Connecting transitions and independent learning in higher education: evaluating the impact of the read/write web on the first-year student experience




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Barcelona: iated



Peer reviewed



Recent studies on the student experience in Higher Education highlight that a framework of technologies, including both institutional and non-institutional, read/write web tools, are crucial in connecting students’ informal and formal learning. However, there is very little research on how these technologies can be successfully integrated into the student experience upon transition into Higher Education (HE), in order to motivate their independent learning. With the HE sector focusing upon strategies for engaging diverse groups of learners, and for supporting employer engagement, and part time, flexible and work-based learning, understanding how a range of students can develop independent learning skills within HE is critical.

This paper will report on the outcomes of a nationally-funded project in the United Kingdom that is evaluating strategies for enhancing the transition to independent thinking in HE. It will report on the formal and informal pedagogic innovations, which support structured risk-taking amongst two groups of students. The first group involves: first-year students in: Game Art Design; History; and Politics; who are experimenting with a range of technologies to build subject- and personal mastery. These technologies include a fusion of institutional and personal tools, including virtual learning environments (VLE), social networks and blogs. The second group involves level one students who are being mentored by level two students, using SMS, VLE and non-institutional social networks.

The outcomes impact two areas:

  1. professional development for academic guidance, transitions and independent study support tutors, and academics staff for engaging with web-based tools, in order to enhance independent learning skills; and
  2. the impact on the learning experience for both level 1 students new to HE, and level 2 mentors, of engaging with web-based tools. The paper will draw out the headlines from an emergent action research approach that involves thematic analysis of student/staff interviews and analyses of on-line interactions. As the project ends at the close of the 2008-09 academic session outcomes will be reported in the full paper. However, the thematic analysis will enable participants to: • Judge the potential of these pedagogic strategies and tools for empowering learners who are new to HE; and • Identify a range of professional development needs for academic and support staff in promoting transitions towards independent thinking, using social media.

At the heart of this paper lies the theory that productive, structured social interaction and collaborative working extends the individual learner’s perceived and actual ability to act in the academy and the world, and to contribute to learning in a range of settings.



Independent learning, Higher education, Educational technology, Transitions


Hall, R., and Conboy, H. (2009) Connecting transitions and independent learning in higher education: evaluating the impact of the read/write web on the first-year student experience. Proceedings of EDULEARN09, pp. 843-54. Barcelona: iated.


Research Institute

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice
Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA)