Building study-related relationships : How student relationships and readiness affect academic outcome in higher education

Abstract: The present dissertation explores students’ perception of their own readiness for higher education and students’ study related relations and the effect on academic outcome. The complexity of student engagement and academic success means that it is relevant to conduct in-depth studies of particular student populations, to explore how certain factors play out in that specific context. First, students’ perceptions of their readiness for HE studies in relation to academic outcome and socioeconomic and academic background factors were explored. Then, threepapers focused students’ study-related networks: how students form working, learning and friendship relations and to what extent these overlap in multiplex relations, and how these relations relate to academic outcome; howstudents perceive their study-related networks, in relation to academic outcome; and, how the emergency transition to online teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic affected students’ study-related networks.The research presented in the dissertation has a mixed-method approach and applied both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. Three studies were based on responses from a cohort of business students ata teaching intense Swedish university. The fourth study explored responses from students from two different types of institutions, one teaching intensive and one research intensive university. One important finding was that there was a gap between self-perceived readiness and actual readiness (PaperI), and results indicated no correlations between readiness and academic outcome. Students were confident in their own skills at the beginning of the semester and did not modify their perception after one semester of studies. Thus, academic staff with teaching responsibility must be more explicit about what is expected of students. Furthermore, student multiplex relations were found to correlate significantly with academic outcome. This finding was further supported by research presented in both Paper III and IV, where students reported that their multiplex relations were important for both social and academic success, as well as well-being. According to the students, it was here the main work with assignments and learning was done (Paper III). These interactions helped studentsremain engaged in their studies. It was the multiplex relations that remained when learning transitioned online during the Covid-19 pandemic (Paper IV). Many students had only a small number of multiplex relations (1-5 students) and this pattern is consistent with patterns found in Paper II and in the comparative study (Paper IV). Commuter students had fewer relationships than campus students. Finally, there was also a strong tendency toward social homophily in the networks, which could be negative for knowledge development. At the same time,the coexistence of affective and instrumental ties in one relation creates beneficial synergies. In conclusion, the multiplex networks could be seen as semi-professional work groups based on trust. Like in a workplace, many had their main social life elsewhere, but were joined in the shared enterprise of completing an education. The pooling of skills and knowledge helped students accomplish their goals. One important implication is that education programs and academic teachers need to create relationship rich environments in the classrooms to enable students to work together to create productive and supportive networks and learn to work together with mutual respect. A strategic framework for relationship building is discussed.

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