Podcasting to support transition to Higher Education

IMPALA4T (Informal Mobile Podcasting And Learning Adaptation For Transition) is one of the family of podcasting research projects at Beyond Distance.

Funded by the Higher Education Academy, the project aimed to answer two questions:

  1. How can undergraduates’ informal knowledge and experience, captured and delivered through podcasts, support transition into Higher Education (HE)?
  2. Do students perceive that they benefit from podcasts, and if so how?

 You can read more about the background, the methodology and the results of the IMPALA4T research by downloading the final report from http://tinyurl.com/impala4t-finalreport.

An overview of the project and the results…

Positive transition into Higher Education (HE) has a direct impact on students’ later learning experiences. However, most interventions to support transition from school to university are institution-driven, such as courses on study skills.

We found that the knowledge and experience of students who have already made the transition have rarely been exploited. As Ball and Vincent (1998) called, such knowledge is considered to be ‘hot knowledge’. Studies of students’ preparation for HE report that potential applicants consider ‘hot knowledge’ to be more trustworthy than communication through ‘official’ sources (Hutchings, 2003).

 Our premise in the IMPALA4T project was that podcasting can capture this ‘hot knowledge’ and make it available. And IMPALA4T used podcasting to develop a new approach by tapping the knowledge and experience of current undergraduates.

The project consisted of:

  1. developing two sets of podcasts (Type A and B)
  2. making the podcasts available for students
  3. researching how podcasts supported the transition process; and
  4. disseminating project outcomes.

Type A podcasts aimed to address the transition issues facing students about to start their first HE course, while Type B were for those in their first year.

With second and third year undergraduates at the Department of Biological Sciences at Leicester, we developed 13 Type A podcasts, covering topics such as leaving home, making new friends, accommodation, managing money and differences between school and university. These podcasts were made available from July 2008 through an open website at www.startinguni.info to prospective HE applicants.

Type B podcasts were made available for first year students at the Department of Biological Sciences at Leicester during their first and second semesters of the first year. Twenty four Type B podcasts were made which aimed to address transition issues for students in their first year, for example, progressing from first to second semester and first to second year, coping with exams, choosing modules, lab work, library projects, and productive activities in summer vacation. These podcasts were made available from the module site on Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment.

Using qualitative interviews with students, we examined how podcasts helped with their transition issues. Eight students who had listened to Type A and a further eight who had listened to Type B volunteered for one-hour long interviews that were recorded for further analyses.

Interviews with students revealed that IMPALA4T podcasts addressed issues that were significant for them and challenging for the process of transition. These were areas where first year students faced making difficult decisions (ones that caused them anxiety), and they felt they lacked necessary information and guidance.

Our interviews showed that existing sources of information and guidance contained many flaws. Although most students had access to family ‘cultural capital’ (with at least one family member with HE experience), such sources would not be very useful in the specific environment of particular courses at a university. They said that other potential sources of advice were either not readily available or not well used by students: many could not identify a useful source of informal knowledge and advice to support their transition.

The students attributed particular legitimacy to the podcasts, as they helped them to hear the opinions of peers with firsthand knowledge and experience of the situations they described. Podcast technology therefore was successful in capturing informal knowledge and opinions drawn from experience.

Students believed that the hot knowledge contained in podcasts helped them by providing:

  • new information and perspectives
  • advice regarding positive behaviours
  • the reinforcement of existing knowledge and behaviours and
  • the provision of emotional reassurance.

Because the podcasts drew on other students’ direct experience, many students were willing to act on the information and advice.

Drawing on the evidence from Type A and Type B interviews, we developed a model of the HE transition process. The transition process consists of an initial phase in which students apply to universities and choose which to attend, through a middle phase in which they begin their courses, and a final phase where, following the initial settling in period, they attempt to engage further with what is required of them in the HE environment, especially as they advance into their second (and even third) year.

  1. The initial phase consists of two stages that we identify as ‘information seeking’ and ‘inspection’.
  2. The middle phase consists of a further two stages that we term ‘locating’ and ‘adjustment’. A new HE entrant goes through these transitory stages from school or college until they embark on an HE course.
  3. The final phase consists of two more stages – ‘re-adjustment’ and ‘structuring’ – where a new HE entrant begins a new social and academic life at the university.

 IMPALA4T podcasts covered all the stages of the process of transition that we have identified, except for inspection, which involved students actually visiting the HE institution.

Most interventions to support transition stops at the end of the middle phase. However, students who listened to Type B podcasts clearly described the existence of a far more extensive period of uncertainty and transition. The final stage involves continued adaptation to the learning environment after early assessments such as first essays and January exams and the critical reflection that the results bring, which is a re-adjustment. There is a restructuring for the future stages of the course, through module selection, planning for the summer, and towards final destination. IMPALA4T demonstrated that student-created podcasts could support the final stage of transition.

Hope you will enjoy reading the report available at http://tinyurl.com/impala4t-finalreport .

Thank you…

Palitha Edirisingha

28 April 2010, BDRA

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