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What works? Facilitating an effective transition into higher education Professor Liz Thomas, Higher Education Academy Student Writing in Transition Symposium,

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Presentation on theme: "What works? Facilitating an effective transition into higher education Professor Liz Thomas, Higher Education Academy Student Writing in Transition Symposium,"— Presentation transcript:

1 What works? Facilitating an effective transition into higher education Professor Liz Thomas, Higher Education Academy Student Writing in Transition Symposium, Nottingham Trent University

2 Retention and non-completion in England. What works? Student retention and success programme What works? model: Improving student engagement, belonging, retention and success Characteristics of effective interventions and approaches Effective transition: pre-entry, induction and learning and teaching in the first semester/year Small group activity: Student stories Examples of effective practice from What works? Small group activity: Sharing effective practice Reflective checklist Implementing change 2 Overview

3 “The first is the ‘completion rate’ – the proportion of starters in a year who continue their studies until they obtain their qualification, with no more than one consecutive year out of higher education. As higher education courses take years to complete, an expected completion rate is calculated by the Higher Education Statistics Agency… A more immediate measure of retention is the proportion of an institution’s intake which is enrolled in higher education in the year following their first entry to higher education. This is the ‘continuation rate’.” (NAO, 2007, p5). 3 Defining retention the English way

4 4 The average non-continuation rate was 8.4% for entrants to English higher education institutions in ; Non-continuation rates varied between English institutions between 1.2% and 21.4% in ; The average completion rate for students entering institutions in England in was projected to be 78.4%; and Completion rates were projected to vary between institutions between 53.8% and 97.2% in Between 33% (1/3) and 42% (2/5) of students think about withdrawing from HE. 4 Non-continuation, completion and thinking about leaving

5 NAO (2007) and PAC (2008): Lack of progress and lack of evidence about what works. £1 million (Paul Hamlyn Foundation and HEFCE) to support 7 projects involving 22 HEIs to identify, evaluate and disseminate effective practice. The primary purpose of the programme is to generate robust, evidence-based analysis and evaluation about the most effective practices to ensure high continuation and completion rates. 5 What works? Student retention and success programme

6 ‘Most institutions have not yet been able to translate what we know about student retention into forms of action that have led to substantial gains in student persistence and graduation.’ (Professor Vincent Tinto HEA retention conference 2006) 6 From theory to practice

7 1)A comparative evaluation of the roles of student adviser and personal tutor in relation to undergraduate student retention, Anglia Ruskin University 2)Pathways to Success through peer mentoring, Aston University 3)‘Belonging’ & ‘intimacy’ factors in the retention of students, University of Leicester 4)Dispositions to Stay: The Support and Evaluation of Retention Strategies Using the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI), Northumbria University 7 Seven evaluation projects

8 5)Project 5: HERE! Higher education retention & engagement, Nottingham Trent University 6)Comparing and evaluating the impacts on student retention of different approaches to supporting students through study advice and personal development, University of Reading 7)Good Practice in Student Retention: an Examination of the effects of student integration on non-completion, University of Sunderland Selected through a competitive tender process. 8 Seven evaluation projects

9 The key message from these 7 projects is the centrality of students having a strong sense of belonging in HE; this is most effectively nurtured in the academic sphere. This puts high quality student-centred learning and teaching at the heart of effective student retention and success. 9 Key messages

10 Student belonging is an outcome of: Supportive peer relations. Meaningful interaction between staff and students. Developing knowledge, confidence and identity as successful HE learners. An HE experience which is relevant to interests and future goals. 10 Key messages

11 Between 1/3 and 2/5 of students think about withdrawing from HE. Academic issues, feelings of isolation and/or not fitting in and concern about achieving future aspirations are the primary reason why students think about leaving. Early engagement in the academic sphere (pre-entry, induction and first semester) can develop peer networks and friendships, create links with academic members of staff, provide key information, inform realistic expectations, improve academic skills, develop student confidence and nurture a sense of belonging. 11 Key findings

12 Relationships between staff and students and peers promote and enable student engagement and success in HE. These should be nurtured pre-entry, in the classroom and in the delivery of professional services. Some programmes have better rates of retention than would be predicted on the basis of entry grades; and some specific interventions have been shown to improve retention rates by around 10 percentage points. Particularly effective interventions are situated in the academic sphere and have an overt academic purpose, while also developing peer and staff/student relations. 12 Key findings

13 13 Academic ServiceSocial Early engagement extends into HE and beyond Student capacity building Staff capacity building Institutional management and co-ordination

14 14 Implementation: Characteristics of effective interventions and approaches Belonging MainstreamProactiveRelevant Well timed & appropriate media Collabor- ative Monitored

15 15 What works process Implement- ation (activity) Engagement (level 1 outcomes) Belonging (level 2 outcome) Retention and success (impact)

16 “I knew the campus, I’d been here many times... but, the reality of coming was scary... I didn’t know what to expect, and there were so many youngsters all seeming to know what they were doing.” (Mature student, University of Hull) “Anyone that says they’re not scared is lying because there is that fear. Everyone has those giant fears of am I going to be liked, am I going to make friends, how am I going to feel living away from home… … you know… you’re afraid of everything, but you’ve got to grow up some time” (Young male, first year student, Aston University). “Because I’m a single parent I literally come to University to study, I don’t have the luxury of having a social life at University because I’ve got family commitments.” (Mature, local student, Sunderland) 16 Student voices

17 I was worried about like getting on with other people and fitting in… I wasn’t worried about the work or anything, it was just fitting in. (2nd Year female student, Aston University) “Because I’m a single parent I literally come to University to study, I don’t have the luxury of having a social life at University because I’ve got family commitments.” (Mature, local student, University of Sunderland) 17 Student voices

18 Find a person or people near you with the same student story. Read the student story. Discuss and make a note of the reasons why this student left or thought about leaving higher education. 18 Small group activity: Student stories

19 Most effective pre-entry and induction interventions combine these roles: Providing information Informing expectations Developing academic skills Building social capital Nurturing a sense of belonging 19 Effective interventions

20 Implementation2 day non-residential pre-entry study skills summer school for mature students MainstreamAll mature students, all levels and FT &PT Proactive*All students encouraged to attend RelevantExplicit academic focus on skills Well-timed & appropriate media Just before new academic year begins. Develops skills rather provides information. CollaborativeIncludes strong social element, lunch with staff and students. Monitored*Qualitative feedback and review of data. Are non-participants followed up? 20 Mature students study skills summer school, University of Hull

21 OutcomesFocus groups with students and analysis of institutional data Peer relationsDeveloped long-term friendships. Interaction with staffGot to know programme staff. Developing capacityIncreased students confidence and skills. Relevant to current/ future goals* The academic focus was particularly welcomed. Sense of belongingCreated cohort identity. Retention & successBetter retention rates compared to students who did not participate. 21 Mature students study skills summer school, University of Hull

22 “...I felt much more able when I realised ‘we all were learning this’ and I wasn’t the only one, and I now had people to share this with and keep me going [...] and they did when I needed it.” “…make friends, it’s not what I came here to do and didn’t really want to, but it was kind of part of the [weekly] work... I kind of had to... and, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.” “we’ve kept each other going and it’s all from the very start, from the lunch. Knowing we’d be in [the same] classes together brought us together. We said ‘we can help each other’ and that’s what we did, and we’re all mates and y’know have a coffee and a chat, about Uni and about, well...” Mature students, University of Hull 22 Student voices

23 ImplementationFun, semi-structured approach to group formation during induction in engineering MainstreamActivity takes place as part of academic induction for all level 1 students. ProactiveAll students participate. RelevantIt is led by senior lecturer as part of the course. Groups then undertake projects. Well-timed & appropriate media During first week. Emphasis is on forming groups rather than providing information. CollaborativePromotes peer interaction and group working. Structured to promote mixing. Monitored*Qualitative feedback and review of data. Are non-participants followed up? 23 T-shirt induction activity, Newcastle University

24 OutcomesSurveys and focus groups with students and analysis of institutional data Peer relationsGroups continued to work and socialise together one year later (58%) Interaction with staff*Opportunity to get to know a key member of staff. Developing capacityStudents help each other (44% reported receiving help) Relevant to current/future goals* Group working in the curriculum, and relevant to engineering employment. Sense of belongingCreated a belonging always or mostly (81%) Retention & successBetter retention rates year on year (85-94%) & compared to other engineering schools. 24 T-shirt induction activity, Newcastle University

25 “....it kind of makes....you don’t just feel like one individual person on a course, it is kind of like you are in a conglomerate of people kind of thing...I think it does definitely make you feel part of the group or part of something within the year group rather than just one lone person.” “First year is bad because you don’t know anyone....if you don’t set up the design group you have got to make friends, where are you going to make friends kind of thing.....well you wouldn’t usually.....and if it was all individual work. You have to stick around to do the work and obviously if it is group work you are forced to meet people....”. “…I think if you are part of the kind of group then if, if you are going to drop out then.... or if you are struggling academically then you have got people there to support you as well”. (CEAM students, Newcastle University) 25 Student voices

26 a)Staff/student relationships: knowing staff and being able to ask for help. b)Curricular contents and related opportunities: providing real world learning opportunities which are interesting and relevant to future aspirations motivate students to engage and be successful in higher education. c)Learning and teaching: group based learning and teaching that allows students to interact with each other, share their own experiences and learn by doing. A variety of learning experiences, including work placements, and delivered by enthusiastic lectures were found to be important too. d)Assessment and feedback: clear guidelines about assessment processes and transparency about criteria and feedback to assist students to perform better in the future. 26 Student-centred learning & teaching

27 a)Personal tutoring: as a means of developing a close relationship with a member of staff who oversees individual progress and takes action if necessary, including direct students to appropriate academic development and pastoral support services. b)Peer relations and cohort identity: having friends to discuss academic and non-academic issues with, both during teaching time and outside of it, and a strong sense cohort identity. c)A sense of belonging to particular a place within the university, most usually a departmental building or a small campus, or a hall of residence. 27 Student-centred learning & teaching

28 ImplementationCore level 1 course using problem-based learning in groups of 8 students. MainstreamThis is part of mainstream curriculum. ProactiveAll students participate, and group work is assessed. RelevantRelevant to current learning and team working in employment. Well-timed & appropriate media During first week. Emphasis is on forming groups rather than providing information. CollaborativeUses the academic sphere to facilitate social integration. Staff work with groups of 8 students. Monitored*Qualitative feedback and review of data. 28 Problem-based learning in groups, University of Sunderland

29 OutcomesSurveys and focus groups with students and analysis of institutional data Peer relationsStudents worked in groups outside of the classroom and made friends. Interaction with staff* Opportunity to get to know staff in small groups. Developing capacitySupported to work in groups through coaching and other staff support. Relevant to current/future goals. Able to relate to own experiences and interests. Sense of belongingCreated a sense of belonging. Retention & successBetter retention rates year on year from 77% to 85%. 29 Problem-based learning in groups, University of Sunderland

30 “I made [friends] through my seminars, really. I got four really good friends, and I’ve just clicked with them straight away, and then we sit together in lectures and stuff. And now I’m working on this project with them and we’ve been meeting up outside of Uni and stuff.” “[...]I like that you can work together and somebody can bring a piece of information that you’ve never heard of, and you can bring something that somebody else has never heard of, and then you can swap them and find out how they found it and what’s in the research. I like that.” (Psychology students, University of Sunderland) 30 Student voices

31 Discuss interventions or approaches that you are familiar with that would have helped the student you discussed earlier. Be prepared to feedback to the group one intervention that might have helped and why. 31 Group activity

32 1.To what extent is transition work focused on social engagement and developing social capital (contacts or networks to draw on), rather than on provision of information? 2.How early are you starting to build meaningful relationships with and between students, so that they know who to ask if they need information or support? 3.To what extent do your transition activities have an overt academic purpose? Could the academic element be increased? In what ways are academic members of staff involved in transition activities? 4.Do you have sufficient structured opportunities for students to get to know members of staff? Is this sufficient to enable students to get to know staff and be able to ask for information or support? 32 Reflective checklist

33 5.To what extent do pre- and post-entry transition activities facilitate students getting to know peers from the same course or programme? Is there a structured approach to encourage mixing outside of their comfort zones? 6.Does your transition programme make the benefits of academic and social engagement explicit to students and provide them with skills and opportunities to engage? 7.To what extent do transition activities build on and relate to students diverse interests, experiences and backgrounds? 8.In what ways is the relevance of the course or programme of study to students’ future aspirations made explicit both pre- and post-entry? 9.Have you reviewed the implementation and outcomes of your transition activities using the framework presented in this paper? 33 Reflective checklist continued

34 Prioritise developing student capacity through social engagement with an academic purpose. ‘This seminal initial stage of the first few weeks at university can have a substantial effect on students’ eventual socialization into university culture and therefore their engagement with educationally effective practices’ (Vinson et al. 2010, p133). ‘Those who feel at home, who take part in extra-curricular activities, and who feel connected with fellow students and teachers, are more inclined to persist with their studies. Without social integration, it is more difficult to persist, and ultimately to graduate’ (Severiens & Schmidt, 2009, p.60). 34 Conclusion

35 35 Institutional change programme Institutional review. Strategic planning and implementation of changes. Changes at course/programme level including induction, active learning and teaching and co-curricular activities Aligning student union activities to promote academic engagement and belonging. Research about the process of change. External evaluation of impact. 35 Implementing change

36 Contact details: What works? reports: Other HEA resources 36 Thank you!


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