Dr Harriet Jones from the University of East Anglia reflects on what motivated her to develop the ‘Preparing for Uni’ free online course on FutureLearn and what she learnt from participants during its first run.
I set out to create resources to help students develop academic skills that would help them succeed in higher education (HE). Here at UEA I have created a teacher-led course for school pupils, and a residential course to intensively train students in HE skills, however, I realised that there needed to be a course at the base of this programme, available and free to all, to develop the skills which lay at the roots of academic success.
The course developed as it was being written from regular interactions I was having with learners. While attending a Sixth Form Conference in 2013, I learnt about school teachers’ concerns that their students were not able to develop questions about material they were studying. I went on to explore this and found it to be a real concern for many, not only in pre-university education, but in many disciplines in HE too. I therefore rewrote the whole of the first lesson of the online course to address this need because questioning lies at the heart of independent learning and critical thinking.
Since the first run in January 2014, I have re-visited the teacher-led PreUniversity Skills Course and the Skills for Uni residential course, to provide students with more support in areas they were finding particularly difficult. One such area was in the third week on referencing. FutureLearners made assumptions about answers to exercises which surprised me but, at the same time, allowed me to appreciate more why my own HE students were struggling.
Because pre-university education is continually changing, it is an interesting and challenging task to prepare students for HE through this free online course. It is the feedback from participants that proves to be invaluable in maintaining the programme’s applicability.