Professor Debby Cotton and Dr Rebecca Turner at their Education Excellence Seminar
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Easing the transition of undergraduates through an immersive induction module

The opening Education Excellence seminar of 2018/19 took place on Thursday 20th September in 43 Woodland Road. Professor Debby Cotton and Dr Rebecca Turner (accompanied by Rebecca’s son, Thomas) came up from Plymouth University’s PedRIO to deliver a seminar on the immersive induction module all undergraduates take at their institution. The seminar was attended by almost fifty members of staff and was a great start to the 18/19 seminar series– there were only two minor hiccups; the first being the hospitalisation of Rebecca’s childminder (cue baby gurgles throughout the lecture) and the fact the RePlay box was still on its summer break (cue this blog post).

After a brief introduction from Alvin, Rebecca introduced the project to the audience. The project was proposed after it was recognised that students were struggling with the transition to university. It was hoped the immersive module would help with social integration, as well as allowing students a transitional period when beginning their university studies.

Following a successful pilot year in 2014, the immersive induction module was rolled out across all undergraduate programmes in the University. The module is a four-week introduction to the degree – students do not undertake any other modules during this time, in which they can focus on getting to grips with self-study, academic skills, the language of their subject. The module also gives students the opportunity to get to know others on their course through the use of group work. Team-building, peer interaction and academic integration are all used to boost motivation and enthuse students. Most students are asked to complete an assessment, designed to be inclusive, at the end of the module, which provides students with early feedback and reduces exam-linked anxiety.

It was hypothesised that this module would improve retention and student attainment – and it did. Initial results from the pilot showed retention approved across the board, with students naming a sense of belonging, academic integration, social integration and strong study skills as being key factors in the improvement. Peer collaboration and networking grows due to the collaborative work that takes place early in the programme. The average grade from first assignments went up from 62% to 67%, despite the fact the individual student needs had not always been recognised at this point. Both genders showed heightened performance, thought the enhancement was greater for males, therefore reducing the attainment gap.

There were a number of challenges that the immersive module has presented. One of the biggest issues caused was that it raised the students expectations to a level where they could not be maintained in modules going forward. Further to this, students felt like a ‘second transition’ had been created, and still struggled to an extent when the immersive module ended. Some students did not want to take part in self-directed study and group work at the beginning of their degree; they expect to be in lecture theatres and have their questions answered by the lecturer. Some lecturing staff were not enthusiastic about changing their way their subject was taught so it could be covered in one module, too. There were a number of operational issues that presented as part of the roll-out. Teaching spaces weren’t always ideal – though the majority of sessions took place in ‘flatbed’ spaces, a number of large lecture theatres had to be used and weren’t viable for interactive teaching as they are too large and become noisy.

Overall the project was very successful, increasing the retention and attainment of first-year students and generally improving the student experience, though this has come with some new challenges. We were left with a number of question to consider when thinking about whether we could implement a similar structure, including:

  • What opportunities could an immersive format offer you?
  • What challenges or concerns would you have?
  • How could an immersive format help create a sense of belonging?
  • How can we manage student expectations of HE on arrival?
  • How can we better prepare students to progress on to subsequent modules?

Look out for the next edition of our ‘An interview with’ series with Debby and Rebecca coming in October.

The full peer-reviewed paper can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13562517.2017.1301906

Debbie Cotton

Easing the Transition of First Year Undergraduates through an Immersive Induction Module


Abstract

An increasingly competitive market in higher education (HE) has encouraged many institutions to engage in curriculum transformation efforts aimed at enhancing student learning, retention and attainment. The start of the first year is recognised as being a challenging time for undergraduates as they negotiate the norms and practices of new academic communities and foster relationships with peers and academics. In this talk, we discuss a comprehensive evaluation of one aspect of a large-scale curriculum development project at the University of Plymouth, the introduction of a four-week immersive induction module. This module (included in almost all programmes across the university) aimed to provide students with discipline-relevant academic skills and networks to support them through the transition period and beyond. The evaluation explored academic and student experiences of this module, as well as impacts on academic self-efficacy, social integration, retention, and attainment of different student groups. Positive outcomes were identified in terms of student attainment (including a narrowing of the gender attainment gap), student retention, and students’ perceptions of preparation and integration. Challenges of this approach included variable approaches to implementation, and the need to manage student expectations for subsequent modules. In some ways, the immersive induction module was a victim of its own success, thus student expectations for subsequent modules proved difficult to fulfil.

Bio

Dr Rebecca Turner is an Educational Developer with the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory at the University of Plymouth. Rebecca works to support new and experienced academics, researchers and professional staff to develop their pedagogic practice to enhance the student experience. Rebecca is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academic and an active member of the Staff and Education Development Association, where she is currently serving as a member of their Executive Committee. She has diverse research interests; her main work centres on the theme of transitions, however, she has being involved with a HEFCE Learning Gain Pilot project and has also undertaken work on behalf of the Higher Education Academy to examine the impact of educational development activities. She is currently collaborating with The Student Exchange Partnership to undertake research relating to Student Unions and their work to support teaching and learning. A full list of Rebecca’s research can be found at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/staff/rebecca-turner

Professor Debby Cotton is Head of Educational Development in the Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory (PedRIO), Plymouth University, UK. She is a Principal Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), and was selected to work as an assessor on the UK Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Debby has a doctorate from Oxford University, which focused on teaching controversial environmental issues. She has played a key role in the development of pedagogic research at Plymouth University for over 15 years, and was central to the development of PedRIO, one of the University’s eight research institutes. Debby is a popular invited speaker and has delivered workshops and keynotes on higher education in Europe, China, the US and South Africa. She sits on the editorial board of three journals, has contributed to upwards of 25 projects on pedagogic research and development, and produced more than 70 publications on a wide range of HE teaching and learning issues including sustainability education, student transition, retention and attainment, and internationalisation of higher education. She has recently been called upon to advise on higher education in China, and is engaged in collaborative research with academic colleagues at Zhejiang University and Fudan University.You can find out more about Debby’s work and publications here: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/staff/debby-cotton