Transitions into HE

“What’s on my mind?”, asks WordPress whenever I start a post. How to work with students is always on my mind at work, whether it’s the ex_CACHE Year 1 student talking about time management or the final semester over-deliverer. This research report from MMU, published by QAA has given me a lot of think about: as University admissions seeks for more and more diversity in its intake, it is ever more essential that we don’t just plonk the new students in the middle of the quad, so to speak, and say “There you are: Uni!”

The perceptions of learning and teaching in pre-University experiences crystallise for me in the table which talks about dependency:

Answers always provided;very short cycles of input,testing and feedback; all resources provided; monitoring system provides motivation and nudges; daily contact with same staff member; activity is always directed; some structured activities (for example, writing frames)

and contrasts it with how things might be in HE:

Students find answers for themselves; some resources provided, students expected to find more resources; students expected to largely find their own motivation;contact with same staff member weekly or less; activity required is essentially undirected (for example, lecture) .

This is about challenge and independence (something the report acknowledges) and I would be among the first to say that Year 1 in HE becomes all but useless if challenge and independence are minimised – but how do we increase them while teaching the “survival skills” that getting through Year 1 requires? And what about getting on in subsequent years?

A first thought: this is partly about expectation (again, the report is right to look at this, and the vignettes/quotations from the students are fascinating), but also, I think, about how  the study skills debate gets clouded by the issues of mental health and wellbeing. They are both vital components in success – but it can’t be that HE tutors become welded to their students, any more than students are told “just cope.” Perhaps as school/college-based learning has changed, HE Y1 provision now needs to look (again and again, and more seriously) at differentiation?



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