This is the transcript for the audio UTS College – Why the first year matters

Hi I’m Jess Clayman and Welcome to your path to UTS.

Your path to UTS.

In this episode we are exploring UTS Insearch and why your first-year matters.

My name is Janet Gibson, I’m the program manager for the Diploma of Communications at UTS Insearch and I work closely with the School of Com at UTS to ensure that the UTS promos are relevant, up to date and strongly connected to the first year of UTS Bachelor of Communication.

Hi I’m Susan Sheringham and I’m the program manager for UTS foundation studies. My role at Insearch is helping students get to the course they want to get into, generally for students who leave in year 11. But I also look after academic standards and other curriculum quality.

Janet, Susan, thank you for joining us we really appreciate it.

Now as student educators, can you tell us why that first year at university is so important?

For me, it’s something I remember so clearly from my own experiences which is in the dark ages I know, but I think it’s fairly similar to what happens to so many students today and that is you’re going from a kind of, type of high school culture, which is so different with smaller classes, knowing most people in the classrooms to sort of you know, lectures with five hundred or more people, quite large tutorials. I know for myself; I was quite a high achiever at high school, but I felt like I was a C at uni. I didn’t quite know that there were different subjects that I choose in my arts degree that I haven’t kind of been prepared for, so I really felt like I had been thrown in the deep end and struggled a lot. I think also you know; you’re discovering who you are at that age.

I think it continues throughout one’s life,  one’s always changing but particularly kind of prevalent at that age and so you’re going from having a group of friends that you know and that can support you and teachers that know you, to large classes where the teachers may not even get to know your name, the lecturers certainly don’t and you may not be going with your buddies from school so you’re having to make new friends. so it can feel very, very difficult and I know that there are studies around Australia confirming that most attrition, or dropping out, failures occur in the first year and that definitely happened for me. And I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m so keen on the critical importance of doing a first year that is supported and scaffolded and understands that transitions that happens for students and the difficulties you can have.

Yeah I think everybody has a bit of a similar experience when they’re stepping, it’s like stepping from one world to a new world or fish in a big pond instead of a big fish in a small pond and it’s not just adapting to new ways of learning and a new scale of class. But there’s lots of other things happening in our students lives, they’re becoming more independent. Their maturity is obviously evolving and there are a lot of things going on in their lives. So, it is a very transitional time and it’s very important for them to be supported, to be able to find their way and really feel they’ve made the right choice, I guess.

Absolutely. What do you think puts students at most risk of dropping out of in their first year?

I think one of the things is that shift from being a student. I mean I know that secondary school now encouraging students to become much more independent in their learning but still, there is a lot of support and the small class setup where people do know each other and they feel supported and that all falls away to your  last degree, when you walk into an university environment and the expectation is that students know where things are, know what to do, know where they’re going, can cope, can research. So a lot of the onus is put back on the students and that I think is probably the biggest risk for students if they can’t cope with that and in order to cope with that they need to feel like they belong, they need to develop social networks and that’s not always easy and you really do have to put in a lot of time to be successful at uni. Also lack of confidence, who am I, where am I going, is this the right choice. You know, normal growing up stuff that we all go through. And this can lead to a lack of attendance and starting to feel like they’re not in the right place and that can spiral. So, it’s really important that students are supported, and that they can get good advice about, you know, you are in the right place and let’s help you get to where you need to get to.

What do you think are some of the factors that has set a student up for success?

Well I think Susan’s mentioned very strongly that sense of belonging and connectedness is really important. Feeling that you, in a sense have a right to be at university and, I think for some students from low-socio economic backgrounds, or indigenous students, or students who have been marginalised from that kind of, you know, sense of that they do belong there. There was a theorist called Lizzio who identified 5 factors of success and one of them definitely is the belongingness and connectedness. And I know that UTS first year experience lecturers and researchers there have emphasised that and we do as well at Insearch. There is a sense of identity, feeling validated as a university student which links into that sense of belonging and connectedness, purpose, direction and commitment which are intrinsic factors as opposed to an extrinsic factor. Resourcefulness that you’re able to navigate the system and access resources and support which links into what we were talking about earlier and confidence which we’re also talking about earlier and capable. So how do I succeed in my chosen course. Is the course the right one for me?

I think there is one thing which I maybe, Lizzio’s five factors are fabulous. But there is one thing which we want students to be able to do and that is for them to be able to be comfortable with not knowing, with feeling a little vulnerable (absolutely) and finding ways of working through those things and developing identity and a sense of belonging.

I think that something we do really well at Insearch is Acknowledge that space that students are in. because comings and goings are always difficult and the transition between one place and another, which is essentially what happens when you move from school to university needs to be acknowledged as a space of tentativeness and of vulnerability but within those kinds of feelings and when they’re acknowledged and if there’s help and support available and you begin to feel that it’s okay to ask for that, it’s an incredible life skill that you can carry throughout your life I think.

Absolutely. And speaking of that resilience, that skill building. Both personal growth, academic growth, which will then grow into professional growth for that student.

2020 has been a very, very disruptive year for so many first-year university students. How has UTS Insearch helped these students stay on track with these students during these really really challenging times.

I think we just kept doing what we were doing really, really well which is being there for the students, making sure that we are I guess, focusing on students as individuals and helping them through their own journey and also teachers have been in a similar boat in many ways and they were able to show their own vulnerability and help students sort of think, well we’re all in this together, I know that’s kind of the slogan at the moment, but it’s so true. In the first instance, everyone was having to adapt very quickly to this new way, of I guess, communicating with each other and being in a learning space which was quite different and for some people, quite challenging. But because the way we do approach learning and do approach student support, the transition in order to support students wasn’t that difficult. It meant that we kept on doing what we always do well. But we do it through an online environment as opposed to a physical environment. All of the support systems that we have, which are very robust, to support students through academic skills, development and exam preparation, developing their own personal skills through peer support. All of those things were still in place. So, I think everything we do to support students, transition really well to that new environment

Absolutely, so just building on that, how is a UTS Insearch pathway course different from a typical first year at university for a student.

I think we have a huge commitment, and its exemplified through our model of learning. Its student-centred learning, to moving students through that sort of support and centring their needs to a place where there actually are able to direct their own learning when they leave and move to UTS. I think that’s one thing that makes us different. I think, that is one thing that makes us different, I mean the very fact that we have very small classes compared to university, makes a big difference that way. I think that something that’s often not talked about that I’m interested in is relational learning. So, we do centre on the student but that centredness has kind of, maybe tentacles like an octopus out to other things. So, we’re focus on making sure that the relationship that the students to the space that there is best practice for their learning and I know that Sue can talk more about that. The relationship between the teacher and student is emphasised. The relationships that students have to other students in terms of peers supporting peers. We have peer support systems where, peers who’ve done very well in a subject come back and work with students in the classroom. So, apart from the student centredness, we also do focus on relationships and on students recognising that there is an ecology at work and in the spaces of learning they’re in.

Yeah I mean, collaboration and social learning are so important and one of the things that we try to do, both online now, obviously but also on our physical campus is provide students with bases that support and encourage collaborative learning, group learning interaction. Where students can learn from each other as well as resources and teachers. And part of that collaborative learning helps them develop confidence, to feel like they have something they can contribute.

You touched on confidence there, which I think is a really nice segway into my next question because some year twelve students are not feeling as confident maybe as they would’ve this year, because it has been as we say, has been a really, really challenging year for students. Could you tell us about the pathway courses, especially for those students who think that this might be a really good option for them.

So it’s not just been a challenging year, I think it’s also been a very disappointing year for so many students and yeah my heart goes out to them all. The students who have been with us this semester and in previous semesters find that, again because of our small class sizes and the way that we teach and support students, that they are given opportunities all the time where they start to develop their confidence and think you know I get that, yeah I understand that and yeah you know what, I know a little bit more here. And the other thing that gives students confidence is that, if they apply themselves which you need to do when you’re learning and work well and are supported in small classes then they’re going to be looking at getting into UTS and that’s a really fantastic learning journey.

I was just thinking, this is pre-covid, but I was thinking of a student we had who just finished a law degree actually after doing communication. She came in totally wrecked by her HSC experience because she got very sick in the last year and bombed out entirely and watching her build her confidence over her time at Insearch and then moving into UTS, doing very well in her communication degree and then onto law has just been wonderful and she is not an exception in that.

No not at all.

And I really do think it’s wonderful seeing that because the HSC has so much weight on it and I think that’s part of the reason that this year has been so, as Sue said, so disappointing and so hard on students. I was just thinking that the weight of the HSC and there’s students thinking, I’m totally, I’m just hopeless, I can’t succeed you know, and it be an imprint or stamp on upon her that this is who she is and watching that change and develop and build.

It’s a very rewarding thing to be part of isn’t it Janet?

Absolutely. It is. And I just think it helps, just one thing, one point I’d like to make is the domestic students in particular, know that they have a guaranteed place in their UTS degree if they get the required grade point average, and for international students it nots failing more than two subjects. So, I think knowing that it doesn’t hold the same weight that HSC success does.

Can we drill down a little bit to exactly how an Insearch course works?

Well we’ve spent a lot of time working on emphasising, building and developing our orientation and preparation weeks. So, we very much see that having a kind of welcoming, fun, open environment before the semester actually starts, where students can get to know their main teachers and program managers and each other is very important. I don’t think we can emphasise enough, the role of the teachers in this experience that they have. We are very careful in making sure that we have teachers who are highly qualified to begin with. A lot of teachers at Insearch, teach at UTS and the teachers are very, highly qualified, I know my program most of the  teachers have PHD’s and are active researchers and apart from that we have our range of learning support programs we have study success advisors to help students stay on track and I’ve mentioned peer support before. We also have HELPs programs with workshops and extra tutorials. So, there are a whole range of things which actually add up to students having a very positive first year experience.

On the great thing too, with the pathways, that students are studying subjects that they would be studying at UTS. So, they’re essentially in a first-year course and for most of the diploma’s that goes towards the same number of credit points that they’d be achieving in their year at University. So they’re really not wasting any time. They’re just being, I guess supported and nurtured in a way that really does help them gain those skills for University success.

What would be some advice that the two of you would have for a student, especially for a school leaver who was looking at starting their tertiary education. What advice would you have for them and how do you think UTS Insearch could help them.

Believe in yourself and every little step takes you further so Insearch is somewhere where you can take little steps, there are people there to support you and steady you. I can say that the students that come through Insearch have a good experience and it really sets them up well for University. And it’s okay to be a little bit afraid but you need to take those first steps and we’re here to catch you in a way.

And I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help because it is readily available, and I think it’s really important to not overload yourself with too much expectation. Like I do think that we don’t always get it right the first time, so it may not have worked at high school or whatever, and Insearch is that next step if you need to take that. If you focus on taking small steps moving forward, not being afraid to ask for help I think things could be revealed. And you might find that you might need to move in a slightly different direction because what I have found from talking to a lot of students from my program is that they often, are quite confused about where they want to go and what they want to do but they feel like they have to get it all solved now or else they’re going to be too old to do anything. Because you know, a year is just too much to waste, made the wrong decision (blah blah). Study success advisors can help with this. I know I get pretty actively involved as a program manager, the students, the teachers do and it’s like we can actually help you here. We can be someone you can talk to or organise for people to talk to you. Don’t feel that it all has to be sorted right now in one year or two years or whatever.

And no matter how scary it all is, or how confronting it all is, or how different it all is, everyone wants you to succeed, everyone wants you to have the most incredible experience and learn amazing things and go and live a wonderful life. Everyone is rooting for you to succeed.

I think that raises a really interesting point and that is, that we’re focused on student success and we recognise that, that success is going to be different for different students and that’s going to be different throughout their lives. So, the pressure that students feel in their HSC is very different to what they might experience learning in a pathway institution because we want them to be comfortable in their learning. It’s not like it’s a hard and fast line in the sand and if you don’t make it across the line it’s the end of the story.

Could you tell us more about the Insearch model of learning?

The Insearch model of learning is student centred and it’s focused on developing students as lifelong learners, so both skills to learn but a love of learning and embracing that as what it means to be human really. And also, technology enabled learning, so skilling students up in working with technology as a modality for learning and researching. Also, to become collaborative and critical creative and analytic thinkers. So again it’s that idea of developing different aspects of students’ skill sets, making sure they see things like, disciplinary knowledge and concepts as things that are productive, things that you do with, not just information that you hold. And the skills for, I guess, excelling in professional life not just as a learner. So being reflexive, collaborative skills, good communication skills, good interpersonal skills so they can continue to succeed throughout their lives.

Well Janet and Susan thank you so much for your time, and thank you for joining us.

Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.

It has been, thank you very much.

That was Doctor Janet Gibson and Sue Sheringham. For more information you can head to

Thanks for joining us.