Student success in an introductory engineering course : an investigation of approach to learning and cultural capital

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

The construct of approach to learning has proved to be powerful in explaining differences in students' experiences of learning in higher education. However this construct does not explain the impact that students' socio-economic background has on their experiences of higher education. For this reason, the construct of cultural capital that is widely used in the sociology of education literature was used in an attempt to explain the differences experienced by students from various social classes. Data of this study were collected through individual in-depth interviews with each of ten purposefully selected students. Students' approaches to learning were identified for both early and later in the course. A majority of students' approaches shifted from the use of a deep approach to a strategic approach. However, in terms of success in the course, the construct of approach to learning was limited in explaining why some students failed while others were successful in the course. Cultural capital better explained why these differences in performance occurred, and it further emphasized the importance of taking into account the different forms of cultural capital that students bring into higher education. This study has two main implications: firstly, it supports the promotion of deep approach to learning, however, a caution about the students workload should be taken as this might unintentionally promote the use of surface approach. Secondly, the results regarding cultural capital showed that students come from varying backgrounds. This implies that assessment should take this into account and should aim to be explicit in all demands.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 108-110).