Induction & 7 Weeks
Things change and evolve. That’s all we can be sure of in this life.
As an undergraduate in UL in the later stages of the last century, I remember that all was trimestered. There was orientation week, then 10 weeks of classes followed by exams, then another 10 weeks of classes followed by exams, then a final 10 weeks of classes followed by exams. If you took your time settling in then you tended not to make it out the other end of the 30 weeks. If you needed the first six or seven weeks to get settled then you’ve probably missed a few assignment deadlines and left yourself with precious little time to prepare for exams.
Flash forward to 2010, and it’s all so different. There are no longer any trimesters. Far more effort is put into inducting students into third level education. This seems to be happening everywhere and not just in UL.
Social media tools are being used to help. Both IT Sligo and UL (and no doubt, numerous others) are using Facebook as part of their induction. I’m particularly taken with UL’s page (yes, I know I’m biased). There are a myriad of reassuring and practical information sets here, all presented in the Facebook manner likely to be familiar to newbies. I particularly like the Teach Failte (that’s Welcome House for the non-natives) idea of dropping in and having a cuppa with fellow newbies and seasoned veterans.
7 is the magic number for UL with lots of “7” themed ice-breakers. Their research tells them that it takes approximately seven weeks to settle down in a college environment. My anecdotal personal experience agrees. In about week 6 into week 7 I can usually identify students who are likely to struggle. At this point some students themselves recognise if they have made a mistake in their course / college choice. Some drift into confused disenchantment – a horrible messy place to be. If UL’s (or any other college’s similar initiative) can help students to avoid the zone of confused disenchantment then the work put into their induction is well worth it.
It is interesting to consider that the “7 weeks” did not exist in my undergrad day and now it is needed. What has happened in all that time? Did secondary school prepare students for college back then? If so, how and in what ways? There are far more students attending third level now, are they all suited to it? There are as many questions as answers.
The UL site has a link to the Felder & Solomon learning styles questionnaire. I did work on this about 4 years ago. I created different multimedia versions of some class content, one visual, one podcasted, one written, and then versions of those further split between the global / sequential, and the other variations popularised by learning styles theory. My student respondents proved themselves to be strategic in their preferences, adopting whatever learning style suited the context they were in.
Learning styles is not a science and students should be encouraged to manage a variety of styles so as to avoid one-dimensionality. Having said that, for anyone who’s interested, my style preferences have not changed in 4 years: reflective as opposed to active, global as opposed to sequential, somewhat balanced on sensing / intuiting and very balanced between verbal / visual.
Here’s to 7 weeks.