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It’s written in the sand: Employing sandboxing to explore the experiences of non-traditional, mature students in higher education

Mannay, Dawn ORCID: and Edwards, Victoria 2013. It’s written in the sand: Employing sandboxing to explore the experiences of non-traditional, mature students in higher education. Presented at: Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) Annual Research Conference 2013, Celtic Manor, Newport, Wales, UK, 11-13 December 2013.

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Non-traditional, mature students face a number of complex psychological and structural barriers to higher education and their journeys are often characterised by initial aspirations and later disappointments, when classed, gendered and relational positionings conflict with students’ identities and contribute to their withdrawal from academia (Mannay 2012; Mannay and Morgan 2013; Reay et al 2010). As academics it is not enough to chart these difficulties; rather we need to seek opportunities to create a more inclusive environment so that we do not simply widen access at the point of entry but ensure that non-traditional students complete their undergraduate study. In response to this challenge, the research project explored the student experience by asking non-traditional students to engage with innovative and reflexive process of sandboxing. This approach was developed drawing on sandplay therapy in which patients create three-dimensional scenes, pictures or abstract designs in a tray filled with sand and a range of miniature, realistic and fantasy, figures and everyday objects (Weinrib 2004). Although there have been objections to taking psychoanalysis outside of the clinical situation of the ‘consulting room’ (Frosh 2010), the method proved useful in engaging participants at an affective level and the data production drew upon psychoanalytical sensibility; which was psychoanalytically informed rather than psychoanalytical. For one group of participants, the scenes created represented the experience of their first year as an undergraduate; and for the other group, who had enrolled for the following academic year, their scenes focused on their expectations, hopes and fears around embarking a trajectory in higher education. Data production was facilitated on a one-to-one basis and participants were asked to talk through their visual sandbox scenes with the researcher. The elicitation process was characterised by a largely uninterrupted flow of talk with an attentive listener whose role it was to try and understand what is being said, so that the psychoanalytical paradigm became relevant and practical in the context of qualitative educational research. This presentation will discuss the usefulness of the sandboxing technique as a tool of qualitative research as well a reflecting on the associated difficulties with the method. There will also be a focus of the themes that arose from the data production process and these will be explored in relation to the ways in which institutions can work meet the needs of non-traditional students. In this way the research draws on the affective accounts of participants to influence policy and best practice; aiming to improve student experience for marginalised cohorts and to engender retention and success.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Funders: CUROP
Related URLs:
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2022 08:54

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