Transition to Learning at University

The First Year Experience of students at university has been recognised as being of importance for students' adjustment to, and success in, higher learning (Kift). The significance of this  period is acknowledged as a time of transition with '[i]n particular, the first two to six weeks of the first year ... seen as critical to students' successful transition and ongoing success' (Brown and Evagelistis, 2011).

The University of Sydney recognises this in the Strategic Plan 2011-2015 in which The University has affirmed the importance of supporting students in their transition to University (Strategy 3).

Support in making the transition is provided to students by Student Support Services and Orientation, the Learning Centre, Mathematics Learning Centre, the University Library and by initiatives from within Faculties.

Focusing on the Curriculum

Those aspects of curriculum which support the transition of students becoming engaged and effective learners, particularly the learning experiences within the formal teaching program during a student's first six weeks, provide a better experience for FY students in their first six weeks at university and to assist faculties with achievable ways to reduce their attrition. 

Key principles 

  • Fundamental to these learning experiences are the needs of students to be intellectually engaged and to have a sense of social belonging and well-being.   The period from enrolment to the census date is crucial.
  • Students should have positive, involving educational experiences in the first four to six weeks of their first semester. These then lay the groundwork and set expectations for engaged enquiry.
  • Students are warmly welcomed into The University of Sydney community and are supported in the transition to university learning.
  • Curricula are designed to introduce students to the skills and expectations associated with engaged inquiry, and to develop generic foundation skills (such as relevant academic language and literacy skills) within the context of their disciplinary learning.

The focus is on the 'how' and 'why' of university learning, not just the 'what', thereby developing a foundation for purposeful learning. Curricula should be sequenced logically and presented through a variety of formats, university modes of learning should be explicitly taught, scaffolding should be provided for each type of learning and assessment task, and the rationale for academic policies and procedures should be clearly explained.  These principles which have been extracted those developed by the First Year Experience Working Party are those which relate directly to the Curriculum.

Promoting student engagement

Key activities which promote student engagement are those which provide for students by the end of their first six weeks to have:

  • acquired a sense of the enquiry which drives the disciplines in which they are enrolled and have experienced an engaging intellectual experience, e.g. a stimulating lecture in their discipline area/s;
  • experienced active learning experiences;
  • been introduced to the academic skills required in their areas of study, e.g. those required for assessment including understanding marking standards; academic honesty, referencing, writing genres such as essays or reports, and other areas of academic literacy;
  • developed a sense of belonging at the university through involvement and recognition in, e.g. a small group tutorial; and
  • begun to develop and appreciate the aims, pathways and opportunities of the program of study in which they are enrolled.