22 SES 10 A, Paper Session
Transition into higher education remains a challenge for a sizeable portion of the student population, in particular the ability to bridge the academic tensions that emerge, which in some instances result in underperformance and withdrawal (Teaching and Learning National Forum Ireland, 2015; Flynn et al., 2017). The non-traditional student cohort is particularly vulnerable in this regard (Provasnik & Planty 2008). Recognising and responding to this challenge is particularly pertinent as increasing numbers of this demographic enter universities (Gilardi & Guglielmetti, 2011). Academic challenges were magnified further for this student cohort, when the pandemic pushed universities online and abruptly moved millions of students across Europe towards remote learning as they were attempting to transition into higher education learning communities during this time of crisis.
Conventional, face-to-face on-campus student experience generally affords individuals official supports. These often take the form of offices, help-desks or the staff who occupy them. Unofficial equivalents in terms of whispered queries in lectures, casual chat on the concourse, or study-specific tangents over lunch play a crucial role in helping students settle into academic life in higher education (Gale & Parker, 2011, 2014). Of all the facets of student experience at higher education, this ‘residential’ aspect has been impacted the most. Lenning & Ebbers (1999) suggest that the establishment of a holistic learning community is dependent upon the formation of four distinct learning communities: curricular; situational; student-type; and residential learning communities. In the stark awareness that academic supports are of particular importance to minority groups and often communicated by students to each other through their residential interactions, this paper reports on a study that examined the impact of the abrupt transition to remote learning on the academic experience of non-traditional first year university students in the west of Ireland, and the academic supports that they availed of during this time. This study is shaped by a single overarching research question and two supporting sub-questions.
What is the impact of the abrupt move to remote learning on non-traditional first year students’ transition into higher education?
1. How concerned were this student cohort regarding the abrupt move to remote learning in terms of their university enrolment and their continued engagement with the higher education experience?
2. What areas of this student cohort’s higher education experience were positively or negatively influenced by the abrupt move to remote learning?
The research reported here was part of a larger examination of the impact of the abrupt move to remote learning, on both traditional and non-traditional students’ transition into higher education during this time of crisis.
A mixed methods approach was chosen to enhance both depth and breadth, and accumulate a richness of data that could not be acquired through quantitative methods alone (Cohen et al., 2017). A qualitative-quantitative survey was extended to the student cohort of approximately 18,000 students (undergraduate and postgraduate) at the National University of Ireland, Galway; achieving a response of 1499, thus a response rate of 8%. The email invite was sent out in late December 2020, and included an information sheet detailing the study and ethical considerations (e.g. consent, anonymity, confidentiality etc.), formally sanctioned by the University Ethics Board. Three weeks later in early January 2021, a reminder email was issued, and the survey closed a week after that. Of this cohort, 30.8% (N=462) were identified as non-traditional students, and of this group, 34.8% (N=161) were first year students.
Data collected from this first year university cohort of non-traditional students (Nmale=50, Nfemale= 110) reveals that the majority, two-thirds (N=107), were ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their third level education prior to enrolment. Furthermore, two-thirds (N=107) were also ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on their continued engagement with the third-level experience. Students were asked if they were aware of the system of academic supports that are currently provided by the university. Curiously, while the survey yielded broad awareness of its existence among non-traditional first year respondents (70%) the majority of these students (71%) had opted not to avail of any of the supports on offer. Given students were aware of supports available their level of engagement is surprising. When asked what areas of this student cohort’s higher education experience were positively or negatively influenced by the abrupt move to remote learning, first year students indicated that social supports or residential learning community (Lenning & Ebbers, 1999) supports were needed and sought to avail of a buddy-system: “with no academic support from home regarding college work, it gets extremely stressful to stay on top of things. It would be nice for an individual support such as a peer to be able to constantly stay in touch….” (student questionnaire 150). The initial findings presented here indicate that further participatory research is required to explore how higher educational institutions can support the development of residential learning communities with the aim of helping non-traditional students not only make a successful transition into higher education, but succeed once there.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2017). Research methods in education. Routledge. Teaching and Learning National Forum Ireland (2015). Transition from Second Level and Further Education to Higher Education. Focused Research Report. No. 6. https://www.teachingandlearning.ie/wp-content/uploads/NF-2015-Transition-from-Second-Level-and-Further-Education-to-Higher-Education.pdf Flynn, P., Fleming, M., Houlihan, B., & McSweeney, N. (2017). Breaking the SEAL: A CSCL History Teaching Methodology to Support Transition Into Undergraduate Education. Making a Difference: Prioritizing Equity and Access in CSCL. Gale, T., & Parker, S. (2011). Good practice report: Student transition into higher education. Gale, T., & Parker, S. (2014). Navigating change: a typology of student transition in higher education. Studies in higher education, 39(5), 734-753. Gilardi, S., & Guglielmetti, C. (2011). University life of non-traditional students: Engagement styles and impact on attrition. The journal of higher education, 82(1), 33-53. Provasnik, S., & Planty, M. (2008). Community Colleges: Special Supplement to The Condition of Education 2008. Statistical Analysis Report. NCES 2008-033. National Center for Education Statistics.
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