The aim of the project was to develop and mainstream immersive learning for all new undergraduate students at the University. The University has a highly applied curriculum, and the development of an active approach to immersive learning does two key things; it gives the learner the opportunity to interact with fellow learners in teams – building identity and belonging – and it allows the ability to develop active learning strategies in a low risk environment.
The project focused on the start of the learning journey – the first six weeks of term – which is known to be a risk period for retention. The project aimed to build engagement and belonging through the development of effective relationships with other students and staff – both academic and support teams. This six week period also includes an element of summative assessment so that all students receive early feedback on their learning.
The project is a pan university initiative which enables the University to enhance its strategic leadership in learning and teaching. This focus on belonging and engagement and enhancement of learning are key elements of good practice which have emerged from the ‘What Works’ Project (Thomas, 2013). The development of active immersive learning as a means of providing effective early engagement is evidenced by Renard (2013) De Freitas & Neumann (2009) who found that “teaching in these contexts provides less emphasis upon curriculum and more emphasis upon sequencing learning experiences, meta-reflection, peer assessment and group work”.
The outcomes from the project will be used to plan further immersive learning provision for learners who join the University in year 3 having studied Foundation Degrees in College-based HE.
Student Transition is a key area of concern for the University of South Wales, the specific challenges to achieving belonging, engagement, retention and success at the University are due to its highly diverse student population. This diversity can be seen by the University being the second largest institution in Wales for AAB students while having the largest percentage of students who are the first in their family to attend Higher Education; significant numbers who live in low participation neighbourhoods; a substantial international student body and a significant proportion of mature entrants. This diversity means that retention and success initiatives which are effective for one student group do not necessarily translate to the context of other groups. Single solutions, which might be effective in homogeneous institutions, are not necessarily successful in the University of South Wales’ context.
This project will support developments which are tailored to course level. Thus whilst the common theme of managing transition is maintained, the premise of a one size fits all approach not being suitable for the diversity of our learners remains appropriate.