Expectations and Experiences: The First Year Student

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


The University of Northampton opened its brand new campus to students in August 2018. The new campus is unique in supporting a completely lecture-free approach to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching across all taught programmes. Programmes are taught using an approach known locally as ‘Active Blended Learning’ (ABL) (ILT,2018), which challenges students to participate in active learning in all taught sessions, and to work independently in both campus and digital environments. This has specific implications for the transition in to university for first year students, not least in terms of engagement (Wyatt, 2011) and digital literacy (Cooke, 2013). While the ABL approach informed the design of the new campus, this study will evaluate the first years’ experience in practice. The research examined how their expectations of university were formed, including the impact of official information as well as informal sources such as peers and popular culture. We also explored their concerns and their early experiences, specifically in relation to the ABL approach. It was important to find out about the students' transition and experiences within an environment where honest responses could be gathered. Therefore, alongside other more structured evaluations, the decision was made to introduce an activity into a teaching session. Students were asked to illustrate their journey, from their expectations of studying at university, through their transition and the reality of their first year to date. The activity, adapted from McShane’s metaphor approach (McShane 2005), gave them the freedom to illustrate this in a medium of their choice. This activity was delivered during the students second term and was then analysed alongside the student’s evaluations of their first term, using a thematic approach. The findings from this research raise some specific challenges for effective support of first year students, including how to develop their progression and independent learning, and how to successfully manage the cohort’s expectations.
Period19 Jun 2019
Event titleEuropean First Year Experience
Event typeConference
LocationCork, IrelandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionLocal


  • stakeholders
  • student experience
  • student identity