Student Research

I wanted to research student aspirations and motivations to place my work in wider anthropological context.

I read three main texts ‘Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations : Girls and Their Ambitions’, ‘Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation’ and ‘Iranian Journal of Nursing & Midwifery Research’. The latter sounds completely unrelated, but it proved to be a valued source.

‘Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations : Girls and Their Ambitions’ was particular interesting. It was more tailored to high school students, but its devices applied to university as well. The text separated aspirational students into low, middle and high. Students with low aspirations were not particularly interested in school, nor focused about job prospects. Students with middle aspirations were focused on a particular occupation that was more obtainable than more academic jobs. They were students that were comfortable in school because it helped them get their occupation, they knew what grades they had to get and they were focused on that. Whereas, students with high aspirations were competitive but had little idea of what job they want. They want to do the best in the subjects to be the best, and make their prospects for jobs even better.

‘High aspiring students are mostly positive about school and value education highly because of an explicit belief that a clear correlation exists between future security (like the middle aspirers), choice and the potential for independence.’
Fuller, C (2014) Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations : Girls and Their Ambitions pg 102

Security is something that high aspiring students value really highly because they seek the best opportunity with no idea of what it is.

‘some students intend to attend university and study for an English or media degree but are not sure what job they would like at the end of it. Others hope to study law but have no specific aspect of law that they would like to work in.’

Fuller, C (2014) Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations : Girls and Their Ambitions pg 102

From my own experiences of knowing people who take English with little ambition of being a teacher or writer, but a more academic, better paid job. I think its the fear of the uncertain job market. Education is linear, the outcomes are more or less fully controlled by the student, to get the grades desired studying is the key. There are a lot more factors that go into jobs, and the lack of control is scary for students. A middle aspiring student wouldn’t get this because they are aware of where they want to be in life, they have a job in their mind which has attributes that they are aware of.

‘higher education is viewed as the somewhat natural progression of the intellectually-able, for others it is a determined strategy that they see as linking strongly with self-improvement, social promotion ‘

Fuller, C (2014) Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations : Girls and Their Ambitions pg 104

University teaches students a diverse set of skills that are invaluable in life. Not only in the classroom but outside of it in their social lives. Some skills can help your confidence, but others can take time out of university work and affect grades negatively. This whole self promotion provides a nice foundation for adult life. However, some students do see it as a natural progression and don’t understand the demands of the course. Because the modern student is surrounded with distractions, it’s difficult to concentrate on work. So many peers go to university and the fear of being left behind creates a certain competitive instinct to ensure you are not being left behind. It is important to focus this aspiration on university work but also to understand the demands of the job market.

‘whilst economic constraints might seriously hinder the aspirations of one student, paradoxically it compelled another to achieve. By focusing on the individual and their experiences, insight is offered that suggests that it is a student’s understanding of self that offers the greatest insight into why some students in this study have aspirations’

Fuller, C (2014) Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations : Girls and Their Ambitions pg 162

The text is centred around the students identity and confidence. If the student believes in themselves they will be able to harness negativity and use it to motivate them. Economic constraints make it difficult to get jobs, but if the students utilise university to gain an abundance of skills, then those constraints begin to diminish. The success stories of professionals (in my projects case, lecturers) gives an insight into the work that students have to do. Knowing that someone has experienced similar constraints in similar situations emphasises the need to be positive and follow our goals and aspirations, to be brave. Hopefully both confidence and identity would be addressed by knowing that someone has experienced the same difficulties as you.

The second text, ‘Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation’, talks specifically of the students mentality. It frequently uses a term, self efficacy, which is an individuals desire for a certain result. But as the book refers to it specifically as…

‘Self-efficacy refers to beliefs about what one can do; outcome expectations denote the expected consequences of what one does’

Wigfield, A (2002) Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation pg 16

Students who have high expectations are conscious about how their actions effect their desired result, whereas students with low expectations will have less considerations for their actions. Expectations are important, but the process in reaching the desired outcome is pivotal to your self efficacy. The process is what I am concerned about, it provides the building blocks for success. Expectation has to be coupled with motivation, once both are applied to a task, it will provide the best outcome.

‘Observing similar others succeed can raise children’s self-efficacy and motivate them to perform the task if they believe that they, too, will be successful (Schunk, 1987). Observing others fail can lead students to believe that they lack the competence to succeed and dissuade them from attempting the task.’

Wigfield, A (2002) Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation 18-19

Education isn’t an individual experience, it is shared with classmates. Those around us will influence our learning and influence our outcome. In the Sociology text it was mentioned that external factors like the economic crisis would affect the aspirations of a student. In this text it refers to the internal issues for a student. If a task is said to be difficult, and it’s said to be challenging, then some would adopt a negative viewpoint on it. However, some students would like the challenge. If ones peers are succeeding then the competition would rise, but hear success stories surrounding your discipline, then it would act as motivator and a goal. Hearing positive results would encourage you to achieve them results.

‘However, with age, students become more realistic or negative about their capabilities and perceptions of their competence drops. This decline is related to developing cognitive competencies in understanding and interpreting feedback information as well as the use of social comparison information.’

Wigfield, A (2002) Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation 268

Students will be inspired to improve after getting feedback, but that idea of process and progression means that the belief that everything you do is perfect diminishes with age. Being told to improve helps students incredibly, but the mentality surrounding improvement is sometimes negative. Students attachment to work is usually strong; being told that it needs to improve is difficult to hear. Being told to improve something that you thought was good is difficult to address mentally, but once it’s addressed its no longer an issue.

‘Some students are consistent over-estimators and some are chronic under-estimators. The research shows that students who underestimate their actual competence, who suffer from an “illusion of incompetence” (Phillips & Zimmerman, 1990), are more likely to be anxious, to have lower expectations for success, and are more likely to avoid challenging tasks because they believe they are not able to do the task. In contrast, over-estimators also may avoid challenging tasks because they do not want to fail and do want to protect their sense of competence (Harter, 1998). In terms of under-estimators, they may be less likely to self-regulate because they lack self-efficacy about their capabilities to change or learn how to do the task’

Wigfield, A (2002) Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation pg 269

This extract in particular is very useful. Students are usually anxious to stray from their comfort zone because of their self belief. Some students don’t believe they are good enough, while others believe they were too good to challenge themselves. This doesn’t mean that they lack ambition, it means that their self belief affects their motivation to achieve their goal and desired result. However, students forget that they are students, they all have the capability of achieving those goals, but they have to learn from things no matter how difficult they are, the key is to just do it. Obviously it would be different in each discipline, but if motivation is lacking then it would be more difficult to achieve your goal. If doing it is asking for help then lecturers will facilitate that, if it’s doing something out your comfort zone then just do it, you are student, if you learn now then you won’t have to later.

‘The interactions between interest, knowledge, and self-regulation can become mutually reinforcing and facilitate the further development of the individual’

Wigfield, A (2002) Educational Psychology : Development of Achievement Motivation pg 271

The last text is ‘Iranian Journal of Nursing & Midwifery Research’, a text that I found on the library resource search by searching for ‘role-models’. It gave some interesting quotes about role models.

‘Role modeling mainly relies on imitation and observation,
which is one of the basic contents of social learning theory
of Bandura, and according to social learning theory
supporters, the most important type of human learning is
observational learning’
Mokhtari Nouri, J (2014) Iranian Journal of Nursing & Midwifery Research – Issue 3 p248

Highlighting observational learning is important, it shows the influence of presentations and more importantly, photography. Role models offer a goal to aspire to. By using observational learning to find out how a specific role model got to their occupation would be an invaluable resource.

‘It was hypothesised that learners starting with observational learning would outperform learners in the practice only condition. The results suggest a significant differential impact on development of oral presentation skills’

De Grez, L (2014) Higher Education Research & Development, Vol33, Issue 2, p256.

This shows the importance of visual learning for students and the other extract links that importance with role models

To conclude, this research has been important for me in understanding student motivations and aspirations. I don’t want to make assumptions based on my own opinions, I value professional research as an important resource. The texts dissect different aspects of education and show the implications they have on student mentality. It doesn’t directly link to my project, but it is important to understand the way that students think, so that I can tailor my project around student mentality. Because observational learning is so important, photography is the perfect media because it’s visual and provokes opinions. Providing a ‘role-model’ or just an example of a professional in a desired job, or who has experienced a desired job is a visual aid for anyone to see and learn from. Providing objects that that person values to be important in getting the job is a further visual aid that presents their professional opinion. Anyone can observe success at a higher level if a successful individual has a platform to teach their success story, to offer purpose for study or purpose for aspirations and motivation in life. What I took from the texts was that students are all different, people are all different, there are so many different ways someone can motivate themselves or protect their aspirations. The togetherness of community inspires competition, feedback, learning and security, so by bringing a community of professionals with their stories would aid peoples motivations and aspirations.

Just to clarify. I mention students a lot, I mention wanting my project to inspire students. But that is not my target audience specifically. The people that I photograph have stories through their expressions and the objects that they choose, and the presentation of that process, that collaboration, that story; that is what my project is about, the idea of motivation and inspiration on a whole, not just on the student level but across the whole demographic.


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