first year experience


Arthi Ramrung: Lecturer in the Teaching and Learning Development Centre, Mangosuthu University of Technology
Dr Danielle (Danny) Fontaine-Rainen: Director of the First Year Experience, University of Cape Town

Arthi Ramrung

Every student entering higher education has a first year experience. For some it is a good experience that is characterized by freedom, independent thought, growth in confidence, and intellectual and personal discoveries (Scott 2009). For others, it is an experience that is characterized by loss of confidence, failure, and disillusionment (ibid). While universities have always talked about the experiences of their first year students in broad and general terms, it is only in more recent decades that a strong focus and sustained conversation on the first year experience (FYE) has found currency on campuses around the world. And, it is only in even more recent years that universities in South Africa are deliberately focusing on the FYE. In part, this international and national trend has been fostered by the growing realization that the ultimate success of students at university and their pathway to graduation is strongly shaped by their first year experience (Barefoot 2000). It is also shaped, in part, by the reality that institutions are being asked to do more for students but with fewer resources (van Schalkwyk et al. 2009), and so universities are examining ways to maximize student retention and engagement in the most cost-effective manner.

Doing more for students with fewer resources often translates into focusing ever more on students and what support and interventions can we (a university) offer to better ensure our students are successful in their higher education career. While this focus is absolutely necessary, staff – those who teach our students and those who offer administrative support to our students – also need to be a focus in our efforts to improve, overall, the first year experience of all students. HELTASA’s FYE CLC will focus its efforts on initiatives and programming that supports staff in their various roles and responsibilities of the FYE. In particular, using the collective wisdom of those working in FYE in South Africa, but also looking at examples of best practice internationally, the FYE CLC will offer the space for conversations, webinars, workshops, and seminars on topics that speak directly to the work of staff involved in the FYE. A year-long programme of various support under the banner of #You’veGotThis will be offered such that staff can select which topics are of most interest to them. Topics that will be covered include (but are not limited to): Best practice(s) for teaching first year students; Designing effective and engaging courses for first year students; what does it mean to be a tutor to first year students?; Who are the students who are currently entering university that we need to be ready to teach? What does integrated support for students who are transitioning into university look like?

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