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Are the study habits of first year undergraduate students influenced by where they live while attending college?

Author - Robert Morris



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This article is based on an element of research for a Masters thesis into the factors which determine success or failure in a specific first year cohort.  One aim of the research was to establish if living away from the family home influences the study habits of first year undergraduate engineering students and impacts on their subsequent chances of success in both coursework and examinations. Data for the study were gathered largely from a survey of first year student cohorts. Interviews with four experienced lecturers and a review of the literature on the subject served to guide and inform the selection of the questions which were used in a student survey. The findings provide an insight into the factors which represent barriers to students developing autonomous study and learning skills. This article deals specifically with the factors associated to the students’ living arrangements and study habits.

Key Words, First year students; study habits; barriers to study; students living arrangements



This mixed method case study research was carried out in the Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland with the co-operation of four experienced lecturers of engineering and three cohorts of first year undergraduate engineering students. The impetus for the study was the established fact that many first year engineering students do not return to college for the second year of their programmes. Many reasons for this are identified in the research, including the failure of students to pass assessments and examinations as a result of the lack of independent study and learning skills. The causes of non- progression, and the strategies which might be employed to address the phenomenon, have been the subject of vast quantities of research by the international education research community. Yorke & Longden (2004) provided invaluable guidance and insight to researchers with an interest in this topic. The fact that there is such great interest in the causes of non-completion and the improvement of retention of students signals a high level of commitment to the students by education professionals, the organisations they work in, and the bodies which govern them. This is reflected in how Becker (1975) views the development of education on an international scale, when he suggests that a “human capital” approach has been adopted by many of the world’s governments, which can be summarised as viewing the success of each economy in terms of the degree to which its labour force is educated. It can be taken as a given that the concern about student drop-out rates will manifest in states which apply the human capital model to education and training.

Professor Vincent Tinto, one of the world foremost researchers of the subject of student retention, while making a presentation titled “Enhancing Student Retention: Lessons learned in the United States” at the National Conference on Student Retention, Dublin(Tinto, 2010) suggested that the United States of America (USA) is currently undergoing a paradigmatic shift in how institutions think about their role in promoting student success. Tinto suggests that Barr & Tagg (1995) capture the essence of this shift by describing it as the movement from an instructional paradigm to a learning paradigm. It involves shifting the focus from how educators instruct and teach students to how they can help the students to learn. The learning paradigm being adopted expands the lens of enquiry about student learning, helping to shape the environment and conditions that promote student progression.

In 2006 the Higher Education Academy funded a large scale review of the literature around the first year experience in the UK demonstrating that the issues of attrition and retention of first year students is high on the list of is priorities (Harvey et al, 2006). This review suggests that a large number of first year students in the UK expressed a considerable dislike for the experience they encountered of being taught or instructed rather than having their learning facilitated. This is significant as it relates directly to the paradigmatic shift described earlier which is perceived by Tinto to be occurring in the USA.



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