First year to second year transition in biomedical sciences: Mind the gap.

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Harrison, Glenn
Zimitat, Craig
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The University of Queensland


Universities have strong agendas aimed at first year retention, however attrition rates in second year can be just as high and receive little attention. Second year represents a period of developmental confusion for students, who struggle with personal identity, self confidence, autonomy, purpose and academic competence. We have observed significant declines in student performance, attitude and program satisfaction in the biomedical sciences area early in second year. Initially identified through course grade examination, quantitative observations were reinforced by formal and informal student communications. These findings share commonality with the sophomore slump phenomenon of student dissatisfaction/disengagement amid second (sophomore) year academic life at American colleges. The current project combines analysis of 2001-2006 student performance, pre and post gap surveys and focus group interviews of students' expectations and impressions of their transition to second year. Dependent and independent factors to be specifically investigated include: impact of summer break, student learning styles/habits, staff-student expectations/interactions, university support service availability/usage, program identity (generic versus professional), and career choice awareness/satisfaction. Historical analysis has identified significant reduction in performance for high GPA students in sequential physiology courses across the first-second year transition. These results will be discussed in the context of student demographics and conceptual maintainers versus decliners. Data from surveys completed late in first year found students have high expectations of elevated academic difficulty in second year and outline their challenge themes as: time management, motivation, workload, employment versus study, and teaching quality. Clearly second year represents a unique set of academic and personal challenges that may adversely affect student performance. This project confirms first-second year transition as an important period in the learning spectrum of biomedical science students and identifies; a) distinctive developmental issues and b) student groups at risk of decline, such that assistance strategies can be designed to intercept and maintain learning outcomes.

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21st Century University Teaching and Learning: continuing the conversation.

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