A First Year Experience Learning Support Package and Its Impact

Ginty, Carina and Harding, Nuala (2011) A First Year Experience Learning Support Package and Its Impact. [Conference Proceedings]


This paper describes a collaborative research study in which a new first year experience learning support package has been deployed simultaneously in two Institutes of Technology in Ireland, across a range of disciplines. The learning support package consists of two strands, a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) programme and a new module titled 'Learning to Learn' (L2L). The PAL programme is led by trained student leaders from 2nd, 3rd or 4th year who undertake a five ECTS PAL Leadership module. This module involves student leaders facilitating a weekly one hour timetabled study session with a group of first years on the same programme. Whereas the L2L module is led by a lecturer and it's focused on learning styles and skills development for 3rd level education. This module is quite novel as only the learning outcomes are prescribed in the module descriptor, allowing each discipline area to contextualize the delivery and content. The aim of both initiatives is to ease the transition to third level education and long term help retain students on programmes. To date the PAL programme findings indicate: the challenges associated with implementing and embedding the PAL scheme long term; the first year student experience of PAL sessions; how PAL Leaders have benefited from the role; staff perceptions of the scheme; timetabling issues; support of staff involved on the programmes is imperative; on-going promotion and training workshops for staff and students is a key requirement. To date the L2L module student experience findings indicate what 1st year students find most challenging when entering 3rd level education and what they enjoy most about the new L2L module for example: understanding their learning style; practical projects; class debates; working in groups; and skills development for future careers. In contrast, what 1st years dislike about the L2L module is: the teaching or delivery approach in some cases; the time of day it takes place in some cases; over assessment or too many written assignments; and class contact time. This first year learning experience study has the potential to inform the development of a model for adapting a first year experience learning support package which could be embedded within the policies and learning and teaching strategies of institutes of higher education in Ireland.

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