The Macquarie University International College (MUIC) and the English Language Centre (ELC) at Macquarie University were recently pleased to invite Professor Sally Kift, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at James Cook University and Principal Fellow, Higher Education Academy (PFHEA), to deliver a presentation of her research on transition pedagogy.

Sally is currently a freelance consultant whose work is frequently cited and referred to in the Scholarship of Learning and Teaching. One example is the paper entitled, Transition pedagogy : a third-generation approach to FYE : a case study of policy and practice for the higher education sector, co-authored by Karen Nelson and John Clarke.

Sally has an interest in student retention as invariably students fail to thrive early in the university experience. Historically, evidence suggests that students may not have been well supported in making the transition from school-based to higher education-based learning. Both international and domestic cohorts have high attrition rates in the early phases, due to reasons that may be around curriculum quality, delivery, or extra-curricular issues such as cultural assimilation, transition from school to higher education or socio-economic pressures.

From a learning design and curriculum perspective,

we focus on strategies to embed essential elements such as English language proficiency and employability skills into the course design and then concurrently develop strategies for good teaching, sufficient support and buy-in from students.

Kift’s six curriculum principles (2006) serve as sound design principles for first year units and programs:

  • Transition
  • Diversity
  • Design
  • Engagement
  • Assessment
  • Evaluation
  • Monitoring

Here at MUIC we have developed a learning and teaching philosophy, involving several stakeholders in a Think Tank and consultation process. The first fundamental concept in this philosophy is: Engage.

With a diverse cohort of international and domestic students, our focus incorporates devising activities and assessments that can engage a broad range of students as well as ignite their interest and motivation for learning. After the initial Think Tank workshops, Lilia Mantai and Dimity Wehr (MUIC Learning Designers) held a follow-up workshop to immerse teaching staff in interactive activities which they can use to engage students.

These included a jigsaw type exercise (photo below) where the staff matched theories, concepts and activities with strategies for engagement (such as active learning and critical reflection). In addition, the participants created some early, mid and late in term learning opportunities on a topic timeline, concentrating on scaffolding learning across the full program (essentially spanning the first-year experience).

strips of paper on a table

Extending the transition pedagogies into the current curriculum project, we have highlighted student engagement and skill development in individual units and other curricular and co-curricular strategies that successful students need to be in touch with. Redesigning the curriculum invites the opportunity to embed such principles and skills as

  • English Language Proficiency
  • Numeracy skills
  • Critical reflection
  • Cultural Competencies
  • Digital Literacies
  • Research Skills and
  • Employability

into units to be taught, assessed and reflected upon, concurrently within specific unit contexts.

Opportunities to increase the capabilities of students, that can be transferred to further education and beyond, become paramount when considering transition pedagogies.

Delivering engaging curriculum with embedded strategies in the intensive mode delivery like at MUIC, where students complete two units across six weeks, can be challenging. This mode of delivery has its benefits in terms of fast tracking and creating more opportunities for students to articulate into university in a timely manner. It also offers small class sizes, pastoral care and quick assessment turnaround with the opportunity for early feedback. However, the fast mode of delivery may be a barrier to student success, particularly if the curriculum is content and assessment heavy.

A sound balance of activities and assessments should be developed, and scaffolded learning initiated where possible, to ensure students not only make connections between learning and assessment, they also have the space to assimilate this learning. Feedback for learning is critical to achieve this end and, as Kift suggests, it must be feedback for learning, timely, personal and useful.

Finally, the transition pedagogy must be intentional, inclusive and sustainable; developed and maintained over the student lifecycle (Kift 2009).

From the initial orientation, students should have a clear direction about where they are going with their studies and how the courses they choose will lead to further study or employment.

We are planning for future Professional Development sessions to explore these transition strategies and are endeavouring to incorporate activities and opportunities into an orientation program that will inspire students to want to study at MUIC and Macquarie and enable community building from the co-curricular into the curriculum space. If you are teaching in this space or have any touch points students transitioning in their study, it may be timely to reflect upon how you might create curriculum based or other co-curricula mechanisms to support students through the first-year experience.


Kift, S.(2009) Articulating a transition pedagogy to scaffold and to enhance the first-year student learning experience in Australian higher education [PDF]. Strawberry Hills, SW: Support for the original work was provided by the Australian Learning and Teaching council Ltd, an initiative of the Australian Government department of Education. Employment and Workplace relations. Retrieved from

Posted by Dimity Wehr

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