Report
Team Members

This project was led by Prof. Eleanor Denny an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at Trinity College Dublin.   Prof. Denny received the inaugural European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2012 and a Provost Teaching Award in 2010 and is currently on sabbatical at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and the Harvard Kennedy School).  Through her experiences as director of undergraduate teaching and learning in her school at TCD, her roles as director of the PPES degree programme and academic liaison officer, in addition to teaching a large first year module, she has gained significant insight into the issues that students face when transitioning from secondary school/further education into third level.
The partners in this project were the University of Limerick, Mary Immaculate College and Limerick IT, each of which have a strong interest in improving the transition experience for students.  In particular, these institutions have introduced programmes such as First Leanings (UL-led) and Threshold Concepts (LIT-led); The First Seven Weeks programme (UL); New PASS (Personal Academic Support System) (UL); foundational skills modules for first year students (MIC); as well as a Retention Officer (UL).  Together with Prof. Denny at TCD, the partner institutions have considerable insights into the student experience and have a broad student base with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests which is broadly representative of the Irish student population.  Prof. Denny and the rest of the project team look forward to improving the experience of students transitioning into third level through this research project.

Fiona Farr, (University of Limerick)

Angelica Risquez, (University of Limerick)

Geraldine Brosnan, (Mary Immaculate College)

Anne O’Keefe, (Mary Immaculate College)

Martin Fitzgerald, (Limerick Institute of Technology)

Seamus Hoyne, (Limerick Institute of Technology)

Michael Francis Ryan, (Limerick Institute of Technology)

Aims

This project reviews the ways in which students are best prepared to participate successfully in higher education and to make the transition from second and/or further education to a higher education learning context.

Research Questions

This project examines to what extent early higher education students have been equipped with the skills, competencies and orientations they need to succeed in Irish Higher Education. It investigates the views of students on the differences in T&L between the two levels and on how their second level experience prepared them for effective engagement with higher education.

Methodology & Scope

This project first conducts a literature review on the two research questions. It then conducts a number of small focus groups to collect student views on their experiences of the transition from second level/further education to third level. The focus group methodology is explained here: Each partner institution runs at least two focus groups with seven students in each, resulting in at least eight focus groups in total. The partner institutions represent the diverse nature of the Irish Higher Education sector and encompass the oldest HEI, one of the younger universities, a College of Education and an Institute of Technology, so the sample is broadly representative of the sector.

Ethical approval was sought through the ethics research committee of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy in Trinity College Dublin and the resulting report provided to the partner institutions and the Teaching and Learning forum for confirmation. Focus groups were organised using a robust sampling framework to ensure that the participants in the focus groups are representative of the student population as a whole and capture the different paths into third level. A qualified research assistant (RA) collected the data from each of the eight focus groups to ensure consistency of data and approach.

The focus groups investigated a range of issues including the following (the exact questions in the focus group schedules will emerge following an appraisal of the literature):

• How does the method of teaching at second level impact on student performance at third level, in particular do they have the following skills:

o Time management

o Critical thinking and synthesis of arguments

o Note taking

o Group work

o Maths and writing skills

o Does second level education lead to students focussing too heavily on the facts rather than the broader concepts?

• If students feel they are lacking in the above skills, what more can be done, in particular at second level/further education?

• How does teaching at second level differ from that at third level in terms of

o Presentation style

o Student engagement and active learning

o Assessment

o Group work

o Staff availability and engagement/approachability

o Classroom atmosphere

• How do these issues affect ease of transition to third level? Can anything be done about these?

• Are there particular aspects of the difference in third level and second level/further education which make transitions more challenging such as:

• Are there different classroom environments between the two levels which encourage different levels of engagement?

• Is sufficient information for orientation provided at second level to allow students to orient themselves within the third level system, in particular in the selection of courses and modules?

• Are there other issues exacerbating the transition for which students could be better prepared at second level, such as:

o financial and other challenges of living away from home for the first time

o social pressures

o extra-curricular engagement

o different support networks The RA will transcribe the data from each of the focus groups and it will then be coded for use in a software programme such as NVivo or similar software. The coded data will then be collapsed into a number of overarching themes to facilitate analysis.

Outcomes

• A comprehensive literature review on the transitional challenges faced by students entering the Irish higher education from the second level and further education sectors. • A dataset of student views on their experiences of the differences in T&L between the two levels and on how well their second level experience prepared them for effective engagement with higher education. • A final report summarising the extent to which early higher education students have been equipped with the skills, competencies and orientations they need to succeed in Irish Higher Education and summarising the views of students on the differences in T&L between the two levels and on how well their second level experience prepared them for effective engagement with higher education. • Recommendations for the sector on how best to ease the challenges of transition.

Impact Goals

• Generation of a comprehensive literature review. • Ethical approval for the proposed research. • Recruitment of a qualified research assistant. • Organisation and facilitation of at least two focus groups in each institution with approximately seven representative students in each. • Accurate transcription and coding of the data generated during of the focus groups. • Thorough analysis of the data from the focus groups. • On-time delivery of the comprehensive final report.