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Research Case studies

Promoting students' 'resilient thinking' in diverse Higher Education learning environments


This C-SAP funded project (which was led by Leeds Beckett University with collaboration from the University of Sheffield and Hull College of Further Education) explored how social science students draw on their diverse backgrounds and community cultural capital in developing resilience within multicultural learning environments, with a view to identifying curriculum and pedagogic practices which enable social science students to become future resilient thinkers in their lives and careers after university.

Evidence from the literature suggests that whilst students value working in the ‘international classroom’ benefits from these cross-cultural encounters tend to be incidental in the absence of the conscious use of difference in the curriculum which is resilience-based and meaning-orientated. Thus the ultimate aim of the project was to identify curriculum and pedagogic practices that enable students to develop as ‘resilient thinkers’ through understanding the dynamics of difference and resilience.The research suggests that personal tutoring based on a holistic approach which acknowledges the complex living space which students occupy and draws on trust, empathy and mutual respect is paramount in enabling students to draw on existing resilient traits in order to develop new coping strategies. Transition is a key concept - in the context of complex and inter-connected present, past and future life trajectories - in promoting resilience and the ability to negotiate the boundaries of, and realise the opportunities afforded by, encounters with difference.

Perceived risk factors are less associated with the demands of academic learning in an unfamiliar educational environment, deriving more from social issues that can undermine the ‘sense of self’. In terms of resilient responses the most productive and sustainable seems to be changing ‘mind-set’ – viewing the world in a new light. However, an equally significant resilient trait is the thirst for knowledge which often represents the response to the experience or observance of hardship and suffering within students’ life-worlds.

Learning for future resilient thinking in diverse HE environments requires curriculum and pedagogic practices that capture the processes involved in negotiating the boundaries of difference within personal and social contexts, taking them forward in ‘real world’ learning settings. This project therefore calls for further research into the possibilities afforded by biographical teaching methods which in themselves require the re-consideration of power relations in multicultural classrooms and further exploration of how our interventions can enable connections and emotional engagement without compromising teaching ethics.

Research outputs
  • Caruana, V., Clegg, S., Ploner, J., Stevenson, J. and Wood, R. (2011) Promoting students’’ resilient thinking’ in diverse Higher Education learning environments, project report York: Higher Education Academy.
  • Caruana, V., Clegg, S., Ploner, J., Stevenson, J. and Wood, R. (2011) Promoting students’’ resilient thinking’ in diverse Higher Education learning environments, literature review York: Higher Education Academy
  • Caruana, V., Clegg, S., Ploner, J., Stevenson, J. and Wood, R. (2011) Promoting students’’ resilient thinking’ in diverse Higher Education learning environments: Twelve voices of diversity, challenge and resilience York: Higher Education Academy.
  • Bridging the cultural divide in international higher education, University World News, Issue 209, Feb 2012.
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