Raina Gihwala, the ECP-Coordinator of Emergency Medical Sciences, attended the First Year Experience Conference, hosted by the University of Johannesburg on 19 – 21 May 2015 (see the FYE-Conference-Proceedings_2015). In this post she shares her insights and observations about the conference and reflects on how the themes and discussions relates to her own work as a first year lecturer in her department.
“Promote students’ progression to goal completion by knowing our students and creating needed systems, processes and learning environment” (Lane 2014)
The First Year Experience Conference brought to us by the South African National Resource Centre was a first of its kind. The experience apart from the knowledge gained was one to remember, academics from all sorts of universities came together to share experiences in a platform that one could share similar concerns and solutions they had tried and tested. The themes of discussion through the duration of the conference allowed for discourse in this field where very little tangible research has been done, yet this very theme is crux in student success.
The conference gave me great insight as a lecturer involved in first year experience for our department, as I could relate to some of the key areas of concern that many universities share when it comes to the daunting task of first year adaptation to university and their chosen field of choice. Everyone speaks about the gap in the transition from high school to university, but what are we doing to assist these learners coming to university with these hurdles? And why is the focus only on year one? What about year two, three and four? All these questions were asked, as what does one define as student success? How are we to measure these variables? These were profound questions that really stood out to me, as I found myself struggling to answer these very important questions. Everything I could think of was purely anecdotal at this point.
During one of the incubator sessions a discussion around the main reasons first year student’s drop out was raised. The three main reasons were academic exclusion, finance and administrative reasons. There was a consensus around these themes but when we spoke about solutions, it became transparent that it was bigger than the lecturer and department but that it needed to be a university initiative to retain these students. However in contrast to this the initiatives staff and departments can drive were classroom influences, extracurricular involvement, support services and background student characteristics. It is of vital importance that the staff drives these initiatives because research conducted by Lane 2014 stated “Students don’t see progression, they see it as entering, persisting and graduating”. This is troublesome, because students seem to go through each year in isolation instead of pursuing integrated learning, understanding that each year is a stepping stone to the next year.