Think piece: Reflection on 'the first year experience'
The invitation to contribute a short reflective piece on the policy and practice of the first year experience is a welcome, if challenging, task. The complex set of personal, social and academic factors involved in successful progression through the first year of tertiary education provide ample scope for commentary and debate. Thus, drawing upon my own research focus and interests, and my experience of working with first year students and those who teach them, this commentary is centred in the need for care in recognising and defining the “First Year Experience”.
From a research perspective, factors associated with student persistence, engagement and progression in tertiary level education have been consistently studied in response to concerns regarding the level of attrition rates at this level of study. According to Yorke (2007, p1) ; the engagement of students in higher education is influenced by a number of factors – for example, how they finance their studies; how they balance studies and part-time employment; and what they see as their aims in undertaking a program of study’. Updating this work in 2008, Yorke & Longden (2008, p2) again found that ‘the major influences on non-continuation [are]: poor choice of programme; lack of personal commitment to study; teaching quality; lack of contact with academic staff; inadequate academic progress; and finance’. Among the institutional variables that have been found to affect the first-year experience are induction methods, teaching/pedagogy, assessment and feedback, and student support.