University has unique forms of teaching and expectations which are placed on students, which some students find difficult to cope with. The following podcasts highlight key features of studying at university and contains tips which may help you with the transition from your previous background to studying at university.
It does make it easier I guess. It does become easier as time goes on, as you get more experience in things, your writing becomes better, your vocabulary improves, your style improves . You time management improves. Your connections that you have made, your professional connections, have improved and you also know what sources you should go for first. Whereas in the first year, you didn't know should I be looking at text books? Should I be looking at journals? Should I be looking at websites? You start off thinking, ok, I've got this assignment. The first thing that I should be looking at is this journal that talks about the module, and then find something in there. You can actually ask for advice and feedback. Cos in A Levels, I was just told, 'give it in, and then leave it, forget it and that's it'. But then at university, the lecturers actually have more time for you. So, as long as you book an appointment, they can sit down with you, and say 'this is how you should be doing it', because they have a passion for it, they really do have a passion for what they have done. They may have their PHDs in it, or their Masters, or something. So they know what they are talking about, really deeply. So if you just ask them 'what can I do here? What can I do there? How can I pursue that? How can I change this?' They can sit down with you for an hour or so and help you out, no problem.
It's the freedom I guess. I call it freedom. Some people may find it daunting I guess. Erm, because you are just there in a field of, well, you could have maybe 7000 students around you. And they have to do whatever is asked of them, but on their own accord. So, you are not being helped along. You are not being told, 'if this is what you need to do today, then tomorrow you do this, and then you hand that in, and then you do this.'... No, they just tell you 'this is what you need to do in the next twelve weeks'. So, do that. And no one is going to be there telling you need to come into lectures every day. You need to get up, and you need to come and meet me and you need to come and talk about this coursework. It is all up to you. If you want more advice, you have to come and ask. If you don't, then it is your loss. The lecturer, it is not their role, I think to be chasing you down. It is that maturity that you have to learn I think, when you change. So I think you are left on your own at university. Some people like it, and I like it. But some may find it scary, to know that everything is down to them. Especially as they are used to being helped, after however many years, which started at school. The autonomy. You become autonomous. In college and in 6th form, they had a set timetable. They would tell you 'this week, we are doing this, next week we are doing that. And you should have this by this time and that by that time', but because uni doesn't just break things down just like that. They just give you a big stretch. So, one task, a big task, within this big chunk of time. So you won't know when this chunk when that other chunk should be done.
I found that the only way that you can find out what you should be doing is working backwards. So, if hand in date is say 30th April, work backwards and say 'how many days do I need to save for referencing? How many days do I need to sort out the conclusion? How many days do I need for this and that?', so working backwards, and then you can see, there is already a timetable there.
We didn't have to do any extra reading at A-level, so that's probably the main thing; you really have to be disciplined and motivated to go after the lecture and do the reading. That's the main thing. The second thing is probably, you have more little tasks at A-level study, you know, 'go and look into this', whereas at university its generally not like that, you'll just get one piece of coursework and it's up to you to manage your own time and when that's due in, there'll be no-one saying 'remember this is due in next week', it's down to you to remember that that's the deadline and that's the time. Whereas I think A-level teachers are more 'have you started?', or 'how are you getting on with it?' or 'when's it due in?' and things like that – so you've still got very much someone making sure you're on track: but you really have to be self disciplined with that. I think those are probably the 2 main things that I would say – just be on the ball with things and up to date, get a diary and make sure everything is written in and everything's on track basically.
I think for me, if I'd come straight from school, obviously it would been, but it eased you in, because school was very much like 'do this do this', A-level was kind of a little bit more slack with it but still on that guideline and then university was just that one step. It is almost a gradual process and I do think that there is some sort of reason for that, I think they do try to prepare people for university as much more independent and things like that. But I'm quite organised anyway so I didn't find it a problem, but that's why I'd say if you're not used to doing it definitely getting a big calendar stuck up on your wall or a diary would be really important to do, so you can kind of a) have the deadlines due in and even writing up targets for where you want to be in coursework is also really useful to put on your calendar because you can make sure you're sticking to that and that you don't panic at the last minute.
The shift from school or college to university is quite a big step in many ways, apart from many students moving away from home and all that excitement. But there’s, in terms of their learning, being at university is different from studying for ‘A’ Levels or whatever other qualifications you did beforehand. Some students make the mistake of thinking that they can reproduce the work that they’ve done in their previous schools for university and that’s a mistake because the level of analysis, the depth of understanding that’s required is very significantly higher at university than it is at school or college. So when you look at your texts you will see that they are in much more detail, they are in much more depth and even if you studied a particular topic before you will be required to go into more depth and be more critical. One of that universities is setting out to help you learn is critical thinking, how to step back and be critical and say does this make sense? Is there evidence for this? What is the logic behind this? Where is the experimental data? Where is the analysis? So you need to be very critical and to be able to justify everything that you say in terms of assessments, so as a basic rule every statement that you make must be justified objectively. So rather than saying that whether you like something or don’t like something; it’s a matter of saying how you can evidence that. That the main difference between school or university. In general terms, school is about the knowledge of things and university is about the knowledge of those things perhaps in more depth but with the addition of being critical.
In schools and colleges, you are set lots of deadlines as you are going through the school year, for getting coursework in, for getting feedback on your coursework, for re-writing the coursework. That doesn’t tend to happen at university level. Usually there is a deadline for the assignment, and there might be a deadline for producing a draft of something, but you will have to impose the deadlines on yourself, for when you want to get work done by. It is very much left in the students’ hands, and that I think can be quite a difficult thing to work through.
Depending on what kind of school or college or sixth form or F.E. college that you have come from, you will be in a smaller or a larger class than you will find in university. A lot of our lectures are very large indeed, with maybe hundreds of people in them, so you are not going to get that kind of one-one tuition that you might find in a classroom environment when you are studying at school or in another institution of F.E.
Well there’s one similarity that I’ll start with, that at school, college and at university all the resources are deployed to help you do the best you possible can and that’s the similarity. The difference is at school and college people tell you and take you to those opportunities and they guide you through it at university you have to take more responsibility for doing that yourself. And that can feel a bit strange to begin with. But actually this is about developing exciting higher level graduate skills that make you very employable. So what you need to do although they are scary, what I normally say to students unless you’re a bit scared, unless you’re a bit uncomfortable you’re not learning. If things are easy, actually you need to challenge yourself a bit more. And university isn’t easy, at each stage it’s a bit more difficult, you’re expected to read more, to think more, to challenge more and that’s part of the process. So don’t worry, if you’re off the scale worried, anxious there are things you can do to get you to the right sort of scale. A bit of anxiety a bit of difficulty a bit of challenge working it out for yourself is really important. And as my granny used to say to me “you get in life what you put in” and it’s the same in education if you put some effort in, you will get more out than you put in.
I think when you are at school it’s quite often that and at college, that you’re being prepared simply to get through your exams, almost that there is more coaching that goes on in those settings, they are very good, I mean you wouldn’t be coming to university unless they helped you to do that. But I think when you come to university, it is about developing yourself as more autonomous independent learner and actually setting yourself up for lifelong life wide learning to become flexible and responsive to your learning, that if something new comes up you think about where you could find out more information about it not necessarily being told where to go. So it’s using your own initiative in learning, managing your own time, you’ve probably moved away from home quite often so you’ve got to really start to put in place you own time management in learning, nobody’s going to tell you to do your homework, you’ve got to make the effort to do that.
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