Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'Making a Difference': University Teachers' Narratives of Student Diversity

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:28 authored by Mariskind, Clare

An increasing diversity of students in higher education has prompted much research investigating diverse students' learning needs and experiences; however there is little research investigating teachers' experiences of student diversity. This thesis reports on a study aimed at helping to redress this imbalance. Twenty-two New Zealand university teachers were interviewed and asked what 'diversity' means to them and invited to talk about their experiences of student diversity in small-group teaching contexts. The study had two aims. The first was to examine the meanings study participants make of the notion 'diversity' and of their experiences of teaching diverse students. The second aim was to problematize the notion of 'diversity' by exploring how these teachers position themselves and are positioned within classroom relationships and institutional contexts, and by considering the narrative and discursive resources they draw on to talk about their experiences. The study was underpinned by a relational ontology and used narrative and post-structural methods of data analysis. A review of the literature on diversity in higher education identified ways that diversity is conceptualized. Because teaching diverse students involves relations of power and care, analysis of the meanings of 'power' and 'care' in the literature provided further conceptual tools for data analysis. Analysis of participants' narratives finds that 'diversity' is not an innocent concept but a powerful way of positioning people within or outside categories of difference, in relation to dominant norms, or in ways that challenge such positioning. Study participants described diversity positively when talking about it as a concept but their narratives of experience often portrayed it as problematic, and they employed various narrative strategies to reconcile the tension between these positions. Participants' narratives often conflicted with the public narratives of their universities, suggesting that the challenges participants face and the practical knowledge they have acquired teaching diverse students are not adequately recognized or valued. This study shows that there are multiple ways to 'speak and do' diversity that are embedded in relations of power and care, and constructed within and from larger social, political and educational narratives. This study challenges those in higher education to think reflexively about diversity, and offers suggestions for constructing alternative narratives of diverse educational relations.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Policy and Implementation


Cornforth, Sue; Doyle, Stephanie