Julie Watson, University of Southampton, UK
Watson, J. (2011). Introducing ‘Prepare for Success’, a web-based learning resource to help international students get ready for study in the UK. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 2(3), 234-237.
International students starting out on undergraduate or postgraduate degree programmes in the UK often feel challenged by the different academic culture and the new study skills they need to acquire in order to be successful in their field of study. Students report that they searched online for resources to help them before they arrived at their university or college in the UK but were not always able to find what they were looking for on their university or college website. In 2008, a new website of interactive learning resources was launched to help international students prepare for study in the UK. It can also be used by institutions in a variety of ways. Prepare for Success is a free web resource, developed at the University of Southampton with PMI (Prime Minister’s Initiative) funding through UKCISA (the UK Council for international Student Affairs). Since its launch the website has attracted over 375,000 visitors from 212 different countries. It is also being widely used by UK further and higher education to help their international students make the adjustment to British academic culture, and by institutions overseas to help students prepare for a study period spent in the UK.
The learning content on the Prepare for Success website (www.prepareforsuccess.org.uk) is aimed at international students with an IELTS level between 5.0 and 7.5 or equivalent. It consists of a number of web pages:
- Homepage : a main menu of 23 interactive multimedia learning resources introducing international students to aspects of academic life, study skills, and teaching and learning styles in the UK
- Study Pathways: interactive study pathways through the learning resources allowing student users to select learning resources by skill or by topic
- FAQs: an interactive wordle allowing users to browse a bank of simple questions and answers about academic study in the UK
- FAQs for Further Education: an interactive spinning globe allowing users to browse a bank of specific questions and answers; of interest to students planning to study in Further Education colleges in the UK
- Information for teachers and institutions: suggestions on how to use Prepare for Success with students, and a range of downloadable resources to publicise the website to students
In addition to these resources, Prepare for Success has a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Through these social networking tools, the site aims to highlight other useful websites and resources for international students.
The 23 core learning resources are developed in the form of ‘learning objects’ (LOs) and combine multi-media assets with an activity-based approach to learning . These resources can be used by students on a self-access basis or used by teachers and blended with their classroom teaching. The activity-based LOs are based in a particular pedagogic approach found to be particularly suited to online learning. Elanguages , an eLearning research and development group within Modern Languages at the University of Southampton and creators of Prepare for Success, evolved this model for learning object design. Key features of this approach include:
• use of activities which encourage ‘learning by doing’;
• aiming to engage students actively in reflection;
• use of activities which allow for practice and production, and build on each other;
• use of activities which are personalised (learner-centred) where possible;
• activities which are enhanced with feedback (help, answers with explanations, review sections), helping to support and drive students’ learning.
Activities are built around audio and video clips of international students and UK tutors talking about academic life in the UK and typical linguistic and academic challenges that students face when moving culture for study purposes, as well as personalised quizzes encouraging reflection. This content is designed to allow students to discover and explore useful information, while at the same time providing opportunities for language development e.g. listening comprehension (see Figure 1). Activities are structured and supported by help sections and feedback, including comment and explanation to support activity answers. In this way, the resources aim to be both informative about academic culture and deliver self-paced language practice. To facilitate this, video and audio transcripts are also included with key sections highlighted to show answers. A final review section offers a summary of the main learning points.
Figure 1: Part of an interactive activity from Prepare for Success
The learning resources, which include items such as ‘Ways of studying on your course’; ‘Your relationship with your tutors’; ‘Critical thinking’ ‘Academic writing at university’, can also serve as online course ‘building blocks’ that can be individually linked to from an institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Moodle or Blackboard for international student induction, pre- or post- arrival (see Information for teachers and institutions page).
Both institutional and student users of the Prepare for Success website are encouraged to send feedback using the appropriate website feedback form. Although the four main development phases of Prepare for Success under the PMI scheme are now complete, the website is receiving further funding so that it can continue to expand and respond to the needs of international students preparing for study in the UK. The Prepare for Success website can be found at http://www.prepareforsuccess.org.uk.
Notes on the contributor
Julie Watson is Principal Teaching Fellow in eLearning in Modern Languages at the University of Southampton in the UK. She also manages eLanguages and leads the pedagogic design and development of e-learning materials for independent and blended learning such as the Study Skills Toolkit and the EAP Toolkit, as well as e-tutored online courses. She works on a number of projects developing and/or researching into web-based learning and Web 2.0 technologies in education.
Elanguages – http://www.elanguages.ac.uk/
Prepare for Success – http://www.prepareforsuccess.org.uk
UKCISA – http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/