Attending to the affective: Exploring first year students' emotional experiences at university


This study engaged students at the affective level in order to acquire a better understanding of their emotional experiences at university with the ultimate aim of improving teaching and learning. A qualitative research study was undertaken whereby students wrote about their feelings at that particular moment, on two different occasions in a semester.  The data reveals that students used mostly negative descriptors to express their emotions some of which included feelings of self-doubt, alienation, loss of identity and not belonging to the university and their disciplinary community. The feelings expressed by students show that their emotions constitute the very core of their being and are therefore intertwined with the way they perceive their studies and themselves as students and as individuals. Hence, it is argued that emotional factors cannot be disentangled from teaching and learning and that spaces need to therefore be created in the curriculum for the inclusion of the affective domain. 


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

S. Bharuthram, University of the Western Cape

Senior Lecturer

Department of English


Antonacopoulou, E., and Y. Gabriel. 2001. Emotion, learning and organizational change. Towards an integration of psychoanalytic and other perspectives. Journal of Organisational Change Management, 14(5): 435-451.

Beard, C., Clegg, S., and K. Smith. 2007. Acknowledging the affective in higher education. British Educational Research Journal, 33(2): 235-252.

Beard, C., Humberstone, B., and B. Clayton. 2014. Positive emotions: passionate scholarship and student transformation. Teaching in Higher Education, 19(6): 630-643.

Author and Other

Boughey, C., and S. McKenna. 2015. South Africa: Universities can’t just wash their hands of student failure. The Conversation, 28 May 2015.

Boughey, C., and S. McKenna. 2016. Academic literacy and the decontextualized learner. Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning, 4(2): 1-9.

Bozalek, V., and B. Leibowitz. 2012. An evaluation framework for a socially just institution. Higher Education for the public good: views from the South, edited by B. Leibowitz, 59-72. Trentham & SUN MeDIA: Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Christie, H., Tett, L., Cree, V.E., Hounsell, J., and V. McCune. 2007. A real rollercoaster of confidence and emotions: learning to be a university student. Online papers archived by the Institute of Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh.

Crossman, J. 2007. The role of relationships and emotions in student perceptions of learning and assessment. Higher Education Research and Development, 26(3): 313-327.

DeKadt, E., and N. Mathonsi. 2003. Writing in English with an ‘African voice”: ownership, identity and learning. Journal of Language Teaching, 37(1): 92-103.

DeLaine, M. 2000. Fieldwork participation and practice: Ethics and dilemmas in qualitative research. London: Sage Publications.

Dirkx, J.M. 2008. The meaning and role of emotions in adult learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 120: 7-18.

Erickson, F. 1986. Qualitative methods in research in teaching. In Handbook of research in teaching, edited by M.C. Wittrock, 11-161. New York: Macmillan.

Francis, D., and A. Le Roux. 2011. Teaching for social justice education: the intersection between identity, critical agency, and social justice education. South African Journal of Education, 31(3).

Gee, J.P. 1990. Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in Discourses. Basingstoke, Falmer.

Hargreaves, A. 2001. Emotional geographies of teaching. Teachers College Record, 103: 1056-1080.

Jarvis, P. 2006. Toward a comprehensive theory of human learning. London: Routledge.

Johnston, V. 1997. Why do first year students fail to progress to the second year? An academic staff perspective, paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, York, 11-14 September.

Labaree, D. 2000. On the nature of teaching and teacher education: Difficult practices that look easy. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3): 228-247.

Merriam, S.B., Cafarella, R.S., and L.M. Baumgartner. 2007. Learning in adulthood: a comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mgqwashu, E. 2009. On becoming literate in English: A during- and post-apartheid personal story. Language Learning Journal, 37(3): 293-303.

Mortiboys, A. 2002. The emotionally intelligent lecturer. Birmingham, SEDA Publications.

Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., and W. Titz. 2002. Academic emotions in students’ self-regulated learning and achievement: A program of qualitative research. Educational Psychologist, 37(2): 91-105.

Pekrun, R., Goetz, T., Daniels, L.M., Stupnisky, R.H., and R.P. Perry. 2010. Boredom in achievement settings: Control-value antecedents and performance outcomes of a neglected emotion. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102: 531-549.

Pekrun, R., and L. Linnenbrink-Garcia. 2012. Academic emotions and student engagement. Handbook of Research on Student Engagement, edited by S.L. Christenson et al., 259-282.

Ngwenya, T. 2010. Correlating first-year law students’ profile with the language demands of their content subjects. Per Linguam, 26: 74–99.

Ralfe, S., and J. Baxen. 2012. ‘I don’t like reading’: The reading histories, identities and practices of first-year Bachelor of Education students. Conference presentation, HELTASA, Stellenbosch University, 28–30 November 2012.

Rogers, C. 1983. Freedom to learn for the 80s. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishers Co.

Solomon, R.C. 2008. True to our feelings: what emotions are really telling us. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tinto, V. 1994. Leaving college. Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press.

Trigwell, K., Ellis, R.A., and F. Han. 2012. Relations between students’ approaches to learning, experienced emotions and outcomes of learning. Studies in Higher Education, 37(7): 811-824.

Turner, Y. 2006. Chinese students in UK business school: hearing the student voice in reflective teaching and learning. Higher Education Quarterly, 60(1): 27-51.

Varela, F., Thompson, E., and E. Rosch. 1991. The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Villavicencio, F.T., and A.B.I. BernardO. 2013. Positive academic emotions moderate the relationship between self-regulation and academic achievement. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 83: 329-340.

Zembylas, M., and C. McGlynn. 2010. Discomforting pedagogies: emotional tensions, ethical dilemmas and transformative possibilities. British Educational Research, 1-19. First published on: 14 December 2010 (iFirst).


Zembylas, M. 2012. Reinstating or disrupting the dichotomy of reason/emotion in higher education? A historicized approach. Keynote to the Higher Education Close-up 6 Conference, Rhodes University, July 2012.

How to Cite
Bharuthram, S. 2018. “Attending to the Affective: Exploring First Year students’ Emotional Experiences at University”. South African Journal of Higher Education 32 (2), 27-42.
General Articles