The first year university experience is linked to student satisfaction, retention and academic success. To help students transition to university, the subject Essential Academic Skills, was developed and implemented into the Bachelor Public Health Degree as well as other disciplines at the University of Wollongong. Our aim was to explore the effectiveness of the subject in assisting students’ transition.
A multi-methods case study was employed. Surveys were completed at the beginning and end of semester in 2016-2017. Self-reported change in knowledge and confidence were measured on eleven items (each relating to a topic that had been taught). Semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed thematically. Seven broad questions explored students’ understanding of the expectations and skills required for university, the strengths and weaknesses of the subject, and if students felt they benefitted from undertaking it.
There was a significance improvement in knowledge (p <.001) and confidence (p <.001) after completing the subject. Five themes emerged from the interviews: academic preparedness, academic writing, time management, collaboration, and communication and confidence. Students reported that their knowledge and confidence increased as they progressively built their academic skills, which they could transfer to other subjects in their degree.
The subject’s highly scaffolded nature ensured students actively engaged in activities, allowing them to learn as they constructed knowledge. As new skills were learnt, students incorporated these into their learning and utilised them in other subjects, which increased their confidence. Students benefitted from being able to start on assessments during class time with direct guidance from lecturers/tutors to reassure them they were on the right track, which increased their confidence and self-efficacy.
The subject supported students’ transition to university. Similar transition subjects may be beneficial in other universities. Longitudinal research is required to determine the effectiveness on academic outcomes and retention.