Part of my role as Director of Student Participation and Success for the University of Hertfordshire’s Law School is to plan and deliver inductions for the various undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. As Covid ravaged the in-person student experience the last few years, students have reported feeling increasingly anxious, lonely and disconnected from their institution and peers. Covid has also placed greater financial pressure on students and their families, forcing students to prioritise paid work or other commitments over attending events (a trend that, anecdotally, appears to be pervasive across the sector). Induction periods, once seen as that time when lifelong bonds are formed and during which students learn their way around campus, were relegated to informational sessions, online drop-ins or events where the necessities of keeping safe (social distancing, mask wearing) meant forming those close relationships proved much more difficult—if students even showed up at all.
But crisis can lead to change. A periodic review of the BA LLB Law programme during this Covid-impacted period led to a re-think of induction. Drawing on Theory of Change approaches, we identified the obstacles students face (time poor due to external commitments, increased social anxieties in meeting new people, fewer chances to practice resiliency in low stakes academic situations) and identified what knowledge, skills and experiences students needed to get settled and lay a platform successful in the current higher education landscape. This work was supported by our Student Shadow Board, which I wrote about last year.
The result was the development of ‘Connections’, a 2-week, zero credit induction progamme aiming to transition students from secondary school or college to university by starting to develop important legal skills and relationships with peers and staff. More specifically, the module focuses on:
- Seminar-style teaching delivery on key concepts of the law, foundational cases and critical reasoning skills
- Increased contact/touchpoints with assigned Personal Tutors
- Integration of peer mentors
- Meeting a greater variety of academic and support staff
- Blending in informational and social sessions
Students are placed in teaching groups to facilitate getting to know each other and practice academic skills within low stakes academic environments (the module being zero credit). The foundational skills and knowledge learned form the basis of initial learning in first-year modules that begin at the end of the 2 weeks. A formative assessment at the end of the 2 weeks allows teaching staff and personal tutors to identify any gaps in knowledge and refer students early to support services or help build good study habits. Students had 20 touch points over the 2 weeks, far more than what was previously achieved in induction. Attendance was strong throughout the programme as students saw the value in giving up or re-arranging part-time work shifts to participate in seminars and events. An evaluation of Connections (36% sample size) showed 80% felt prepared for their upcoming classes.
I enjoyed Connections, it helped me with preparing for what I need to do, helped me know where I was going, gave me confidence before coming to talk to some people and also work out my commute.
The induction was great! Without attending the induction, I don’t think I would feel as prepared or confident. I met a bunch of my classmates and people who are just the same as me; aspiring to become something and motivated to learn.
This approach to induction is now being rolled out across undergraduate programmes in the School and there is great potential to apply it to most other disciplines, adapting the subject-specific teaching seminars to other degree programmes.
Blog by – Dr Stephane Farenga – Director of Student Participation and Success, University of Hertfordshire
Image by – Nathan Dumlao