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Supporting transition into HE: Comparing Level 3 and 4 vocational students' experiences of TEL

Page history last edited by James Martin Wilson 11 years, 7 months ago


The land-based sector of English Higher Education comprises 12,000 FTE learners (DfES, 2007).  20% of this provision is delivered by three monotechnic HEIs and 40% by FEIs (compared with some 11% HE delivered in FE on a national basis).Writtle College is unique in that it is a "dual-sector"  (Garrod & MacFarlane, 2007) or “hybrid” (Smith, Bathmaker & Parry, 2007) land-based institution with some 50% of its total provision (2,650 FTEs) in each of the FE and HE sectors.  In common with other ‘duals’, seamless progression is a key institutional objective and student transition issues receive high priority. Currently, FE level 3 success rates and transition are less successful than desired. Average success rates for 16-18 year old FE level 3 learners over the last two academic years have been 70% with progression to HE only 20%.  The average rate of retention within HE over the same period has been 78%.   This is a significant issue for the Institution.


Like many institutions in both sectors, Writtle College is currently seeking to embed e-learning across the whole of its provision utilising the VLE Moodle in conjunction with Web 2.0 developments. The recent appointment of a dedicated e-learning developer and e-learning technologist provides a natural focus for this institutional priority and for this research project. Current innovative pedagogies have included the use of WEBCAM linked to Moodle to enable students to remotely monitor mares giving birth at the College Stud, the use of time lapse photography to monitor deterioration in fresh fruit and vegetables and the use of computer aided design in equestrian competitions.


Revision of the HE curriculum for September 2008 has incorporated a generic strand of “Academic and Professional Development” modules to be delivered through a blended learning approach.  This strand will provide the main vehicle for the HE element of the study and is mirrored by developments in the enrichment elements of the FE curriculum which focus on Key Skills achievement. An important aspect of this project is to study the introduction of e-Portfolios in both sectors in the context of their ability to assist learners as they move from a highly supportive FE environment to a less supportive HE environment. 


The aims of the project are to:
  • identify, through a comparative analysis of FE (level 3) and HE (level 4) students’ experiences with their studies, the key factors that may facilitate transition into HE through the application of technology-enhanced developments;
  • shape the institutional pedagogic approach in line with student aspirations, experiences and satisfaction, so that a seamless transition to successful HE study can be effected;
  • create a proactive CPD strategy that supports staff to develop appropriate innovative and dynamic e-learning spaces. 

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With increasingly diverse but technology aware student populations and the emergence of new methods of delivery beginning in the Primary School sector, evaluation of the role of learning technologies becomes increasingly important,  for  both the FE and HE  sectors and for transition between the two (Kirkwood, 2007; JISC, 2008). A recent review re-emphasised the importance of an e-learning approach, providing examples of key “tangible benefits” such as savings in staff time, increased student achievement and improved student retention (JISC, 2008).


This research seeks to develop an understanding of land-based students’ satisfaction in the context of the developing pedagogy of e-learning. It builds on projects associated with transition from FE to HE such as the FurtherHigher Project, the work of Bathmaker & Thomas (2007), the STAR (Student Transition And Retention) project from the University of Ulster and the PADSHE (Personal and Professional Development for Students in Higher Education) project from the University of Nottingham.


Although the STAR and PADSHE projects examined the growing gap between Secondary/FE and HE Institutions, they tended to concentrate on the skills of 1st year undergraduates and the manner in which HE institutions prepared students for such endeavour. Considering Writtle’s unique  situation, it is our intention to include a combination of both FE and HE students and concentrate on ways to develop an integrated curricular approach that benefits both sets of students and facilitates seamless progression. We will pay particular attention to students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia as we have a significantly higher proportion of such learners compared with the national average.


A conclusive element of the FurtherHigher Project which examined transition factors among FE and HE students from a dual sector college was that the HE degree curricula did not necessarily reflect the specific interests of their FE students. We plan to examine whether such a claim can be linked to Writtle College and determine:


  • What needs to be changed to make our HE curricula align better with FE student interests and abilities and how can the use of rich media can assist with this objective?
  • How can the use of rich media actively engage students in the learning process so that transition is a less complicated process? 


JISC funded projects such as the University of Kent's PLPP (Personal Learning Portal Pilot) and the University of Liverpool's TransPortALL (Transfer of Portfolios Assisting Lifelong Learning) explored  the use of electronic personal development systems and the development of key skills and study skills at induction periods within HE as ways of supporting the student transition. We hope to build upon these projects and use their approaches and outcomes as bases for setting in place our examination of the development and use of an electronic portfolio system within both our FE and HE sectors. 


The project will enable the application of Herzberg’s Motivation and Hygiene Theory, thus building on the principal researcher’s current work on satisfaction with blended learning environments being carried out at the University of Aveiro, Portugal.

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The research will utilise the descriptive-survey method to describe the perceptions and opinions of FE and HE learners and teachers about their learning experiences. [1]
The research population will comprise:
  • Level 3 FE students (circa 70) and Level 4 HE students (circa 150 to 170).
  • Teachers delivering the relevant elements of the college curriculum.
The research will adopt a mixed method of data collection and evaluation. Two qualitative data collection instruments will enable limitations in one to be compensated by strengths in the other (Marshall and Rossman, 2006). The first will be a questionnaire based on current modular evaluation forms which is Likert-structured including open-ended questions. The second tool will be the interview with target groups enabling collection of in-depth data from participants to support data gathered from the questionnaire. Quantitative data analyses will compare FE3 achievement levels and HE4 success rates as the initial stage of a future longitudinal study.   


A cross-College e-Learning Team comprises staff with particular interest in pedagogic development and disseminating good practice, and student representatives.  This group will form the wider project team working with ICT trainers and the e-learning technician to generate new interactive blended materials.


[1] The term teacher in this project is regarded as being synonymous with the terms lecturer, tutor etc.

Work Plan

The research will be aligned with the academic year and will take into consideration the different time-frames surrounding both Writtle’s FE and HE sectors. The following link provides graphical representations of the College's semester and term timetables for this academic year 08/09, as well as the overall phases and timelines to be achieved within the research project.


Acadmic year and research timeframe.doc

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Research Teams

The main Project Team will comprise:

  • Liz Warr NTF - Project Director
  • James Wilson - E-Learning Developer and Principal Researcher
  • Jill Baldwin MCIPD - Head of Careers 
  • Dr Sue Judd - HE Learning and Teaching Representative
  • Ana Robinson - FE Teaching and Learning Representative
  • Rachel Butterfield - Graduate Teaching Assistant and Research Student
A Steering Group will provide an external perspective and will comprise:
  • Dr Abigail Hind - Director of Aspire CETL, Harper Adams University College

  • Catherine Bone and Malcolm Bodley - JISC/RSCEastern e-Learning Advisors


Advice has been and will, as appropriate be, sought from Eddie Gulc, the HEA Liaison Officer for Writtle College.


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Steering Group Meeting

The first steering group meeting occurred 31-October 2008, the minutes of which can be found by following this link.

Recent Developments

Interim Report: Our interim report to the HEA was handed during the month of February. You can access this report by following this link.


Monitoring Visit: On 3rd March we were graced with the presence of Martin Oliver and Jonathan Payens for our follow up monitoring visit. We were also fortunate to have present, Writtle's HEA Liaison Officer, Eddie Gulc. 


This was a highly infomative and uplifting visit and proved to be an important event in the life-time of our project. It provided us with the opportunity to seek advice on issues that we may have found challenging. It also functioned as a motivational catalyst, as we were made to feel assured about the progress we were making. It generated in us the belief that we were on the right track and it encouraged us to keep working as diligently as we were. Above all, this visit let us know that we were not alone and we had genuine, professional support behind us at all times.  


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Summary and Executive Report

The journey has come to an end and this stage of our research has been completed. It has been enjoyable and fruitful and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the HEA for their support and in particular to Martin Oliver for his invaluable advice and support.


A summary of the final project including the executive report can be located by selecting this link. 

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