When developing topics for first year students, or working with them in tutorials, laboratories and other situations where they learn it's important to remember while they arrive at university with a range of skills and experience, most have no prior knowledge of how to learn at university. Many
- have limited understanding about how much time studying will take
- are not adequately prepared for university by their previous learning experiences (often acquired at high school)
- are not aware of the standard of work required
- do not realise how much they need to do for themselves (Lizzio & Wilson, 2004)
In addition, students' expectations, goals, motivations and backgrounds are much more varied than ever before and many will not have friends at university. Unfortunately, most are under greater personal, time and financial pressures than students were in the past and there has been a growth in mental health difficulties among university students in recent years. These issues mean there's greater emphasis on staff to support students as they develop the requisite skills to learn and flourish at university. To find out more about student wellbeing visit the enhancing student wellbeing website.
You don’t need to do everything suggested here, a few small changes can make a big difference to your students. The Academic Developers can support you in designing or updating your topics and are available to discuss ideas about different approaches to supporting student learning in first year.
The transition pedagogy provides a useful theoretical framework on which to base your first year topics and what you do in them. It provides six curriculum principles to help you support students to learn at university:
- Transition: help students understand what is required of them at university and within their discipline. Scaffolding, discussed below, can help transition students
- Diversity: recognise that within each cohort students' entering knowledge, aptitudes and attitudes are varied, and ensure that your teaching is as inclusive of all student cohorts as possible
- Design: activities are student-focused and provides a foundation so that further learning may be scaffolded. It should be explicit and relevant − forming a coherent, integrated basis for all future learning.
- Engagement: engage students in innovative and collaborative ways
- Assessment: assessment practices aid learning, are appropriate, scaffolded (where possible) and ensure feedback is timely, well-articulated and constructive
- Evaluation and monitoring: monitor student engagement and performance and allow timely intervention in aid of students at risk (Kift, Nelson & Clarke, 2010; Kift, 2008; Kift, 2015)
All of these elements are developed within the curriculum and help students do well in your topics.
Transition pedagogy principles recommend including opportunities for your students to engage in activities that support their learning of the concepts you are teaching as well as help them learn how to learn at university. Develop your teaching and activities and/or curriculum in ways which encourage students to use resources provided by the Student Learning Support Service (SLSS), the Library and explore other services available through the Student Support Network (SSN). Explain what each service provides ensure you are explicit about the resources they need to use from the SLSS and Library and why and how they need to use them, also ensure they are aware they can access a mentor. Ideally, incorporate these services by including tasks which encourage students to set learning goals and support them to develop:
- independent learning skills
- time management
- critical and creative thinking
- research skills in your topic area
- literacies (digital, communication etc)
- lifelong learning skills.
Scaffolding both how to learn and what students need to learn in your topics are essential. It’s important to ensure enough space and time are set aside to provide students with guidance and support to help them learn (Star and McDonald, 2007). Scaffolding involves building new learning on what is already known and continually developing knowledge and skills until learning outcomes can be achieved. There are a number of approaches to scaffolding, these include:
- breaking your teaching into basic concepts (or chunks), think about how these chunks fit together, their order and how best to teach them
- assessing what students already know (through questions, quizzes discussions etc.) and building on that
- ‘front-loading’ important vocabulary and/or concepts through pre-readings, videos etc. and requiring students to access these prior to your sessions with them. As new content is introduced, explain how it fits with what students already know and how it extends knowledge
- peer collaboration
- asking prompting questions
- using analogies and/ or demonstrations
Please contact the Academic Developers in CILT to discuss other methods for scaffolding.
In order to address the diversity of your students, its important to find out how many students you'll most likely be teaching and as much as you can about them (are they directly from school, mature age, in a diversity group, have they been to university before are the first member in their family to attend university, what are their aspirations etc.). Having some insight into the makeup of your classes will better prepare you for teaching.
Students also need to know about you, so briefly introduce yourself and the topic on FLO, you can do this by providing a short video about yourself and the topic. Regardless of what you know and have told the students it is useful to set aside time in the first session to get to know them, support them to get to know each other and provide opportunities for them to learn more about both you, and the topic. Let students know why you are interested in finding out about them and use the information to help you help them learn. Simple examples of ‘getting to know you’ exercises include:
- asking students to write you a short postcard (private online forum post or on paper) including their name, why they are studying in your topic, what they hope to learn and future aspirations or hopes and fears
- including an anonymous demographic quiz in your topic asking students to respond to questions about themselves (age, high school attended, family members or friends who attended university, what they wish to learn in the topic)
Don't make any assumptions about what students know and where you need to start teaching. There are a range of ways to find out what they know, for example:
- formally, by setting an assessment piece (short quiz, writing or skills activity) or by asking them
- informally, by observing how students respond to the questions you ask them, the questions they ask you or what they say to other students (face to face or online)
Leave time to contextualise the topic and how you teach it, by:
- explaining the importance of FLO to students and how it is used by you
- help students understand how to use the FLO site, what is there and how useful it is (everyone uses FLO slightly differently so it can be helpful to orient students)
- discuss how your FLO site and the topic are set up and taught and why they are organised that way, include weekly “what’s happening this week” posts
- tell students what you expect of them and what they can expect of you (when you are available to them and when you are not)
- explain what will occur formally and/or in face to face settings, what you will rely on them to do for themselves or in groups, and how these fit together to support their learning (discuss the importance of supportive friends or other students they can study with)
- help build their confidence by letting them know that particular tasks are challenging
- encourage students to post questions on FLO about assessments or any other aspects of the topic (and let them know when to expect a response) but also ensure you provide time for them to ask questions whenever you meet with them
- discuss the Statement of Assessment Methods (SAM), the Graduate Qualities and how these link to the learning outcomes for the topic with students
- explain how the assessment works in your topic and point out deadlines both verbally and in writing (on FLO), its useful to remind first years about deadlines early in the semester and remind students as the deadlines approach (be very explicit about assessments and deadlines)
- if you use an assessment rubric, explain it to students and point out how it differs from the assessment instructions (go through these well before the assignments are due and revisit them closer to the deadlines)
- if you have an assessment piece due in weeks 3 or 4, go through it with students the first time you meet, then remind them a week before it is due
For further information on how to embed these into curriculum talk to an Academic Developer. Remember, you do not need to do everything suggested here, but one or two changes can make a big difference.