An exploration of emotion situations and management during the student first year experience
Van der Wal, Henriette
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Tertiary qualifications have become increasingly more popular over the years as matric certificates aren‘t sufficient in today‘s globally competitive labour market. Student tertiary graduation is therefore of great importance, not only to the student but also because it promotes positive outcomes for the South African government, the labour market, society and the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). However, there seems to be a problem as most of the students who apply drop out during their first year. High drop-out rates not only have a personal effect on the student but are wasting (HEI) and government resources and funds and lead to an unskilled, incompetent and uncompetitive labour market. Thus the investigation into the factors influencing first-year student‘s success and failure has become important. Therefore increasingly more researchers have begun to explore the significant link between emotion-related factors and student success / drop-out. The student first-year experience is seen by most students as challenging as it holds emotion- evoking situations that elicit emotions which have to be managed effectively with high emotional intelligent and constructive emotion-regulation strategies in order to achieve student success. However, little is known about the specific emotion management strategies (EI and ER) first-year students choose to utilise during the first-year experience, making it difficult to understand the reasons behind student failure and to create effective solutions to this problem. The general objective of this study was therefore to explore the emotion situations encountered during the student first-year experience and the emotion management strategies employed by these students to manage the elicited emotions within a South African higher education institution. This qualitative study made use of a narrative and phenomenological research approach. Purposive sampling was used to gather a representative first-year student sample of twenty- nine (N=29) living both on- and off-campus. Data was gathered by means of two World Café conversations held on campus of which the data were recorded and analysed by means of thematic analysis. Ethical principles and conduct were ensured throughout the research process. The findings of this study yielded six emotion situations during the first-year experience which included transition and adaptation, demands and resources, negative interpersonal experiences, academic experiences, hostel experiences and student life. Two emotion management strategies were found and were defined as emotional intelligence (EI) and emotion regulation (ER). The (EI)-related management strategies included self-awareness, self-acceptance and growth, social awareness, emotion expression, self-motivation, stress management, trait optimism, low impulsivity, adaptability and emotion used to facilitate thinking. The (ER)-related management strategies found can be defined as situation selection, situation modification, attention deployment, cognitive change, response modulation, spirituality and destructive emotional outlet. Further findings included five first-year emotion experiences referred to as a sense of belonging, positive affect, negative affect, high-arousal emotions and pathological emotion experiences. The findings thus illustrate that first-year students experience a variety of emotion situations which they perceive to be both positive and/or negative and that they apply both constructive and destructive emotion management strategies in order to influence their positive and/or negative emotions leading to either student success or failure. However, this study wasn‘t without limitations. The population size of twenty-nine participants might be regarded by some as being too small and not diverse enough. Furthermore, the population represented only one university and this resulted in findings that are not representing a multi-cultural and multi-contextual South African first-year student. More so, data collection was done after the initial Registration and Orientation programme and directly after the first exam opportunity in the first semester which might have influenced how the participants recalled their experiences. The participants also seemed to have limited self-knowledge and knowledge regarding emotion-related constructs. Therefore the following recommendations could be made: Firstly, future research could gather a larger, more diverse sample and one that is representative of more than one university. Secondly, data could be gathered earlier in the year when the student experiences are still fresh. Thirdly, future research can conduct interviews as the data collection method to gain more in-depth understanding. Fourthly, future researchers can create and apply interventions to develop emotion management strategies and then make use of a developmental (longitudinal) study and lastly, researchers can use the information of this study to build the resources needed for first-year students so as to perform optimally.