Transitioning to university life can be a challenging process. Instead of being presented with a set curriculum to follow, students are often given greater autonomy to come up with their own study methods.
They are also expected to take the initiative to seek assistance when they encounter difficulties with their studies or settling in.
Fresh graduates can find this overwhelming.
Recognising this, the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) has formed a Learning Support team that is dedicated to helping students prepare for the demands of their university education.
Tasked with providing timely, effective and customised responses to students’ academic needs, JCU’s Learning Support team is easily accessible on campus.
Dr Stanley Loo, a mathematics and statistics teacher in the Learning Support Team shares: “At designated time slots, students can enter a dedicated room named the Learning Zone to seek the help of advisors, who follow a roster. Students can also make appointments for dedicated one-to-one consultations with advisors or contact them via e-mail or Skype.”
Dr Loo’s role in the Learning Support team involves providing assistance in statistics and research methods. A key area in the Learning Support team, Dr Loo, advises students on research design, methodology selection and data anaylsis.
One key area that the Learning Support team focuses on is addressing academic issues in students’ draft papers. For instance, they give students advice on plagiarism and how to progress academically.
This goes a long way towards improving students’ quality of work, and eventually, their learning and academic success.
Mr Nimrod Delante, an English and academic skills teacher in the Learning Support team, says Learning Support teachers make it a point to offer feedback on assignment drafts prior to final submission.
“If the students feel the need to clarify some issues in our written feedback, they can do so through a face-to-face consultation until they have a clear understanding,” he explains.
“The goal is to motivate them to perform well and achieve success at the university.”
Mr Martin Goh, a polytechnic graduate who enrolled in JCU in 2016 to study Bachelor of Psychological Science, was one such student who sought assistance from the Learning Support team.
He shares: “During my first trimester, I sent my written assignment to Dr George Jacobs [from the Learning Support team] in the evening and was surprised to receive comprehensive feedback from him the next morning.
“It was a significant moment for me. It was heartwarming to know that there's a dedicated figure in the school who cares for you even if he'd never met you in person before.”
Helping others to grow
The Learning Support team runs two student programmes — Mateship and EMAS— which encourage peer growth and support.
Mrs Hwee Leng Toh-Heng, an English and academic skills teacher in the Learning Support team, says: “The Mateship programme recruits and trains senior peers to help new students settle into life at JCU, hence taking care of their affective needs.
“We also train students who are top scorers in specific subjects to help in the EMAS Peer Tutoring Programme and be peer tutors for content-specific guidance.”
The peer tutoring is conducted in the Learning Zone on a weekly basis.
Encouraged by his encounter with the Learning Support team, Mr Goh decided to join the EMAS programme as a peer tutor in 2016.
He recalls: “I joined EMAS to help those who were as lost as I was in the first trimester, and make them feel recognised and cared for.”
Aside from providing student consultations and managing student programmes, the Learning Support team also conducts general and in-class workshops that are customised for particular subjects.
Shares Mr Nimrod: “I also conduct special workshops that are tailored to students’ writing needs for a particular subject – for example, a reflective essay writing workshop for MBA students required to write a reflective essay for the subject, Managing People in Organisations.”
Building strong ties
In fact, Mr Goh has singled out Mr Nimrod and Mrs Toh-Heng as two influential figures in his campus life, having sought their guidance and worked with them during his time as an EMAS peer tutor.
Mr Nimrod, the EMAS English advisor, says they built a cohesive relationship when Mr Goh was the English peer tutor coordinator for about five trimesters.
“We consistently engaged in conversations about how to improve the peer tutoring experience, build tutee-tutor relationships, motivate peer tutors to reach out to students, and improve peer tutors’ academic writing skills, so they can provide more effective tutoring,” he adds.
Likewise, Mrs Toh-Heng remembers Mr Goh as a motivated student who established rapport with his learning support advisors.
“Martin sought us as sounding boards for his ideas in his research — not for content guidance, but for the critical thinking questions we posed. These helped him to crystalise and hone his thinking skills,” she says.
Set up for success
Above all, the Learning Support team wants students to do well. Mr Michael Joyce, an English and academic skills teacher in the Learning Support team, says JCU has made accessibility a priority for the team, which is why they are highly visible and easy to find.
“The fact that we have a dedicated Learning Support team is a prime example of how JCU sets students up to succeed,” he says.
“Good interdepartmental communication is also a factor in student success. When a student is struggling with certain aspects of their studies, the professors should know where to go and who to ask to get them the help they need.”