Marie Kendall-Waters

The transition from further education to higher education can be a daunting experience for students. Being away from home for the first time, studying independently in an online environment, returning to education after raising a family or meeting new people from different backgrounds and cultures – these are all situations where students can feel out of their comfort zones. All can be equally terrifying and exciting!

Within DCQE we have always tried to bridge the gap between FE and HE, tried to support students from various backgrounds joining university for the first time, and tried to help students to prepare for life at university.

PrepUP

In June 2008 the eLearning Centre (now the TEL team), designed and developed a website specifically aimed at new students that were yet to join the University of Portsmouth, but had applied and had a place on a course. The site contained information about the students’ courses they had registered on, information such as ‘a typical week’, ‘recommended reading’ – guidance about reading lists and short videos from previous students talking about the course and tutor videos.

Over the years the site grew, from being aimed just at campus-taught courses to include distance learning courses; later, specific sections for postgraduate and international students were featured. PrepUP grew to include information about life at university, finance, accommodation and support facilities and it also contained interactive resources about lectures, seminars and a virtual tour around the university library. Competitions too became part of the PrepUP experience: students could win prizes such as hoodies donated by departments around the university and goodie bags tailored with course books and vouchers by the local bookshop, tickets up the Spinnaker Tower and tickets to visit Portsmouth Historical Dockyard.

Some of the designs of PrepUP over the years

Why was this important?

PrepUP helped new students receive information about their course and the University in a fun and engaging way, before they arrived. At the time, this facility wasn’t being provided by anyone else within the University. With the inclusion of Facebook groups, which provided a way for new students to get to know their peers before starting, PrepUP became an essential resource for all new students. From feedback the students told us that it helped them feel connected; it reassured them that university wasn’t so scary and that they’ll know people on their first day. Some of them even thanked us, as they had found a ‘best friend’ through PrepUP!

PrepUP in 2017

From 2008-2016 PrepUP remained popular for new students. However, during that time several other departments within the University started providing their own social media groups and pages for new students, and they began publishing information on the University website. This organic growth meant that students were now receiving mixed communications, duplicated information, and numerous email notifications about which social media groups to ‘like’ or ‘join’!  As part of a wider, University-wide rethink on the whole induction process, DCQE looked again at PrepUP and it’s purpose for new students in 2017. This year the delivery of course-related information has been pushed back to faculty and department level: Course Leaders and their teams, rather than DCQE, are the best people to provide information about their course and what students can do to prepare before joining. We have provided support to CLs by creating “welcome” videos and helping them to develop Google Sites as a way of providing information to students.

Example welcome video – Forensic Psychology UoP

The delivery of more general University-related material has been facilitated by a landing page for new students, created by the UoP Marketing team, called ‘Information for new students’. This page provides support for international and EU students; help with applications; assistance with finding somewhere to live; guidance on money and finance; information about the Students’ Union … and a link to a new site that DCQE has put together called Learning at Portsmouth.

Learning at Portsmouth

The Learning at Portsmouth site brings the focus back onto the services and support that DCQE offers as a whole, which is something we couldn’t do before with PrepUP. The site includes information about learning and studying at university, understanding digital literacy and learning how to work with learning technologies and looking at how our personal beliefs and mindsets impact on our learning. Our aim for Learning at Portsmouth is for the site to be a resource that all students can dip in and out of throughout their time at university, not just at the beginning!

What can I be doing to help new students experience?

We hope that the Learning at Portsmouth site will continue to develop, and that students will provide us with feedback about what is useful for them in preparing for and continuing with their university journey. If you are a Course Leader, and are thinking of the best ways to communicate with new students, perhaps this year or next, then we would recommend providing students with at least a welcome video to your course, so that 1) they can put a face to a name and know who you are from the offset, and 2) find out the ways to best prepare for your course by the expert – you!

If you have any questions regarding PrepUP/Learning at Portsmouth, or if you are a Course Leader who would like some support with resources for your new students, then please get in touch with me (marie.kendall-waters@port.ac.uk) or the TEL team (elearn@port.ac.uk) – we will be happy to help you!