LITE Fellows Ruth Payne and Andrew Mearman consider further implications of their work for future practice at Leeds.
This blog is also available here as an audio clip
One possible implication of ELIXIR (Exploring links between induction, exit, and retention) is structural. A key impact of the project was to highlight the range of excellent practice across the University but also to note that it is often not routinely shared. The creation of the WIT (Welcome and transition) resource and a WIT Network of induction leads are both positive steps that begin to embed good practice that is consistent, innovative and tailored. A possible further step might be the creation of a central WIT team, such as those found in other institutions, with a clear focus on reflecting the Leeds values and expertise.
ELIXIR drew on the insights of realist evaluation, as developed in our own School of Sociology and Social Policy. The main thrust of this approach is that any intervention ‘works’ for different people, in different ways, for different reasons. When we boldly suggested an End to Freshers Week we did so partly because we know that the stereotypical welcome week might work well for some, but it certainly doesn’t work for others. Recent discussions around personalised education are clearly relevant here. Whilst all students experience a shared journey through university, how they do as individuals will vary.
Successful, equitable transition requires us to find out where each student is now, where they want to be in the future, and what they need to optimise their chances of getting there.
Colleagues in the Lifelong Learning Centre, Educational Engagement and Outreach, and the International Students Office know this very well and, unsurprisingly, we found that welcome and induction practices in these areas are among the best at Leeds. The challenge for the rest of the University is to embed the same level of personalisation by fully utilising the refreshed approach to LeedsforLife and Academic Personal Tutoring at Leeds, and by being ready to embrace the Curriculum Redefined project.
Transitions take time. ELIXIR’s student interviews suggest that students’ expectations of university – and the importance these have in students’ ability to progress and succeed – come from a range of sources, and some of these are more helpful than others. For example, schools and colleges can play a key role in preparing the ground by helping students understand independent living and independent study. On the other hand, some advice from parents is a little out-of-date. So, as well as targeting our messages to new students so we communicate with them at the right times, we should also be working even more closely with feeder institutions and talking directly to prospective students.
We would also recommend that a similar level of reflection and effort is invested in understanding all future transitions for our students, right up until they graduate; the initial welcome is just a small part of the transitions picture. This feels particularly crucial now, because the students currently moving from level to level are doing so in a unique context. Be it in terms of socialising, living away from home, living in a new country, or learning how to study in the library, our students have truly not had the year they were expecting.