Dilemmas of Real World Learning

Dilemmas of real world learning & professional identity formation

2016 project – First & Second Year students’ perceptions of their developing professional identities & dilemmas encountered in professional practice.

The research project was conducted to establish relevant bridges between higher education students to the professional context beyond study. The cross disciplinary project engaged UNSW Art & Design and Science & Medicine students via online surveys. The data collected through the research focused on perceived and experienced dilemmas of practice. The data was collected, collated, analysed, cross checked by industry representatives, interpreted and reported on, to create a unique suite of multifaceted educational tools. The project team collated industry specific areas of interest, a bank of dilemmas, focus groups and organised the data via Qualtrics and nVivo to apply further analytic tools to the research. The project team also set up recommendations and resources for areas of study preparing students to enter the workforce, allowing students to discuss real world learning experiences currently underrepresented in many theory based courses at UNSW. The mixed method methodology included:

  • online surveys
  • focus groups
  • member checks
  • research interviews
  • analysis of survey and transcriptions

What approach did we use?

A dilemma based approach was adopted to unravel areas of interest for students and professionals. A dilemmas framework or dilemmas space (Fransson & Grannäs, 2013) was selected as a research approach that reflects ongoing negotiation of issues that arise in everyday work with others. As an example of the power of dilemmatic space, Cherry (2014) discusses the experience of professionals working within highly volatile environments and how a dilemmas framework assists in understanding the development of ethical judgement. Some cross overs were apparent across science and medicine and art and design students within this dilemmatic space and these included concepts of intellectual property.

Targeted large Stage 1 core courses; 3 faculties: Art & Design, Science and Medicine.

Emergent categories were arranged as a “Bank of Dilemmas” to inform student, staff and industry focus groups and member checking discussions and assessment conversations.

The online responses analysis was the first stage in building a “Bank of Dilemmas” as an outcome of this initial project data focused on art & design students. The online questionnaire responses revealed complexities of student experience and the research team identified seven categories or common themes. These seven categories set out below provided a typology from which to quantify data from most commonly identified dilemma at number one and so on, starting at Intellectual Property at the top as the most commonly identified dilemma of practice.


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Bank of Dilemmas

UNSW Art & Design – Data Analysis

From Question 9, (Q9. Describe one ethical issue that has emerged during your study within this program) the identified dilemmas were:
  1. Intellectual Property –25%
  2. Diversity / Privilege / Censorship /Voice/Political correctness –20%
  3. Ambiguity / Group work / Communication–12%
  4. Financial constraints / Cost of materials / Materials & sustainability-12 %
  5. Professionalism of tutors / Curriculum / Feedback and critique-12 %
  6. Loss of skills / Student expectations not met / Access to space/resources -12 %
  7. Group critique / Communication methods -10 %


UNSW Medicine & Science – Data Analysis

From Question 9, (Q9. Describe one ethical issue that has emerged during your study within this program) the identified dilemmas were:

  1. Use of animals in research/animal testing 27%
  2. Privacy issues/ using human subjects/ freedom of choice/ genetic engineering/ human rights 17%
  3. Discrimination/ Group work/ Difference15%
  4. Course choice to align with ethical values15%
  5. Honesty and falsification of results 12%
  6. Logistics of studying/ institutional 7%
  7. Environmental concerns 2%
  8. Confusion/ Ambiguity/ Course selection/ Belief in self 5%