There is substantial psychological research that supports the power of inviting the student voice as an impactful mechanism to improve outcomes. Below are the key factors:
Stories as Forcing Function. Stories act as a forcing function to help clarify ambiguities. When students are asking to either write about or report on the concerns and challenges that they experience during the transition to the program, they are able to create a clean narrative about their worries. This clarity is important because those concerns and uncertainties no longer loom large in the shadows of uncertainty. Instead, students are able to identify and name those concerns, which reduces the anxiety that comes from having to navigating those emotions for the first time.
Linking Concerns to Transition, and Not Self. By asking students to connect their anxieties within the context of the transition is also critical. Absent these instructions, students may attribute the reason for their uncertainty to the belief that there may be some internal and fixed deficit that is the basis for this uncertainty. Instead, when placed within the context of the transition, students are able to recognize that those concerns are due to the novelties of a transition to a new program.
Time Construal. The above two factors also contribute to a changing of time construal, which is a psychological experience that either widens or narrows our perceptions of time. When it comes to experiences of psychological threat (e.g., concerns about being smart enough, or uncertainty about belonging), there is a natural narrowing of time construal, which heightened the weight and impact of negative experiences. For instance, getting a bad grade may powerfully impact a student’s sense of self-worth because they see that bad grade as being a permanent reflection of their competence. However, by placing concerns with the context of a longer-term journey map, we’re able to keep the broadened time-construal when processing challenges, which diluted their perceived impact.