Cohort support

Cohort support

by Academy Admin

Below are examples of how institutions are providing support for their students.

An impressive range of mechanisms within the Department to support and encourage females, including student mentoring, Women in Computing blog, Code First: Girls, and participation in techmums - Brunel University 2016 

The Department seeks to create a culture that promotes ‘Women in Computing’, recognising the criticality of this area for the development and quality of the discipline.  This is supported by a number of activities and initiatives, most of which are led by the Department’s students and supported by academic and professional staff, including, but not limited to, the following:

(i)         Student mentoring: mentoring that seeks to match female students with female industry practitioners.

(ii)        Women in Computing events: events where senior women in computing are invited to present their experiences to, and inspire, our students.

(iii)       Women in Computing video promotions: a series of videos from industry partners discussing the importance of having female representation in work teams. 

(iv)       Women in Computing blog: a blog to record experiences of women in computing, with contributions from students and industry professionals. 

(v)        Support for Code First: Girls: participation by the department’s students in Code First: Girls, a community interest company that works with companies and young and professional women with the aim of increasing the number of women in technology.

(vi)       Support for Techmums: support for, and research into the effectiveness of, the Techmums initiative which provides free, hands-on workshops and online support to mums to give them the confidence, skills and inspiration to be more involved in technology.

The staff mentoring scheme to support students - Heriot-Watt University 2015 

The Department of Computer Science at Heriot Watt University has adopted a specialist approach to mentoring on their Edinburgh campus at undergraduate level. Based on analysis of the number of students who regularly use the mentoring service in times of difficulty, rather than allocating mentees to all staff we now have a team of six mentors who are particularly approachable, experienced and likely to be on campus during semester time. Some members of the mentoring team have different areas of expertise (e.g. year-specific problems; special needs students; help for students in crisis). The mentors have attended a training session with the university counsellor and academic counsellor, and meet twice a year to discuss student progress and offer each other informal support and advice. Students are allocated a mentor when they start studying in the department, and will normally retain the same mentor throughout their time as an undergraduate within the department. Students encountering personal difficulties (e.g. financial problems, family or personal illness) or problems related to studying can contact their allocated mentor or one of the others depending on the nature of the problem. Mentors will pro-actively contact students if a study-related problem comes to light, such as poor attendance or non-submission of coursework. For first and second year students in particular, course-attendance registers are kept and regular non-attendance is reported. The Department developed a special student learning profile which documents a student’s special needs/disability together with information about related good practice. Hard copies of the relevant learning profiles are given to the relevant lecturers.

Range of support mechanisms for the diverse student body – University of Huddersfield 2014

The University of Huddersfield’s School of Computing and Engineering provides a wide range of support mechanism to support its diverse student body. These are available through one-stop shop facilities both within the School and throughout the University. Locally within the School students can go to the student support office if they have questions related to their student record or any administrative issues related to their studies, enrolment, module queries, timetabling, exams, assessments, course related committees or award ceremonies for example. They can also use this contact point to access academic skills tuition, international study support, research and placement guidance or the School’s Student Support and Guidance Officers. The Student Support and Guidance Officers have been introduced to mirror support provided in many US universities where advising and coaching services have been in place for many years. Students are introduced to the Student Support and Guidance Officers early in their first year of study and know to contact them if they are having any study or personal challenges whilst they are at University. The Student Support and Guidance Officers provide direct support in mentoring, coaching and advising and help signpost the services the University offers centrally such as Back on Track, Disability Services, Drop in (Counselling and Wellbeing), The Faith Centre, Support Groups, the Hate Crime Reporting Centre, Support for Suspended Students, Mental Health Support, Student Parent Support, Student Wellbeing, Student Safety, Welfare Support, the University Health Centre, the Careers and Employability Service and the JobShop. They also make students aware of a range of self-help resources including guides on Alcohol, Bereavement, Depression, Drugs, Helping a Friend, Home Sickness, Loneliness, Managing Anger, Panic Attacks, Personal Safety and Stress. 

Student Support and Guidance Officers also undertake roles in terms of attendance monitoring and linked to a range of academic personal development activities for example time management. By regularly interacting with students they are able to identify potential difficulties students may have early enough for effective interventions and support to be provided. The student is able to discuss and evaluate whether they can plan to catch up with their studies or whether they need to suspend and return the following year for example, and by supporting students to effectively re-engage with their studies retention has improved, and a student that would otherwise have dis-engaged continues with their studies. Advice on extensions for work that needs to be submitted, and on when an application for extenuating circumstances is appropriate, is also provided. 

There has been improved communication and support between academic staff and students as the student guidance and support officers provide both mediation and support and the net result of this work has been a substantial increase in student satisfaction with the support they are provided with on their courses. The School provides guidance and pastoral support via academic staff with specific guidance and consolidation weeks also enabling support activities to be timetabled in at the times when students need and benefit from them most. These initiatives are being built on by focussing on which students may benefit most from support and providing a more detailed induction process which is timetabled over a longer period to help manage their transition to university. From September the Student Guidance and Support Officers will also be offering a support triage service to students as a drop-in, no-appointment service for quick guidance over the lunchtime period. 

Finally the School also encourages peer support and mentoring through the use of Student Teaching Assistants where students support other students in their studies, passing on their experience and expertise, which students often relate to more easily. Further information is available at

The Peer Mentoring System – Edge Hill University 2014

Having made the initial transition into university, many students find the ‘academic transition’ difficult.  Peer mentoring provides the means by which students can make friends, acclimatise to university life, and come to terms with their new student identity. The Department of Computing at Edge Hill University has successfully operated a peer mentoring system since 2003. Students can join the mentoring team at level 5 (second year), and have the opportunity to take a credit-bearing module ‘Coaching Learners’ at level 6 which further develops learning and teaching theory and practice. Peer mentors are themselves mentored by a member of staff and they run regular informal ‘drop-in’ sessions for other students and level 6 students also assist in tutored lab sessions. 

Peer Mentoring provides an opportunity for students to experience teaching and learning from the tutors perspective, develop skills at assisting students to learn, and develop an appreciation of some of the underpinning educational theory. Mentoring enables students to develop deeper knowledge in their discipline by assisting students to solve problems. During interactions with student learners mentors need to be able to verbalise their understanding of computing and also be able to develop a differentiated language to communicate that understanding at a level appropriate to the students’ current needs and capacities, while also encouraging reflection and progression in understanding in the student learners.  

One of the most valuable roles undertaken by peer mentors is that they can help fellow students ‘learn how to learn’ at a higher level. Indeed, the use of more experienced students to guide and advise newer students does much to promote independent learning; enriching the overall student experience by nurturing a sense of belonging and creating a community of practice through offering on-going support and friendship.

Activity-led learning for first year cohorts – Coventry University 2014

The Department of Computing at Coventry University has adopted the Activity Led Learning (ALL) Approach through the entire first year for all undergraduate computing degrees. ALL is a pedagogic model for improving student engagement and retention. Our experience shows that if challenged with an interesting problem the students rise to the occasion, and so we confront the students with ambitious tasks requiring them to take on a proactive role in problem-solving and use their own initiative to ensure their ‘product’ succeeds. During this academic year students have worked in groups on a sequence of increasingly challenging projects linked to typical industry practice. The project briefs have been designed to fulfil the learning objectives specific to each programme and have enabled students to understand the relevance of the theoretical concepts in practice. Collaboration with other students and encouraging tutor guidance has provided an environment in which students engage meaningfully with each other and have been mutually supported. The benefits of this approach are better student engagement, deeper understanding of concepts, team working skills and subject specific skills.  

This project has radically changed the practice of delivery in Computing undergraduate degrees at Coventry University. It has enabled the realisation of the university strategy of implementing programme focused delivery and assessments. Students can now see more clearly the rationale for the programme’s design, appreciate the importance of learning the theoretical underpinnings and gain valuable employability related skills. The experience has given them confidence in their ability to tackle large and non-trivial problems; it has encouraged them to investigate and look for opportunities that are not driven entirely by looming assessments; and shown them enough to begin to truly understand the value and associated snags of working in teams.

The appointment of a former student as Transition Officer – Newcastle University 2013  

The School of Computing Science at Newcastle University has generated a steady rise in undergraduate applications over the last 7 years, despite the changes in the financing of higher education. This has resulted in an increase in both the quality and quantity of the student intake. Changes were made to the undergraduate curriculum to take account of this increase in quality and a number of initiatives were put in place to cope with the increase in quantity. The most significant initiative was the appointment of a full-time Transition Officer to supplement the existing network of personal tutors and student mentors. The Transition Officer has four primary roles:

1.      Pastoral. The transition for a student from school to university life introduces a range of new challenges: from living away from home for the first time, to looking after finances. For some students this can be a big shock which can directly affect their studies. The Transition Officer has specific responsibilities to provide front line pastoral support to all students in Stage 1. This support includes an open-door policy during office hours plus a dedicated mobile number and email address. In most cases, support can be provided directly by the Transition Officer while in a few more serious cases the student can be directed to another staff member or introduced to the appropriate professional support service provided by the University.

2.     Academic. Newcastle University admits students with a wide range of academic backgrounds. Some students may find one aspect of the curriculum particularly challenging, usually mathematics or programming. The Transition Officer provides a “one stop shop” for all academic matters affecting Stage 1 students. Sometimes the matter can be addressed in a one to one meeting. If the problem is more widespread, the Transition Officer will organise tutorial sessions involving other academic staff.

3.      Organisational. The impact of a large cohort on teaching delivery should not be underestimated, particularly in the areas of assessment and practical teaching. The Transition Officer organises and trains Stage 1 demonstrators and marking teams and attends all Stage 1 practical classes.

4.     Educational. Transition to university doesn’t start with registration. Students must first choose the subject they want to study, then choose their university. These choices can be greatly helped or hindered by the choice of subjects to take at A level or even at GCSE level. The Transition Officer supports outreach activities with primary and secondary schools and organises talks and demonstrations by other academic staff to show the breadth of our discipline. This support extends to pre-application open days and post-application admissions days where the Transition Officer organises and trains a small “army” of Computing Science ambassadors drawn from the current student cohort. 

In fulfilling the four main areas of responsibility outlined above, the Transition Officer is able to take a holistic approach to student support, providing help where and when it is needed and initiating beneficial changes to learning and teaching practices. The Transition Officer is a recent computing science graduate and is directly engaged in all aspects of the student experience at Newcastle University. As a result, students are much more likely to approach to ask for help. Early indications suggest that this student-centred focus to support is both appreciated by the cohort and is leading to a reduction in Stage 1 drop-out.

The appointment of a dedicated member of staff to act as a Communications Officer alongside the Programme Leader for Computer Science and the role they play in the use of various forums and social media to connect with the students – University of Salford 2013 

The role of Communications Officer was established in 2011 to enable the group to manage a much more consistent and effective communication presence both internally and externally. It also provided formal recognition of the efforts of staff member Lee Griffiths in this area and to compliment the work already carried out by Andrew Young in improving both access to supporting information for learners and improving engagement between students, staff and industry. 

Prior to this it was also recognised that the student experience needed significant enhancement. Initial concerns, guided by the returns from NSS results, were that student/staff communication that is focused primarily on the first year, was based more on academic practice rather than the wider subject area, and relied on the efforts of individuals rather than being a coordinated group activity . Immediate action was taken to enhance this. 

Existing resources, such as the First Years Matters web portal, maintained by Dr Andrew Young as a single entry point for student information including timetables, module and programme specifications and discussion groups, were revised, and the use of social media systems such as Twitter and Facebook were pioneered, which helped establish a greater sense of community between students and staff. The staff group along with students now also organise and deliver regular public activities as part of various annual community events such as Manchester Science Festival. More recently the Communications Officer has encouraged students to form a Computing Society at Salford which is now established, delivering social, technical and community engagement events. 

The role of Communications Officer is both strategic and practical whose main aim is to bring Computer Science activities into the lives of students and the public on a daily or regular basis. Our use of social media serves as a mechanism for keeping in touch with our students and building an international profile for prospective students and the community. To this end we have established a working practice within our group which presents a professional attitude towards social media and at the same time an engaging dialog which lies somewhere between formal and informal communications.  The role has also served as a way to boost industrial engagement and working with the Industrial Placements Officer the group now regularly hosts speakers from the sector, delivering current industry thinking to students from organisations like Microsoft and Oracle. 

This practice has been well received by students and other followers of our work and is making impact across the university and beyond as a way of improving the relationship which we have with our students. Paying attention to the detail of how we communicate with our students has been key and we believe that improving the relationship could well have an impact on student performance. It’s an investment which takes time but our recent climb through the rankings suggests that we are talking and listening to our students in a ways that really work. 

During 2013 the Programme Leader team and Communications Officer were awarded a Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching award in recognition of their work in this area and the Student’s Union also nominated the Communications Officer for the award of Best Tutor.

Our student information portal, First Year Matters, can be found here:

Our social media presence can be found here: and 

and our work is this area was reported in an internal magazine during 2012: 

A Maths Support Team based in the library and staffed by PhD students who are available to provide drop-in mathematics-related guidance for School of Systems Engineering students – University of Reading 2013

The Mathematics Support Service is available to help if students are finding any mathematical topic difficult during the transition to University study.

They provide a drop-in service which is available for help with any mathematical topic students need for their studies: e.g. basic arithmetic, percentages, formulae, logarithms, differentiation, integration, etc. Their experienced mathematicians can help you with any problems students may have, and build their confidence in a relaxed and friendly environment.

They also offer mathematics help by e-mail, replying to any query within one working day during term time.  In addition they have an online support area in Blackboard with video tutorials, printable worksheets on numerous topics, tests and exercises, links to online support and material to help with revision.

Further information is available from

Structure and implementation of the extended programme (formerly General Entry to Programmes in Science – GEPS) – University of Cape Town 2013

The Science Faculty at UCT runs an extended degree programme (EDP) to ensure greater diversity in the student population. This has been in existence for more than 20 years. Over time is has evolved from a separate bridging programme to an extended degree where students start their academic development grounded in the discipline. This is thought to better prepare them with more relevant content and pedagogy to later succeed in their chosen academic field.

Students on the programme do their first academic year over two years. Extra support, lectures, labs and tutorials are offered; and classes and tutorial groups are smaller in this programme. Outside of these courses students are offered psycho-social support and life-skills training on topics like stress and time management. After this they feed into the senior mainstream courses and complete the degree with everyone else. The demands of the programme increase over time, allowing students to incrementally step up to the challenges they’ll face in the senior mainstream courses. Mainstream students academically at risk are also able to decant into EDP courses.

In Computer Science, a dedicated lecturer teaches and administers the EDP programme. The course content is the same as the first year mainstream, delivered at a slower pace, with some additional topics. These include communication skills, since English is commonly a second language for most EDP students, as well as problem solving and analytical skills, which are under-developed at the schools from which most EDP students come. The mainstream first-semester course is taught over the full first year. In their second year the students revise this work, are prepared for what will follow in second-semester, and are briefly introduced to a selection of topics which they’ll encounter in senior courses. These feed into a minor programming project.  In the second semester of their second EDP year they join the mainstream course (same lectures and assessments), but additional support and smaller tut groups are maintained.  

Prior to 2013, students were pre-selected for EDP. Now all students take mainstream courses initially. At the end of the first quarter, “high stakes” class tests determine if they’ll be decanted into EDP in the second quarter. Those decanted in Computer Science are usually also decanted into Mathematics EDP courses.

The Computer Science EDP graduates several under-prepared students annually. Some receive scholarships and other accolades, and recently the department had its first MSc graduate who came out of the EDP.

Support for students through student monitoring, orientation and a Student Support Manager – University of Liverpool On-Line 2013

Each student that is accepted on to the University of Liverpool’s online programmes is required to complete a Student Readiness Orientation course before commencing their selected programme.  The course is a multi-layered, self-paced course that helps students to become familiar, before they begin the first class, with: (i) the online learning environment, (ii) assessment submission and other classroom processes, (iii) the online library and (iv) other academic requirements of the programme.  

Once the student starts the programme, s/he is assigned to a Student Support Manager (SSM) as the primary contact for support.  The SSM serves as the primary guide to ensure that students stay on track to meet their educational goals and to help them understand degree requirements. The SSM assists students with appropriate module re-enrolment and dissertation start up; and advises students on university policies and procedures, programme requirements and related academic matters. 

The SSM closely monitors students to proactively identify at-risk scenarios and provide comprehensive outreach to improve academic success.  This includes but is not limited to students that do not attend class and students that receive grades that can affect progress.  The SSM also provides students with proactive guidance on acclimating to their new study lifestyle and building supportive personal environments and best practices to facilitate their student success. 

Whilst the Support Manager acts as a mentor and a coach, motivating and helping the student to complete their programme, the personal support contact is also there to empower students to maintain effective connections to the online community of learners, to facilitate the sense of belonging to the University despite the virtual nature of the degree.