This blog is part of a series co-authored by Kathy Egea and Jacqueline Melvold, and provides an overview of the principles of first-year curriculum. These are drawn from Transition Pedagogy (Kift 2009) and adapted for UTS purposes. Content is drawn from resources and practices through the First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) program, which has been using transition pedagogy since 2011.  More depth can be found in the ‘FY Transition’ module developed by the co-authors, and is freely available on CAULLT’s Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC.

How long has it been since your own ‘first-year experience’, or since you’ve worked with students who are completely new to the university system? Can you remember your first day at college or university? Waking up in an unfamiliar place, perhaps, with a new daily routine, people and processes you weren’t familiar with; how did you handle all the new experiences and information as you navigated systems and enrolled into courses? Did you know where you needed to be and how to prepare for class? How many new people did you meet, both peers and academics, and how different were their experiences, knowledge, and expectations to yours? 

Principle #1: Transition

Transition goes far beyond this set of challenges in today’s post-pandemic context. In the first of six principles of first-year curriculum, we explore how to support students’ successful transition into the university classroom (on campus or online), framed by: 

  • Creating the conditions for students to feel safe, valued and supported  
  • Placing each subject as part of a bigger picture, exploring where they are now and where they want to go in their future profession  
  • Examining the learning environment beyond the classroom, including the physical and virtual spaces of the campus 
  • Scaffolding the process (the what, why, how and when of student learning) 
Hexagonal graphic showing 6 principles of transition, diversity, design, evaluation & monitoring, assessment and engagement
Infographic by Jacqueline Melvold

The Transition Principle focusses on supporting students to build on past educational experiences and become independent, lifelong learners, at university, and beyond.  This principle addresses three key concepts:

1. Support students in moving from previous experiences to university study

This concept includes practical guidance such as:

  • Use early classes to help orient students in their learning journey, so they feel supported, that they belong and can succeed 
  • Introduce yourself to your students – tell them about your research, industry experience and how this relates to what they are studying 
  • Create a space where students can form genuine connections with one another and their academics 
  • Find out about student’s expectations and previous experiences 
  • Talk about your expectations, classroom protocols, how to learn in this subject, and why the subject (and content) is relevant 
  • Scaffold learning support to build capacity for students to become independent learners 
  • Introduce students to the wider university support services (e.g. library, student support, etc.) 

2. Prepare students to see transition as an ongoing experience

  • Encourage students to take opportunities as they arise 
  • Raise awareness of and build capacity for students to manage the waves of demands, including peak times where assessments are due, for example, and university services are under pressure too
  • Embed academic literacies and communication skills into your subject as relevant to your discipline 
  • Discuss plagiarism and academic integrity – ways of working in a university 
  • Bring in student mentors to speak about connections to the course, their experience, their challenges, and ways they succeeded in their studies 

3. Orient students to work, professional practice and careers

  • Support students to see themselves as entrants to their profession by treating them as such and using the language of the profession 
  • Contextualise your class activities in professional terms and draw on your own experience as a professional
  • Support students to develop skills and practices that they can use in their future profession (e.g. time management, communication, collaboration, etc.) 
  • Foster professional identity, e.g. through reflective writing  
  • Bring in alumni who can speak to future professions/careers 

From Principle to Practice 

Below, we look at two case studies that support these concepts: Jacqueline Melvold shows all three concepts in action by scaffolding learning approaches in her subject, whilst Alex Thomson’s ‘bits of belonging’ cards illustrate practical ways to support students during the early stages of transition.

Case study: collaboration and teamwork

In this case study, Dr Jacqueline Melvold from UTS TD School explains the development of collaboration skills for first-year students from a range of disparate disciplines as they learn to work as effective teams. Different activities are used to establish team cohesion, relationship development and trust amongst team members. Watch the video below for an explanation from Jacqui [3’48”]. The transcript for the video is available here

A recent First and Further Year Experience forum on the role of socio-emotional processes in teamwork describes this work in more detail, including examples of frameworks, tasks and materials used to support students in developing collaboration skills. 

Case study: building belonging

As part of a FYE grant project with Jan McLean and Andy Leigh on building belonging in the classroom, Alex Thomson created ‘bits of belonging’ cards. These cards provide insights from research on increasing belonging from the student and academic perspective, and give practical tips on introducing yourself, peer introductions, and online introductions. Explore and download the ‘bits of belonging’ cards below: 

You can also read more about this and other ways to build belonging into your first class as you consider your own approaches to supporting student transition.

The 6 principles 

There are six First-year Curriculum Principles (FYCPs) linked to Transition Pedagogy. Click on the text to read our blog post about that particular principle. 

  1. Transition
  2. Diversity
  3. Design
  4. Engagement
  5. Assessment
  6. Evaluation and monitoring

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