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Transition from school to University and experiences in the first year. What do we know about expectations, experiences and the ways of being a learner?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jill ClarkORCiD


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Transition is a bridge between the security and structure offered by the school and the risks of life. (Will, 1984, p. 2) Transition issues, with the resultant satisfaction and retention of students, are not necessarily limited to what schools and Local Authorities can do, however, and there is an emerging body of evidence which explores transition process, to support and encourage students going into higher education, e.g. Yorke and Longden (2007) and Harvey and Drew (2006). Some research places itself within the Widening Participation agenda and explores the experiences of working class students (Crozier et al., 2008). Transition (and successful transition at that) is a current focus across Newcastle University, which has recently funded several projects through strategic funds to explore what it is that Universities need to do and what it is that students need and want. This paper brings together the findings from three research projects which focus on transition and induction from school to University. The first explored the secondary and higher education environment and what student expectations are, how school students learn and what they learn. One element was a synthesis of knowledge already held about students in transition, and the impact of programmes to support them, both school-based and University-based. Fresh data was collected from applicants in the schools, colleges and from post-entry students, to increase our knowledge of student expectations and experiences. Data was collected pre-entry, from young and mature students to identify: their concerns about University entry; what engaged/excited them about university entry; their preferred modes of learning and teaching; experience of support for assessment processes; and expectations of learning and teaching at University. We identified three ‘types’ of transition activities: Our ‘Bridging the Gap’ project – funded as part of this strategy - was designed to promote wider understanding of these issues and to enable strategies to address them. Our final report (Briggs, Clark and Hall, 2009) focuses upon the experiences related to the project team by students and staff in four Northumberland schools and in FE Colleges in the North East. It also draws upon the experience of the Newcastle University PARTNERS programme, which was one of the four University programmes (case studies) investigated. A significant element of the project was a synthesis of knowledge already held about students in transition, and the impact of programmes to support them, both school-based and University-based. Fresh data was collected from applicants in four Northumberland schools, from college applicants in four local FE colleges and from students post-entry who have experienced pre-entry programmes, to increase our knowledge of student expectations and experiences. Data was collected pre-entry, from young and mature NE school and college students to identify: their concerns re University entry; what engaged/excited them about university entry; current preferred modes of learning and teaching; experience of support for assessment processes; expectations of learning and teaching at University; and expectations of University experience. Secondly, data were collected (via an online questionnaire and through interviews) from young people who engaged in pre-University engagement activities, to evaluate their experience pre- and post- entry. Through our research we identified three different ‘types’ of transition: ‘generic’; ‘focused’ and ‘pedagogical’. Generic are activities or resources which are aimed at encouraging students to go to university in the first place, or are aimed at raising aspirations of young people that university really is an option for them. These tend to be school/college driven, often begin quite early (i.e. before years 11 and 12) and are centred around visits to a roadshows/exhibitions, to a university, or visits from a university. Visits would be fairly generic in that potential students would get a guided tour of the campus, student union, library, etc. They may get to see a lecture theatre but not necessarily attend a lecture, and general financial information is also included. These activities would not involve parents (if appropriate) directly. Focused transition activities are those which are aimed at students who are in their final years of school, who may still be unsure about actually going to university, but who have ideas of what they might study (and perhaps where) if they do go. These tend to be university driven, are concentrated in the final year of school/college and are much more geared towards actual experience. Examples would be the PARTNERS ‘bite-size uni’, where students can live as a student for a week, other residential programmes, student shadowing, student ambassadors, etc. Such focused transition activities are usually subject-specific, and so a potential student wanting to study medicine would experience very different activities than one aiming to study psychology, for example. Attending actual lectures is more usual and some activities would involve parents (where appropriate) directly. Finally, pedagogical activities, which are usually an additional type of transition activity on top of the focused transition activities. They are normally university led, are subject-specific and are aimed at offering potential students a real taste of university life from a pedagogical perspective. Attendance at an actual lecture, seminar, or tutorial group would be a part of the transition activity, with a focus on university level study skills and independent learning. Access students in colleges may find study skills courses are compulsory, with a focus on independent learning. Again, these transition activities are subject-specific and there are huge variances as to what is on offer to some students and not others. Some activities will include module descriptions, types of assignments examples, and assessment criteria. It is this last description – pedagogical transition activities – which appears to be less common throughout our research, but nonetheless were discussed by many respondents. Whilst students and teachers talked about having to be ‘independent learners’, when probed they could not articulate what an independent learner looked like, nor what experiences would be involved. Our second project (with pre-University students in three schools) is currently exploring transition in relation to the context of what it means to be an ‘independent learner’ in both schools and Universities. Unusually, we aim to bring together pupils, teachers and University staff to explore the concept of independent learning and what it means to all those concerned. Additionally, a third project entailed a University-wide survey of all first year students to explore their initial experiences of University life. The survey focused on pedagogical issues and learning experiences in addition to the pastoral and social aspects which all impact on adjustment and ‘settling in’ to University life. This paper explores the expectations and experiences of the learners themselves - the ‘journey’ of the learner - focusing on: pedagogy and assessment and the different environments of the schools, colleges and Universities. References Briggs, A., Clark, J. and Hall, I. (2009) ‘Bridging the Gap’: Project report, Research Centre for Learning and Teaching, Newcastle University. Download here: Crozier, G.; Reay, D., Clayton, J. and Colliander, L. (2008). The Socio-Cultural and Learning Experiences of Working Class Students in HE: Full Research Report, ESRC End of Award Report, RES-139-25-0208. Swindon: ESRC. Harvey, L. & Drew, S. (2006). The first year experience: A review of literature for the Higher Education Academy. Higher Education Academy. (Last accessed April 2010) Will, M. (1984). OSERS programming for the transition of youth with disabilities: Bridges from school to working life. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education. Yorke, M and Longden, B. (2007) The first year experience of higher education in the UK, HEA Final Report. (Last accessed April 2010)

Publication metadata

Author(s): Clark J

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Unpublished

Conference Name: Systematic Enhancement of Learning & Teaching: Innovation, Research and Development

Year of Conference: 2010

Pages: unpublished