Non-traditional students and Practical Wisdom a perspective from a practitioner-researcher

Broadhead, Samantha ORCID logoORCID: (2020) Non-traditional students and Practical Wisdom a perspective from a practitioner-researcher. In: Practice-Focused Research in Further Adult and Vocational Education : Shifting Horizons of Educational Practice, Theory and Research. Palgrave Macmillan.


The investigation into the experiences of ‘non-traditional’ students in art and design began with an initial pilot study that was supported by The Institute for Learning (IfL); The Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS); The Education and Training Foundation (ETF); and the University of Sunderland Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT). Subsequently, Leeds Arts University supported the development of the research that underpins this chapter. The issues related to the experiences of non-traditional students have been investigated and analysed from a practitioner’s point of view. I have worked as an Access to HE tutor and course leader and wished to use the insight I had gained from many years of experience to inform the research. Calucci-Gray et al. (2013) have argues that there has been an increased impact of research on educational policy but this has been unsatisfactory. This is because it has been carried out by universities on teachers in schools (and colleges) rather than with them. This has led to research that is not engaged with by practitioners and a gulf exists between research findings and the practices in the classroom (or in this case the studio). As an Access to HE educator I aimed to prepare students for undergraduate study, but I also wanted to understand how these students experienced higher education when they made the transition from further to higher education. This understanding would enable Access to HE teachers and those working in higher education to better understand the needs of this group of students and maybe lead to some changes in practices. I appreciated the life experience, wisdom and other capacities or capitals these students had (O’Shea, 2014) and aimed to discover if these were beneficial to the Access to HE students’ undergraduate education. The purpose of this chapter is to explore how practitioners can value and develop the capacity of students to draw upon their own practical wisdom. Phronesis or practical wisdom is an intellectual virtue of deliberation based on the desire to act in the best interests of the self and other people. The stories told by ‘non-traditional’ students, are analysed through narrative inquiry revealing the ways in which they deliberate about their education. This approach uses narrative as a means of capturing experience and argues that the ability to narrate our own experience is integral to phronesis. The conclusions drawn from this study are not easily turned into generalisations or ‘truths’ as they are contingent on the contexts in which the narratives are produced. Narrative is a representation of experience which is mediated by the social and cultural positions of the narrators and their audiences. This study found that some students were adept at using their practical wisdom; making courageous decision to leave their careers and re-enter education in order to improve their lives for themselves and their families. The implications for those of us who work with ‘non-traditional’ students are that we should think about the strategies that encourage them to deliberate well for themselves and others; where instances of phronesis are celebrated rather than curtailed. The value of this approach is that it aims to promote the capacity of deliberation in students and educators, so they become wise and active agents in helping construct positive educational experiences.

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