Research Output
Closing the Gap: an exploration of first-year students’ expectations and experiences of learning
  In line with Edinburgh Napier University's commitment to enhancing undergraduates' first-year experience (FYE), the aim of this qualitative research project was to examine the development of expectations, learning experiences and study attitudes of new psychology students over their first semester, with a view to informing the design of an intervention to support this transitional process. Support already existed in various forms, but departmental staff wished to establish a more targeted, consistent approach across programmes. Using an action research approach, data collected took the form of students' written reflections, elicited by means of open-ended questionnaires as part of normal induction activities at the start of both first and second semesters. Responses were obtained from two cohorts of first-year psychology students: the 2008-2009 cohort completed the Semester 2 questionnaire only, while the 2009-2010 cohort completed both Semester 1 and Semester 2 questionnaires. Responses were subjected to thematic analysis. Building on the common FYE theme of 'mismatch' between student and staff expectations, in this study the 'psychological contract' was applied as a theoretical framework for interpretation of findings. The Semester 1 questionnaire data showed realistic expectations but lacked in-depth reflection. The Semester 2 questionnaire responses on 'experiences' of the first semester showed a predominant concern with time- and self-management. However, evidence of good study habits, and metacognitive awareness of learning, were scarce, suggesting disparity between student and staff expectations. Interpretation of the data provided a rationale for a first-year intervention, implemented with the 2010-2011 cohort, aimed at 'closing the gap' by means of developing appropriate student psychological contracts.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    01 January 2011

  • Publication Status:


  • Publisher

    SAGE Publications

  • DOI:


  • Cross Ref:


  • ISSN:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education


WILLIAMSON, M., LAYBOURN, P., DEANE, J., & TAIT, H. (2011). Closing the Gap: an exploration of first-year students’ expectations and experiences of learning. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 10(2), 146-157.



student expectations, learning experiences, study attitudes, psychology students, intervention.

Monthly Views:

Available Documents