Teaching and Learning Forum 98 [ Contents ]

Induction program for first year students at Curtin Business School

Kevin McKenna, Simon Kennedy and Paula Haslehurst
Curtin Business School
Curtin University of Technology
At the commencement of the 1997 academic year, Curtin Business School provided an integrated induction process for new students. The aims of the induction program were to minimise the difficulties in joining a an imposing institution and to introduce students to skills and attitudes that helped in terms of bonding to the university and encouraging retention and academic performance. Central to the 1997 induction was the recognition that many new students consider social interaction as critical in their initial experience of University.

In 1997, the program involved 1000 students entering their first year of University study. The induction covered a range of topics considered useful in the transition to University study. The sessions were organised into regular teaching times, so that attendance virtually was compulsory. In all, about 400 induction sessions were required.

This paper discusses the development and content of the induction sessions and the procedures involved in making them available to students. It also discusses student appraisal of the value and interest of each session. Appropriate modifications to the program in subsequent years will be considered.


Introduction

Research into the transition of first year students into University life has become increasingly widespread. This corresponds to a number of Australian governmental policies aimed at improving the "Quality" of the Australian University system and access to education services. Central to both directives is the need to attract and retain student populations. It has been well noted that the sense of belonging and commitment of new students to a University Institution is of particular importance to these initiatives. Orientation programs traditionally have formed the basis of efforts directed towards these goals.

It is a commonly accepted that the first year of study is critical with respect to student academic performance and course completion. For example, in a study of American first year students, Rice et al (1989:2) found that those who participated in a greater number of orientation programs, rather than fewer, had significantly higher grades, were less likely to hold probationary status after the completion of first year and experienced higher retention rates. In a study of Australian students, Power et al (1987:44) reported that "(m)uch more attention in the early part of first year needs to be devoted to systematically inducting students so that they clearly appreciate what is involved in studying their chosen areas at an advanced level". See also Barefoot et al (1993)

It is within this "Quality climate" that this case study on the orientation programs hosted by Curtin University of Technology, and especially Curtin Business School, has been undertaken.

Traditional Guild Orientation

Like most Universities, traditionally Curtin University conducted a single orientation day involving speeches by various dignitaries, details of course programs, loud bands and a monumental display of activities by the Student Guild. In addition, the Guild provided academic skills courses, for example, on essay writing and the transition to University life. Although the content of such courses was commendable participation rates were very low.

Staff within Curtin Business School realised this introduction to University was inadequate. The broadening range of students attracted onto campuses today means that increasingly students lack skills considered necessary for comfortable transition to University life. Upcraft (1993) suggests that there has been a significant diversification of student characteristics over time. Among the changes in first year students, Upcraft notes the generally lower socio-economic class, increase in part time enrolments and increasing family dysfunction. Further, the direction of change in these characteristics has resulted in a student population more at risk in an academic sense than in previous years, and less likely to graduate (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991).

In this changing climate it is overly ambitious to expect broad orientation programs to appeal to all first year students across the campus. However, clearly an orientation program designed to ease the transition of students into University, maximise their attendance and minimise attrition rates is crucial. Curtin Business School developed its own orientation program specifically directed at business students.

Curtin Business School induction in 1995 and 1996

In 1995 Curtin Business School organised student workshops on a number of topics. Topics were both academic and social in nature. The inclusion of social based orientation programs in Orientation is common and a study by Power et al (1987) found that students rated most highly those programs which mixed social and academic material. A program of workshops was prepared and scheduled for the first week of first semester. A brochure detailing these workshops was mailed to all students who were new to Curtin Business School. Individuals with relevant skills for each topic presented the workshops.

Workshop attendance was voluntary and ranged from a high of 120 for the workshop on Essay Writing At University, down to three for the session on Homesickness (one thing learned from this exercise was not to call a homesickness session, "Homesickness"!). Many students seemed impressed that the university was sufficiently caring to provide an opportunity to attend the sessions.

A full student evaluation of the induction program was carried out. Overall the results were highly favourable but it was clear that the main disadvantage of this format was the relatively small number of students who participated. While the students that were involved found the material very helpful, we were able to reach just 15% of the student population at most. It was decided to repeat the exercise for 1996 but to change the format to try to involve as many students as possible.

The format for most of the five first year units comprises two hours of lectures and a one-hour tutorial. Tutorials were rarely held in the first week of semester. For the 1996 Induction it was decided to use this vacant tutorial time for the induction material, implicitly making them compulsory. Consultation with first year lecturers and other interested staff developed a list of topics thought to be appropriate induction material. Many of these were similar to those presented in 1995 but additional topics were included, such as student budgeting and banking. A list of topics is shown in Table 1.

The 1996 student induction coincided with a strategic priority to increase the attraction of the Business School to High School leavers. The induction program clearly complemented this objective as it conveyed to students the high value placed on their success by CBS and the resources it was prepared to commit to ensure their entry into university was as smooth as possible.

Staff involved in planning the induction tutorials noted that some of the material was more appropriate if delivered later in the semester. For example, material on assignment writing would be more effective when students were planning their first assignment. However, teaching programs for the first year units were very tight, and subject controllers were reluctant to allocate time later in the semester to material that did not focus directly on the content of the unit.

1996 Induction Topics

UnitInduction Topic
Accounting 100Banking, Student Budgeting, Other Skills
Economics 100Referencing, Plagiarism, Assignment Writing
Legal Framework 100Tutorial Expectations, Time Management, Note Taking
Information Systems 100Introduction to Computing
Management 100Learning How to Learn, Mind Mapping, Uni: Roles and Expectations

A significant problem with this format was that due to the large numbers of students, part-time staff taught most of the tutorials. In some units up to twenty of these staff were involved. They were not expected to be expert in all of the induction topics so a system was needed which was 'presenter proof'. For each topic a package was prepared comprising overheads and notes for tutors. The Induction tutorials were intended to involve as much student participation as possible so student worksheets were also included in each package.

Extensive surveying of student opinion revealed the topics considered most valuable were those that detailed specific expectations of students by the University. For example, students regarded sessions that addressed assignment writing, referencing and tutorial skills as highly important. This may reflect underlying insecurities and doubts of students as they enter a largely unfamiliar situation. Generally, the life-skills tutorials were poorly received in terms of value and interest.

Overall, staff involved in the Induction considered it to be exceptionally worthwhile. Informal feedback suggested that students felt that Curtin Business School was concerned about their welfare, and devoted to assisting them in their transition to university. Establishing and promoting initial links between students and the university is not a new issue in orientation programs. While it seems that some of the material had been presented too early in the semester to be most effective, at least students were exposed to a wide range of important topics which could be followed up in more depth at later, more appropriate times.

1997 Induction

The First Year Unit Controllers and the CBS Director of Planning and Quality met throughout 1996 in preparation for the next academic year. A very strong feeling of team spirit developed through these sessions. The 1997 Student Induction followed closely the format of the previous year, but the content was revised and adjusted slightly. There was a deliberate a move towards co-ordinating and integrating subject content between units.

In the week before the commencement of semester a workshop was held for all of the staff involved in presenting induction tutorials - a total of about 80 full-time and part-time staff. The importance to Curtin Business School of first year students was stressed. The CBS Director of Planning & Quality then reviewed the research on the First Year Experience, explaining that decisions made by new students early in their course determined their success at university (Myers, 1981). This research emphasised the importance of forming informal networks within the first few weeks of university life.

These notions were linked to the aims of the induction tutorials and to the conduct of tutorials generally during semester. Following this general opening session, each subject group formed individual workshops to address the content of their respective induction topics. Although led by those who had prepared the induction material these sessions were highly interactive with participants sharing their experiences. Tutors commented on the value of the sessions.

Consideration of the social aspect of the learning process is important. McInnis et al (1995:118-119) note the "...differences in academic performance between those students who interact with other students for study purposes and those who do not." They claim, "The power of incidental learning in social settings has long been acknowledged in other spheres of education, yet remains seriously underestimated in current thinking about course delivery in higher education."

Traditionally, many business tutorials have been quite formal affairs. At the first meeting tutors would introduce themselves, take the roll and then begin with the subject content. Under the induction format, tutors spent up to half of the first tutorial on introductions. Tutorial staff used various formats. For example, in some cases students were required to talk in pairs and then to introduce each other to the group, focussing on interests and 'gossip'. Not only did students find that this approach made them feel much more at ease, but many staff remarked on how much more enjoyable they found this first tutorial than was their usual experience. In fact, several senior staff remarked on increased enjoyment of first year tutorials right through the semester, following this friendlier introduction.

One of the significant changes to the Induction in 1997 was to extend it over the first two weeks of tutorials, allowing time for the informal, 'getting-to-know-you' aspects, in addition the more formal induction material content.

Another significant change to the Induction in 1997 involved the incorporation of a common case study video to run in all first year units. The case study centred upon a fictional Video Store and allowed each unit to formulate relevant exercises based on the fortunes of the store. The aim was to enrich the first years' experience of the Commerce degree through realistic considerations and by showing the interconnections between the units. The desired result was the unification of the disparate facets of the Commerce degree and an emphasis on the degree as practical and worthwhile. This assisted the overall goal of the Induction to reassure students that they belonged at Curtin University. Although the video was shown in lectures, not tutorials, it was still considered part of the induction process.

A comprehensive Student Survival Guide also was introduced. The Guide included information on all aspects of University, from study tips to advice on organisation and campus facilities.

Three topics that were least valuable and interesting in 1996, according to student feedback, were removed from the program. These excluded topics related to Lifeskills tutorials, including banking, student budgeting and student support services.

1997 Induction Topics

UnitInduction Topic
Accounting 100Tutorial Expectations, Time Management, Note-taking
Economics 100Referencing, Plagiarism, Assignment Writing
Legal Framework 100Cross-cultural expectations, Presentations
Information Systems 100Introduction to Computing
Management 100Learning How to Learn, Mind Mapping, Uni: Roles and Expectations

Additionally, two videos outlining student experiences, No Bells Here and Windmills of the Mind, and a series of cross-cultural exercises were incorporated into the 1997 Induction program. The new topics were accepted favourably by students, although it is notable that students most often cited a topic outlining expectations at University as deserving more attention in the Induction.

Student evaluation

All first year students were surveyed on completion of the Induction Tutorials. Among other issues the questionnaire asked students to rate topics according to interest and value on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 representing the least value/interest, and 5 representing the most value/interest).

Tables One and Two illustrate student ratings according to value and interest. In general the most important in terms of value are those which relate directly to academic issues and sessions dealing with the demands of university This seems to reflect student concern as to what is expected at University and their desire to attain prompt information. This is also reflected in their high rating of the importance of mastering issues such as referencing, assignment writing and tutorial skills

Students also rated highly the sessions which discussed the purpose and expectation of tutorials, the exercises relating to time management and to the computing environment in Curtin Business School. These sessions also were very interactive.

Table1: Average Rating of Value (5 = most value, 1 =least value)
1.Referencing and Plagiarism3.9
2.Assignment Writing3.7
3.Tutorial Skills3.6
4.Time Management3.5
5.Cross-cultural exercises3.3
6.'No Bells Here' video3.2
7.'Windmills of Your Mind' video3.1

Table 2: Average Rating of Interest (5 = most interest, 1 =least interest)
1.Cross-cultural exercises3.3
2.Assignment Writing3.1
3.Tutorial Skills3.1
4.'No Bells Here' video3.0
5.Time Management3.0
6.Referencing and Plagiarism2.9
7.'Windmills of Your Mind' video2.9

In looking at the Tables, it is clear that while students believed some topics to be highly useful, they were not always stimulated. The challenge of maximising each topic's interest remains for 1998.

It is noteworthy that the cross-cultural exercises introduced for the 1997 Induction were rated as the most interesting topic of the Induction. A highly interactive session, these exercises allowed students to meet and discuss issues of race and culture by considering a range of scenarios. This topic's inclusion was warranted due to the national debate of recent times on race issues and was rewarded with a positive response by students.

Among students' concerns with the Induction was a lack of information on specific expectations of University life. They wanted more guidance with respect to assignments, lectures, tutorials and overall demands of tertiary education. Related to this was student demands for information on particular aspects of the course, such as objectives and future prospects. It seems important for student security that they know where they are headed and what is involved.

Another preferred topic concerned Library information. Traditionally, the Curtin Library has conducted its own introduction and library issues previously have not been included in the Business School's Induction programmes. However, in mid-1997, the Library allocated a librarian solely to Curtin Business School. This direct access might allow some form of Library introduction to be easily incorporated into the programme for 1998.

The most common suggestion of students was to cater beyond "ordinary" Commerce students for those who were part-time, mature-age or those simply including occasional Commerce units as part of another course. Given the range of topics and the restricted availability of time, it is difficult to offer to these students the full range that is available to full-time students, but the issue will be given consideration for 1998.

The overwhelming success of the 1997 Induction was in providing students with opportunities to meet and become friendly with their peers. Almost 60% of students identified social interaction as most useful in helping them settle into university. Over half of these responses directly nominated the tutorial organisation geared to open and friendly introductions as assisting in their transition. An additional 7% believed friendly and understanding lecturers and tutors were an important factor.

Clearly the Business School has been vindicated in its decision to focus on the social component of student success at University. Incorporating social aspects into the more focused topics of the Induction has been central to the Induction programme, with the positive impact upon students clearly reflected in survey results.

Tutors also were surveyed for their responses to the Induction, which indicated a general approval of the induction process. Particularly, tutors were impressed with the 'getting to know' exercises, which helped ease the students into the class. Among the suggestions for future years were to be explicit as to student why CBS has invested in the Induction in order to make students aware of what they able to gain.

Turning to the issue of resources the induction exercise was not cheap. Running an extra tutorial alone in five units with enrolments of over 800 students in each cost around $10,000. The training session involving around 80 staff cost around $5,000 including refreshments. Preparation and printing of the induction material cost another $12,000, a total of $27,000.

Overall, the feeling amongst staff involved was that the exercise has been exceptionally worthwhile. Informal feedback suggests that students felt that Curtin Business School was concerned about their welfare, and devoted to assisting them in their transition to university. Establishing and promoting a connection between the student and the university is a familiar issue with respect to orientation programs. While it seems that some of the material has been presented too early in the semester to be most effective, at least students were exposed to a wide range of important topics which can be followed up in more depth at later, more appropriate times.

Plans for the 1998 Induction

When running a programme such as this, it is important to constantly aim for improvement. The First Year Unit Controllers continue to meet, discussing various aspects of the first year course, particularly the common case study. A by-product of this team spirit is a willingness to be more open to students' general needs.

Among the key challenges for the 1998 Induction are to address some of this year's shortcomings. As many topics are themselves in their early stages, it will take experience to determine the best methods of delivery. Similarly, student concerns regarding the objectives and expectations of University life will need to be addressed to further the Induction's goal of easy student transition.

Conclusion

It is clear from staff and student feedback that this exercise is worthwhile. With each year's Induction comes new successes and challenges. Curtin Business School recognises the pursuit of the goals of student security and sense of belonging can be enhanced by the Induction. Students feel that we appreciate their problems, that we are concerned about ensuring they have the required skills and that we aim to make their transition to university a positive experience. Within Curtin Business School we are determined to continue developing this induction program as part of our commitment to a first year experience which is effective, exciting and fulfilling for our students.

References

Barefoot, B.O. (1993). Exploring the Evidence Reporting Outcomes of Freshman Seminars. National Resource Centre for The Freshman Year Experience Monograph Series Number 11, University of South Carolina.

McInnes, C., James, R. and McNaught, C. (1995). First Year on Campus: Diversity in the initial experiences of Australian undergraduates. Centre for the Study of Higher Education University of Melbourne, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Myers, E. (1981), Unpublished attrition research studies. St Cloud State University, Minn.

Pascarella, E. T. and Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How College Affects Students. Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco.

Power , C., Robertson, F. and Baker, M. (1987). Success in Higher Education. Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Rice, R. and Thomas, W. (1989). The Effects of Various Types of Orientation Programming Upon Freshman Academic Performance and Reaction to College. Paper presented at the Western Regional Conference of The Freshman Year Experience, Irvine, California.

Simons, H., Parlett, M. and Jaspan, A. (1976). Up to Expectations: A Study of the Student's First Few Weeks of Higher Education. The Nuffield Foundation, London.

M. L. Upcraft (1993). Orientating Today's Students. In M. L. Upcraft, R. H. Mullendore, B. O. Barefoot and D. S. Fidler (Eds), Designing Successful Transitions: A Guide for Orientating Students to College. National Resource Centre for The Freshman Year Experience Monograph Series Number 13, University of South Carolina.

Please cite as: McKenna, K., Kennedy, S. and Haslehurst, P. (1998). Induction program for first year students at Curtin Business School. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 204-213. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/mckenna.html


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