Research Output
"We're coming from different worlds" : exploring student identity during transition
  This study presents empirical work examining the student journey from further to higher education in computing degrees in Scotland and seeks to understand the complex formation of identity, from the student perspective, during transition. In Scotland, almost 30 per cent of higher education entrants are enrolled in Further Education Institutions (FEIs) studying Higher National Certificates (HNCs) or Diplomas (HNDs), in comparison to 10 per cent in England (Scottish Government, 2017). Many of these student continue their journey to degree level qualifications through direct-entry opportunities, joining university programmes in their 2nd or 3rd year after their HN study. Despite the large numbers of student following this route and their importance to widening participation, there has been limited research carried out exploring effective methods to support this student journey (Musah & Ford, 2017).
Within this study, the concepts of transition and identity are explored in an innovative way using qualitative data derived from interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) interviews, photovoice and photo-elicitation focus groups. Photovoice is also known as photo-novella (Wang & Burris, 1994), auto-driving (Heisely and Levy, 1991), and reflexive photography (Douglas, 1998), and is a participatory photography methodology in which participants use a camera to generate data, directly involving the participants in the research process. Babbie and Mouton (1998) posit that the key factors in this method are ‘participation, engagement, involvement and collaboration – with participants involved in the research as equal partners. The participants are co-researchers whose insider ‘local knowledge’ is valued for sense-making.’ Participants use cameras to generate data, the photographs are then used to support critical reflection amongst the participants and provide the researcher with ‘direct entry into their point of view’ (Radley & Taylor, 2003).
The second visual methodology was photo-elicitation which is ‘based on the simple idea of inserting a photograph (or photographs) into a qualitative interview’ (Harper, 2002) in order to elicit data. The photographs are used to trigger responses and unveil participants’ attitudes, beliefs and views (Meo, 2010). The third method was IPA which examines how individuals make sense of their major life experiences, meaning focused. IPA is underpinned by phenomenology, the philosophical study of being, and hermeneutics, the study and theory of interpretation. The use of IPA involves various strategies and can be applied to draw an iterative and inductive cycle (Smith, Flowers & Larkin, 2009). IPA interviews are detailed and in-depth, they use open-ended questions to gain rich and detailed descriptions. Once the data had been collected, analysis was carried out using an inductive approach (Patton, 2002) to discover patterns in the data by reading them through several times (transcripts), marking key phrases and categories, coding and grouping into categories. As well as being used for in-depth interviews, IPA was used to analyse the photovoice photographs and transcripts.
Initial findings are shared, including advice on these methods which put the student at the centre and provide incredible insight into their student journey.

  • Date:

    04 December 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    LB2300 Higher Education

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    378 Higher education

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Meharg, D., Varey, A., & Cairncross, S. (2018). "We're coming from different worlds" : exploring student identity during transition. In SRHE Newer and Early Career Conference 2018 Proceedings



Photovoice, student voice, student engagement, student identity, transition,

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