P28 – Changing student expectation through “habit forming”: Describing the AIT Business School’s evolving student transition model for students entering third level education.

Auditorium – TUESDAY 14:15-15:15

Owen Ross; Eoin Langan; Brendan Doyle

Business School, Athlone Institue of Technology.

Owen Ross has been the Head of Department of Business Studies in Athlone Institute of Technology since 2011. He served as a Captain in the Irish Defence Forces prior to moving to the education sector in 2003. He specialises in Leadership and Management.

Eoin Langan has been Head of the Business School since 2011 having commenced working in senior roles in Higher Education in 2004. Prior to working in the higher education sector he worked as an information technology consultant. His research interests include supports for students in the transition to Higher Education.

Brendan Doyle has been acting Head of Department in the Business School for 2 years. He is ACCA qualified with a master’s degree in Accounting. His background is in Corporate Reporting, with a particular interest in IFRS. He acts as examiner for CPA Ireland in Corporate Reporting.


In order to improve student progression rates at the AIT Business School, a “habitforming” initiative was undertaken. This paper describes how changes in the programme assessment strategy and the induction process, has decreased the non-progression rate by 13.7% in the first year of the initiative.


Alarmed by high levels of first year student attrition (28.5%) and non-progression rates of over 30% on five of the school’s first year programmes, in the academic year 2012-13, the new management team of the AIT Business School undertook to interview every first year student who failed any module from their semester 1 sitting. Following on from what was often a brutally honest set of exchanges it emerged that students who had averaged two and half to three hours study daily, the previous year, when they attended their final year of second level were now devoting less than half an hour daily to their studies.

The school’s management response, supported and delivered by all the academic staff in the school was to promote a “habit-forming” initiative, for every first year student, at the start of the 2013-14 academic year. This “habit-forming” initiative required students to start working from their very first day in the AIT Business School. In order to enhance student engagement, the traditional induction format was changed to incorporate giving every student their first assignment. This first assignment sought to achieve two main aims: firstly, it was not difficult for the average student to succeed. Such success would promote confidence, self-esteem and a sense of belonging. Secondly, it was designed to be time consuming, creating student expectation that time allocated to coursework was essential. Students were told that their attendance in other subjects was part of the marking scheme for the assignment.

The initial results varied between programmes. One programme returned the best set of student results in the programme’s history. Another programme had students leave, due to increased stress levels, associated with the initial assignment. Across the school, the statistics were encouraging showing an increase in the number of students attempting their exams. The overall pass rate improved. The major statistical improvement was seen by the non-progression rate in the numbers that progressed to 2nd year reducing by 13.7%, after the repeat exams in the autumn.

Overall the “habit-forming” initiative was deemed successful in increasing levels of student engagement and through improved progression rates. The model was further enhanced for the 2014-15 academic year to include additional supports for the first years with their first assignment. A further measure incorporated their second assignment being announced in advance of their first assignment deadline. Further revisions have been implemented during the current and ongoing programmatic review to ensure every student has an assignment at all times and every semester requires them to work from the outset.

Students who traditionally are not strong enough to attend university but attend institutions like AIT Business School might need to be given a more challenging introduction to their life as a third level student. Easing the student transition by getting students into the habit of working consistently is a vital ingredient that will contribute to their success.

Keyword: Student Transition; Progression, Student Engagement, Habit-Forming

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