What is different about teaching first year students to teaching students in other years?

Students experience a conflict of:

  • expectations between university staff and first year students regarding knowledge students bring to university and
  • understanding regarding what university life is like and the support they believe they will receive from staff.

Why are first year students "special"?

The main reason first year students differ is because they are usually new to the university experience. This means that:

  • students often find first year confusing and isolating until they have learned to manage and navigate their way through the challenging new learning environment posed by university and
  • the first year experience can have a significant impact on academic success, perseverance and student retention.

Why is this different from a few years ago?

Efforts to provide greater access to university has meant student numbers have increased, students come from more diverse backgrounds and the range of experience that students have when they enter university is greater than it was a few years ago.

How can I develop a curriculum that best supports the diversity of first year students' needs?

One comprehensive study that has identified a number of ways to potentially address the challenges faced by staff teaching first year students and the students themselves was conducted by Australian Learning and Teaching Council (formerly Carrick) Senior Fellow, Professor Sally Kift. She developed a Transition Pedagogy which includes 6 principles that underpin support for first year students. The six principles are Transition, Diversity, Design, Engagement, Assessment and Evaluation and Monitoring.

What is meant by each of the principles and what are some examples of how I might use them?

A description of each of the Transition Pedagogy Principles and how they can be used in practice is available on the First year curriculum design and the Transition pedagogy Factsheet (PDF 126KB) .

Detailed information regarding Kift's transition pedagogy is available from the FYE Curriculum Design Symposium website.

For further discussion regarding the development of the transition pedagogy see: S. Kift. (2008). The next, great first year challenge: Sustaining, coordinating and embedding coherent institution-wide approaches to enact the FYE as "everybody's business". In 11th International Pacific Rim First Year in Higher Education Conference, An Apple for the Learner: Celebrating the First Year Experience, 2008, Hobart, 16. Retrieved August 20, 2009 from www.fyhe.qut.edu.au/past_papers/papers08/FYHE2008/content/pdfs/Keynote%20-%20Kift.pdf.

Inspiring Achievement in First Year University Students provides further information, resources and details of fora and workshops.