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Facing Enacted Norms of Higher Education
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics.
2014 (English)In: ICED 2014 - Educational Development in a Changing World, 2014Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Enacted norms of higher education

Increasing diversity of enrolling students makes it more important than ever to understand cultural dimensions of higher education. Interplay between students and the cultural contexts they meet during their education are of critical importance for student retention and academic success (Tinto 2010). This interplay is greatly affected by the norms and values being enacted by other participants of the context. This study, from the domain of science and education at a Swedish research university, exemplify how enacted norms contribute to student experiences of higher education. Implications for strategic pedagogical development, particularly regarding inclusive higher education, will be discussed based on the results.

About 3500 students enrolled on science and technology programmes were invited to answer a web-based questionnaire about their educational experiences and 1597 students responded. The gender distribution of the respondents, 588 female and 1009 male students, was similar to that of the whole student population. There were reports about negative experiences from 12% of the female respondents and 5,5% of the male respondents.

The students reporting negative experiences where asked to provide further information in a free text question. A qualitative analysis of these responses, inspired by Grounded Theory (Robson 2011), was conducted to explore the observed gender difference and the factors behind the negative experiences. Iterative coding and sorting of the text identified a number of significant structures.

The majority of the negative experiences (55%) were classified as negative norm enactment, where students perceive mistreatment due to a mismatch between aspects of their social identity and the context. This negative norm enactment occurred in three different contexts: during teacher-student interaction, in a broader teaching and learning context and during interaction among students. The most common context for norm enactment was teacher-student interaction, as reported by about 4% of both female and male respondents. Norm enactment in the other two contexts was reported to a similar extent by the female students (about 4% of the respondents), but by less than 1% of the male respondents.

The reported experiences provide a picture of the norms being enacted in the educational culture. About half of the answers reflect a masculine norm for the programme students where female students are treated as less knowledgeable and in greater need of help than their male peers. The masculine norms in science and engineering education are a well-established research area and the findings of this study connect well to such research (See for example Thomas 1990, Steele 2010). Two other norm-related themes were visible in about 10% of the responses respectively: ethnicity and engagement.

This presentation will elaborate on the results and use examples from student responses to illustrate processes of norm enactment. Implications of these processes for strategic educational development aiming for inclusive education will be discussed.


Robson, C. (2011). Real world research: a resource for users of social research methods in applied settings. (3. ed.) (pp. 146-150) Chichester: Wiley.

Steele, C.M. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: and other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Thomas, K. (1990). Gender and subject in higher education. Milton Keynes: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

Tinto, V. (2010). From theory to action: Exploring the institutional conditions for student retention. In Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 51-89). Springer Netherlands.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Pedagogical Work
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-262253OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-262253DiVA: diva2:853024
ICED 2014, Stockholm, Sweden
Available from: 2015-09-11 Created: 2015-09-11 Last updated: 2015-09-16Bibliographically approved

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