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Get Prepared: Supporting equity students in the transition to university

A new University of Sydney (USYD) website provides valuable insights and practical resources to smooth the transition to university for equity students and their families.

Developed by the USYD Educational Innovation team, in collaboration with university students from diverse backgrounds, Get Prepared takes an innovative approach to supporting and retaining equity students. Open-access content includes text and videos created by equity students, active learning tasks and interactive forums.

We invited Dashiell Moore, Samantha Clarke and Michael Warren from the development team to discuss the site’s key features and share their reflections on the co-creation process.

The USYD Educational Innovation team is pleased to present Get Prepared, an open-access site that empowers equity students and their families/communities/key supporters in their transition to university.

The site is funded in part by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP).

Working closely with the Get Prepared student team, we have been able to develop insightful, relevant and engaging content, tailor made for students from equity backgrounds.

Our aim

Transitioning to university can be an overwhelming experience, impacting academic performance and mental wellbeing. According to National Student Experience surveys (2019), students from equity cohorts are at particular risk of early departure from their studies and require strategic support to enhance their preparedness for university.

Educational Innovation intentionally targeted this ‘socio-cultural incongruence’ by partnering with students from a range of equity backgrounds (such as low socioeconomic status) to design Get Prepared, which teases out USYD’s ‘hidden curriculum’ (what students are expected to know intuitively about studying at university). The site explains how to get around campus, how to prepare for academic study, where to find support, and how to generally make the most out of your university experience.

Get Prepared homepage, featuring a student team welcome video.

Get Prepared also aims to tackle deficit conceptions of students and their diverse backgrounds. Rather than characterise students as needing to ‘adapt to’ a new environment, the site aims to improve the transition experience by encouraging students to build upon their experiences, values, and strengths, and take ownership over their own learning.

Get Prepared also recognises the important role that parents, families, communities, and other key caregivers play in supporting transitions into university. One key feature of the site is a family-targeted module containing information, activities, and videos to help key caregivers support students as they navigate their journey to, through, and beyond university.

Parents families and communities page

Welcome page for the parents and family module, including a student welcome video and an outline of what’s ahead.

The Get Prepared modules have increased in relevance given the disruption caused by the rapid pivot to online learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that this impact will be greater for particular cohorts, such as students with limited access to technology and those who are reliant on part-time employment.

How did we do it?

The site is an exercise in measured, iterative collaboration. It was conceived and developed by Samantha Clarke, Dashiell Moore, Mick Warren, and Katy Head, in partnership with student co-designers from equity backgrounds. Also involved in this process were a range of key stakeholders at USYD, as well as consultations with external experts, such as NCSEHE Director, Professor Sarah O’Shea.

“It has been an absolute privilege to contribute to this project and I highly commend the team for their co-design approach, engaging students as partners in the creation process.

Get Prepared will be an invaluable tool for all students, particularly those for whom university may be an unfamiliar and daunting environment.”

—  Professor Sarah O’Shea, NCSEHE Director

By drawing on student experiences, strengths, and insights, we were able to identify issues facing disadvantaged students, such as a reluctance to seek out support services and feeling lost on campus. The process of working with students as partners also illuminated key issues relating to working with students, such as the tension between student autonomy and the ‘necessary problem’ of scaffolds to structure and orient the project.

“Unless the perspectives of those who represent the diversity of the university’s student cohort are incorporated and respected, it is all too easy for vital information to slip through the cracks.”

Matilda Langford, Indigenous arts/law student

Student perspectives could not be more important to Get Prepared — a site co-designed by students, for use by students and their families/carers/communities. Their voices give the site authenticity and warmth, inviting users to join them in an inclusive community.

Student videos

Student videos introduce and frame the content of the Get Prepared site.

Get Prepared didn’t come together overnight. The team developed the site over the course of 12 months, with six months spent directly working with students.

Among many, ongoing (and sometimes challenging) iterative developments made to the site, the team made changes to better represent less-vocal students, empower Indigenous students through support services, address the diverse range of student supporters (including parents, families, communities, and other key caregivers), inform or reassure those supporters, encourage professional purpose without alienating students, and avoid jargonistic language unfamiliar to students and key supporters.

“Picture this — a dynamic cohort of students, educational designers, and teachers. Each individual possesses a unique voice shaped by their background and experience. Then imagine a forum through which all of these voices cohesively blend together to become a choir of innovative change.

Of course, best-laid designs never go exactly to plan! Our finished product ended up being significantly different from the initially conceived scaffold, but it is nevertheless a product that we are all proud of.”

—  Tiarna Scerri, 2nd Year science/law student

Website features

The site is divided into two student-facing and one family-facing modules:

For students

  • Module 1: I can do this!
  • Module 2: How to thrive at the University of Sydney

For parents/family/caregivers

  • Module 3: Parents and families: How can I help?

Each module contains text and video content created by equity students paired with active learning tasks that test participant’s knowledge, including quizzes, scenario-based games, and interactive forums.

Module 2 exercise

An example of an interactive scenario in Module 2 where students are guided through strategies to thrive in group work.

By working through the site, students will be able to:

  • Gain a sense of professional purpose
  • Develop strategies for self-directed learning
  • Collaborate effectively with others in group work
  • More confidently participate in university learning environments
  • Develop self-management strategies and help-seeking behaviours
  • Access available support services
  • Navigate USYD’s physical and online learning environments
  • Use key online learning systems such as Canvas and Zoom

Parent, carer, family, and community users of the site will learn about:

  • USYD systems, language and learning environments
  • The support services that are available for students (who to contact, how to contact, when to contact)
  • The importance of connecting university study to personal values and professional purpose.

“As a Year 12 student, making decisions about post-school pathways is very difficult. We get so much information about careers and qualifications, but it’s hard to picture what it’s really like to be at university.

Hearing about other students’ experiences through the Get Prepared site has given me a better idea what to expect and makes me feel more confident that I can fit in and do pretty well.”

— Karri Thomas, Year 12 student, Perth

How to access the site

Get Prepared is an ‘access anytime, anywhere’ site which is open to the public and does not require any university logins to gain access; that is, anyone with the internet can access the site!

You can show your support for Get Prepared by circulating it amongst your colleagues, teams and networks, especially if they are working with:

  • students transitioning to university
  • first-year students cohorts
  • first-year unit coordinators
  • students from equity cohorts.

Dive deeper and access additional resources!

For more information, we recommend visiting Get Prepared yourself! You can also read our recent Teaching@Sydney blog post introducing the site: Get Prepared: Helping students transition to university.

To hear more from the student team about the site and the codesign process, check out the two other recent Teaching@Sydney blog posts written by the students:

In addition to the Get Prepared site, you might also like to check out our video collections:

  • Collection 1: Underrepresented students
    — The Underrepresented Students series features students from underrepresented backgrounds as they discuss their experiences coming to university.
  • Collection 2: What I wish I knew
    — What I Wish I Knew consists of short interviews with a range of university students reflecting back on their first-years at university to give advice to future students.
  • Collection 3: Graduate Stories
    — Graduate Stories is an interview series with USYD alumni from a diverse range of equity backgrounds as they reflect on their journey to, through,and beyond university.

A number of these videos feature in the Get Prepared site and are located on the USYD YouTube channel in the Educational Innovation playlist.

Access the University of Sydney Get Prepared site:

Posted 23 February 2021 Posted in General