In the third part of our Back on Track series, BOT Program instructor Ruth Silverman, Learning Services Coordinator at the Student Learning Commons, suggests five strategies SFU instructors can employ to ease students’ transition from high school to SFU.
This voice, from a Back on Track Program student, is probably familiar to seasoned instructors. You might even recognize a younger version of yourself in these comments. First year students typically struggle with similar, interrelated issues including:
- Class attendance in an environment of newfound personal freedom;
- A lack of a personal relationships with instructors and classmates in large classes;
- The need to be self-motivated and self-directed in one’s work habits;
- The need to develop study strategies for managing a larger amount of content, delivered at a faster pace than in high school; and
- Misunderstandings related to academic culture and jargon, including the nature and purpose of tutorials.
With so much to learn even before engaging with course content, is it any wonder that many first year students find themselves on academic probation (OAP) after their first term and Required to Withdraw (RTW) after their second?
Not surprisingly, summer term is always the biggest intake term for BOT, accounting for 44% of intakes in 2010, 50% of which were students who had entered SFU from high school the previous September. With the advent of Back on Track, students are no longer forced out of SFU just because they need more than 8 months to make the transition.
Although some instructors would note that it is not their responsibility to “fix” these problems for students, there are a few relatively simple things that you can do to ease students’ transition to SFU:
- Clearly communicate your expectations. Don’t leave anything to guesswork. Some examples of clear articulation of expectations are found on the Student Learning Commons’ “New to SFU?” webpage.
- Avoid making assumptions about students’ prior knowledge (e.g. that the abstract is not the entire journal article, that students will know that class attendance is important even though slides are readily available online, or using jargon (GPA, TA, MLA, APA, SLC). When in doubt, spell it out.
- Foster a sense of community in your classroom. Students want a sense of connection with each other and to their instructors but are often intimidated to seek that out. Regularly encourage students to come and see you, even if it is just to introduce themselves. One SFU instructor made a practice of this and had 390 students out of a class of 450 visit him by the end of the term. Create opportunities for students to connect with each other, such as frequent “pair and share” discussions in large lectures. Encourage them to exchange contact information and form study groups.
- Provide reality checks about upcoming deadlines. Even a reminder as simple as “Your papers are due in 2 weeks. If you haven’t started yours yet, you are now at the last minute” can make a difference.
- Help students familiarize themselves with SFU resources. For example, add links for the Student Learning Commons, Health and Counselling Services, the Centre for Students with Disabilities, Academic Advising, and other services to your class’ WebCT page. Show your students the SLC’s “New to SFU?” web page or ask for copies of the SLC handout, “Moving from High School to University – a road map” to distribute to your class.
These simple suggestions could make a significant improvement to our students’ learning experience. Imagine the difference we could make to our students if each member of the SFU community did his or her part in easing the transition from high school.
If the transition is tough for most students, imagine how difficult it must be for international students coping with the transition in an unfamiliar language, from a high school system that bears even less resemblance to SFU than the BC secondary system. Stay tuned to Teaching and Learning News for an upcoming feature of our BOT series that considers the problems facing international students new to SFU.
For more information about the Back on Track program, please contact Annette Santos at email@example.com.
Have you had experience with the Back on Track program? Give us your feedback in the comments below.