Impact of an Australian University’s First Year Model and Block Mode Teaching on Student Academic Success, Satisfaction and Retention

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Dempsey, Naomi (2023) Impact of an Australian University’s First Year Model and Block Mode Teaching on Student Academic Success, Satisfaction and Retention. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


In 2018, an Australian university implemented an educational reform to first-year undergraduate Higher Education (HE) through a First Year Model (FYM) that was the first of its type globally to improve first-year student success. The FYM incorporated the establishment of a dedicated First Year College (FYC) for commencing undergraduate students and the intensive Block Mode (BM) format of learning and teaching. The BM incorporated student-centred approaches to curriculum design and pedagogy, focused learning via one unit of study at a time, and active learning in small classes. In addition, the educational reform incorporated an enhanced overall first-year experience (FYE) through the complementary design of co-curricular programs and student support services to ease the transition to HE and promote success. This doctoral study details the development and implementation of a research framework that examined this educational reform and its impact on first-year student academic success, satisfaction, and retention. The investigation considered the influences of the reform on the success of students from a range of equity group backgrounds. Firstly, an extensive literature review was undertaken to frame subsequent research activity. The subsequent research incorporated a mixed methods research design involving three studies that analysed quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative study (Study 1) utilised both institutional data and data from two Australian Government HE data sets. The study examined and compared variances in first-year student academic success, satisfaction, and retention between a traditional mode group (i.e., students who studied the year before the educational reform), and two groups whom each studied in the new model in the following two consecutive years. The quantitative analysis of these groups included multiple academic disciplines and student equity groups. The results indicated that significant differences reflecting an improvement in academic success, satisfaction and retention were found across multiple variables by the second year of implementation. In addition, favourable and unfavourable variations were found in student retention during the first year of implementation. The results also indicated that the educational reform promoted the success of students from equity group backgrounds. The qualitative studies (Study 2 and Study 3) extended the findings from Study 1 and progressed examination of the delivery mode through the comparison of data collected from interviews with University staff and students. These interviews explored the perspectives of first-year academic success, satisfaction, and retention for students in the FYM and BM through the participant’s lived experiences, and also included perspectives from students who studied their first year in the traditional mode. The results of Studies 2 and 3 highlighted the factors influencing student success and revealed perspectives to enhance University practices that can further promote student success. The research findings from Studies 1, 2 and 3 complemented the evidence, themes and perspectives that emerged from the literature review. These themes included student success in HE, first-year undergraduate education and transition, implications of intensive BM learning and teaching with global comparisons from different models, and student equity in Australian HE. Outcomes of the three studies emphasise the importance of a coherent FYM with a student-centred FYE and BM curriculum design as an effective approach to first-year student success in HE. The findings also reinforce the BM as an effective learning and teaching approach for multiple academic disciplines to improve student outcomes, support the transition to HE, and promote the success of students from equity group backgrounds. In addition, this research adds to the body of knowledge on HE models to promote first-year student success and expands the evidence base on the success factors for BM learning and teaching in HE. The major findings of this research prompted recommendations for practice and future research. Finally, this research adds new knowledge that can be considered for first-year undergraduate education, the FYE and intensive BM learning and teaching for large and diverse student populations in international contexts.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3903 Education systems
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Keywords higher education; university; Australia; equity; learning; teaching; student academic success; student satisfaction; student retention; student success; First Year Model; Block Mode Teaching; intensive mode education; educational reform; widening participation; undergraduate education; first-year undergraduate education; first-year transition; first-year student success
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