Fostering effective transition to university learning

Dr Ciara Healy, Arts and Communication Design
c.healy@reading.ac.uk

Overview

This case study presents some approaches taken in the Department of Art to encourage relationship building between different cohorts of students and all members of staff. The majority of activities took place in the first 6 weeks of the Autumn term and focused especially on Welcome Week.

Objectives

  • Encourage relationship building across the Department and the University.
  • Support the development of a sense of community for all students.
  • Facilitate opportunities for students to share their own experiences of starting University with a new cohort.
  • Involve Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) Leaders and STaR mentors in as many of these activities as possible.

Context

As module convenor for Part One Art students, I want to ensure that new cohorts are equipped with a deep sense of belonging to a wider creative community. I am aware of how beneficial a sense of belonging is to student wellbeing, engagement and resilience over the course of their degree.

Implementation

  1. Liaise with STaR Mentors and PAL Leaders during Welcome Week.
  2. Invite all members of staff in the Department to introduce themselves to new cohorts during Welcome Week.
  3. Invite staff to present a series of 5-minute dynamic ‘trailers’ on modules to new cohorts.
  4. Facilitate STaR mentor tours of the Department and available resources.
  5. Facilitate weekly discussions throughout the first term on independent learning skills.
  6. Launch an exhibition of finalist artwork on the Friday of Welcome Week. Invite the new cohort to the private view and exhibition party.
  7. Host an exhibition of first year student work in Week 3. Equip students with an awareness of exhibition etiquette in order to help them curate and present their first body of work to all staff and students from the Department. This further emphasizes the importance of belonging to a wider creative community.

Impact

Relationship building across the Department is really important in Art as students thrive when they share resources, ideas, critical judgements, experiences and exhibition opportunities. These activities in the first few weeks of term had a significant impact on how Part One students put together their first exhibition for their assessments at the end of the Autumn term. Students from other cohorts who helped them to install their work commented on how professional and successful it was. These more experienced students were also available to support students who found independent learning a challenge.

Reflections

The existing sense of community in the Department of Art helped to make the implementation of these activities successful. It was difficult at first to recruit students to become STaR mentors, however this has been resolved this year by inviting the Co-ordinators of PAL and STaR mentors to give presentations to the students throughout Spring term. Part One students who attended PAL sessions this year have signed up to become STaR Mentors. Many of them have also signed up to be PAL leaders.

Follow up

There is now an emerging culture of support in the Department of Art through existing creative communities and now increasingly through an engagement with PAL and STAR mentoring. This culture is growing every year and has made a huge contribution to embedding a sense of belonging, resilience and wellbeing amongst Art students at the University.

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