Perspectives on learning environment within a "Shared Vision" from "nontraditional" female undergraduates: an interpretive case study

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Mostyn, Becky Renée Camp

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This interpretive case study investigated a purposive sample of ten “nontraditional” female undergraduates (age 20-46) who possessed two or more of the United States Dept. of Education “nontraditional” descriptors, which since 2002 no longer includes age as a descriptive factor. Using “standpoint” as a conceptual framework, this study inquired into (1) learning environment preferences and experiences, (2) multiple roles and responsibilities in addition to “student,” and (3) perceptions of one public university’s mission, vision, and values discourses referred to as “Shared Vision.” Data analyses of focus groups, individual in-depth interviews, field notes, e-mails and follow-up conversations were developed into a thematic conceptual matrix which revealed learning environment preferences usually attributed to adult “nontraditional” students (e.g., Knowles, 1973/1980, Kasworm & Blowers, 1994; Kasworm, Polson, & Fishback, 2002; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). Emergent themes agreed with “adult student” studies (Hair, 2002; Parsons, 2005) addressing dimensions of Cross’ (1981) institutional, situational, informational and dispositional barriers. Analysis of comments regarding the “Shared Vision” institutional discourses, included student and teacher “misbehaviors,” segregated “hangouts,” “culture shock” experienced by some minority and international students, “time-limited” involvement (Lundberg, 2003), and “barriers” in student support services, such as advising (Dukes, 2001), orientation (Julian 2001; Welch 2004); or a combination of multiple factors (Cabrere-Buggs, 2005; Linnartz, 2005; Miller, 2005; Morton, 2004; Yates, 2002). Findings concurred with “adult student” dilemmas of multiple roles and responsibilities (e.g., DeRemer, 2002; Garrett, 2002; Hunter, 2002; Illanz, 2002; Kent, 2004, Kettle, 2001; Newman, 2004). Analysis of comments found similarities with other recent studies between traditional and nontraditional age students and/or within-group differences regarding learning environment preferences including instruction and course delivery formats (e.g., Chang, 2003; Coburn, 2003; Elwell, 2004; Garrett, 1998; Hudson, 2005, Kasworm, 1990; Seifried, 2001; Soucy, 1995), and contradicted other studies that found categorical differences (e.g., Bishop-Clark & Lynch, 1992; Houser, 2002). “Standpoint” as a conceptual framework proved helpful in documenting the multiple dimensions (besides age) contributing to and competing with “student.” The

study concludes with suggestions for improvements to learning environment, alternative instructional formats and student support services to better accommodate today’s time- limited nontraditional college students of all ages.