The impact of COVID-19 on welcome and induction at Leeds

When we suggested we might abandon Freshers’ Week, we didn’t anticipate closing the campus completely. LITE Fellows Andrew Mearman and Ruth Payne reflect on the impact COVID-19 has had on the way we approach welcome and induction at Leeds and show where there are signs of positive regrowth.

 The blog is also available available here as an audio clip.

There’s no doubt that moving to university is a huge step for most of our students, but the impact of the pandemic has thrown everyone off course. The work undertaken by ELIXIR (Exploring links between induction, exit, and transition) in 2019 was brought into sharp focus when it started to become clear that the online resource the ELIXIR team had recommended might be the closest some of our students got to a university welcome. The rush to prepare for our 2020 intake led scores of dedicated colleagues to spend the summer of 2020 building the new Welcome Induction and Transition (WIT) that now shines like a beacon of good practice.

One important thing to note is that the new WIT encompasses key ELIXIR principles about timings, individual circumstances and student diversity, making the new University of Leeds welcome recourse an excellent example of online provision that is both genuinely inclusive and key to the development of students’ Sense of Belonging. Where ELIXIR asked for an overhaul of the content-heavy first two weeks, the new online provision enabled students not only to engage with key ideas at their own pace but also to return to those ideas when they felt they would be of most relevance.

The ELIXIR team’s distinction between induction and welcome, and the clear message that both of these are ongoing processes is directly captured in the online resource and leaves room for development of these two crucial components of student experience. The idea of welcome becomes a programme-long experience that is being borne out through key work on Sense of Belonging, and the idea of induction to study skills and university life is being further captured in the new Leeds for Life Workbook for use in Academic Personal Tutoring.

But while we reflect on the positives, there is a lot more work to be done. The next generation of students will join us in a post-pandemic world of uncertainty and many of the students who join us straight from school will potentially lack confidence in their own abilities. Students who join us in Leeds will be doing so under extraordinary circumstances where we continue to understand our teaching in hybrid contexts nobody had predicted.

In an unreliable world our aim must now be to create reliability in the way in which we respond. Colleagues must continue to be visible and available, welcoming each and every opportunity for contact – however tiny – with our post pandemic students.