Evaluation of the Welcome, Induction and Transition 2020 Project
Andrew Mearman, Leeds University Business School
In response to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis a Welcome, Induction and Transition (WIT) project team was commissioned by the Taught Student Education Board, to create a set of new online, dedicated induction resources for new starters in the academic year 2020/21 and complementary materials for returning students. Collectively, these resources demonstrated a recognition that the university to which students were returning was operating differently. The terms of reference for this WIT evaluation project was to:
- Evaluate the success and impact of the online welcome, induction and transition delivered in 2020.
- Make recommendations for ongoing institutional provision and oversight of welcome, induction and transition activity beyond the 2020/21 academic session.
Overall, it should be said that the WIT Project was one of wide scope, being the creation of a set of resources – a big enough project in itself – and an institution-wide programme of cultural change. It is agreed that the project achieved a great deal in a short time, representing in many ways an exemplar of cross-institutional partnership working.
The principles of WIT and the overall quality and robustness of the resource were supported by our evaluation, and their overall usage was satisfactory for a new resource (46% of undergraduates (UG) and 38% of postgraduates (PG) who could have accessed the Getting Started at Leeds (GSAL) online resource did so).
Around this mean, there were significant differences between students with different fee statuses: EU students used UG GSAL most, followed by Home (UK students), then International Students least of all. Data collected on selected faculties indicated that students in the 'least’ and ‘most deprived’ student cohorts accessed the resource least.
Further, significant differences in usage rates were found between students in different faculties, suggesting different degrees of embeddedness of GSAL in welcome planning. This was also reflected in the fact that engagement with GSAL modules peaked at the beginning of each of the section and tailed off as the module progressed. Patterns of student usage also suggest that student-created material is more popular, as well as other material that connects students to IT systems, to staff and to peers.
Survey data suggested that students liked the resources. Overall, 61% of students rated the GSAL resources as at least good, a figure similar to student ratings of longer-established resources such as IT induction. The modal score for the usefulness of Transition to Leeds (T2L) was 4 on all questions. Again, a key reason for non-engagement with T2L was reported as not knowing about it.
Overall, students reported a generally positive experience of welcome and induction. A student experience and wellbeing survey found 41% of respondents at least agreeing they were satisfied with 2020/21 welcome and induction, and 45% of students felt welcomed into the year. Beyond this, 81% of respondents to a welcome survey of international students were positive about their arrival experience.
Despite efforts by the project team to avoid too much information being delivered via too many channels, students communicated that they were still somewhat confused and overloaded, with information coming via too many channels.
A key issue in 2020/21 was that staff responsible for WIT in their schools felt that communication to them about GSAL and other aspects of WIT arrived too late for them to build it into their planning. Nonetheless, staff surveyed broadly supported the general thrust of WIT and agreed that they had changed their practice and approach to WIT.
The following recommendations were proposed and were incorporated in to WIT 2021:
- Project management/project mode is necessary from the start. It was recognised both during WIT and during T2L that having a dedicated project manager role had made an essential difference to ways of working and to the efficacy of the project. This raises questions about the future organisation of WIT and suggests the need for a permanent WIT team.
- Earlier communications to staff about the resources – including earlier sight of them – to help staff embed the resources into their practice. Note that the decision to switch to PebblePad for 2021 was driven partly to enable staff easier access to the resources.
- Simplified communications to staff and to students, who complained of information overload despite its avoidance being a key objective of WIT. Students were fairly forgiving but wanted better communications.
- Greater differentiation between resources, particularly in terms of the messaging used thereby meeting the different needs of the students. This applies to UG and taught postgraduate but also within these groups, to help more effectively reach international and underrepresented groups. It is important to recognise when overly general assumptions are made and to eliminate these.
- Greater emphasis on Transition, considering that welcome and induction is only a short part of the student journey and that moving between years is also a challenging transformative moment.
- A more dynamic resource, utilising more video and interactive content and stressing student testimonies. For example, the WIT resource as a one-stop-shop, or a set of dynamic checklists.
- The creation of a permanent WIT Network to facilitate better sharing of information and best practice examples, the latter being underused in WIT 2020.
- Engage with students even earlier, consistent with literature about pre-arrival activities. This engagement could most usefully be done by programme team members, academic personal tutors, and peer mentors, via student ambassador or Peer Assisted Study Support (PASS).