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Student Preparation


Preparation is critical to both retention and success, and can usefully be viewed in terms of academic and disciplinary preparation, and developing the capability to become an independent learner. This section will provide information, case studies and references in these 3 areas. 

Preparation Infographic

This infographic provides information and ideas about student preparation. You can download a pdf version using the link at the bottom of the image. 


Academic Preparation

 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. 

Disciplinary Preparation

New students bring with them a variety of previous subject knowledge and experience, but, even where a student has had previous exposure to their subject, it is possible that they have not internalised the key concepts of the discipline. Certain ideas are held to be central to the mastery of a subject (Meyer & Land, 2003) and shape the way a student views their discipline. These key or ‘threshold’ concepts can be challenging to acquire but it is essential that students develop their understanding of these concepts early in their course.

Assessment design is a significant driver in shaping student activity, and designing authentic tasks can go some way to providing opportunities for acquisition of threshold concepts. Authentic tasks, which are perceived by students to have real-world relevance and which support them to develop skills that they perceive to be relevant in the workplace, can effectively engage students in learning though contextualising their studies.

Considered task design can also be used to provide appropriate intellectual challenge. The level of challenge set for new students is important as being able to effectively perform an activity that is stretching and plays a role in the development of self-efficacy (Bandura & Schunk, 1981). Creating an intellectual disciplinary environment that stimulates discovery and debate, and that provides challenges to be curious and creative and to generate ideas and produce solutions, encourages students to invest in their studies. Appropriate intellectual challenge has been linked to general increases in the levels of student engagement (Trowler, 2010, National Survey of Student Engagement [NSSE], 2002). 

Independent Learning

A desirable attribute of any graduate is being a responsible, autonomous learner capable of lifelong learning, possessing the written, oral and digital literacies to effectively communicate, persuade, argue and work with others (Hansen, 2011). These capabilities also clearly underpin student progression and it is sensible to look to scaffold development of these independent, critical skills as early as possible. Many institutions look to introduce students to the concept of managing their own learning pre-arrival, supporting the transitioning into H.E. through MOOCs that introduce students to the terminology and ethos of learning in an H.E. setting.

Whilst it is the responsibility of the course team to both provide opportunities that challenge the range of students in a cohort and ensure that all new students are able to engage with the academic demands of their course, engagement in independent learning is necessarily student-led. 

Initiatives to scaffold independent learning, such as learning logs, peer assessment or co-production of curricula, can be frustrating for students who wish, or need, to adopt a different approach to their learning. Many students, including some international students from particular educational cultures where there are different educational philosophies, have strong preferences for highly structured, teacher-led, traditionally-assessed environments. Other students, perhaps balancing the requirements of their course with extensive work or caring or other commitments, cannot easily invest in time-consuming activities. If we accept the principle that engagement and self-efficacy are student-owned, it follows that institutions must recognise that any individual student may legitimately choose not to expand their knowledge of their subject, develop their intellectual capabilities, or extend their academic engagement beyond the assessed learning outcomes of the course. 

Student Preparation Case Studies

Here you will case studies activities from some Leeds Beckett staff on how they develop student preparation.

Click here (you will need to login using your Leeds Beckett email address and password).

Student Preparation References

Bandura, A. and Schunk, D.H. (1981) Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 586-598.

Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987) Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin. 39 (7), 3-7.

Christie, H., Barron, P. and D'Annunzio-Green, N. 2013, 'Direct entrants in transition: becoming independent learners' Studies in Higher Education, vol 38, no. 4, pp. 623-637

Claxton, G. (2008) What‘s the point of school? Rediscovering the heart of education. London: One World.

Coates, H. (2005) The Value of Student Engagement for Higher Education Quality Assurance. Quality in Higher Education. 11 (1), 25-36.

Cousin, G. (2006) An introduction to threshold concepts. Planet 17, December

Gibbs, G. (2010) Dimensions of quality, The Higher Education Academy.

Hansen, E.T. (2011) Liberated consumers and the liberal arts college. In E. C. Lagemann & H. Lewis, What is college for? The public purpose of higher education, 63-85. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Meyer, J.H.F. & Land, R. (2003) Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practicing. In Rust, C. (ed) Improving Student Learning – ten years on. Oxford: OCSLD

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) (2002) From Promise to Progress: How Colleges and Universities are using Student Engagement results to improved Collegiate Quality. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Center for Postsecondary Research.

Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (2005) How college affects students: Three decades of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Pryor, J.H., Eagan, K., Paluki Blake, L., Hurtado, S., Berdan, J. and Case, M.H. (2012) The American Freshman: National norms Fall 2012. Los Angeles, CA: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.

Sadler, R (2013) in Reconceptualising feedback in higher education, Developing dialogue with students, Eds. Merry, S., Price, M., Carless, D. and Taras, M. Routledge

Sullivan, W. (2011) Professional education: Aligning knowledge, expertise, and public purpose in E.C. Lagemann & H. Lewis, What is College for? The public purpose of higher education (104-131), New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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