International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 18 - 20 July 2016
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How do student-teacher relationships engage or alienate students in higher education?

Samuel Asare, Helen Nicholson, Sarah Stein, University of Otago, New Zealand


Abstract Student learning has attracted a lot of interest from higher education practitioners and researchers mainly due to the benefits that result from high quality learning. A number of theoretical frameworks have been and are being proposed from diverse disciplines to understand and improve student learning. One of such frameworks argues for students learning in higher education to be conceptualised as consisting of engaging and alienating experiences and that teachers are key among the various factors that lead to these learning experiences. This paper argues that how teachers and students perceive and interact with each other in and out of class leads to engaging or alienating learning experiences. The paper reports on part of a doctoral research project that employs an embedded case study design to explore undergraduate students’ perceptions of factors that influence their engagement in a public university in Ghana. Data were collected from three sources: survey, diaries and interviews. The survey included 469 Humanities students selected from main campus, city campus and distance learning across all year levels by quota sampling. Of the 469 students surveyed, 225 agreed to keep a diary of their learning experiences for two days and participate in a one-to-one interview. Due to time and resource constraints, purposive sampling was used to select 17 students for diaries and interviews by considering gender, level of study, mode of study and availability of respondents. This ensured that data were collected from a wide range of perspectives. Data analysis was in two forms. First, survey data were analysed with Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) to find percentages and means of the responses. In addition, ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) and t-tests were conducted to find relationships between and among variables. Second, data from diaries and interviews were analysed using the general inductive approach to develop themes relating to student-teacher relationships. The results suggest that engaging or alienating experiences may result from teacher behaviours including respect, approachability, unintentional stereotypes and a show of power. Students may work harder when they perceive teachers to be caring and supportive of their learning. On the other hand, the use of negative language and teacher unapproachability may demoralise students and cause alienating experiences. The results of the study so far show that teacher behaviours in and out of class may contribute to students’ engagement and alienation in higher education. It broadens understanding of student learning as consisting of engaging and alienating experiences and may assist teachers to reflect on their practice to enhance student learning.


Engagement. Alienation. Higher education. Student-teacher relationships.

Link to Full Paper


Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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