The following post is from Simon Gamble who started his BILT Associate role in supporting students transition to University in August 2021.
For the past five years I have been the Head of the Study Skills service, which is based in the library and is part of Bristol Futures. Previously I was the Learning Support Tutor for the faculty of Science at University of Portsmouth, which I did part-time alongside taking a degree in fine art. The experiences of being a student and tutor simultaneously fed into each other and as a part-time, mature learner I saw how much was different from my first degree experience in the 1980s. Now it’s all changed again and there will be many students arriving this year (and subsequent years) bringing with them a new set of challenges. That’s why I’m so pleased to be part of the Academic Transition group and also this BILT project to explore what academic transition really means for new students in 2021-22.
We know from published studies that transition to university is a complex process and covers way more than just learning how to do coursework in a way that gets marks. Academic transition is a part of this bigger process, but laced into it are social transition, evolving personal identity and joining the academic/professional community1. We also know that transition isn’t a one off event that happens in Welcome Week2. Writ large, a university education should be a constant evolution, both personally and academically, but transition to becoming a student at university takes time in itself. If we unpick the events taking place in a new students’ life, we see that there are number of challenges to rise to. Moving to a new city, a new home, new friends, being removed from family, having to look after themselves, manage their finances, manage their time, take responsibility for their own learning. Beyond this, some may be transitioning in other ways, forging new identities they felt unable to in their previous home3. Some will be new to the UK, some will have dependents, jobs to go to, some will have need for assistive technologies and mental health support. All of this is momentous and can vary hugely from individual to individual, which means there will never be a single solution to helping students transition to university. Our role is therefore much more about scaffolding that transition rather than simply supplying information4.
None of the above is new, but what is new is the context in which this is happening. University education is now (finally!) moving to a blended/hybrid environment. That means new challenges and although this year’s intake will have had 18 months of predominantly online teaching, we can’t assume that they will cope with the digital aspects. Beyond that, many students will question their own validity and need reassurance, many will have felt disconnected from education for months, if not years and will need incentives to connect and become part of the community.
In my role as Head of Study Skills I’ve been introduced to so many people here at Bristol who do an amazing job of helping students transition to study. My first task as an Associate is to work as part of a team gathering examples of good practice around the University and create a resource bank that we can all share. From there we’ll be looking at specific groups and what needs they have and also surveying the current literature to see what great ideas exist at other HEIs. Our aim is to build a comprehensive (though not static) picture of what transition means and how we best enable it, by sharing best practice and looking at new and inspiring ideas from outside.
- Catherine Meehan & Kristy Howells (2019) In search of the feeling of ‘belonging’ in higher education: undergraduate students transition into higher education, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43:10, 1376-1390, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2018.1490702
- Trevor Gale & Stephen Parker (2014) Navigating change: a typology of student transition in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 39:5, 734-753, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2012.721351
- Stonewall (2018) LGBT in Britain: University report. Stonewall, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/lgbt_in_britain_universities_report.pdf
- Blair A (2017) Understanding First-Year Students’ Transition to University: A Pilot Study with Implications for Student Engagement, Assessment, and Feedback, Politics, 37(2), pp. 215–228. doi: 10.1177/0263395716633904.