Case study: Worcester College - Academic Transition Support

Learning Development Officer  

The position of Learning Development Officer (LDO) was created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically to address the ways in which the pandemic has exacerbated existing educational inequalities. The LDO works to develop academic confidence and a sense of academic belonging for students at Worcester and has two main roles in relation to student transition support: the provision of study skills training and the administration of the ‘Equal Access to Learning Fund’ at Worcester. Both initiatives and how they contribute to academic belonging at Worcester are discussed below. 

Study Skills Training  

The Study Skills training offered by the LDO aims to address gaps in general academic skills students may experience upon starting at Oxford as well as helping to build students' academic confidence. Research has shown that building confidence in general academic skills support students’ transition to University and can help develop their sense of academic belonging. Providing access to study skills sessions at Worcester College is inclusive by providing all students with access to support they may need to succeed in their studies. 

The work of the LDO is complimentary to the work of Worcester’s two Access Fellows, who work with admissions to recruit under-represented students to Worcester. The LDO helps ensure that once students from a variety of educational backgrounds begin their studies at Worcester, they have the tailored support they need to succeed at Oxford. 

The LDO at Worcester offers study skills sessions to two groups: first-year undergraduates and then to all other undergraduate students. This allows the LDO to tailor the sessions to the specific needs of first-year students, while still providing support for later years. Topics include essay writing, making the most of tutorials, using vacation time effectively, general study skills, and revising for exams. These types of non-subject specific skills are vital to academic success and having guidance on how to navigate the conventions of Oxford helps build students' confidence.

The LDO also offers one-on-one support for study skills. Students can self-refer, be referred by their tutors, or can be referred by welfare staff in college. Individual support is available for students who need more immediate assistance in developing multiple study skills and would therefore be better served through an individualised meeting rather than by attending a series of study skills sessions in a group setting. Some students are also more comfortable discussing their academic strengths and identifying areas of improvement in a more private setting.  

When students need discipline-specific support, such as learning to use particular software etc., the LDO hires Worcester postgraduates to provide individual or group mentoring. Postgraduates have generally been enthusiastic about these opportunities, as it provides them with valuable teaching experiences.  

Equal Access to Learning Fund 

This fund supports material access to learning, purchasing items such as laptops and software such as Microsoft Office for students. The application process is streamlined, requiring less information than other comparable schemes which may require a large amount of personal information. Applications are also approved within two weeks, ensuring students have access to the materials they need as soon as possible.  

Students are able to request items worth up to £850 per academic year and can request funds multiple times throughout the year. If students needs exceed this amount, their requests are reviewed on an individual basis. Students retain permanent ownership over items such as books and laptops; for furniture items (such as a desk chair), students are asked to leave these items in college so they can be used again by future students. 

Offer holders to Worcester College are also eligible to apply to this fund. They can receive funding to attend an open day or purchase equipment such as a laptop. Worcester provides this support knowing that not all offer holders will be able to take up their place in college. 

Additionally, every first-year student will be sent books from their reading list worth up to £50; reading/resource lists are developed by tutors. This allows equal access to learning materials over the summer for students to prepare for their first term at Oxford. 

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