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The HE Experience: what to expect

Research indicates that students have no clear idea what will be expected of them when they arrive at university. This means, for instance, that the number of hours they expect to spend on independent study is often quite different from what they experience. See research data on expected hours versus actual hours of independent study per week.

Similarly, the overall perception of university as an 'uncaring' place that requires students to be 'independent adults' is widespread. The words 'independence' and 'freedom' carry a double meaning, being seen by students as negative in a learning context and positive in a social one.

Output from the STAR (Student Transition and Retention) Project at the University of Ulster (2006) found that secondary education tends to focus pupils on external, high-stakes, summative assessments and trains them to work towards 'highly defined' outcomes. To that end, pupils are permitted to experiment with testing their knowledge and understanding through the presentation of multiple drafts and regular feedback.

This system works for many secondary pupils in terms of higher and GCE A-level achievement. But when they then enter their first year at university they find nowhere near the same level of explicit advice and support. Instead, they find module descriptors written as minimalist specifications and many find the level of intensity of work to be much higher (though not all, see issues associated with transition and retention in the first year), but at the same time they are unsure of what they need to do to evidence learning.

While it is true that those students who struggle with academic work at university often possess inadequate study skills, there is also evidence that they make poor course choices, sometimes resulting from literature that does not always correspond to reality. They also suffer from a lack of access to staff for support when needed. Read more about what students expect at university, including data on the number of expected hours and actual hours of study.

As part of the Graduates for the 21st Century (G21C) Enhancement Theme, the University of Abertay, Dundee embarked on an initiative to use games technology to develop graduate attributes. The target audience was overseas students about to start their courses at Abertay. The game was designed to address two key issues: first, to help develop the ability of students to study in English and second, to introduce the students to the Abertay Graduate Attributes (Ambitious Enquirer, Confident Thinker, Determined Creator, Flexible Collaborator).

The game development involved existing students at the university, academics and service teams to ensure compliance with university systems, while the game itself combines 'hard' learning with softer modes of engagement and traditional games elements such as scoring and collecting rewards. Find out more about using games techonology to develop graduate attributes project by the University of Abertay Dundee.