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How teaching teams can strengthen the students' first year of study

The transition to the university can be challenging for students. Therefore, it is important for their academic and social well-being that they get off to a good start with their studies. Ensuring a good start by focusing on first-year didactics is something that can be worked with across departments and in groups of teaching staff.

An excellent first year for the students is a general point of attention across Aarhus University. Within first-year didactics, five dimensions are of importance for the students’ successful transition to the university: ‘structure‘, ‘mastering’, ‘activity’, ‘relation’, and ‘transformation’.

By collaborating with colleagues across disciplines on these dimensions, you can create better opportunities for the students to experience a manageable and coherent first academic year.

SMART

Characteristics

Structure

  • The framework and organisation of the teaching and learning. 
  • The importance of clear expectations and predictability. 
  • Coherence between structure, expectations, and responsibility.

Mastery

  • Correlation between the study-related challenges and the resources available to the students.
  • What the students do and what the educators do.

Activity

  • Forms of teaching and learning that can promote dialogue between the educators and students and between students – as well as promote participation.
  • The student as an active co-player.
  • Emphasis on the importance of writing and feedback.

Relation

  • The relationship between educator and student and between students.
  • An educator who is professionally and socially committed.
  • The relationship between the educator and the students should be characterised by requirements, expectations, and support. 

Transformation

  • Transformation is change, development, and formative education.
  • The transformation points back to the other dimensions as the structure, the mastery experience, activities, and relations promote transformation.

The SMART dimensions. Reproduced from Felby & Kristiansen (2020), Førsteårsdidaktik - Hvad og hvordan?

Working with first-year didactics in practice

How do groups of teaching staff approach the work with first-year didactics? The five dimensions are an analytical division that overlaps in practice and is expressed in many different ways.

Therefore, we will list a few specific focus areas that educators can use to discuss and collaborate on if they wish to strengthen the students’ first year of study across the entire programme.

Media ecology

Though the students are experienced users of different types of media and technology, they will encounter a new media landscape when they begin at the university. Both because the technologies that are used in their teaching will be completely new to them and, not least, because the technologies are used differently in different subjects and by different educators.

Therefore, it can be an area to concentrate your efforts as a joint group and make media ecology a theme in a collective first-year initiative. In this way, you can work on creating a coherent and transparent structure for the students and at the same time strengthen their experience of mastery.

The intention should be to create a digital learning landscape characterised by recognisability across subjects so that the students relatively quickly learn to navigate the technologies and digital activities easily to support their learning process.

Find an overview of available technologies at Aarhus University and get inspiration for how to use these technologies here.

Study skills

The forms of study that students encounter at the university differ in many ways from what most students know from previous education. There is a larger amount of text, new types and requirements for written and oral presentations, and more independent work. In other words, students must learn to learn in new ways.

The work to support the development of suitable study skills is both important to activate the students and to support their sense of mastering the field. Ultimately, it is the ability to navigate the patterns of the subject and identify as a student in their field that forms the basis for transformation – which is the T in the SMART model.

Here, too, there is a great potential in working collectively as a group of educators. Firstly, some courses can be more suitable than others to support specific study skills, for example by working with reading strategies in a reading-heavy course and with written presentations in a course with a written final exam. Secondly, a coordinated effort helps with transparency and allow for in-depth immersion rather than all courses trying to approach all of the academic competencies.

Your students can find inspirational material on study skills at AU Studypedia.

A road to university educational competency development

A holistic and coordinated first-year effort is not only for the benefit of the students. It also contributes to relevant and problem-driven competency development for educators as individuals and as a group.

Academic and collegial collaboration on first-year initiatives is an excellent way to learn new things as the explicit work on specific educational issues heightens applicability and ensures the immediate creation of useful experiences.

At the same time, the group of educators will develop a common pedagogical foundation and a common practice, which is an important basis for the ongoing development of teaching and education.

If your teaching group need educational consulting and collaboration, you are welcome to contact the CED.

Find more information on consulting and collaboration with teaching and learning as the focal point here.

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