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Discussion Forum
Improving the First Year Experience



The Discussion Forum, Improving the First Year Experience was held at The University of Sydney on Thursday 27 April 2000.

The programme included eight short presentations by various academics representing several Australian universities. These 'cameos' illustrated a number of university-wide, faculty and school/department programmes that are being implemented to improve the transition and first year experience for new students.


Discussion Forum Report


Introduction of the issues

Cameos

Dawn Gleeson, The University of Melbourne
Mary Peat, The University of Sydney
Trevor Appleton, The University of Queensland
Judith Pollard, The University of Adelaide
Karen Ginn, The University of Sydney
James Dalziel, The University of Sydney
Audrey Wilson, University of Wollongong
Paul Adam, The University of New South Wales
Summary of concerns
Recommendations
Specific examples
Future action
Additional readings


Mary Peat, The University of Sydney - general introduction of the issues

Identified who are our students - large groups, diverse background, range of abilities, range of interests, range of goals.

Research shows:

Strength of teaching in first year needs to be improved. We need to:

Mike Prosser quoted one survey that found more than 50% (~58%) of students felt their teachers were not interested in the subject matter being taught.


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Cameo Presentations

Dawn Gleeson, The University of Melbourne
Improving the First Year Experience in the Science Faculty at The University of Melbourne


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Mary Peat, The University of Sydney

Faculty approach - Student Transition Workshop and Parent Program
Students: opportunity to meet and greet other students in big groups
Timetable has been organised to cater for the big groupings as experienced during workshop
Peer group formation - non academic, non confrontational and non content oriented activities
Lot of organisation and time consuming but inexpensive

Accompanying parent program to overcome feeling of being cut off from the university

Surveys have shown that first year students undertaking the program:


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Trevor Appleton, The University of Queensland
Academic Advising for First Level Science Students at The University of Queensland


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Judith Pollard, The University of Adelaide

Peer Adviser Program, which involves the use of 2nd/3rd year students.

The selection (based on students who have found their feet, academic results good, keen to help first year students) occurs in second semester and training program is carried out. Function: in first semester they meet with groups of about 12-15 students to one peer adviser, continues through first semester and beyond. Advertised through first year subjects. Lecturers encourage participation but it is not compulsory. For students who think they might need it.

Acknowledgment is in the form of a letter and a dinner for advisers.

Scientific Skills 2000:
  1. making sense of the information overload. Panel of peer advisors giving answers rather that from a lecturer. About 50 minutes;
  2. Managing deadlines (week 6); and
  3. Preparing for exams, very practical, where to go, what you will need to take with you, preparation. (week 9)

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Karen Ginn, Faculty of Health Science, The University of Sydney

At Entry: highly competitive, high achievers, great need to succeed, highly motivated, highly coached, translocated.

Help with:

Den parent: Tutor - help with note taking etc. but also support in understanding stresses involved and managing stress; aim to unpack the curriculum and give strong support at the beginning.

At Exit: still achieving, still motivated, more motivated, more cooperative, more independent

Second semester: reduce support gradually, reduce role of tutor


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James Dalziel, The University of Sydney
Overheads

James suggests that one way to encourage attendance at transition type activities is to show students that the more they do to try and help their transition, the better marks they will get.

Survey of students (BSc) who agreed to allow access to marks across all their degree (~209 agreed, 31 refused permission) eventually reduced to 170. Not a random sample since they were self selected by having attended the workshop, or agreed to be involved as part of the control (again self-selecting). Measures were used to test the treatment and control groups for extroversion, school performance, individual or collaborative learning styles. No significant difference between the two groups on these measures.

Results: Those with higher TER did better, younger students (recent school leavers) did better that older (few years out of school - not mature aged, no data for this group which in any case is very small in Sydney science), males did better than females, attendance at workshop better than non attendance.

TER (UAI) was best predictor. Workshop attendance increased WAM score by on average 3.3.


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Audrey Wilson, University of Wollongong
Helping the Transition from School to University


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Paul Adams, The University of New South Wales

Transition

  1. Discussion with adviser before enrolment;
  2. Personal timetable - done manually;
  3. Orientation week;
  4. Faculty welcome day; and
  5. Parents welcome day at a V-C level

Academic Transition

Mentoring Systems to be introduced


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Four breakout groups reported back - Summary of the concerns


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Recommendations from the concerns


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Specific examples - please email your examples to BioSciCH@mail.usyd.edu.au

Transition programs

The University of Sydney

Monash University - students enrol on the Internet and have little face-to-face contact; schools sent a video "First Year on Campus" showing what it is like to be at Monash.

A Thai university - student advisers appointed for help with subject selection

The University of Queensland

Deakin University

Requirements for better student experiences

Before entering university

At Faculty/University level

Within courses

For external students


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Future Action

Suggestions for a way forward:


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Additional readings

Peat, M and Hewitt, R
Improving the First Year Experience: to set a new culture in place, Faculty of Science style.

Paper presented at the Third Pacific Rim "First Year in Higher Education" Conference, July 1998, Auckland, NZ.

Peat, M and Dalziel, J
Academic performance during student transition to university studies

Appendix1
Paper presented at the Third Pacific Rim "First Year in Higher Education" Conference, July 1998, Auckland, NZ.

Dalziel, J and Peat, M
Fostering collaborative learning during student transition to tertiary education: An evaluation of academic and social benefits

Paper presented at the 5th International Student Learning Symposium, September 1997, Glasgow, UK and published in Improving Student Learning: Improving Students as Learners, 1998


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If you wish to be advised of future activities of this group, please contact
BioSciCH@mail.usyd.edu.au.


First Year Experience references

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