Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, Special Issue, 896-902
Published Online October 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
A Course Approach to Student Transition to University: A
Case Study in Agricultural Business Management
Yann Guisard1, Karl Behrendt1, Peter Mills1, Shevahn Telfser1, Warwick Weatley1,
Carole Hunter2, Rebecca Acheson3, Zelma Bone4
1School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Orange, Australia
2Flexible Learning Institute, Charles Sturt University, Orange, Australia
3Division of Learning and Teaching services, Charles Sturt University, Orange, Australia
4School of Business, Charles Stur t University, Orange, Australia
Email: ygu
Received September 8th, 2012; revised October 7th, 2012; accepted October 20th, 2012
The focus of this paper is to present a case study of an integrated course approach to student transition in
an undergraduate agricultural business management program. This wholistic approach is particularly
relevant to courses with small student intake (defined here as less or equal to 20 full time students). These
small intakes represent approximately 38% of all intakes in Australian universities. Most universities h ave
an orientation week with generic and course specific activities to assist students in their transition to uni-
versity life but very few have a “total package” of sustained transitional support with an overnight tour,
mentoring program, curriculum mapping and course design for all of the first stage subjects as just some
of their strategies. The transition was planned to take place over the entire first stage of the course. A
course team working collaboratively and cohesively was paramount to the success of this project. The ap-
proach was first implemented in 2010 and three years of data are presented here. These data clearly dem-
onstrate that although student grades did not significantly improve, student satisfaction and perception of
the “worth” of the various fundamental subjects taught in the first year of their course increased. This is
associated with a recent decrease in first year student attrition. Finally and perhaps more importantly,
academics reported that students seemed to display a higher standard of academic literacy and deeper
critical thinking in their various assessment tasks.
Keywords: Undergraduate; First Year Experience; Integrated Curriculum; Mentoring; Academic
Literacies; Course Mapping; Orientation Tour
In 2009, Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) Bachelor of Agri-
cultural Business Management (BABM) course team reviewed
the design and implementation of the first year of the course (at
CSU, a “course” is a complete program over 3 or 4 years,
composed of “subjects”). Although all courses at CSU are sub-
jected to a normal cycle of course review, a range of internal
and external pressures warranted the immediate onset of this
project. CSU had recently implemented its CSU Degree frame-
work, a course-based approach to curriculum renewal that in-
corporates a range of commitments to students (CSU, n.d.),
including a supported transition into the first year of study and
a range of generic skills and experiences. These moves aligned
with industry demands for graduates with higher communica-
tion and digital literacy skills.
Teaching staff were similarly placing their own pressures on
the course. Working cross campus, cross discipline and cross-
Faculty meant that subject coordinators often worked in isola-
tion; many felt frustrated by inconsistencies in the first year
subjects and the perceived overall lack of progression in aca-
demic skills during that first year.
Further pressures on the course arose from increasing student
diversity and need. Students come to the BABM course through
multiple entry pathways and a wide range of admission scores.
There is also much variance in levels of previous agricultural
experience, with students drawn equally from urban and re-
gional backgrounds. Similar diversity is seen in typical demo-
graphics, including age ranges and the need to work while
studying. The course’s inability to accommodate these diverse
needs was perceived to be a contributing factor towards high
levels of attrition of first year internal students and low pro-
gression rates.
Bringing these pressures together was the team’s strongly
held belief that a good overall student experience had histori-
cally been the most successful marketing strategy for the course.
The team therefore embarked on a course-based approach, fo-
cusing on improving the student experience in first year sub-
jects, to yield a more integrated and effective solution.
This “solution” did not come automatically, and the course
team found that they also went through a transition in thinking
about the first year experience that took time and perseverance.
Conversations moved from reporting grades and identifying “at
risk” students to peer evaluation of subjects and shared deci-
sion-making and development. The group benefited greatly
from the inclusion of Educational Designers (EDs) who pro-
vided a successful link between teaching theories and practical
teaching applications.
While there has been much activity in the past few years re-
lated to the transition of students into higher education, largely
due to Kift’s (2009) work in this area, there is still no single,
agreed-upon definition of transition in this context (Ecclestone
& Biesta, 2010). One of the most recent definitions comes from
Gale and Parker (201 1: p. 25): “t he capacity to navigate change”.
It is a useful definition, as it highlights that transition can be
more than a linear progression from one state to another; it
relates to how one engages with change, often without “having
full control over and/or knowledge about what the change in-
volves” (Gale & Parker, 2011: p. 25).
The first full opportunity universities have to engage students
in this process of navigating change is the first year experience
(called first “stage” here, due to CSU’s large number of part-
time students to whom “first year” can take two years or more
to complete). It is an important opportunity which, as Upcraft,
Gardner and Barefoot (2005) found, is paramount in determin-
ing the students’ overall success at university. Indeed, the sig-
nificance of the first stage is considered so great that Kift, Nelson
and Clarke (2010) advocate the need for a “transition peda-
gogy” as a guiding philosophy framed around intentional cur-
riculum design that scaffolds, mediates and supports first year
learning. Kift’s six curriculum design principles—transition,
diversity, design, engagement, assessment, and evaluation and
monitoring—have been widely adopted at many institutions,
including CSU, and have been an incredibly useful “foothold”
for academics as they start to consider how to better support
learners in developing capacities for navigating change during
the myriad of transitions they will experience as professionals
and individuals.
Transition as In duction
The traditional approach to addressing first stage transition
has been one of induction (Gale & Parker, 2011), whereby uni-
versities use “student orientation week” to familiarise and so-
cialise students into the university context through a barrage of
information and “mini-events”. While these activities are often
convenient for the institution, they have been less successful in
addressing the diversity of student needs, with information
overload and lack of engagement being common (Colclough,
Kimmins, Harmes, & Henderson, 2011). Furthermore, off-
campus students are usually excluded.
Leske (2008) suggests a more scaffolded student induction,
embedded into class time with required information strategi-
cally timed to be given to students “when they need it”. Simi-
larly, Leske recommends using technology to involve a wider
range of students, and a focus not only on academic induction,
but also the social aspects of university life.
Another typical “transition as induction” initiative is the sup-
port for academic skills development as an institutionally-
managed “pathway to success” and separated from discipline
knowledge. Institutions have embodied what it means to be a
successful graduate through generic statements of personal
attributes, cognitive abilities and skills (Barrie, Hughes, &
Smith, 2009), more recently including a focus on 21st century
skills (e.g. Institute for the Future, 2011) and digital literacies
(e.g. Belshaw, 2011). However, there’s “little evidence of au-
thentic curriculum integration or of impact on student learning”
(Barrie, Hughes, & Smith, 2009: p. 9).
This kind of coherent, integrated curriculum (Kift, 2009) also
requires careful consideration of the diversity of students’ prior
knowledge and needs, and thus a move towards a more person-
alised learning approach. It also requires explicit design choices
(Kift, 2009) including forming linkages between subjects, con-
sistency in design elements (e.g. style of marking rubric), ar-
ticulating expectations, scaffolding and integrating assessment
within the curriculum and providing feedback in a timely way
that can be used in future work (Kift & Moody, 2009; Boud,
Transiti on as Development
An alternative viewpoint is to consider transition as devel-
opment—a transformation that one makes from one “identity”
to another (Ecclestone & Biesta, 2010). Courses viewing transi-
tion as development give students a sense not just of the uni-
versity, but also of their profession, with early field placements,
careers activities, stories from recent graduates and practicing
professionals all helping students to visualise themselves within
the profession. Similarly, a view of transition as development
also recognises that students are developing an identity as a
higher education student and emerging academic, and so courses
taking this approach might concentrate on students taking own-
ership of their own academic trajectory, and promoting changes
in thinking about learning and knowing (Gale & Parker, 2011).
An important strategy to guide the development of identity is
mentoring, widely recognised as beneficial for stronger teacher-
student relationships, reinforcing strengths and challenging new
directions, guiding students through difficult times and foster-
ing a sense of community (McInnis et al., 2000, in Jarkey &
Slattery, 2010). Mentoring can “facilitate immense positive
change in individuals who have failed to respond to other forms
of intervention” (Miles, Power, & Voerman, 2011: p. 1).
Transition as a Part of “B ecoming”
A third, less common but very powerful approach views
transition as a whole-of-life experience that is neither smooth
nor necessarily problematic but a means of “becoming” (Gale
& Parker, 2011). Here, transition as an everyday experience,
and important responses include openness and flexibility in
accommodating for student diversity, a focus on personal plan-
ning, and more consideration of “horizontal transitions” be-
tween courses and even between institutions to better meet
student needs. Graduate attributes are at the heart of new ways
of thinking and being, and at the centre of the curriculum as
they have the potential to outlast the “knowledge and contexts
in which they were originally acquired” (Gale & Parker, 2011:
p. 5).
An inclusive curriculum responsive to increasing diversity
accommodates not only for the usual “visible” demographic
variables but also diversity in “ways of knowing” (Gale, 2009)
and approaches to learning. This moves beyond the usual “la-
belling” of at risk groups and recognises that students engage
with their learning in different ways for different reasons
(Krause, 2009). It’s these motivations which generate, direct
and sustain what they do to learn (Ambrose, Bridges, Lovett,
DiPietro, & Norman, 2010).
Kift (2009) recognised this when she included engagement as
a key principle in her “transition pedagogy”. Strategies that
value prior knowledge, active and collaborative learning, stu-
dent-generated content, authentic real world tasks and which
scaffold for early success, are all important in building an en-
gaging curriculum (Ambrose et al., 2010). Astin (1993) adds
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 897
that the level to which students perceive staff to “care” has a
significant influence on retention rates.
The BABM first stage program reported here is an attempt
by the course team to embrace a truly integrated strategy to
address issues that are multiple and complex, and which ranged
from institutional to student specific. The team adopted a multi-
step, eclectic process that saw a transition in their own thinking
of transition from induction to a process of becoming. Firstly,
core academic literacies were mapped across first year subjects
and integrated into curriculum. Secondly, the team developed a
teaching partnership with students via tailored orientation ac-
tivities and mentoring program. Finally, the first stage subjects
were redesigned to maximise linkages and engagement. The
overall purpose of this study is to improve the student’s first
year experience and intrinsically reduce student attrition.
Relevance of This Study to the Higher Education
It may be argued that initiatives attempting to reduce first
year student attrition are most efficient when focussing on large
class cohorts. Although this makes economic sense, it does not
reflect the nature of commencing full time university students
in Australia. Student enrolments at the national level are sub-
mitted to the Government using “Fields of Education” (FoE)
classification codes, where courses are aggregated at different
levels of discipline specificity (2 digit codes are broad and 6
digit codes are specific, but may include several courses). In
Australia, the large majority of students will commence their
study in a small course, along with less than 20 peers (Figure
1). Students may be aggregated in large fundamental service
subjects but will inevitably join small groups when undertaking
discipline specific subjects. This study is therefore relevant to a
large fraction of the tertiary education sector in Australia.
Methods—Redesigning the First Stage
The redesign process began with a series of questions, drawn
from a wide range of literature, posed to the course team and
designed to generate agreed areas of focus. One of the greatest
identified areas of need was supporting students’ development
of academic literacies.
Figure 1.
The distribution of commencing Equivalent Full Time Student Load
(EFTSL) in Australia over time. The data presented are for undergradu-
ate, domestic, full time students in all disciplines, in Fields of Educa-
tion (FoE) codes (six digit level, definition in text). (
Academic Literacies
To identify core academic literacies essential for academic and
professional life, the team first drew on their own experiences,
and aligned these with CSU’s graduate attributes, feedback from
industry and past and present stud ents, as well as wider research.
The agreed literacies included communication skills, analytical
skills, problem solving, personal learning, digital literacy and
team work. Statements of minimum standards for the first stage
were then developed, drawing from the work of the Association
of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) (n.d.).
In a vertical mapping exercise, each academic reviewed their
subject in relation to whether the six core literacies were taught,
practiced or assessed. Individual subject reviews were consoli-
dated into a single “skills map” (Table 1), showing all first
stage subjects. In a horizontal mapping exercise, narratives
were then consolidated into a summary of how each skill was
taught, practiced and assessed across the first stage. This helped
to identify gaps and overlaps, and informed subject revisions
which integrated skill development within authentic tasks. Later,
the narrative was able to be modified for use with students to
make the learning and teaching process more explicit.
Recognising that students come to university with varying
prior knowledge, the team included an ePortfolio in the course
design to help students (and staff) identify individual areas of
strength and need in relation to the core literacies, thus helping
them develop their own learning trajectory (Hunter et al., 2011).
This process was supported through individual mentoring, as
well as a multifunctional online resource, Sharpen Your Skills,
that acted as a cross-subject toolbox for both staff and students
to support formal and informal learning. Subject-based authen-
tic learning activities linked to relevant parts of the toolkit,
sometimes as a support resource for formal learning and some-
times as a “reminder” for those still developing skills. Each
skill included minimum expectations, self-assessment activities,
informal learning resources (e.g. online tutorials) and the sub-
jects/assessments in which students can practice those skills.
Demonstration of the skills was included in the assessment
The Sharpen Your Skills toolkit drew attention to academic
skills as a core aspect of the course, deeply integrated with
discipline knowledge and linked to students’ development of an
academic identity. Combined with the ePortfolio and mentoring
strategies, it provided an opportunity for students to take re-
sponsibility for their learning and focused on their own areas of
need, using “just-in-time” learning activities to support the
authentic subject assessments.
Establishing Tertiary Learning Partnerships
An integrated program of orientation, mentoring, and com-
munication was established to develop a tertiary learning part-
nership with students. This partnership was designed to facili-
tate stronger student and staff relationships; increase students’
self awareness and sense of identity in relation to their studies;
improve their capacity to navigate through university life and
understand the expectations that this brings; and to establish a
culture of professional mentoring (Ecclestone & Biesta, 2010).
A course-specific orientation program, with on-campus ac-
tivities establishing professional and discipline expectations,
was developed to supplement the university’s generic program
as well as assisting students in setting up processes to manage
their study-life balance. Students were also introduced to their
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 899
Table 1.
Extract from the mapping document, showing oral communication, subdivided into evidentiary statements, and determining in which subjects com-
ponents are taught, practice d an d a ss e ss ed . Below the table is a commentary made for one of the components. (x = criterion m et; ? = unsure).
AGR175 AGB165 AGR156 ECO130 AHT274 MKT110 AGS100
D. Oral co mmun ica tion T PA T P A T PA T P A TP A T P A T P A
a. Some organization and
structure in presentations x xx x x xx x x x ? ?
b. Central message spelt out,
memor abl e and not r ep eat ed x x? ? ? xx ? ? ? ??
c. Language—aware of
appropriate language choices
for audience
x x? ? x x x x x x
d. Delivery—awareness of
posture, gesture, eye contact,
vocal expressiveness x xx xx x x x x x
e. Supporting material—use
of supporting material to
establish credibility/authority
on the topic
x xx x ? xx? ?
Work experience subject
x x x x x
Oral commu ni cati on
Overview: In Semester 1, Weeks 1 - 4, AGR156 students are introduced to oral presentation skills. During Weeks 5 - 8, strategies are reinforced in AGB165 (as
part of preparing a presentation on the agricultural industry) and explicitly taught in AGR175 (oral presentation test, giving early feedback on their skills). In
Weeks 9 - 12, they practice a group presentation in AGR156, and are assessed on a group presentation in AGR175. In addition, in AGR175 students are encouraged
to thank cooperators and this is reinforced in all tours.
learning management system and ePortfolio (PebblePad®)
through some simple exercises, such as identifying assessment
schedules, “introducing” themselves and their agricultural
background in their ePortfolio, and an introductory survey.
A unique addition to the orientation program was a two-day
off-campus tour, visiting numerous agribusiness operators dem-
onstrating the wide range of professional trajectories in which
the course might take students. These visits provided points of
reference and case studies that were later embedded into several
first session subjects. Academics led by example through the
facilitation of each visit, and formed a sense of collegiality and
community with the students. Community-building exercises
also assisted in the establishment of mentoring groups.
While some of the course team members had extensive ex-
perience in mentoring, others felt ill-equipped in this role. Thus,
after initially identifying the need, the team focused on raising
staff awareness and skills through professional development
activities with qualified and experienced personnel. These in-
teractions also guided the ultimate shape of the mentoring pro-
gram, which was designed to build from the foundations estab-
lished in the orientation program, including the use of the
ePortfolio. Although the mentoring program was integrated
across the first stage, it was formally embedded in a core first
session subject to enable easy timetabling. Mentoring sessions
were formally timetabled for one hour per week with fixed
groups of 4 - 5 students to 1 - 2 academics, made possible
through the course’s small student cohort (21 students). Activi-
ties involved both small and larger groups, and included both
structured (e.g. reflecting on the assessment process and coping
with exams) and unstructured sessions (e.g. students seeking
advice on assessments). Staff held a debriefing and planning
meeting after each session to discuss student progress and re-
spond to needs (Miles, Power, & Voerman, 2010; Leske, 2008).
An addition to the tertiary learning partnership was the devel-
opment of an interactive web-based magazine, AgMag (Figure
2), which combined academic information and conversational
pieces to link students to the course, School/Faculty research,
industry and the greater community. As suggested by Leske
(2008), editions of the magazine were strategically timed to meet
specific needs (e.g. students’ first exam), and included inter-
views with staff, profiles of past students and industry profes-
sionals, video introductions of support staff (e.g. library), news
items and social events as well as tips on key academic issues.
Subject and Assessment Red esi gn
Subject and assessment redesign aimed to foster constructive
Figure 2.
The AgMag is an interactive PDF file made available to students and
industry partners of the Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management.
It is published four times a year to reinforce aspects of academic life
that are important to students at specific times of the session (orienta-
tion, assignme n t s, exams…).
alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2007), integrate academic skills in
authentic learning tasks, establish linkages between subjects
and incorporate strategies that were responsive to diverse needs
and promoted student engagement. The process began with an
evaluation of the critical areas of threshold knowledge and skills
required in each subject, the assessments which might capture
this, and the activities/resources required to scaffold its devel-
opment. This was made explicit to students through concept
maps in each subject showing how the various elements con-
nected with each other.
The learning activities aimed to draw students into “patterns
of thinking” which are integral to the practice of agribusiness.
An important strategy was the use of virtual tutorials and col-
laborative writing tools, allowing the academic to model and
provide immediate feedback to all cohorts, as well as encour-
aging a deeper connection with the concepts. Real case studies
worked towards ensuring the currency and relevance of the
subject material, as did student-generated content (e.g. the de-
veloping and sharing of project-based assessments in a Wiki).
The skills map formed the basis for embedding relevant aca-
demic skills in authentic learning and assessment tasks, sup-
ported by the Sharpen Your Skills resources. Assessment for
learning was encouraged through opportunities for effective
and directed feedback, as well as detailed rubrics which also
included academic skills. Key assessments (e.g. a sustainability
philosophy and skills developed on work placement) were
drawn into the students’ ePortfolio, building an emerging sense
of the student as a whole.
When reviewing the effectiveness of the project, the team
adopted the first two levels of Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick’s
(2006) four levels of evaluation: 1) Reaction; 2) Learning; 3)
Transfer; and 4) Results. In the context of a course, level 4 will
only be assessable at the end of the course, when students are
close to graduation (and later on, in employment).
Level 1: Reaction
Orientation Tour Feedback
The orientation tour was clearly seen as an important com-
ponent of orientation week as well as a first step towards team
building. 26 students participated in the Orientation Tour (OT).
Half of the students undertook an online voluntary survey (n =
13). All responding student agreed or strongly agreed that the
orientation program was adequate and that the OT was a valu-
able addition to the institutional orientation program. As a re-
sult, 92% felt comfortable starting their studies at university.
90% of responding students liked all aspects of the OT, but
particularly the Paintball activity (designed as a social event).
Finally, 36% of responding students thought that the tour would
still be valuable even though it could be shorter. These early
results were similar to the data collected in 2011 and 2012.
Evidence therefore suggests the tour overcame the lack of en-
gagement early in the degree previously observed by staff and
documented by Colclough et al. (2011) and the tour instigated the
development of student/lecturer relationships to create a commu-
nity of learning (McInnis et al., 2000, in Jarkey & Slattery, 2010).
Student Portfolios—Mentori ng F eedback
Students provided voluntary and ungraded feedback about
the mentoring program as an integrated form in their student
portfolios in “Introduction to Rural Management” (n = 13 out
of 21 internal students). Only two students provided feedback
in all four feedback opportunities, three on two occasions and
the remainder on one occasion.
Overall, the sessions were perceived as good opportunities for
communication with academics as well as peers, although one
student felt intimi dated by the lect urers. Early sessions revea led
that students felt comforted by knowing that other students
were also anxious about studying at university. The sessions
provided early warnings that the students were not comfortable
using Pebble Pad. A SWOT self analysis was consistently de-
scribed as a good experience. Although students did not always
identify specific positive outcomes from the mentoring sessions,
they consistently valued the opportunity to regroup with lectur-
ers and peers and to be reminded of academic expectations.
Students concluded that in order to get the most out of the pro-
gram, they had to come prepared with a set of clearly formu-
lated questions to the mentors. The quantitative and qualitative
nature of the collected data on mentoring feedback was consis-
tent in 2011 and 2012. Student numbers were also consistent in
2011 and 2012.
Level 2: Learning
CSU collects subject related data for quality control purposes.
These data were used to assess the impact of the FYE program
on student grades and satisfaction (Table 2). Pass grades and
Credit and above grades were used to assess trends in the qual-
ity of student grades. A weighted student Grade Point Average
(weighting: HD = 7; DI = 6; CR = 5; PS = 4) was used as a
possible predictor of subject performance. Finally, a voluntary
standardised online evaluation survey (OES) composed of 9
survey questions (rated out of 7) was used to evaluate student
satisfaction (Table 2).
Level 3: Transfer
Although not consistently measured in this study, academics
reported an increase in student attendance as well as participa-
tion in class activities. This seemed particularly important in
view of a traditional drop in attendance to non compulsory
activities after the mid semester break. In the past, it was sug-
gested that after completing 5 - 6 weeks at university, students
had become “assignment focussed” and would only participate
in activities directly relating to the completion of assignments.
Increased class participation was perceived as particularly
pleasing because of its positive influence on staff experience.
Students did not think that the mentoring program should be
extended into the second semester, but actively participated in
subject specific mentoring activities. Informal staff feedback
indicated that collegiality between students was evident in sec-
ond semester subjects. Increased collegiality between staff was
also reported. Finally, staff reported that students seemed to be
more willing to seek assistance from academics than in past
Student Attrition
First year student attrition (i.e. the percentage of student con-
tinuing from first year into the second year of the BABM
course) was 12% in 2009 when the BABM team designed the
project. In 2010 attrition increased to 19% and declined to 14%
in 2011. These attrition rates are well below recommended
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 2.
Summary of subject data for thr ee of four subjects in the first semester of
the Bachelor of Agricultural Business management at Charles Sturt
University. GPAs are weighed averages of student distribution marks.
OESs are voluntary surveys rated out of 7. See full description in text.
Year AGB165 AGR156 AGR175
2009 61 59 71
2010 46 20 70
2011 40 11 22
Pass (%)
2012 57 31 55
2009 11 35 29
2010 42 47 22
2011 25 48 63
Credit and Above (%)
2012 14 56 30
2009 3.1 4.4 4.5
2010 4 3.3 3.7
2011 3 3.7 3.9
Subject Grade Point
Average (GPA)
2012 3.3 4.2 3.8
2009 5 5.4 4.7
2010 5.7 5.8 3.2
2011 5.8 6.1 4.5
Online Evaluation
Surveys (OESs)
2012 5.9 6.4 4.3
attrition rates within the University. Furthermore, they repre-
sent less than half the first year attrition rate of the BABM dis-
tance education students in the same course. Due to the small
nature of the cohort, a single student leaving the course may
represent 4% - 6% of the cohort. As a result, the BABM team is
satisfied with the current attrition rate but is uncomfortable to
call it a “trend”.
Discussion and Conclusions
The FYE project did not consistently increase subject GPAs
when compared to the 2009 baseline. It is suggested here that
from a computational perspective, the arithmetic nature of the
computation of subject GPA makes this indicator insensitive to
improved grade distribution when applied to small cohorts.
Furthermore, improvement of grades was not of primary con-
cern in this study. At CSU, institutional requirements are that
grades be normally distributed and centred on a PS (i.e. the
overall subject grade be in the range 50% - 64.95%). This is to
(crudely) ensure that subjects are appropriately taught and as-
sessed at tertiary level.
Course objectives extended beyond the crude measurement
of student achievement drawn from GPAs. The team reported
that students displayed better presentation skills and more re-
flective tendencies within the first year as well as in subsequent
years. Overall, assignments seemed of higher standards, by
displaying increased depth, in line with the expectations of the
curriculum. These data are in accordance with Astin (1993) and
Kift & Moody (2009), who indicated that the perception of a
caring relationship between students and academics resulted in
a greater willingness of students to seek assistance than in pre-
vious years which has had a positive influence on subject at-
Online Evaluation Surveys increased in two of the three sub-
jects reported here and were approximately stable (except in
2010) in AGR175 and first year attrition rates are decreased in
2011 following an increase in 2010. This is particularly critical
in view of a global shortage of agricultural tertiary graduates.
The BABM course is therefore facing the unusual reality that
although students are not achieving better grades than their
2009 peers, they are overall happier in the subjects. This seems
to contradict the belief that students are mostly “assessment
focussed” and seems to indicate that students’ appreciation of
their studies include (in addition to grades) a sense of “worth”
of the subjects studied. This is critical, in view of the perception
that students are an important agent for course (and institutional)
Following the above analysis, the BABM team concluded of
the overall success of the project. It was however acknowl-
edged that a FYE at university is a combination of a large
amount of variables, many of them out of the control of aca-
demics. This complex experience is therefore difficult to assess
and quantify particularly in view of a number of interrelated
issues. This program has only been implemented for a few
years and a needs adjusting in coming years, such as the capture
of the most appropriate quantitative and qualitative data.
Beyond the impact on students, significant impacts have also
been experienced in academic commitment to curriculum re-
newal. The collaborative approach and shared awareness of and
responsibility for student development through the mentoring
program resulted in cohesive teaching strategies with consistent
messages now reaching all students regarding the expectations
of academic life. It helped them identify students who needed
additional support, and fostered team spirit between students
and academics, in line with the observations of McInnis et al.
(2000) and Jarkey & Slattery (2010). Following the mapping
process, academics became more aware of what was happening
in other subjects, and were better able to make linkages be-
tween subjects with students. From an institutional point of
view, the various initiatives resulted in opportunities to show-
case an integrated course approach, which was very well-re-
ceived in other areas of the university. The time investment by
the various members of the BABM team was however very
high due to the large amount of original work, hence return on
investment (Kaufman, 1996) may be considered as low when
based on quantitative data only and excluding the gratifying
feeling of the betterment of the course.
The course team now continues to meet on a fortnightly basis
to work on new and existing initiatives, and there has been a
change towards more collaborative course decision-making as
the team becomes more actively engaged in improving the
overall student experience. While elements of all three “ap-
proaches” to transition, as proposed by Gale & Parker (2011)
are apparent in the various initiatives employed, there was a
definite change in thinking from a transition as induction to
transition as becoming, and this is informing future iterations of
the program. This is an evolving cultural change in the ap-
proach of the educators and the institution within the first year,
which will continue to develop based on the successful ele-
ments of previous programs (Gale & Parker, 2011). The aca-
demics’ enthusiasm for and belief in the initiatives has mani-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 901
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
fested in a preparedness to work over and above their formal
workload allocations. This illustrates a positive cultural change
from individual subject development to a more holistic consid-
eration of the student experience.
However, for such changes to be sustainable, ongoing finan-
cial and workload support need to be an integral part of the
curriculum renewal process. While there is substantial financial
commitment across the university to improve the first year
experience (realised at CSU through the Student Transition and
Retention (STAR) program), funding for individual course
initiatives has been limited. For example, the two-day orienta-
tion tour needed to be partly funded through student contribu-
tions. There is a clear need for management to recognise the
time and funding needed for significant curri culum change.
Academic and student feedback identified several areas for
further improvement. More effective communication is needed
prior to orientation to ensure students are fully prepared for the
overnight tour and mentoring program, in particular the provi-
sion of information packages to parents about the program and
on-line support for the university’s student platform. In addition,
initial frustrations associated with the publication of the AgMag
highlighted the importance of coordinating timelines and work-
flows with other divisions to overcome competing priorities.
The academics also identified the importance of a consistent
format in the mentoring program to keep students focused and
In conclusion, the success of the BABM first year initiative
lay in the combination of all its parts rather than one single
entity. It is now time for this project to move into its next phase.
Monitoring the progression of students in later years following
their involvement within the project will create a greater under-
standing of the merits of such programs on the long term de-
velopment of the undergraduate.
The authors acknowledge other members of the BABM team
(especially Kerry Cochrane, Richard Culas and Dennis Hodg-
kins) who contributed to these initiatives. We would also like to
recognise the critical roles of Paul Worsfold (Career Develop-
ment Service), David Ross (Learning Skills Adviser) and Divi-
sion of Learning and Teaching Services production staff in this
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