration the lived experiences, nature of the interactions, and the vocabulary student-participants use to convey their perceptions of these experiences. Principles of constructivist grounded theory are used to not only further frame the design of the study and guide the analytical process, but also inform the construction of a substantive theorisation of students’ experiences. More specifically, the theorisation captures the importance of the quality of student-practitioner relationship and student-participants’ cognitive and affective development through these highly focussed and interactive discussions. Furthermore, student-participants talk about not only their learning practices, but also an active engagement in their own learning as they become more knowledgeable and confident as learners within the HE environment.

The findings, and subsequent theorisation, of this study evidence the value of not only LD practice, but also the provision of 1-1 interactions as an integral part of the HE learning landscape. Amongst the plethora of rapid macro and miso changes striking HE, the highly valuable micro practices of interactions between students and educational practitioners should not be overlooked. Therefore, this study has implications for personal practice, staff across the host university, the LD community, and staff working with students across universities more generally.

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Depositing User: Victoria Rafferty


Item ID: 14431

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ORCID for Victoria Rafferty: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2022 13:30
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2023 13:24


Author: Victoria Rafferty ORCID iD

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