Teaching and Learning Activities
Students enter higher education with a variety of previous experiences and some unsurprisingly arrive ill equipped for the demands of higher education, expecting a learning environment similar to that they have experienced at school. Development of academic and digital skills empowers a student to engage in a higher education environment and is essential if students are to become independent learners capable of engaging in extended pieces of work, research and critical thinking, which are the core elements of working at degree level. The sooner a student is able to engage academically, the more likely it is that they will progress and succeed on their course.
New students need to be supported to learn how to learn (Claxton, 2008) and this can be achieved using a variety of approaches. Prompt feedback is known to be effective (Chickering & Gamson, 1987). Learning is also influenced by participation in activities that research has shown is likely to lead to high quality learning (Gibbs, 2010) and performing the skills that help learning (Coates, 2005).
Academic preparation of first-year students is best achieved through proactively designing and implementing developmental, formative teaching approaches. Formative assessment and feedback is often considered as an afterthought when designing a course, and, yet, providing students with opportunities and safe spaces to fail and with developmental feedback is possibly the most important thing we do to support their learning and to nurture their academic confidence.
Approaches that focus on developing self-regulated learners with the skills needed to be able to effectively learn at a higher level, for example, through using regular formative feedback and peer and self-assessment, can prepare students for their continued study. Peer mentoring can be particularly successful. For students to become self-sustaining learners, they must be equipped to take control of their own learning and performance (Sadler, 2013), and being exposed to others’ work can be very powerful in enabling new students to recognise the standard of their own work.
Carving out time for individual feedback can be challenging, particularly in large cohorts. However, where class time is being used primarily for delivery, it may be worthwhile reconsidering using this time for relationship building, dialogue and the use of specialist facilities rather than the traditional didactic lecture. Large group sessions, for example, can provide an opportunity for peer instruction (Mazur, 2013) and peer feedback, which can be mutually beneficial to students reviewing, and those whose work is being reviewed. There is arguably less need today to use face-to-face time for delivery of content where online resources can be exploited to design high-quality blended and flipped pedagogies, and this class time may be better thought of in terms of the opportunity it gives for providing students individually or collectively with formative feedback.