1. Introduction

2. Academic

3. Personal

4. Social

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Academic transitions

Students leaving a University building

This resource provides advice on supporting students’ academic transitions as they move through their programme, and the changing expectations and relationships that come with this.

Learning at University can often be very different from students’ previous experiences of education, for example in terms of learning and teaching methods, grading systems, the relationship between teachers and students, and the nature and extent of independent study. You will need to support students to understand and respond to these changes. Many students have little or no knowledge of the nature of University study before arriving.

Postgraduate students, or undergraduate students joining part way through a programme, can still experience difficulty transitioning to a new institution, discipline and/or level of study.

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How to support academic transitions

Build connections between students’ past and present experiences
  • Develop your awareness of the pre-HE curriculum and modes of learning in your subject. Structure your own curriculum to build on what students already know.
  • Encourage students to reflect on their pre-university experiences and the skills and knowledge they bring to university. You could use the Career Service’s Skills Attributes and Employability resources and encourage students to use the mySkills portfolio.
  • Try to make your curriculum more inclusive so that students from all backgrounds can see their experiences and perspectives reflected and valued in the curriculum.
Be explicit
  • Don’t take anything for granted about what students will know; don’t assume they have read any pre-arrival material.
  • Be aware of the ‘hidden curriculum’, the implicit aspects of institutional and disciplinary culture. Try to unearth this and make it explicit.
  • It is particularly important at the moment (during Covid) to be very clear with students how they learn, and to provide updates in a clear manner that is consistent across their programme of study/the department.
  • Explain how different modes of teaching and learning work (e.g. lectures, seminars, labs, tutorials, etc.). A good example is Studying History at Sheffield: An Introductory Guide.
  • Explain how assessment and marking work, e.g. assessment criteria, marking processes, degree classifications, etc. Build students’ assessment literacy through formative tasks, discussion of assessment criteria, self-and peer-assessment activities.
  • Clarify the roles of students and staff, and the expectations they can have of each other. Our Commitment is a useful tool for starting a discussion about the responsibilities of students and staff.
  • Provide clear and simple information about the course from the start.
  • Use plain English. Explain any jargon or institution-/discipline-specific terms. Resources you can use include the 301 Welcome to Sheffield page.
Support students to develop academic and study skills
  • Build academic skills development into the curriculum. This could include skills such as academic writing, computing skills, effective study skills, information and digital literacy, or mathematical skills. Use existing resources from 301 and the Library (see links at the bottom of the page), or contact these departments for advice on embedding skills development in your programmes.
  • Engage students with academic work early in the course and provide formative feedback.
  • It takes time for students to develop skills and confidence as independent learners, so provide more structure, explicit guidance and support at the start of the programme.
  • Create opportunities for peer learning so that students can learn from each other.
  • Direct students to relevant sources of support (see links at the bottom of the page).
Take a Programme Level Approach
  • Scaffold learning and development of key skills through the programme.
  • Concentrate resources at critical transitional periods. For example, this might mean increasing contact hours and using your most experienced teachers in the first year of an undergraduate degree, then reducing contact hours in later years when students have become more confident and independent.
  • You may want to think about threshold concepts in your discipline, how you approach these in your programmes and support students to get to grips with them.

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Case Studies

Emma Gregory (Health Sciences School) created a PebblePad workbook to support the personal, clinical and professional development of speech and language therapy students throughout their course. 

Hannah Ditchfield and Suay Ozkula (Sociological Studies) developed academic skills workshops for international PGT students to support them with challenges such as learning discipline-specific vocabulary, building arguments in essays, and using theory and literature in their writing. They worked with the English Language Teaching Centre to provide an integrated series of workshops, with some more language-focused and some more discipline-focused.

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Further information

Links and downloads

See also Elevate’s Who are your learners? guidance

Resources for students:

Further reading

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