Developing ‘becoming’ and student aspirations

This paper explains the concept of ‘becoming’, how it helps academics to review their strategies for supporting their students, and what it means for practice.

What is ‘becoming’?

Becoming refers to a person’s self-awareness of change over time. It has a motivational power which is apparent in situations requiring changes within a person (Hitch et al., 2014).

Becoming is a sense that involves people setting and achieving goals, and habitually reviewing and developing these aspirations through life (Cutchin et al., 2008). In education, this sense of becoming involves students having a “sociological imagination” that they can use to drive their intellectual, methodological, conceptual or emotional commitment to their discipline as they relate their course to their own future (Meer et al., 2016, p.986).

Belonging is also a lens that educators can use to understand their students in terms of their aspirations and growth, and how they can then develop their course to foster the formation of meaningful identities.

The idea of belonging is part of Wilcox’s D3Bs concept of doing, being, becoming, and belonging (Wilcock, 1998). While this conceptual framework emanates from the fields of sociology and occupational health, it has proven useful to educationalists involved in developing the student experience (see Thomas, 2012).

Why is ‘becoming’ an important concept for academics?

For a student to successfully engage with their course they need to have a picture of themselves which motivates them intrinsically to pursue a meaningful goal or conception of their future self. This correlation of self to a student’s perception of their course helps them to engage in deep learning behaviours. This relates to Maslow’s concept of self-actualisation, the pinnacle of his hierarchy of needs model (Maslow, 1971). Maslow describes self-actualised people as being “devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them — some calling or vocation in the old sense, the priestly sense.”

With a strong sense of self-actualisation, a student is able to evaluate the knowledge they encounter and their learning experience in ways that inspire, guide and assist their active engagement: the course and the knowledge they encounter have implicit meaning to them.

A student is able to develop the desire to experience competence, efficacy, and consequence with a strong self conception (Wilcock, 2006). With this, they can truly operate as a learner, immersed in their discipline, developing capabilities, attributes and habits for learning through life.

How academics can foster a sense of becoming

Becoming relates to fostering a sense of belonging and being proactive in building a personal and professional identity. Often this comes from doing things together as a way of receiving stimulation and feedback from others. Hitch et al. (2014) say that the affirmation and reassurance of others explains the importance of situating learning activity communally, both formally and informally.

Fostering the identity of the course itself is another dimension that needs to be considered especially in relation to disciplinary beliefs, ways of being, habits and culture. It is easy to neglect these dimensions when there is too much academic focus on the modular delivery of knowledge. This can be understood, for example, in terms of signature pedagogy (Shulman, 2005), which refers to the ways a subject is learnt according to the nature of the subject, its methods, tradition and future.

Therefore, a student’s course and its signature nature need to be manifest in the ways students engage with their course study.


Hitch et al. (2014, p. 250) explain, “the relationship between doing and becoming is between active engagement in meaningful occupations, and hopes, goals and aspirations for the future.” They say that without concrete goals, it is difficult to guide people appropriately. Further, the ability to do and become can either flourish or be stymied by the available opportunities.
Academics, therefore, need to develop opportunities for their students to actively apply what they are learning in ways that reflect their future occupations, hopes, goals and aspirations.

Effective activities are often social as doing things together leads to connection making from which satisfaction can be derived communally. Gaining a shared sense of meaning from activities is key to ‘being’ part of something.


Being, or enacting, asserts the existence of a defined field of study. This awareness is heightened at its boundaries where the distinct methods and habits of the disciplinary culture differentiate members of the disciplinary community from others.

A person develops a sense of themselves as being or becoming knowledgeable, expert and committed to their field.

In such a communal setting, participant peers are able to make assumptions about their knowledge, discourses and behaviours in formal and informal discussion and activities.

Creating opportunities in the classroom, in the field of study, or socially can help to foster a common space. For example, field trips or student-led societies bring people together in more authentic contexts than lecture theatres and classrooms. Craik et al. (2010) say that such acts of being are the foundation of a person’s aspirations and that without this understanding it is difficult to set authentic, realistic, and relevant goals. At the same time, a person’s identity and sense of becoming is shaped by meeting their goals, making new futures possible (Alexandratos, Barnett, & Thomas, 2012).
This positive sense of becoming can give rise to flow, in which people are deeply engaged and motivated by strong feelings of capability and self efficacy (Asaba & Wicks, 2010).

Flow comes from an equilibrium of a person’s capabilities, hopes and aspirations: they can effortlessly map what they can do now to their future identity. Academically, the use of active learning methods and the incorporation of scenarios to underpin discussion, authentic learning methods (Herrington, 2006), and problem-based learning and opportunities for reflecting on formative assessment indicate how identity and becoming can be fostered.
Becoming can be enhanced by challenging inappropriate behaviours and practices and, more positively, by modelling behaviours and setting professional expectations, e.g. dress code, punctuality, professional respect for each other. Exposure to professionals and professional practices can be used explicitly to examine and develop student’s expectations. Student-led clubs and societies to which professional speakers can be invited, Facebook Groups and hashtags used for monitoring professional news, and subscriptions to and the citation of cases and stories from relevant journals and newsletters can all be used to foster a sense of becoming.


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