• Supporting a happy and successful transition into higher education.

    by Sarah Chesney


Supporting a happy and successful transition into higher education.

~ Supporting transition ~

FEBRUARY 26th 2021· by Sarah Chesney


Supporting students during periods of transition throughout their learning journey has probably never been more important than it is right now. Around the globe, students at all stages of their studies are facing significant disruption and uncertainty, and for those about to be introduced to university life the prospect may seem even more daunting given the lack of opportunity for on-campus, in person experiences. In this blog post, we’ll look at ways to ensure students feel connected, supported and set up for success as they embark on this new chapter in their learning.

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Data indicates that 1 in 14 students do not make it through to the second year of their course 1. Given the increased likelihood of newly-enrolled students experiencing isolation, disconnection or confusion about what they are meant to be doing, that figure could easily rise in the current climate.

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Orientation and Induction

With the necessity of on-campus welcoming and orientation activities being shifted to the online space, it can be difficult to gauge student engagement and ensure they are receiving the information and support they need.  As many as 1 in 14 students will not make it through to the second year of their course 1, and given the increased likelihood of newly-enrolled students experiencing isolation, disconnection or confusion about what they are meant to be doing, that figure could easily rise in the current climate. The stakes are unfortunately high - primarily for students who may drop out at a cost to themselves both financially and emotionally, but also for universities who have financial and reputational imperatives to retain their students.

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COVID is making us reimagine our digital learning environment, and PebbePad is very much at the heart of our thinking.


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But there are things universities can do to minimise the risk of losing disaffected students. Research suggests that those who participate in effective induction programs generally perform better than those who do not and persist to graduation at a higher rate 2. It’s entirely possible to create supportive and engaging orientation programs at a distance and for many of our partner organisations, PebblePad has been a fundamental part of managing large-scale remote orientation.

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Bridging the school-university gap

Not all university students arrive directly from high school; however, a significant proportion of them do. The transition phase from high school to higher education has for many years been recognised as problematic for all involved in the process and Covid-19 has been especially disruptive to students in their final year of school, with many having exams delayed, cancelled or conducted remotely. In light of this, universities will need to find innovative ways of not just supporting their current intake, but attracting and encouraging potential undergraduate students.

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PebblePad is designed to scaffold and support learners throughout their learning journey including pre-entry to higher education. Bespoke PebblePad workbooks are commonly used to foster early engagement in the HE environment.

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2021 and the following two or three years will bring these challenges into sharper focus for Higher Education. So final year pupils looking to transition into higher education will benefit from any partnerships between universities and their school or college that is aimed at supporting them to become autonomous learners and well prepared for higher study. There are often differences and gaps between school and university including:

  • The way the subject is taught
  • The way the subject is assessed 
  • The level of interaction between tutor and student
  • Social and cultural aspects between the two environments 

PebblePad is designed to scaffold and support learners throughout their learning journey including pre-entry to higher education. Coaches and mentors from a university setting (maybe even existing undergraduates) can encourage and guide pre-entry pupils on a range of topics about university life, using bespoke PebblePad workbooks to foster early engagement in the HE environment. HE study skills can be gradually introduced in a low risk way, giving pre-entry pupils tasters and inspiration if they are unsure of which subject is best for them. Simultaneously, universities can gain a general overview of the suitability of a student through portfolio presentations to an admissions team. 

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Using PebblePad to support successful learning journeys

Successful induction and orientation, just like other student-centred initiatives, are notoriously difficult to support, especially at scale. That's why universities around the globe are choosing the PebblePad Learning Journey Platform to bolster their institution-wide capacity for scaffolding learner journeys that seamlessly span learning on and off campus - in any context, at any scale, from application to graduation, and beyond. For examples of using PebblePad to support learners in any context - our Learning Journey Platform publication includes 12 short case studies of exceptional practice from the PebblePad community.

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1. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/performance-indicators/non-continuation-summary-1819

 Ralph R. Busby, Hollie L. Gammel, and Nancy K. Jeffcoat, ‘Grades, Graduation, and Orientation: A Longitudinal Study of How New Student Programs Relate to Grade Point Average and Graduation,’ Journal of College Orientation and Transition 10, no. 1 (Fall 2002); Charles A. Boudreau, and Jeffrey D. Kromrey, ‘A Longitudinal Study of the Retention and Academic Performance of Participants in Freshmen Orientation Course,’ Journal of College Student Development 35, no. 6 (November 1994).

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Sarah has worked in educational and staff development for 13 years; first as a senior lecturer in e-learning at the University of Cumbria, and since then as both a consultant and associate lecturer. Sarah is a keen advocate for using eportfolios for staff development and professional recognition and has written several articles on this topic. The good news for Sarah (and for PebblePad customers) is that she now gets to spend even more of her time innovating in the eportfolio space in her role as an Implementation Specialist.