Reflections on FYN Coffee Morning 4: Foundation to Year 1.

Just over 20  Network members from a range of institutions attended the fourth coffee morning in the Foundation Year Network series on Tuesday 16th June. It is a busy time of year, so it was good to have so many members getting together.

The discussion was well chaired by Rachel Dunn from Durham University and focussed on “Transition to level 1”. We discussed the different approaches we have been using to support students progressing from the foundation year and the differences between our programmes. This is a follow-up to a workshop we held at Solent in January 2019 and focused on changes this year and looking forward.

In a quick poll, 86% of attendees noted that their institution usually offered transition activities to progressing students. Owing to the current situation, many of these plans have had to change; 70% of the attendees said they had to cancel or change planned transition events. 

Below are some of the activities that we discussed we will be, or have been, using with our foundation students:

  • Peer Assisted Learning (PAL), both horizontal (facilitated by the current cohort) and vertical (facilitated by previous cohorts).
  • Peer mentors to help students settle into student life (both into foundation and then their first year). As face-to-face peer mentoring might not be possible at the start of the academic year, suggestions were made including using WhatsApp groups, peer ‘speed dating’ on Zoom, and virtual common rooms.
  • Link tutors (connecting students with staff (and students) in the Departments they will be transferring to).
  • Former foundation student videos; there were some good examples of this noted from a range of institutions.
  • Foundation Forum (at Durham) – connecting current and former students (including graduates).
  • Staff intro videos – to put a person behind the PowerPoint videos and to introduce a personal tutor.
  • Many arts-based courses culminate with an exhibition, one university held their event through Zoom with foundation and 1st year students and an external speaker.

One of the biggest assets universities and programmes have are their former students. As foundation year practitioners we are lucky to see our students progress into year one and beyond and celebrate their success at the end of their foundation and then again when they graduate. They are often fantastic ambassadors for our programmes and peer mentoring (mentioned above), informal support, etc. is really beneficial for new students coming on to the course. Asking former students questions about the course and, particularly in the current climate, how to navigate online learning and university support systems, libraries etc. So, if we want to encourage students to team up and support each other, how can we facilitate this next year with the new cohort?

We discussed what we’re doing in the gap between current students getting their results and starting their new courses. Examples of activities taking place this year include:

  • Experience day – some courses feed into multiple areas and students still need to choose their subject. The resources contain packs for each route including 2 min subject videos with introduction to each course and careers information
  • ‘Swop shop’ with core skills.
  • Videos about the courses they may be moving into to help select courses and to introduce them to staff/allay fears.
  • Some students have a larger transition than others, for those with greater transitions we discussed using videos of the labs/new buildings and staff.
  • Celebration of success evening – some at the end of exams and others in September, or later.
  • Some staff questioned whether we should be suggesting further work as many are tired after a hectic year.
  • Careful about hand holding – need to wean them off it as some degree programmes often a lot less supportive than FY.
  • Sofa science for students to watch – this is something that Aston University have been doing recently; follow them on Twitter for more events.
  • EndDuction (at the end of the year) – in comparison to an induction.

We were all thrown into online delivery and rushed into doing our best with what we had, we’re clear that we need student input in order to successfully move forwards. We discussed the importance of staff using the same platforms for delivery so both staff and students are familiar with the systems as students and staff found this hard to get to grips with last term. Attendees have been using a range of platforms, such as MS Teams, Zoom, Adobe Connect, forums, Blackboard Collaborate, Google Classroom and Hangouts.

Some members shared findings from informal student surveys:

  • On the whole student commuters enjoyed online delivery as they could access the materials at their convenience, but they missed the staff interaction and peers.
  • Some students were really appreciative as lectures usually weren’t recorded.
  • Most students were happy with the switch online, but the majority found it harder to work at home online (students report everything takes much longer).
  • Staff reported more email traffic with students.

Finally, how should we communicate with students? Current students will have a university email address and that is usually the primary method of communication, but how do we connect with incoming students and potential applicants? We mentioned using forums, social media and a debate between Facebook v Twitter. It can be difficult to navigate social media, but it is becoming increasingly important.

Thanks to all who participated online and via Twitter; continue the debate #fyncoffeechat

Please join us at future coffee mornings, dates and times TBC, on “International students”, “Virtual Induction”, “Teaching the Arts online” and a second meeting involving science teaching. We are also planning to invite foundation year students to a special coffee morning, which we will encourage members to publicise to their current and former students. Look out for announcements on the website, Twitter and via email.

Rachel & Sian 

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