Transitions into, through, and out of higher education can be challenging at the best of times. Students making these transitions during the 2021-22 academic session were doing so after a period of intense disruption caused by a series of society ‘lockdowns’ during the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020, meaning they also had to deal with specific, additional challenges.
This project draws together examples of practice and other resources to help provide support to students navigating these transitions.
Kirkcaldy High School: A Year of Challenges & Opportunities
On 22 June 2021, QAA Scotland hosted a webinar in partnership with Kirkcaldy High School and Abertay University. Delivered by two teachers and an S6 pupil from the School, the webinar focused on the challenges faced by young people in a high school setting throughout the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues discussed included:
- mental health
- online home learning
- the demands of alternative assessment model in predicting grades
- the challenges young people may face in transitioning to further or higher education.
The session also highlighted the more positive aspects for our young people over that period, such as digital literacy and building resilience. We were joined by over 100 colleagues from across higher and further education institutions from Scotland and beyond, as well as sector agencies. The video of the presentation can be found below, and the presenters also produced a blog with their reflections on the session.
Scan of International Practice
QAA Scotland's scan of international practice of student transitions showcases the diverse, dedicated systems used by institutions around the world to support students into, throughout and outwith their university studies. Often focused on supporting specific student groups, the innovative practice highlighted by this report demonstrates that both generic and tailored support systems are beneficial in students effectively engaging with and transitioning through their student learner journey.
Examples of practice
Many institutions have developed practices to support students as they enter higher education, and we are grateful to those who have allowed us to use the following as examples of practice. These examples typically are intended to support either the development of a sense of belonging, inclusion and wellbeing among students or to help to develop academic and general study skills. We have described the main features of each example under each of these headings.
- Developing a sense of belonging in online and distance learning | Enhancement Themes
Tutors can use this toolkit to make informed decisions about the type of interventions that might benefit their students. It contains practical suggestions for online tutors about how to develop a sense of belonging, opportunities to learn from others, a tool to help with evaluating and reflecting and a short synthesis of relevant literature. The toolkit is hosted on the OpenLearn Create platform.
- Glasgow Anywhere | University of Glasgow
The University’s pre-arrival support for students offers a wide range of online resources through the ‘Glasgow Anywhere Desktop’ which provides Windows-based remote access to the same software, applications, and file store as are available locally within the university. Support includes, for instance, guidance on collaborating and meeting online through the use of video conferencing technology for classes and seminars and on using Microsoft Teams for collaboration and staying in touch. The available support also includes advice on maintaining health and wellbeing, guidance on using display screen equipment and on working or studying remotely, advice on work-life balance, and information about the university’s free wellbeing sessions on Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Flow.
- Glasgow Essentials | University of Glasgow
An open resource available for all incoming students to access without the need for a student ID. The structure is based within the University’s VLE, beginning a student’s exposure to the system they will use in their studies. It includes information and activity focussed on clarifying and managing expectations of what it means to be a student at the university. This includes networking, social connections and communication opportunities. In addition, it aims to increase awareness and clarity of the University’s structure, terminology and systems in advance of students accessing the College, School, Service, or course specific resources. Specifically, Glasgow Essentials takes students through Life as a Student, Learning at University, and Navigating the University.
- We are Strathclyde | University of Strathclyde
‘We are Strathclyde’ comprises a four-week pre-sessional online course intended to aid the transition of new undergraduate students into university life. It takes the form of twice-weekly webinars, enabling interaction with staff of the University, as well as online quizzes, games, and discussions with staff and other new students. The course aims to emphasise learning as a social activity with knowledge shared and developed between students, and to enable participants to hear authentic student experiences from a diverse range of current Strathclyde students.
- Coming from College | Queen Margaret University
The University’s induction programme for incoming students takes the form of an eight-week programme of online activities containing all the key elements of in-person induction. Weekly scheduled activities include talks by academic support staff, a peer-assisted learning session and a social drop-in. These are supported by weekly newsletters with pre-entry advice from academic and professional services staff and from former students, including hints, tips, and general advice about the university’s support services, reading lists and links to the online induction.
- Countdown to St Andrews | University of St Andrews
This two-week programme is available to incoming and returning students, and aims to create a sense of community and excitement in the run up to the new semester, with a daily reveal of static content and live events. In 2020, the online site contained 120 pieces of static content and over 220 live events across the 14 days, with over 2000 students engaged at its peak. The nature of the content included in the resource included, for example, video introduction to student support, wellbeing resources, a virtual tour of the town, student society events, ‘listen-along’ student radio shows, live exercise classes, introduction to graduate attributes, live study skills sessions. Content was revealed each day of the countdown, and live events were recorded and added to a daily catch-up tab so students joining the countdown at a later stage could watch later.
- Mental health and wellbeing | The Open University
The University offers a range of online resources to support student wellbeing including:
- Do I have mental health problems and should I get help? (a guide to recognising a mental health problem)
- What can I do about my mental health? (ways of getting the support you need)
- Mental health: tips for mates (originally devised with young people in mind but relevant for any age)
- Exercise and mental health (links between exercise and improved mental health)
- Panic attacks: what they are and what to do about them (helpful to anyone who experiences panic or panic attacks, for their family and friends)
- Understanding depression and anxiety (explores the causes of mental health issues).
- Glasgow Anywhere | University of Glasgow
Two courses, one for the College of Arts and the College of Social Sciences and one for the College of Science and Engineering and the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, are being designed for delivery in August/September 2021. The courses will be available as an open resource, without the need for a student ID to access them. Running for two weeks in advance of the start of semester, they will provide incoming undergraduates with experience of University learning, life, study, and assessment. The courses will offer students a range of subject-aligned electives, alongside core academic skills and academic writing development timetabled provision. Students that successfully complete the course will have also completed the requirements for the University’s Academic Writing Skills Programme.
- The pre-arrival support for students include links to sources of advice on academic writing and study skills specific to particular subjects of study, as well as advice on managing online study and on preparing for online examinations. In addition, the University offers advice specific to international students on academic writing in English.
- Effective Learning | Queen Margaret University
Alongside the University’s online induction programme, additional bespoke online resources are designed specifically to support all new and returning students with online learning. These resources cover five topics, namely Making the Most of E-Resources, Making the Most of Online Resources, Making the Most of Taught Sessions, Time Management and Remote Learning, and Making the Most of Your Studies.
- Transition to Study | The Open University
The University offers a wide range of online resources to incoming students. Examples include:
- Getting off to a good start (a video with tips and advice on getting started with OU studies)
- Am I ready to be a distance learner? (development of study skills to become a successful distance learner
- Being an OU student (induction for new students, with what they need to know before they start studying).
- Further resources provide support for skills development in literacy, in essay and report writing, in numeracy, in preparation for assessment and in time management.
Resources from the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme (2014-17)
As part of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme, we identified six skills and strategies that are key to successfully navigating transitions:
- Academic Resilience
- Critical Self-Reflection
- Self-Management of Expectations
- Self-Belief (or Self-Efficacy)
- Time Management for Independent Learning.
We produced some free, practical, easy-to-use resources to support students to develop these skills. They include activities for students to work on individually, activities for students to work on in groups, presentation materials for staff, and leaflets signposting students to further help. These are available on the Transition Skills and Strategies webpage, and this blog post offers suggestions about how they might be used.
Institutions also worked collaboratively to create additional resources to support student transitions. These include ‘talking head’ videos in which students discuss their transition experiences, guidance relating to open badges, and practical resources relating to online learning.