A project to ascertain first year students’ views on their experiences during the first six weeks of study at the University has now reported. The project aimed to identify student perceptions of good practice and potential improvements. The focus on the first six weeks is important because of the vital and formative period in which expectations and good study habits can be established.
Thirty-eight first year students, twenty-two male and fourteen female, provided feedback. The sample included students from all six UW institutes, with international and disabled students represented in each group. Participants took part in focus groups to consider experience in relation five key areas: staff expectations (inside and outside the classroom), teaching methods, support and guidance, the online learning environment and learning spaces.
A range of themes were developed from the focus group discussions. Students generally documented a very positive first six weeks of study, and identified a number of improvements to enhance the early student experience. The Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Committee (LTSEC) have received and reviewed the report of the project, and endorsed the recommendations. A brief summary of the students’ feedback and accompanying recommendations is given below.
Staff expectations: inside the classroom
Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and indicated all students had received a formal introduction to the University, and to their course and modules. Students unanimously noted that course teams had outlined what was expected of them inside the classroom, and signposted students to resources that could help in adjusting to higher education.
International students in the focus group noted developing study skills after arriving was challenging. They found critical writing and thinking particularly testing, and were less confident about knowing what was expected of them.
Recommendation: Study skills support for international students prior to arrival at the University, particularly on academic writing and critical thinking, should be developed.
Joint honours students in the focus group felt there was some duplication of induction activities between subjects and the overall induction programme for Joint Honours students.
Staff expectations: outside the classroom
Students reported that their courses had made clear that independent study outside of classes was important and the majority had been set weekly study tasks to complete ahead of the following week’s classes. They reported different approaches to the setting and managing of directed study tasks by module tutors and indicated a preference for a standardised and consistent approach.
Recommendation: Course teams to consider developing a consistent approach to directed study tasks.
Support and guidance
All students knew who their personal academic tutor (PAT) was, and the majority had met with their PAT at least once during the first six weeks. Several of them did however indicate that they were unsure of the PAT role in their student experience.
Recommendation: Course teams to ensure clarity for students on the role of the PAT.
All students had experienced assessment, largely formative tasks and in most cases peer marked. Students welcomed the opportunity to peer mark and be peer assessed, but nearly half of the students felt a little apprehensive about the reliability of peer marked formative assessment in terms of giving them an accurate assessment of progress.
Recommendation: Course teams to plan for some formative assessment tasks that involve staff feedback as well as peer.
Students reported satisfaction with contact time and felt that the teaching staff were very approachable inside and outside the classroom. Similarly, students noted they felt able to contact their course team if they were having problems with their academic work.
The participants described a range of learning activities that they had experienced at the University, particularly highlighting problem solving in groups as beneficial and enjoyable.
Online learning environment (VLE)
All students had utilised Blackboard to enhance their learning experience, and some specified using materials on Blackboard to revise or reinforce learning from a taught session. Students also described the use of the VLE to create a learning community through discussion and live feeds, an aspect welcomed by all participants.
In each discussion, a group of students explained the positive impact the REACH programme had on their experience at the University. Some participants found the online resources and online shop very beneficial, whereas other utilised the quizzes and tasks that the programme provides.
All of the participants described experiencing a range of teaching spaces and enjoyed the variety, in particular students referred to learning in a practical environment as being very beneficial.
In all groups, students commended the dynamic nature of the Hive, and large amount of study areas that are available. Students unanimously pointed out issues with the learning spaces at times during the first six weeks, but these instances were noted as being isolated and small in number.
Lewis Arnold, Policy Officer