[62] Using outdoor activities to support transition into university


Author (s)

Denise Hill Lecturer of Sport and Exercise Psychology
College of Engineering
Joanne Hudson, and Laura Mason

The transition from schools/colleges to university is a challenging experience, as it requires students to manage effectively multiple transitions, including changes to their living arrangements, learning environment, and social networks (Lowe & Cook, 2003). Furthermore, the students move from a controlled educational setting into one where they are expected to assume greater autonomy and self-responsibility (e.g., Briggs et al., 2012). Many students manage this transition effectively, while others fail to cope and experience emotional maladjustment, manifested in lowered satisfaction, poor mental health, under-achievement, and withdrawal from university (Gall et al., 2000). As this leads to a loss of social and economic capital for both the student and university (Briggs et al., 2012), research attention has been directed towards identifying the most effective approaches to facilitate student progression through the early stages of university life.

A number of factors are known to enhance transition into university (e.g., preparation, managing expectations, and targeted support by the institution), though the development of a learner identity is critical (see Tinto, 1987). That is, if students can swiftly engender an identity in which they perceive they “belong” to their university context, their transition is often effective. Such identity can be achieved through social integration and the development of a perceived capability to acquire the skills required for academic success (Wilcox et al., 2006).

Thus, the purpose of the current project was to evaluate the perceived impact of a three-day outdoor activity residential trip (Wales National Centre for Outdoor Activities) on the university transitional experience of 83 Level 4 BSc. Sport and Exercise Science students. The event took place in teaching week two and was designed to encourage learner identity through social integration and the development of relevant academic study skills. It involved: i) land- and water-based activities (3 half day sessions) devised to encourage team work; and ii) the delivery of research methods through group workshops (3 x 2 hour). The workshop material related directly to the outdoor activities (i.e., questionnaire/interviews that explored perceptions of the event).

Data were collected initially through a survey and follow-up focus group (11 participants). All 83 students reported the trip had effectively developed their social networks, with the majority (85%) identifying that this aspect facilitated their transition into Swansea University through a sense of belonging. Accordingly, in line with the extant literature (see Bell, 2006) outdoor activities appear to provide an effective method for facilitating transition into university through engendering social integration. Moreover, as identified in previous research (e.g., Mackenzie et al., 2018), the majority of students within the current project (76%) indicated they benefited from learning academic skills in a non-formal setting, where the material had been associated directly with the outdoor activities.

Overall, the project indicates that attending an outdoor activity residential event can assist transition into university through developing social networks and relevant academic skills. Additional data will be collated to establish whether such social integration and acquisition of skills required for academic success, can foster learner identity, and influence longer-term retention.

Session Outline

Through a poster format, the session will provide an insight into how an outdoor activity residential event can enable students to make an effective transition form school / college to university.

Key Words

Transition, retention, identity, teambuilding,

Key Messages

An outdoor activity residential event can assist transition into university by developing students’ social networks and academic skills, that in turn foster their learner identity.




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