Last year’s Incubator Fellow Dr Matt Finn reveals how his project team reached a wider audience with their findings and made it into The Conversation.
When student researchers introduced this Education Incubator project in April 2018 they were busy conducting focus groups with A level students, their teachers, first year undergraduate students and their lecturers. The project aimed to understand more about the reformed A levels and their impact on students’ transition to university.
Since then we’ve been analysing the data and some of the team worked at an Incubator writing retreat to bring the results together.
This post focuses less on the results of our research, which you can read about in our University of Exeter press release or our article in The Conversation. Instead I consider how we have gone about getting the word out about A level changes and corresponding implications for students and their transitions to university.
Our team aimed to engage different groups through the channels of campus workshops, conferences and online media.
First, our student researchers convened three workshops where we welcomed approximately 50 academic and professional services colleagues from the Exeter and Cornwall campuses.
This was a critical step in engaging those individuals whose work brings them into direct contact with new students. We encouraged them to think about undergrad transitions in the wider context of what is now called ‘the student experience’. This refers to the broader set of experiences a student has from their initial communication with the university before they arrive, to the new encounters they might have within their first hours on campus.
We wanted to bring people together who may not typically get to consider these issues in conversation with each other – such as professional services colleagues responsible for student communication, those from welfare services, and academics.
This approach helped us to support a wider educational culture that values, as an intellectual endeavour, the thought and effort needed for successful first-year teaching. This, in our view, necessarily entails recognising the transitions that students are experiencing. Although students have always experienced a transition to meet the challenges of university work, the particular shape and nature of that does change from cohort to cohort.
Through the sessions we tried to demonstrate how considering a student’s transition to higher education from a subject-specific perspective can have benefits for student learning. We also explored the ways this can have a positive impact on a student’s sense of community and belonging.
The power of the student's voice at conference
Second, our team had the opportunity to present our research findings at a number of conferences, which provided the opportunity for our student researchers to present what they had been working on.
Having students present the project findings was particularly pertinent as conference settings are often places where students are ‘talked about’ rather than ‘engaged with’. Raising the voice of our student researchers in this context was engaging and powerful.
Our conference presentations allowed us to share our project’s findings with other universities, and discover related academic work on student transitions more broadly. We are now considering options for this work to be written up as a journal article publication.
Online news channels
Third, we have released accounts of our project in press release and as a digital article entitled ‘Why reformed A levels are not preparing undergraduates for university study’ that is featured on the online higher-ed news website The Conversation. The press release was developed with support from Kor Communications, who guided us in identifying the key messages to deliver to the public audience. The article for The Conversation significantly extended the reach of our findings with 28 Twitter shares and 54 Facebook re-posts.
In modest but nevertheless significant ways we have tried to share our findings in different ways to enable:
- Reflection at both the subject and programme level for educators to consider the impacts of transitions to higher education on new students.
- Reflection at the institutional level to support culture change around the importance of a student’s first year experience.
- The raising of academic and national awareness about the effects we’re seeing in the wake of A level changes, calling for further attention to the more concerning aspects associated with these.
To read about the findings of Matt’s Incubator project, check out his article in The Conversation here.