Providing Students with an Easystart to Higher Education: The Emerging Role of Digital Technologies to Facilitate Students' Transitions

Providing Students with an Easystart to Higher Education: The Emerging Role of Digital Technologies to Facilitate Students' Transitions

Claire Hamshire, W. Rod Cullen
DOI: 10.4018/ijvple.2014010105
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The transition to higher education can be problematic for some students as they adapt to institutional procedures and degree level working at the same time as developing new social networks. To help facilitate these complex transitions institutions are increasingly turning towards digital technologies to provide both flexible access to resources and improved communication. This paper outlines the key issues associated with students' initial transitions to higher education and explores the challenges faced by academics designing induction procedures and programmes. The emerging role of digital technologies in supporting students' transitions into Higher Education, against the backdrop of a changing digital landscape in one institution is discussed and an evaluation of the easystart induction programme at Manchester Metropolitan University presented as a case study.
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Our interest in the challenges associated with student transition into Higher Education evolved from an exploration of the impact of autonomy, motivation and Information Technology (IT) skills on student engagement with online resources provided as part of the Physiotherapy programme at MMU (Hamshire, Cullen, & Wibberley, 2009). The programme attracts a diverse student population with an age range of 18-40 and a predominance of female students (approximately 2:1, female to male). In accord with Thomas (2002) those students who had a previous educational experience that was teacher-led and didactic were unfamiliar with the institutional habitus of independent learning and therefore had some difficulty in adapting. In contrast the mature students on the programme who had previous work or higher education experience had developed relatively high levels of autonomy and motivation and adapted more comfortably to the higher education environment. We recognised that the students’ academic and social needs were diverse and would emerge at different times so a variety of methods of providing ongoing support were required to give all students an opportunity to engage.

In devising our strategy to address these issues in the curriculum we initially focused on facilitating academic integration but as we gathered evidence from student evaluations it became increasingly apparent that social integration was also significant.

Academic integration is a broad term that includes students’ engagement with academic staff, their peers and resources and their attendance at timetabled sessions (Tinto, 1993). Thomas (2002) considers that two factors combine to influence academic integration, an individual student’s level of academic preparedness and the experience of the academic programme that they are studying. Academic preparedness encompasses students’ past educational experiences, their individual expectations, academic capabilities and personal autonomy which combine to give students a ‘state of readiness’ for studying. If there is a ‘match’ between academic preparedness of an individual and the academic experience, the student is more likely to engage with the programme (Thomas, 2002; Tinto, 1998); and the more a student is actively engaged the more likely they are to continue in higher education (Crosling, Thomas & Heagney, 2008).

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