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21 April 2020

Supporting students to develop transition skills during times of uncertainty


Alison Eales
Quality Enhancement Specialist, QAA Scotland

Students experience many transitions during their time in higher education. Some of these, such as the transitions in and out of institutions and between years of study, will be expected and can be prepared for with relative ease. Other transitions are less predictable.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has highlighted how unforeseen circumstances can force students and staff into new territory: we’ve all had to move our work online in a short space of time. How can we support students to cope with this transition? In addition to offering more specific support, such as upskilling students to use particular technologies, are there more general skills and strategies that we might help them to develop?

As part of the Student Transitions Enhancement Theme, we commissioned some research to try and answer that question. Our researchers identified six skills and strategies that are key to successfully navigating transitions:

  • Academic Resilience
  • Critical Self-Reflection
  • Mindset
  • Self-Management of Expectations
  • Self-Belief (or Self-Efficacy) 
  • Time Management for Independent Learning.

We produced some free, practical, easy-to-use resources to support students to develop these skills. They include activities for students to work on individually, activities for students to work on in groups, presentation materials for staff, and leaflets signposting students to further help. These are available on the Transition Skills and Strategies webpage. .

If you teach or otherwise support students in higher education, you will find something useful here. Most of the files are in Word or PowerPoint format, and can be used ‘out-of-the-box’ or customised and combined to suit your needs.

To help students develop academic resilience, you could run the Avoiding and Overcoming Setbacks activity. This encourages students to work through up to eight scenarios, and could easily be run on a VLE discussion board. Scenarios include bereavement, late submission, systems failures, and coping with disappointing results. You can choose which scenarios you think will be of most value for students to discuss. All scenarios provide opportunities to discuss support networks and options at your institution, and to equip students with a deeper understanding of how they might seek help when they need it.

Managing our own expectations can help mitigate the impact of transitions, particularly as we face unpredictable circumstances. Our Establishing and Achieving My Goals worksheet encourages students to reflect on what they wish to achieve in various areas of their lives, how long it might take to achieve these goals, and barriers to achieving them. It also contains tips on how to increase motivation. A prepared slide deck, with explanatory notes, enables you to combine these resources into an interactive presentation that can easily be delivered online.

Self-belief is another important skill that can help to mitigate potential negative impact of uncertainty. Our two handouts, which may be used independently or as a pair, encourage students to assess their levels of self-belief and think about how they might develop their self-belief. You could integrate these into a class, or provide it to students to work on independently.

These are a valuable addition to your teaching toolbox and will help you help your students to enhance skills that are critical for success.

We would love to know how you have been using these resources. What did you find worked well? What advice would you give to other people who are designing an activity using these resources? Please share your thoughts with us by emailing