By Ben Broadhurst
I am Ben Broadhurst, 20 years old and I am currently studying at Edge Hill University and in my second year of Primary Education with QTS. I grew up in Liverpool and attended a rather prestigious and conservative school. This is where I received both my pre-university qualifications. The school I attended did help to shape some, but not all, of my philosophies that I hold dear. These include hard work, determination, and resilience.
Transitions to, and through, university
I was looking forward to starting my new journey at Edge Hill and bringing what I had learned in school forward into university, but more importantly, I was looking forward to creating a better version of myself. Through creating a better version of myself, I wanted to show those around me that I could achieve, and I was willing to achieve through my determination to succeed. Prior to coming to university, I did not see myself as intellectually talented. Now having completed numerous assignments, I am more confident in my academic ability, and I am finally beginning to see my hard work pay off. This is not just down to the work I have completed but all of the help and support my department has provide me through my tutorials, sessions, and assessment feedback. I am looking forwards to seeing what the future has in store. Attending university for nearly two years now, I have been able to understand what is important to me. The values I have identified above still apply, but my understanding of, and commitment to inclusion and the opportunity to voice my opinions is what university has given me the power to take hold of this, where my school did not.
Having spent seven years at one school, my transition into higher education was going to be a challenge. In line with Jindal-Snape’s conceptualisation of transitions, I experienced multiple transitions at the same time. These included geographical transitions (moving to a new area), social transitions (meeting new people and establishing relationships with them), identity transitions (exploring my personal identity), professional transitions (developing a professional identity as a student teacher) and academic transitions (adapting to new ways of learning and assessment). Jindal-Snape (2016) argues that ongoing transitions require ongoing support. I drew on all of my support networks to support my adaptation to higher education.
Transitions into higher education can be daunting and researchers are increasingly interested in the way in which universities support the process of induction during the whole of the first year rather than viewing induction as a single event which takes place on Fresher’s Week. Most university tutors recognise that transitions are not always smooth and during my first lecture at university this was discussed and we were provided with information about how to seek advice and which people to contact for support. Furthermore, Edge Hill university is a part of the wider #ibelong project. This is a research study across Europe; the main focus of this work is looking at how inclusive higher education is and how staff and mentor schemes can help with ensuring every student feels included. Fortunately enough I was lucky to participate with this work and I have provided my own responses to how Edge Hill and others around me have helped me to have a smooth transition and feel included within higher education (https://ibelong.eu/2020/08/31/ibelong-from-student-perspective/).
Relationships with peers and tutors
I moved into my university halls of residence on my 19th birthday, so it seemed appropriate to celebrate this transition with a party. At this event I was able to establish social connections with my peers and we drew upon each other as a source of support to facilitate a smooth transition. I feel very fortunate that I had a very smooth and comfortable transition. My initial worries that had been building up throughout my summer holiday around settling in, making new friends, engaging with tutors, and whether I would be able to cope with the academic standard to even be at university soon subsided. I soon found that I was able to express myself and voice my opinions. I made new friends quickly and I soon began to become a better version of myself. The first three-quarters of my first year was the best part of my life to date. This was due to the comfortable environment I experienced at Edge Hill and in particular my programme.
Impact of COVID-19
However, my smooth transitions were rapidly disrupted mid-way through my first year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The whole country, and by this point the world, was placed in immediate lockdown. This resulted in several new transitions: university teaching was completely moved online, and a year later this is still the case. Moving to online teaching was one of the most difficult and hardest transitions that I have experienced. The shift from having face-to-face teaching, where you could sit with your fellow students and enjoy professional dialogue with university tutors was gone. Whole cohort lectures were moved online. Every part of my life seemingly operated from behind a screen. I found this both physically and mentally challenging. I experienced waves of self-doubt, lack of motivation, and disengagement with my studies. Despite attending all online sessions, I could not engage and contribute like I used to be able to. In addition, university lecturers were still adapting to this way of learning and finding it equally as difficult as students were. The days of socialising, quiz nights, karaoke were no longer possible and the drive to get your work completed was no longer there. As a sociable and outgoing person, I found this to be very hard and longed for the day I could go back to how things were. During this time, I also should have been experiencing my first professional practice placement; it was an opportunity to put all that I had learned that year into practice as a primary school teacher. As such, this triggered another set of emotions including feeling inadequate, and as a result, my confidence was being dented. I started to think that I was not going to make a good teacher and I was worried about not being able to meet all the outcomes needed to reach qualified teacher status, and more importantly the needs of the children I would be teaching.
Strategies to support transitions related to COVID-19
Overall, despite the challenges mentioned around the transition to online learning, there were some positives that helped to negate my negative feelings. I found solace in using platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to help me stay in touch with my friends. This helped me immensely as we could all talk about our feelings and experiences we were facing throughout the pandemic. Jindal-Snape’s point that ongoing transitions require ongoing support is crucial because in my experience I relied on the ongoing support from my peers to help me navigate the various transitions that I was experiencing. In addition, I learned that sometimes it is very important to just take a step back. Not everything has to be done immediately. Spreading and plotting out your work can be beneficial to your learning if you are struggling, as well as identifying small, achievable targets. These strategies supported me to gradually build up my confidence again. Besides this, taking time out for myself was so important in supporting me through the different transitions. I found that online learning was more draining than face-to-face in-person teaching. Strategies that helped to smooth my transitions included taking myself away from the screen, reading, listening to music and baking. In ordinary times, I would have gone out for coffee and cake, so baking was great fun and an even bigger stress release.
We all hope with the vaccines that are being rolled out across the UK and around the world will enable us to be able to return to face-to-face teaching and not via online platforms. Yes, online learning has introduced me to digital pedagogies, but I think above all else teaching in-person is by far the best way of learning for all concerned. In life, we will never stop experiencing transitions. Some of these transitions will be positive and others will be negative. Our ability to adapt to change is the transition, not the change itself. As an individual, it is important to find what works for you and create effective approaches to those things we find more difficult. Life is a constant journey, so have your passport ready and embrace every opportunity you can.
Ben Broadhurst is undertaking an Undergraduate- Primary Education with QTS degree at Edge Hill University.
Image copyright: Divya Jindal-Snape