Transition to First Year University Study: A Qualitative Descriptive Study on the Psychosocial and Emotional Impacts of a Science Workshop

Jyothi Thalluri, Joy Penman
Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology  •  Volume 16  •  2019  •  pp. 197-210
The purpose of this article is to discuss the psychosocial and emotional outcomes of an introductory health science workshop designed to support and assist incoming health science students before starting their university study.
For the past two decades, a South Australian university offered an on-campus face to face workshop titled ‘Preparation for Health Sciences’ to incoming first-year students from eleven allied health programs such as Nursing, Physiotherapy and Medical Imaging. While many were locals, a good number came from regional and rural areas, and many were international students also. They consisted of both on-campus and off-campus students.
The workshop was created as a new learning environment that was available for students of diverse age groups, educational and cultural backgrounds to prepare them to study sciences. The content of the four-day workshop was developed in consultation with the program directors of the allied health programs. The objectives were to: introduce the assumed foundational science knowledge to undertake health sciences degree; gain confidence in approaching science subjects; experience lectures and laboratory activities; and become familiar with the University campus and its facilities. The workshop was delivered a week before the orientation week, before first-year formal teaching weeks. The topics covered were enhancing study skills, medical and anatomical terminology, body systems, basic chemistry and physics, laboratory activities, and assessment of learning.
In order to determine the outcomes of the workshop, a survey was used requiring participants to agree or disagree about statements concerning the preparatory course and answer open-ended questions relating to the most important information learned and the best aspects of the workshop. Several students piloted this questionnaire before use in order to ascertain the clarity of instructions, terminology and statements. The result of the 2015-2018 pre- and post-evaluation showed that the workshop raised confidence and enthusiasm in commencing university and that the majority considered the workshop useful overall. The findings of the survey are drawn upon to examine the psychosocial and emotional impacts of the workshop on participants. Using secondary qualitative analysis, the researchers identified the themes relating to the psychosocial and emotional issues conveyed by the participants.
The contributions of the article are in the areas of improving students’ confidence to complete their university degrees and increasing the likelihood of academic success.

Of the 285 students who participated in the workshops from 2015 to 2018, 166 completed the survey conducted at the conclusion of the initiative, representing a 58% response rate. The workshops achieved the objectives outlined at the outset. While there were many findings reported (Thalluri, 2016), the results highlighted in this paper relate to the psychosocial and emotional impacts of the workshop on students. Three themes emerged, and these were Increased preparedness and confidence; Networking and friendships that enhanced support, and Reduced anxiety to study sciences. Some drawbacks were also reported including the cost, time and travel involved.

Recommendations for practitioners
Students found the introductory workshop to be psychosocially and emotionally beneficial. It is recommended that the same approach be applied for teaching other challenging fields such as mathematics and physics within the university and in other contexts and institutions.

Recommendations for researchers
Improving and extending the workshop to provide greater accessibility and autonomy is recommended. A longitudinal study to follow up the durability of the workshop is also proposed.

Impact on society
The impacts in the broader community include: higher academic success for students; improved mental health due to social networking and friendship groups and reduced anxiety and fear; reduced dropout rate in their first year; greater potential to complete educational degrees; reduced wastage in human and financial resources; and increased human capital.

Future research
Addressing the limitations of cost, time and travel involved, and following-up with the participants’ academic and workplace performance are future directions for research.
transition to university, first year, psychosocial, anxious
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