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The decisive first year of study

23 students have been hired as academic coaches at the Faculty of Engineering and Science’s study programmes. The coaches are responsible for managing their own student groups, which they will follow throughout the entire year of study. The aim is helping first-year students to experience a sense of mastery and succeed with their studies at the university.

Group picture of 23 coaches
23 experienced students from the Faculty of Engineering and Science have been hired as academic coaches for their fellow students.

The coaches will work 7.5 hours a week and are a part of the "First Year Study Environment" (FYSE) that began at semester start. The arrangement is a pilot project at all study programmes of the Faculty of Engineering and Science at UiA, Campus Grimstad.

The FYSE project is similar to a buddy group and will follow up the students throughout the whole year. In august, 460 students were divided into groups of ten. Participating in FYSE is not obligatory, but many students consider the arrangement to be beneficial.

Low attendance for lectures

Study statistics show that the number of students who drop out is high for the first year and especially for the first semester. The faculty wants to prevent this and have more students complete their studies. Carrying out the FYSE project is therefore closely connected to the content of the lectures and training in the study programmes.

"It is important to get the students to attend lectures. That will contribute to more people completing the first year and the rest of their programme," Dean Michael Rygaard Hansen at the Faculty of Engineering and Science says.

Michael Rygaard Hansen er dekan ved Fakultet for teknologi og realfag og initiativtakar for FYSE-ordninga.

Michael Rygaard Hansen is dean at the Faculty of Engineering and Science and initiator of the FYSE arrangement.

Rygaard Hansen is the initiator of the pilot project. He says that many study programmes on Campus Grimstad experience fewer students attending lectures and the accompanying practice sessions. Instead, the students stay home and watch online streams of the lectures when available. 

Creating a place to meet and a network

"At many study programmes, a culture of not attending lectures has developed, and often there is no culture for having study groups either. At the same time, we see a development in the number of first-time students dropping out. Therefore, we believe that the FYSE groups are good places to meet for the students to get a network, make groups for group work, and receive academic guidance by experienced students from their own study programmes," Rygaard Hansen says.

The coaches in the FYSE groups will obtain data about why students quit their study programme. If any students do not attend group meetings, the coaches will note this, contact the student about the reason for the absence and encourage the student to attend the following week.

Following up

"Becoming a student is a huge step for many people. This is true regardless of if you come directly from upper secondary school or transition from a different profession through re-education. Many people do not know how to write assignments, build networks, make a progress plan or work in groups," Rygaard Hansen says.  

In the FYSE arrangement, the students will get better at study strategies and improve their ability to learn on their own. The coaches will make the groups meet at least once a week and there use the study tool "PER strategy". "PER" stands for "Plan, Execute and Reflect".

In the meetings, the students are followed up during the process of creating their own PER strategy. Every week, the students will say something about their own accomplishments and motivation from the previous week.

The coach can follow up the students who are having difficulties and can forward feedback from the students to lecturers.

Makes group work simpler

One of the most important purposes of the coaches is making the students feel acknowledged and creating a safe community.

Franziska Vogler is a master’s student of multimedia and educational technology and is a coach for two FYSE groups at her study programme. Vogler says that they get a lot of good feedback from the students about how much they appreciate the arrangement.

"The groups are useful on an academic level and on a social level. With the FYSE groups, the students do not have to search for someone to do group work with. That is already set," Vogler says. 

The groups are used for all group work in the study programmes. All assignments, lab work and project work are worked on in the FYSE groups. If the course or assignment requires smaller group sizes, the FYSE group can be split.

If there is time, the coach is also encouraged to create other academic and social activities for their group. For example, there are now competitions in the FYSE groups and between the groups.

"Some of the things we compete about in the multimedia FYSE groups is attendance and course credits. We also have a competition going on which group will eat the most pizzas this semester," Vogler says. 

Franziska Vogler er ein av dei 23 coachane som er tilsett for å hjelpe førstårsstudentar å lykkast med studiane.

Franziska Vogler is one of the 23 coaches who have been hired to help first-year students succeed with their studies.

Good feedback

A survey done in September showed that 85% of the students feel well taken care of during 

semester start. Rygaard Hansen says the coaches frequently are communicating with the students.

"For the faculty it means that we have one coach for every tenth student. This provides a good basis for dialog between the students and us, and it makes it easier to acknowledge each student. The distance to a lecturer or resource person is short if anyone needs answers or help," Rygaard Hansen says.

Nora Maria Becker is a first-year student of multimedia technology and design and attends one of Vogler’s FYSE groups. She says that she gets a lot out of attending the group since the coaches can answer questions and forward feedback on courses or lecturers.

"The FYSE group is a good mix of academic and social parts. The arrangement has given me a group of fellow students who I can work together with on assignments. At the same time, the group has made the transition to university and studies easier," Becker says.

Starting earlier next year

Rygaard Hansen says that the coaches have been good at creating a safe academic and social community for the students.

"Without skilled coaches the project would not function as well as it does. Additionally, a lot of the arrangement’s success is due to extraordinary efforts made by project leader Andreas Wæhle, previous project leader Morten Rudolfsen, administrative manager Leif Arne Løhaugen and manager of PER strategy Halvard Øysæd. Not everything was ready when the project started, a lot was put in place in a short time thanks to them," Rygaard Hansen says. 

He says they want to do some things differently next year. They will start recruiting at an earlier stage, and thus have more time for training the coaches. At semester start in august 2019, the buddy groups at the faculty will be the same as the FYSE groups.

"That way, they will be a group from their first day at UiA," Rygaard Hansen says.

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