Background As identified in the UTAS Student Experience Strategy (2016-2020) the initial transition experience through the first year of study is critical to student engagement and retention. This project focuses on ‘Pillar 5: Strengthen the partnership between students and the University through conversations, co-creation and celebration’ drawn from the First-Year Curriculum Principles (FYCPs) derived from the UTAS Student Experience Strategy (2016-2020) and transition pedagogy (Kift, Nelson, & Clarke, 2010). This project aims to improve first-year student engagement and retention specific to the UTAS Rozelle campus, Sydney by exploring how first-years engage with the university experience. It uses a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach (Heron & Reason, 1997) where research impact is focused on change action rather than purely knowledge generation (Reason & Torbert, 2001). The project seeks to move beyond student engagement as performance in terms of purely academic participation and success, to include issues of psychosocial wellbeing (Kahu & Nelson, 2017) and care (Barnacle & Dall’Alba, 2017). Partnerships were established between staff and students to identify and address issues arising for first-years, and facilitate collaboration to work on improvements to enhance their experience. The project is both individually transformative (staff and students) and builds the social capital of the institution and broader community (Smith, 2007). Research Design and Methods This one-year Action Research project involves nine academics and ten first-year student volunteers from Nursing, Health and Community Care and Paramedicine. The data collection included a focus group with the students and two workshops attended by all participants. We recorded each session and had recordings transcribed. The transcripts were analysed for core themes and subthemes. Data analysis of the focus group and workshop transcripts suggested emergence of three core themes important to the first year student experience: quality of interaction in teaching and learning; lack of social and cultural activities; and lack of transparency and complexity in the admissions and enrolment process. Groups formed to explore and implement change action for each theme. Eight academics and students participated in two small group dialogues. The goal of the dialogues were to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of the students’ and academics’ experience of T&L and identify actions for change.
This Presentation This presentation will explore in depth the design of the study, including data collection and analysis. The presentation will also present and discuss some of the key findings, some of which have challenged our assumptions and raised questions on quality of interaction in learning and teaching.