Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Martin Rowley & James Hartley,
Keele University,
Staffordshire, UK

Derek Larkin,
Edge Hill University,
Liverpool, UK

Presentation (ppt)


Non-completion amongst first-year university students has been identified as a problem in a number of countries, such as the United States, the UK, and Australia. In the UK, investigators have shown that issues cited by students who have withdrawn from university are also reported as problematic by third-year students who are persisting with their studies. Continuing students who lose interest in their course and become disengaged from the academic process present universities with a difficult challenge, as they are likely to under-perform.

In the UK the question of student engagement is particularly relevant to university teachers of psychology. The impact of expanding the higher education system has been felt acutely in ‘popular’ subject areas such as psychology - where undergraduate courses have attracted high student numbers. Furthermore, although there has been an increase in the number of students taking pre-university (A-level) qualifications in psychology, these are not recognised as an entry requirement to university courses. This means that U.K. psychology students arrive at university with varying degrees of prior knowledge and expectations about the subject.

In this presentation we report the results of a survey of 334 undergraduate psychology students’ views about their psychology course at the mid-point of their three-year degree. The students responded to a series of statements about their preparation for and experience of studying psychology at university, and about how their studies related to their future plans. They were also asked to provide an explanation for each of their responses.

Participants came from two well-established universities in England. Just under half (N=152) were taking single honours at one university and the rest (N=182) were taking dual honours, combining psychology with another subject, at another one. We compared the views of these two groups. We also compared the views of students who had entered university with an A-level psychology qualification with those having no previous academic experience of psychology, and we looked for any evidence of gender differences.

Results showed that students without A-level psychology felt they were less well prepared for studying psychology when they came to university than were the students with A-level. Many students at both institutions said they had experienced problems organizing their workload but single honours students were more likely to say they had received less guidance than they had originally expected. Only 40% said they were interested in all aspects of their course. Most agreed that there was too much emphasis on statistics but single honours students’ explanations of their responses suggested they were more likely to see the need for this aspect of the course than the dual honours students. Females were more likely than males to agree that psychology was important for their future plans, and to say they would like to go on to postgraduate study in the subject.

In this paper these responses will be illustrated with examples of explanations provided by the students, and the implications of these findings for the teaching of psychology will be discussed.

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