Second year blues: transitioning beyond the second year


With the increasing focus on retention and student success being placed on universities, the process of transition into higher education and the first year experience have been subject to extensive research. Based on that research, most institutions have developed a range of activities and interventions to support the process of transition through activities such as pre-arrival orientations, induction activities, peer mentoring schemes etc (Gardner et al, 2001; Schnell et al, 2003; Harvey et al, 2006; Hultberg et al, 2008).  Here at UCA, we have conducted research into the transition of students into university life and the factors impacting student success.  In-house research has included studies of interruption and withdrawal, the first year experience and induction tutoring.   Interventions we have put in place include Personal Development Tutoring and specific improvements in student induction to mitigate against student interruption and withdrawal.

Much less consideration, however, has been given to the move from the first year of study into the second. As Richardson (2004) observed, many students embark on the second year with a false sense of security and found the transition to second year study significantly harder than they had anticipated.  This has been coined as ‘The Second Year Blues’ by one of our Senior Lecturers at UCA, Catharine Slade-Brooking.  Indeed, Catharine used the difficulty of student’s shifting from year one to year two on her own course, as part of a Peer Supported Review for her HEA Fellowship portfolio this year.  She writes:

 In Section 01 of my Reflective Portfolio, (p9) I describe some of the issues experienced widely in Higher Education by Second Year students, I have termed ‘The Second Year Blues.’ Seen as the middle child of a three year degree,        students often seem to struggle, with many under performing and some disengaging with their studies. Research undertaken at Liverpool’s John Moores University (C. Milsom 2018), found that a third of undergraduates experienced a slow down in their academic progress during their second year.

As the Second Year Lead tutor on Graphic Communication/Design, I am acutely aware of the issues that face both students and lecturers during the ‘middle year’, with my personal aim to understand and tackle the complex problems that cause this phenomenon. I have used a variety of approaches to try to diagnose the different areas of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement. I gather and analyse information and feedback from a range of sources including UCA’s Internal Student Satisfaction Survey (ISS), the National Student Survey (NSS),  feedback from Year Group Representatives at Course Board, discussions with Year Group Representatives in Rep’ Meetings and informal feedback from individual students. From this data I am able to define global second year  issues as well as individual problems that might be currently effecting an individual cohort.  The Internal Student Survey has been particularly useful in uncovering particular issues that some students would fi it hard to reveal personally.

Using our monthly Student Representative meeting as a means to explore the student experience, it became clear that many were struggling to meet the academic demands of their programme of the study, in particular the theory and essay writing in CTS (Cultural and Theoretical Studies). The Reps explained that they were finding difficulties in seeing the relationship between their practice in the studio and the theory taught in CTS.  As a result of these extremely helpful discussion it was clear that I had to develop a much stronger relationship between their learning through graphic design practice and how the theoretical element of their course underpins that practice.

As a result of the PSR activity, Catharine identified the following student issues to explore with her reviewer

  1.  Why they need to write essays; lack of understanding that the role of theory plays in their practice
  2. The disconnection between what they do in the studio and what is taught and delivered in CTS lectures; seminars and tutorials
  3. The use of different vocabulary and research is not about reading books from cover to cover
  4. Emotional blocks, feeling out of their comfort zone and fear of this approach to study.

Resulting interventions that Catharine is going to introduce next year as part of a  Linked Strategy as follows:

• All Yr02 Briefs will include a short CTS description of how the theory Unit links to the  practical Unit

• The brief format and layout will be used for CTS and studio briefs created in InDesign

• The course team will ensure that students understand that they can combine theory and practice by choosing one research subject that can be applied to both assessed outcomes

• The course team will combine our studio and CTS student trips, ensuring that students see the relevance of the trip in underpinning the relationship between their theory and practical learning.

• The course team will run a joint workshop for Yr02 Research Methods Term 01 October. Tackling student assumptions of the role of research and how and why it is undertaken. Exploring how your Learning Style also has an impact on the research methods you find easier and why you find some more difficult and how to resolve this.

Going back to the external literature, Tinto describes the process of transition to university as a rite of passage with three identifiable stages: separation, transition and incorporation (Tinto, 1988), the final stage of incorporation involving the students becoming integrated within the structures of the institution, becoming members of the community. We might then view the process of transition to university as being a linear process.   However, it is clear from our own in-house studies that transitions are more iterative and occur throughout the student journey.  We have defined this recently in our Induction Principles at UCA, stating that ‘Student induction is not just a one off activity but should be ongoing and iterative, consisting of 4 stages : pre-arrival, arrival, welcome/enrolment and on-course orientation’.As well as being a perceived transition in the pace and demands of academic study from year one to year two, there may also be a very clear impact of social factors and wellbeing, for example becoming accustomed to living in shared housing, or returning to study after a period of retake or withdrawal. It is also clear that the move to the 2nd year and the process of adaptation is complex with changes in workload, style of working and a range of social issues associated with living in shared housing along with the responsibilities that come with it, all interacting to make this another very significant transition within the student experience.


Fitzwater, L & Allder, K (2018) ‘How can induction tutoring help with retention?’  Creative Education research post

Gardner, J.N., M.J. Siegel, and M. Cutright (2001).’Focusing on the first-year student’. Priorities 17: 1–17

Green, P., A. Cashmore, J. Scott, and G. Narayanan. (2009) ‘Making sense of first-year life: Transitions as ethnographic approach’. In Focus on first-year success: Perspectives emerging from South Africa and Beyond, eds B. Leibowitz, A. Van Der Merwe, and S. van Schalkwyk. Stellenbosch: Sun Media.

Harvey, L., Drew, S and Smith, M. (2006) ‘The first-year experience: A review of literature for the Higher Education Academy’. York: Higher Education Academy.

Hultberg, J., Plos, K., Hendry, G.D. and Kjellgren, K.I. (2008) ‘Scaffolding students’ transition to higher education: Parallel introductory courses for students and teachers’ Journal of Further and Higher Education 32: 47–57

Lou-Barratt, L (2018) ‘Undergraduate retention and engagement at UCA: the First Year Experience’ Creative Education research post:

McKie, A. (2019) ‘Mitigating against student interruption and withdrawal’ Creative Education Network blog post :

Richardson, D. (2004) The transition to degree level study. Higher Education Academy

Schnell, C.A., Louis, K.S. and Doetkott, C . (2003).‘The first-year seminar as a means of improving college graduation rates’. Journal of the First Year and Students in Transition 15: 53– 76.

Slade-Brooking, C. (2019) A5 Reflective Account for HEA Fellowship portfolio.

Tinto, V. (1998) ‘Stages of student departure: Reflections on the longitudinal character of student leaving’. Journal of Higher Education 59: 438-455.


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Student as consultant?

Students as consultant

In 2014/15, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) developed a ‘Framework for partnership in learning and teaching in higher education’ as a way to bring focus to discussions about student engagement and the concept of partnership. In the framework:

‘…partnership is understood as a relationship in which all involved are actively engaged in and stand to gain from the process of learning and working together to foster engaged student learning and engaging learning and teaching enhancement. Partnership is essentially a way of doing things, rather than an outcome in itself.’ (HEA 2014)

There are many ways we can work with in partnership with students.  These include the following:

Learning, teaching and assessment: this type of partnership casts students as active participants in their learning. Partnership approaches might be typified by the following:

  • focusing on collaborative and active learning (e.g. flipping the classroom, experiential learning, community building and placement learning);
  • giving students a level of choice and ownership in learning experiences;
  • placing students in different roles (e.g. as tutors, mentors or assessors) and as co-designers of learning materials and resources.

Curriculum design and pedagogic consultancy: this is a more typical model of student partnership where students are commonly engaged through programme evaluations and staff-student committees. Partnership approaches involve students in the formal processes of course design, revalidation, and professional development for staff. At UCA, we involve our students in course boards and in co-creation activities to improve the curriculum.

Subject-based research and inquiry: this is where we might engage students as co-researchers and co-inquirers in research projects.  Partnership approaches might include the following:

  • involving students directly in internal pedagogic research and ‘live projects’. At UCA, we piloted students as co-researchers in our BME student experience research project for example.
  • providing opportunities for students to share their research publicly (e.g. through undergraduate research journals, blogs and conferences).

Scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): this is where we might provide opportunities for students to inquire into learning, teaching and assessment as part of an ethos around research-informed learning and teaching. Partnership approaches might include developing students as researchers (as in Winchester Student Fellows scheme)

Over the last few years at UCA,  we have been exploring these many different iterations of student partnership and are keen to move student involvement beyond a narrow focus on the validity of various systems of student representation.  Hence, ideas such as students as ambassadors, co-creators, collaborators and the new kid on the block, ‘students as consultants’.

The Students as Consultants initiative began with an idea to involve students at UCA in the development of the university strategy.  Lead by the Interim Head of Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement, in partnership with UCA Student Union, we were keen to explore new ways to work in partnership with our students, but also to provide value-added experiences in teaching and learning that moved beyond restrictive views of students as partners, to promote new insights and deep engagement in teaching and learning.  At this time also, we were reviewing our careers, employability and enterprise initiatives and could see the potential of providing students with these value added experiences to shape their environment at the same time as boost their employability attributes.

The initiative was promoted and co-ordinated by our Student Union.  Initially targeting student reps, we also asked our programme leaders for the names of students who were keen for a more active role in teaching and learning.  We offered in return a £20 voucher and opportunity for training as a consultant.  This call-out yielded 90 student volunteers, who we then contacted via an online survey in the summer of 2018.  Of those 90 students, 25 were very keen to be kept on our consultancy database and for us to utilise their feedback in the TEF Gold narrative and the development of the university strategy.

Moving forward, it would be good to evolve the Student Consultant role in partnership with our Creative Education, QAE and Careers team.  Might we develop some basic consultancy training for students interested in this kind of role, for example?  The training could include developing a basic understanding of curriculum design, learning how to problem solve, communication skills and developing a successful relationship with your ‘client’.

We could also extend the participatory learning aspect of the role by inviting students to observe a lecture or seminar using the university peer supported review scheme , review how staff assess student work and give feedback or facilitate a focus group to find out about the student experience.  Potentially then we are providing rich enhancement experiences for our students to improve their learning environments.  We could also be helping teaching staff by providing them with impartial student insights and perspectives.

Annamarie McKie, Teaching and Learning Development Manager, 30 July 2019



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Quick wins in your teaching to better support international students?


Girls with book round

As our international student community begins to grow at UCA, we may find ourselves reflecting on our teaching approaches to better support learners with English as an additional language.

UCA’s Learning Development Tutors have spoken to a number of teaching colleagues at UCA, to gather together some ‘quick wins’ and case studies of good practice of working with international students at UCA that we hope you will find useful.

Subject Glossaries…?

A number of academics are currently collaborating with Learning Development and EAP tutors to produce course specific glossaries. This is something that can be done ahead of a new academic year, and either included in the unit handbooks or put up on myUCA. This can be combined with encouraging students to create their own glossaries, which can be added to, when key discourse is signposted in sessions. Try writing down new terms for your students on whiteboards or flip charts, so that they get a chance to observe spelling and write it down correctly.

‘How to’ Guides…?

The LDT team produce a range of guides and learning materials which are available here:  These are also available in the unit areas of myUCA.  LD Tutors can also help you to produce templates for various types of written assignments (essays, reports, critical evaluations etc.).

Small group tasks….?

Why not break the lecture up (‘flip the classroom?) by giving students small group tasks to discuss key concepts? You can then provide feedback in the plenary to check that students understand key vocabulary and concepts in relation to the subject of the lecture/seminar/demonstration.  As well as checking students’ level of understanding, this also keeps them engaged and enables peer teaching and learning, which also improves relationships and support amongst members of the cohort.

Mix up your cohorts..?

With a mixed cohort, give questions or talks to pairs or small groups.  Don’t set an open question to the whole group as some students may be reluctant to speak out in front of a large group.  By giving questions or talks to pairs or small groups, this gives students time to think ‘out of the spotlight’ and puts more responsibility on students to contribute and allows more hesitant students to participate.


Increase the language bank of your students by doing the following:

  • Give a quick paraphrase, explanation, example to clarify any terms you feel your students might not know.
  • Check students understanding of a key terms or concept by asking pairs or small groups to give an example to illustrate.
  • Slow speed of speech slightly.
  • Pause at key points

Breathing spots..?

Have short 5 minute breathing spots within lectures to give students the chance to reflect and assimilate.  You could give pairs/small groups a question to consider on the content just covered.  Or, you could ask pairs/small groups to think of a question they want to ask for further clarification.

Sources for skills and language..?

As well as straight subject content, include sources for skills and language development, e.g online dictionaries, grammar checkers, links to you tube instructional films, e.e on giving pitches.

Additional targeted tuition…?

If you have a number of international students join you in the second year of a BA course, It is a good idea to provide additional targeted tuition sessions.  These can focus on the better understanding of the assessment and feedback practices and transitioning new students to the expectations of academic study on a creative arts course. Make sure you inform the students that these classes will not be ongoing and that you are expecting them to become more autonomous over time.   If you get this right, students will become more independent and eventually not need any extra tuition.

 Guided reading tasks..?

You might want to build in pre-questions as part of a guided reading tasks early on, to support students getting to grips with academic texts. At UCA, this has been set up initially and then gradually phased out, the aim being to clarify expectations early on and to encourage independent learning.

Don’t worry about the pauses..?

It is worth noting that when speaking to International students, you don’t need to be concerned by pauses or what may feel like long silences. In many cultures the pause between when one speaker ends and another begins is longer than in Britain, and it may also be because the student needs longer to process what they have just heard (eg your question) and to formulate a response. For this reason, it is a good idea to give students some preparation time, so they have the chance to formulate what they want to say.

Talk about learning and teaching formats..?

It is always helpful, early on in the course, to explain to students what kinds of teaching formats they are going to experience on the course; this is because seminars and one-to-one tutorials may not be commonly shared experiences, so students do not understand what is expected of them. Some international students might believe, for example,  that the only reason you would have a one-to-one tutorial with your lecturer was if you had done something really, really bad…so if your student is speechless, it may be because they are struck dumb with nerves, not that they don’t know any English.  To combat this problem on one course, a Learning Development Tutor ran paired (2:1) tutorials timetabled into two courses. This encouraged peer feedback and provided some preparation for group participation in a group crit. Alternatively, prior to crits or tutorials, why not give your students questions or a checklist for them to prepare what they are going to discuss?

Guide to Creative Arts study..?

The Guide to Creative Arts is on all myUCA course areas, so you can refer any of your students to it.  It might also be useful to send this out to your students as part of your email welcome?  Hard copies are in the library along with the Harvard Referencing Guide for students to take away. On myUCA, your students will also find an A-Z academic terms to help with academic terminology, and a guide to finding your way around course documents,

Additional support required..?

Should you feel that your students would benefit from some additional support, there are in-sessional EAP classes being run on all campuses from September 2019.  Alongside this support, Learning Development Tutors are available at each campus to support you in your teaching/supporting learning.  The Creative Education team at UCA have also recently published an Inclusivity Handbook which includes a section on supporting international students.  Content from the handbook will feature on our Creative Education online.


Liz Thomson and Annamarie McKie, 28 June 2019

Posted in Case Studies, Creative Education, Inclusivity, Internationalisation, Student Engagement, Student satisfaction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

PGCert Online Exhibition


Ever wondered what happens on the PGCert in Creative Education?

Well, now you have a chance to find out! We’re very proud to announce the launch of our first ever PGCert online exhibition, in which PGCert participants have curated some of their experiences on the course.

If you couldn’t attend the private view, don’t worry – you can wander round the exhibitions online until 30th August 2019. Inside you’ll find memes, videos, reflections and a walk-through immersive game, all of which provide insights into what and how participants have learned on the course.

Come and find out what the PGCert in Creative Education is all about!

Posted in Active learning, Art & Design Education, Creative Education, Educational enhancement, How Students Learn, Professional Development, Student Centred Learning | Leave a comment

Mental health – be prepared


Mental health issues now affect a significant number of university students. In this post, UCA’s Ray Martin highlights key warning signs for both Home/EU and International students, and provides guidance about what you can do.

What are the statistics?

  • 29% of university students have mental illnesses.
  • 78% think they have had a mental problem at some point.
  • 1.5% disclose to HEIs.
  • 75% disclose their mental health conditions to fellow students.
    (UMHAN, 2017)

Key warning signs

  • Changes in mood e.g. elevated or decreased mood, increased anxiety
  • Irritability or tearfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Reduced concentration and memory
  • Loss of initiative or desire to participate
  • Decrease or increase in speech speed
  • Increased difficulty making decisions
  • Placement non-attendance e.g. unexplained absence or sick leave
  • Reduced communication or withdrawal
  • Changes in presentation and cleanliness
  • Reduced performance
  • Poor organisation and time management
  • Changes in ability to think logically
    (UMHAN, 2017)

Continue reading

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Inclusive fashion curriculum

Welters and Lillethun

We are delighted to have our first guest post from Professor Victoria Kelley, UCA’s Director of Research and Education.  Here, Victoria reflects on a recent seminar she attended on decolonising the fashion curriculum.  The speaker, Dr Elizabeth Kutesko discussed decolonising the fashion curriculum, based on her research on fashion cultures in Brazil.

It is all too easy to assume that ‘fashion’ is an exclusively western phenomenon, a symptom of modernity that has its roots in capitalist economies and societies—and to allow the canonical history of western high fashion to be over-dominant in teaching fashion. Fashion historians have debated both when and where fashion first appeared, but most of the answers they have come up with have been Euro-centric. As Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil assert ‘most of the world, including Africa and Asia, as well as great parts of the Americas and Eastern Europe, are sidelined and often totally ignored in histories of fashion’. I’ve found their collection, The Fashion History Reader: global perspectives (2010) to be a great starting point in taking a wider view. Linda Welters and Abby Lillethun’s new publication, Fashion History: a global view (2018) also looks very useful. Continue reading

Posted in Art & Design Education, BME, Curriculum Design, diversity, Educational enhancement, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Opportunities for professional development

Girls with book roundUCA offers a range of professional development opportunities for staff. Whether you are looking to obtain a formal teaching qualification, or explore new ways of enhancing your teaching or supporting learning, we can provide you with the support you need.

  • PGCert in Creative Education: this is an 8-month online course that is a recognised teaching qualification for staff working in Higher Education. The course enables you to learn about inclusive learning, teaching, and assessment in creative contexts, and to relate your role to the wider context of the Higher Education sector. The course enables you to achieve professional recognition as an Associate Fellow and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Find out more.
  • HEA Professional Recognition: this is a 5-month programme that enables you to become an Associate Fellow, Fellow or Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). These routes to fellowship of the HEA are also recognised teaching qualifications for staff working in Higher Education. Our Professional. Recognition programme provides you with opportunities to review and reflect on your experiences of teaching and/or supporting learning, and to make connections with colleagues from across the university. Find out more.
  • myLearning and Development: this area contains a range of e-learning modules. These provide a quick and easy way for you to develop your knowledge and skills in a range of teaching related areas, including:
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