Student Induction: Mitigating withdrawal and enabling retention?

Smiley girl 2 copy

Studies at UCA on the first year experience (Barratt, 2017; Allder & Fitzwater, 2018) have shown that introducing students to disciplinary cultures at an early stage in their HE journey has many advantages in terms of increasing student preparedness, easing transition, establishing a sense of belonging, fostering student’s resilience and ultimately potentially reducing the likelihood of withdrawal.

In an attempt to take some of the recommendations forward from this in-house research, the University’s Student Success Committee formed two working groups: one on Student Induction and one on Personal Tutoring.  Membership of both groups was drawn from lead practitioners in both academic and professional support departments.

The Student Induction Working Group met on three occasions in 2018 and its outputs now include an Induction Checklist for course teams, as follows:

Induction Checklist Guide for course teams                                                         

  Does your induction…. Induction Principles  
1 Include opportunities for students to engage in online learning communities and find out about IT platforms at UCA before they arrrive on your course? 1, 3
2 Provide students with details of a named personal tutor/academic contact during induction week? 6
3 Integrate the pre-arrival task into the induction programme? 1, 5
4 Refer to localized student information that is current and relevant to a student’s experience on your campus? 1, 2
5 Cover opportunities for students to settle in and develop friendship groups and support networks? 1, 4
6 Provide opportunities to sample/ practise normal first year learning?  1, 6
7 Include an orientation to myUCA which invites students to explore the resource and find out how the course intends to use the platform for learning ? 1, 7
8 Include presentations that are interactive and focused on students getting to know each other? 1, 6
9 Invite 2nd and 3rd years to help Year 1 students transition to the course experience, eg through peer mentoring or buddying. 1, 8, 9
10 Provide students with a programme of extra curricula activities such as Open Lectures, Industry Talks, SU clubs and societies, LSS-sponsored events. 1,9

Induction Principles for UCA courses

  1. 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.
  2. At pre-arrival, all student information will be accessible and feature localised images and experiences to give students a sense of what to expect.
  3. At pre-arrival, all courses should encourage online engagement with new students before they arrive. The group suggests the use of social media for this.
  4. At arrival, students will be assisted to settle in to campus and student life through a programme of activities focused on well-being/socialisation. These will be provided by LSS, Accommodation Services and SU
  5. All welcome/enrolment events should include the authentic voices of current UCA students
  6. The content of welcome/enrolment presentations should include images of UCA campus sites and people and include a good mix of interactive activities which are socially led and focus on students getting to know each other and the university.
  7. Within 1st 3 weeks of term, an on-course orientation experience should be provided to myUCA, inviting students to explore how the course intends to use the online resource.
  8. Within 1st 3 weeks of term 1, courses should ensure that on-course orientation includes opportunities for 2nd/3rd years to meet new Year 1 students with an emphasis on their experience of being a Year 1 student. All courses should also consider the possibility of peer mentoring or buddying between year groups.
  9. Within the 1st 3 weeks of term 1, courses should ensure that students are encouraged to engae with a range of extra curricula activities, eg Open Lectures, Industry Talks, SU clubs and LSS-sponsored activities and events.

Does your induction include opportunities for students to engage in online communities before they start on the course?

“To improve retention and completion in HE, students need to have clearer expectations about the processes and purposes of learning at this level … HE  must articulate these processes and purposes with increasing reference to increased self-awareness, personal development and change” (Harding and  Thompson c.2011: 43).

Studies at UCA and the HE sector show that providing students with a clear understanding of what to expect from the university experience helps to promote engagement.  What is even better is to give new students opportunities to hear the experiences of first year students and how they adapted, changed, survived and succeeded. The  development of an area of university websites that are specifically aimed at new entrants and their families and focus on the challenges and advantages of entering an undergraduate programme (Woodfield and O’Mahony 2016: 46- 47, Morey et al 2011: 48) are particularly beneficial.  As a start, send out the UCA-Pre-Arrival-IT-Induction to all students that have accepted a place on your course.

Does your induction provide students with details of a named personal tutor/contact during indiction week?

“During Induction all new students should discuss expectations – their own, those of the course team and those of the university. In particular, they should understand the ethos of the course and its delivery … This induction is best thought of as a process, rather than an event, involving reinforcement   throughout the first year” (Harding and Thompson c.2011).

UCA research and practice around induction tutoring, suggests that by providing students with a named Personal Tutor who is interested in their wellbeing and academic progress (Barratt, 2018; Fitzwater, 2017), students are less likely to drop out. Relationship building between staff and students is central to retention.  It is cruciual that such support be visible and accessible to students, alongside other support mechanisms offered by the institution. The success of this system is shown to depend on several factors, which, based on a study of strategies at Oxford Brookes University and University of Reading, Morey (2011) sets out as:

  • Tutorials providing a visible, structured and valued system of support;
  • Engagement, responsibility and commitment from both sides;
  • A named Personal Tutor who is available from the induction period and is interested in the student’s well-being and academic progress;
  • Inclusion of measures to improve students’ academic confidence.

We also recommend that these ought to be timetabled sessions, not drop ins. There is evidence from the Student Success literature that drop-ins are best used by more confident students, rather than perhaps those that might benefit most from them. To provide the staff time for this, on courses with large numbers, it might be necessary to have one tutor with a very large group releasing the others to do the tutorials.

Does your induction integrate the pre-arrival task into the induction programme?

Pre-arrival tasks are commonplace across all creative arts courses at UCA. Student feedback has been positive and most courses now use the pre-arrival task within course induction. Boyle (2011) establishes that pre-entry events that have both a structured academic dimension, such as providing preparatory skills, and a social dimension are particularly important as: “many groups of students, such as mature, local, and part-time students of those with caring and work commitments, will not engage with any activities that seem purely social and non-essential components of the course” (Boyle 2011: 50-52). Boyles’ study also evidences the importance of structured activities and events in helping students establish this sense of belonging, showing that establishing structure within an unfamiliar environment enforces social norms that encourage people to interact through shared experience (Boyle 2011: Section 7.2.3 key message B).

Does your induction refer to localized student information that is current and relevant to a students experience on your campus?

Studies of student success at UCA suggest that courses that emphasise the value of transition and how to manage it (rather than ease it) provide students with a sense of belonging and campus community.  Building a sense of community through peer-group and extra curricular activities that combine academic and social input can be beneficial here.

Does your induction provide opportunities for students to develop friendship groups and support networks? 

“Approximately one third of first year students have experienced doubts   sufficiently strong to make them consider withdrawing at some point during the first year” (Nottingham 2011: Finding a).

Several studies emphasise the importance of the first year, generally agreeing that approximately a third of students consider withdrawing during Year 1 of their course (Boyle et al 2011: 43-44 and 97 and Nottingham 2011).  Research at UCA suggests that student anxieties early in their University career are predominantly about fitting in and belonging, rather than coping with the academic workload. Does your induction provide any of the following activities:

  • Icebreakers?
  • Name badges?
  • Team tasks & challenges?
  • Off site visits?

Does your induction provide opportunities to sample/ practise normal first year learning? 

Studies at UCA suggest that students would find it reassuring to actually sample real learning activities during induction week rather than listen to lectures about what learning is going to be like. We recommend that all course inductions include ‘normal’ first year learning activities. We’d recommend that lecturers act as reflective practitioners whilst delivering such activities and periodically explain why this particular approach or activity is used. Students who have previously studied BTECs or other non-A level routes may particularly appreciate early opportunities to sample HE learning.   Where possible, these tasks should be integrated, in other words, a first project could be designing a plan of the campus. It is absolutely true that new students are itching to be doing, not sitting in a lecture theatre being told things. Getting doing is also good because it sets out how students should be working.

Does your induction include an orientation to myUCA which invites students to explore the resource and find out how the course intends to use the platform for learning ?

There is nothing worse than sitting watching a lecture about how to use a resource. Studies at UCA reveal that courses that encourage students to explore online tools such as myUCA have happier students.   There are also online videos available for students to work through.  If in doubt, speak to your local Learning Technologist(Maria Tannant (Kent)  ; Matthew Drury (Surrey)


Does your induction include presentations that are interactive and focused on students getting to know each other?

Do as little explaining as possible. One of the worst aspects of a bad Induction is telling students things. Instead, devise  a formal way for them to explore and find out for themselves, perhaps in groups, perhaps using a worksheet, perhaps as part of a first assignment. Yes and every spoken instruction should also be available in writing. Also, think about having online videos available, which they can refer to as often as they want. We have been working with our SU to develop a series of 1 minute Talking Head videos of UCA students talking about their induction experiences. These are now available on myUCA.

Does you induction provide first year students with an opportunity to meet 2nd and 3rd year students?

Students from the second or final year offer a very different perspective to the course team and new students may be less embarrassed asking them questions. Studies at UCA have revealed that building a relationship between experienced students and new students can help to ease the transition into university life and provide ongoing support during a programme of study.

We suggest that returning students might be useful for delivering icebreakers, orientation activities or campus tours.

Does you induction provide students with a programme of extra curricula activities such as Open Lectures, Industry tALKS, SU clubs and societies, LSS-sponsored events?

‘feeling embedded socially through extra curricula activities’ is an important component in students’ sense of belonging, (Woodfield and O’Mahony 2016: 6).

Research at UCA shows that retention is improved when students are engaged with University life and are supported in developing strong peer communities. Talk to your students about what they understand by self-directed and independent learning and promote the value of extra curricular activities for CV building and professional networking.

This entry was posted in First Year Experience, Retention, Student Centred Learning, Student Engagement, Student Induction, Student Success. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s