As teachers, it is important to be aware of the wide range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of our students. This awareness needs to be translated to the curriculum, pedagogy and all aspects of university life to ensure inclusiveness for all students and success with their learning. One way this can be done is focussing on and supporting students’ many transitions, in particular but not restricted to beginning university and the first year experience.

… all university teachers, regardless of discipline, need to address students’ varied learning needs through inclusive teaching practices. It also requires some understanding of university life as a culture in itself, to which all students must have some introduction to support their transition to university study.

(Brougham and Hunt, 2010, p183)


Transitions occur, not only when beginning university, but throughout the student experience.

Studies show that universities that induct their students into the university culture, and teachers who support students in their transition to learning both new academic skills and their discipline environment, significantly improve the retention, success and satisfaction of students as articulated by Wilson:

"The impact of institutional, programmatic and personal interventions on an effective and sustainable first-year student experience." (Wilson, K. 2009)

University life and study is new and different for all first-year students and it cannot be assumed that students have the knowledge and support to adjust to this new learning environment. While some students adjust quickly, other students require significant support to succeed.

When students move into second year, there is a development and transition from the higher level of support in first year to more independent study expectations in successive years and after, into post-graduate study and work.

The transition from final year to work is very significant for many students. All of the transitions that the student experience includes need to be taken into account in regards to both curriculum and pedagogy. Whilst VU has a particular focus on the first-year experience, the principles apply at all points of transition for students.

Transition pedagogy principles

Transition pedagogy has been conceptualised as ‘the optimal capacity to deliver an integrated and holistic FYE [first year experience], when intentionally designed first year curriculum is harnessed to mediate the learning experiences of diverse commencing students’ (Kift, Nelson and Clarke, 2010, p 2). Whilst Kift et al emphasise the FYE, the same principles apply to the whole student experience especially at points of transition throughout their study.

In articulating a transition pedagogy, Kift (2010) has identified six organising principles, which VU has modified to be applicable for all years:

  • Transition: The curriculum and its delivery should be designed to be consistent and explicit in assisting students’ transition from their previous educational experience to the nature of learning in higher education and learning in their discipline as part of their lifelong learning.
  • Diversity: The curriculum should be attuned to student diversity and must be accessible by, and inclusive of, all students.
  • Design: Curriculum design and delivery should be student-focused, explicit and relevant in providing the foundation and scaffolding necessary for learning success.
  • Engagement: Learning, teaching, and assessment approaches should enact an engaging and involving curriculum and pedagogy and should enable active and collaborative learning.
  • Assessment: Curriculum should assist students to make a successful transition to assessment in higher education. Assessment should increase in complexity from the first to later years of curriculum design. Critically, students should receive regular, formative evaluations of their work early in the program of study to aid their learning and to provide feedback to both students and staff on student progress and achievement.
  • Evaluation and monitoring: Good curriculum is evidence-based and enhanced by regular evaluation that leads to continuous improvement of curriculum (Kift, 2009).

Characteristics of good practice

The following characteristics support students through the many transitions in higher education by intentional curriculum design and delivery.

  • Engaging with diversity and acknowledging and celebrating differences
  • Being consistent and explicit with regard to student expectations
  • Making few if any assumptions about existing skills and knowledge but actively building on students’ existing knowledge, skills and literacies
  • Intentional integration and sequencing of knowledge, skills, academic literacies and attitudes which takes into account multiple possible entry and exit points
  • Monitoring all student development and engagement in learning academic literacies and discipline knowledge.
  • Identifying and intervening in a timely way with students at risk
  • Taking a whole of student experience approach to developing a sense of belonging through development of student focused services and spaces
  • Supporting students in engaging with new identities and social practices, including new literacy practices
  • Regular, formative assessment and evaluation of student work early in their study is integral to their program of study to aid their learning
  • Enabling active and collaborative learning
  • Enabling the development of key mathematical reasoning and problem solving skills in relation to learning and life


  • What transitions can you identify for your current students?
  • How is the development of academic literacies integrated into your teaching and assessment processes?
  • How are you monitoring students at risk?
  • How and when do you use student feedback to improve the student experience?

Additional resources

Broughan, C & Hunt L. 2012. Inclusive Teaching in Hunt, L. & Chalmers, D. (eds), University teaching in focus – A learning-centred approach. ACER Press, Camberwell.

Gale, T. & Parker, S. 2011. Student Transition into Higher Education. ALTC Good Practice Report.

Kift, S. 2009. Articulating a Transition Pedagogy

Kift S. Transition Pedagogy Disseminations website

Kift, S., Nelson, K. & Clarke, J. 2010. Transition Pedagogy: A third generation approach to FYE – A case study of policy and practice for the higher education sector. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 1(1), 1-20.

Morgan, H. & Houghton, A. 2011. Inclusive curriculum design in higher education Considerations for effective practice across and within subject areas Higher Education Academy. United Kingdom and All Ireland Society for Higher Education.

O’Donnell, M., Wallace, M., Melano A., Lawson, R. & Leinonen E. 2015. Putting transition at the centre of whole-of-curriculum transformation. Student Success, 6(20), 73-39, August. University of Wollongong, Australia.

Wilson, K. 2009. The impact of institutional, programmatic and personal interventions on an effective and sustainable first-year student experience. In 12th First Year in Higher Education Conference 2009, Townsville.