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The first year experience of students studying at higher education institutions has been intensively studied over the past forty years (Nelson & Clarke, 2014). Much has been learnt, but institutions are continuing to face unacceptable levels of student withdrawal. Concerns have been raised that the constructs on which previous studies have been based may be restricting researchers’ efforts to develop a deeper understanding of the first year phenomena (Kahu, 2013). There is strong support for new and creative ways to investigate the lived experience of first year students across their full first year of study. This paper details and discusses these issues and reports on a research approach using an Experience Sampling Method (ESM) with first year pre-service teachers that may better capture student perceptions of the factors they believe have a marked effect on their experiences. The authors contend the method is transferable to all first year university students. The ESM strategy applied to the first year university experience is explained in detail as well as the perceptions of the participants with regard to its effectiveness and impact. The results of the study provide a strong base for future discussions about third generation research methods and the use of an ‘insider researcher’ approach to investigating the first year experience.


School of Education

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Journal Article

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