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Lost in Transition? Multiple Interests in Contexts of Education, Leisure and Work

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INTERESTS (Lost in Transition? Multiple Interests in Contexts of Education, Leisure and Work)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-04-30

“I am going to graduate! But what exactly should I do next?” All adolescents face this question in transition to postsecondary education or early career. Essential for sustainable choices is consolidating one’s interest. Yet, exactly this step appears to be difficult, with many adolescents feeling lost, switching programmes, or regretting their choices afterwards.
Where interest research has shown positive effects of interest on learning and engagement, it is not clear when and how adolescents continue and consolidate their interests. Instead of the common focus on single and predefined interest domains (e.g. science) and contexts (e.g. science class), the proposed study focuses on individuals’ complete and longer term trajectories of interest development in and beyond education.
The aim is to develop new theory on how an individual develops multiple interests in and across multiple contexts of participation (e.g. school classes, family, peers, leisure, work), leading to a comprehensive picture of dynamics within a person. I will investigate the effects of these dynamics on interest continuation and consolidation, with particular attention for the vulnerable transitions to postsecondary education and to early career.
The study is designed as a longitudinal investigation of individual trajectories of 600 adolescents, tracking the way each adolescent spends time on existing or emerging interests in and across different contexts, and in parallel, tracking their successive choices in education and career. A complementary smaller-scale investigation is focused on the weighing of interests while making choices in relation to perceived past and projected future. A smartphone application called inTin was specifically designed for the proposed study, functioning as a method that triggers individuals to make repeated reports of their interest-related interactions. Resulting data will require combining latest statistical techniques for within-subject and longitudinal analyses.
During the first two and a half years of this project, we have undertaken all activities as intended and according to planning, including extensive reading and discussion of relevant bodies of literature within the team (with meetings once or more times every three weeks), talking to many expert scholars for advice, arranging ethical approval of informed consent procedure, approaching educational schools and institutes for participants, collecting participants with informed consent for longitudinal study, arranging an international advisory board meeting during an international conference, and starting data collection with the smartphone application with the first wave in March 2018, and 5 more successive waves of experience sampling afterwards, repeated interviews and surveys and an in-depth multi-site ethnographic study. Currently, we are still in the process of data collection, and have started to develop analytic schemes (coding schemes, a new text mining approach) to interpret and handle the large and rich amount of data.
The project goes beyond the state of the art by mapping adolescents complete interest ecologies (all personal interest and significant others in and across daily life contexts of school, family and peers). As such, it is the first project to determine how adolescents can face challenges related to interest divergence, social discontinuities, and future choices. The project is unconventional in collecting personalized data, including their personal interests, future hopes, and experiences as defined and elaborated by students themselves in their own words. The value of this kind data is already evident as adolescents appear to have a way of perceiving themselves, the world and their possible futures, that clearly differs per person and is also distinctive from standard educational, pedagogical and cultural categories typically used to typify adolescents and their motivations.

Besides approach, we also combine various types of innovative data collection instruments, including 1) a so-called experience sampling method for moment-to moment reports across daily life contexts, 2) complete social networks of adolescents in schools, with - on a smaller scale - 3) a multi-site ethnography to understand how adolescents’ various life contexts impact one another. In analysis, we also have decided to experiment with a new yet unconventional technique of ‘text mining’. With experts from computer science, we are now developing a natural language processing tool for handling all the personal interests and interest report data. This technique is intended to reveal new ontological structures across adolescents’ interests.