Transition and online induction

Students at the University of Sheffield walking towards campus

This year, new students will be joining the University at a challenging and changing time. Whether on campus or fully digital, they will need support as they establish their student identities and adjust to university life. The following guidance covers ‘academic life’ in the current situation, and the steps you can take.

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Research from WonkHE/Pearson , July 2020 ‘The expectation gap: students’ experience of learning during Covid-19 and their expectations for next year’ offers a very clear steer about what students want:

"Students want more interactive learning, with fewer pre-recorded lectures and slide decks, and more opportunity to ask questions. They want more personal attention from lecturers and tutors, with more one to one support.

They want help with accessing technologies and learning resources, and they want their universities to be clear in communications both about what the corporate university is planning and what’s happening on their course"

The challenge for all universities is to provide as much of this as is practicable, and a welcoming and well-structured introduction to university life sets the tone for building a vibrant online community of learners, with shared values and expectations and a clear understanding of how their learning takes place.

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What are the main areas to consider?

A diagram in pyramid format that covers the main areas which online inductions need to cover                                                                               

This diagram outlines the 3 main subjects that online inductions need to cover: programme community, pedagogies and principles; technology and logistics; and wider support and guidance. The following guidance looks at how departments and teaching staff can contribute.

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What can be done at department level?

The transition to university life is a series of adaptations, and lasts throughout the first year of study and beyond (or entire course for PGT one-year programmes). While the traditional emphasis has been on ‘induction week’ the activities need to be planned to give support and guidance throughout the first semester. It makes sense for departments to plan at whole department or whole programme level and make their own arrangements for:

  • Overall planning
  • Departmental communications to students that tie into the University ones (see above)
  • ‘Induction week’ activities
  • Clear expectations of the role of personal tutors and a tutorials timetable
  • Departmental pastoral support offer

In the current pandemic situation, students will be anxious and uncertain about their chosen course and how it will work, so it is more important than ever to provide reassurance and a clear offer, together with study support materials. Consider producing information and a welcome pack that includes:


The Faculty of Engineering plan to include the following in the guidance for Departments:

  • Preparation for online lectures and labs - including input from current students.
  • Tutorials - stressing how our students and staff value the small-group tutorial system.
  • Small group work - communication tools (Google Drive, Google Jamboard).
  • How to use online tools - e.g. Google Hangouts, Google Calendar, Blackboard (generally & Collaborate).
  • General preparation for study.
  • What computer equipment students will need.

The Faculty of Arts and Humanities has taken online induction as an opportunity to revise their induction plans with a more sequenced set of activities that focuses on community building.
More information on Arts and Humanities approach.

Week 0 - Induction week

Week 0 should be used to welcome students and give them an overview of academic life. It should also get every student familiarised with the technology they will be using. It makes logistical sense that this is done at department level, incorporating resources from professional services. It might be worth setting up a ‘buddying scheme’ or small study groups to help students. This period may need to be extended to accommodate latecomers. 

The following suggestions of what to include are mostly asynchronous (‘anytime’) sessions - the students can do them at any time. One exception is the ‘coffee meet-ups ‘, which could be hosted every day, at a variety of times to better suit overseas students. The other is the personal tutor meeting (although it may not be realistic to meet all level ones in this period!). If the asynchronous sessions are packaged into a Blackboard Departmental Induction Course, or in the department’s ‘Organisation’ folder, each student could be marked as completing each activity, and referred back if necessary.

Subject Possible method
Welcome to University Personal welcome video - Head of Department and programme leads (2 minutes).
What is it like being a student? Video/screencast from departmental student ‘ambassador’/rep (social, fun, Sheffield, the Union, work).
Academic life Video/screencast (department produced) - what does UG (PG) study look like in your discipline? Acknowledge the changes at the moment.
Learning online in your department A practical overview for students of the department’s approach (what, where, when, why & how) to online learning sessions, private study and assessment and feedback.
301 have produced some generic guidance. See the Digital Learning Team’s Student Guidance for Online Teaching and 301’s guidance for studying effectively online.
Session/video/screencast on ‘your personal tutor’ Department produced - what they do, why it’s important to meet your personal tutor, how the system works in your department, what is expected of the student. Where relevant, include introductions to year tutors and /or the student support team as well.
1-1 or group greeting with personal tutor Synchronous (‘live’) session.
Get together ‘coffee meet-ups’/online social events with academics and departmental student support staff. Synchronous (‘live’) session daily, at different times, selected staff.
Quiz or challenge to engage students and build community?
(possibly in conjunction with your student society).
Online discussion, group task. See these icebreaker examples from Gary Wood, Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Technical familiarisation Elevate students support offer. It is likely that computer accounts will be accessible by students from early-mid September (date tbc).
Library induction Information about library sites and facilities.
Wider student services induction Incorporate the slide deck and information on services (in the section above) - could be synchronous as well as a recorded screencast.
Academic support induction from 301

301 have produced a comprehensive package of materials, including slides for use in induction week, tailored skills development packages for new and continuing students at under and post graduate levels; also new workshops on key aspects of digital learning.


  • Ethics guidance/procedures
  • Unfair Means materials
  • Departmental support if in addition to any listed at institutional level
Refer to each Department's specific guidance on these matters
Student Engagement
Explanation of student representatives their role and related processes
Student engagement guidance

Continued induction through the semester

Plan of scheduled activities and catch ups (keep this to a limited amount).
Prompts for academics colleagues as set out in the 'Teaching staff' section. 

See Elevate resources: 

Building an online community

Communications with students

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The personal tutor

As the personal point of contact for students, you will help each student to ‘join up the dots’ offering reassurance, supporting students as they develop skills, and signposting to wider University support. Often you act as the personal face of the University and it’s important that you are approachable and that students feel they can share their problems with you because it will be you who feeds this back to departments to set wider support plans in motion where necessary. Your department will have its own method of organising personal tutors, that you need to be aware of and follow.

The role of the personal tutor

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Teaching staff

Teaching staff will have more contact with students than anyone else, and are responsible for inducting students into the programme’s community and its pedagogy, and for further developing the academic principles set out in week 0. You will need to:

  • Know, and remain consistent with, your department’s offer.
  • Reinforce the key messages of induction week - around University level study.
  • Signpost to wider support.
  • 'Scaffold' the learning experience, by giving students opportunities to practise with low stakes tasks until they are familiar with and confident in: the environment, each other, themselves and what is required.

These are some areas for you to highlight to your students. It works best if they are integrated into your curriculum, and referred to when particularly relevant.

Activity or area Central support and guidance Suggested tasks and activities
Expectation Management - what we offer, what we expect of our students. SSiD - Our Commitment Group activity to establish ‘netiquette’ - your programme's agreement on courteous online practice.
Learning online See the Digital Learning Team’s Student Guidance for Online Teaching and 301’s Guidance for studying effectively online. Reinforce and practice the various methods (hopefully introduced during induction week)
Using the Library Library Information and digital literacy tutorials Students review guidance and carry out a small Star Plus task.
Referencing Library reference tool Students read relevant guidance and perform small referencing tasks set by the department.
Independent Study 301- Critical thinking resource

Draw up a learning timetable for Semester 1.

Skills Development

Use 301 Transitions resources as relevant, and be aware of what students did as part of general induction week activity.

New UG Students

New PGT Students

Continuing UG Students

Continuing UG Students (final year)

Complete the 301 skills audit.
Student Skills and Employability Group (SSEG) are currently developing a Student Skills Portfolio tool that will include skills auditing, goal setting etc. and the aim is to have this ready for September.
Collaborative approaches to learning Managing group work Group task to set ground rules for working together.

Developing Reflective Practice
301 resource on reflective practice. Ask students to write a blog on Blackboard about their experiences of University so far.
Explaining and exploring supervisory relationships (PhD) Top 10 tips for working with your supervisor

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Further information

Further reading