Game technology paves way to university

School and college students can now navigate their way to university online, thanks to new digital resources pioneered by the University of Greenwich.

A laptop or tablet is all you need to explore the different routes into higher education, plot your path, discover what university is really like, and learn that you are not alone – there are many people and services in place to help at every stage. 

Project leader Sharon Perera, Progression and Development Manager for UK Student Recruitment, has wide experience of working in local schools and colleges. "We want to ensure that all young people learn about higher education and what they need to do to get there – including those who may not have families supporting them," she says.

"We are finding that online journeys and games which test skills, reward points and allow the user to progress at their own pace are proving popular and effective."

A pivotal moment for young people is choosing GCSE options. Sharon and colleagues have created a personal development tool called 'Planning My Future' which helps 14 to 16-year-olds identify where they are now, where they want to be in the future, and how to get there. She says: "Which subjects and extra-curricular activities will they need? It's important they have aspirations, understand their skill levels and the kind of jobs they may enjoy."

Planning My Future opens to a city map with familiar red buses. The map not only provides the menu, it represents the planning process as students explore alternative careers. They are accompanied on their journey by four fictional characters with very different interests and career paths, demonstrating that vocational and apprenticeship routes to higher education are valid options. "This means students are not disadvantaged if they don't see themselves as academic, or are unsure about full-time study," says Sharon. 

"We are finding that online journeys and games which test skills, reward points and allow the user to progress at their own pace are proving popular and effective"

Making the jump to independent learning 

A second important stage for young people who decide to enter higher education is making the transition to independent learning. First-year undergraduates at Greenwich often say the change is "massive". Knowing what to expect before starting university can make the difference between success and dropping out. 

independent learners toolkit 

To help students prepare, the university has used Phaser game software to create the 'Independent Learners' Toolkit', a virtual campus tour of five areas: halls of residence, Student Services, lecture theatre, library and Students' Union. 

Games test the user's critical thinking skills such as deducing a truth through investigation and elimination; assessing the most reliable research source against a list of criteria; and deciding what information is required to test the truth of a statement. By the end of the tour, users are also clear they will need to plan their time, put distractions aside when studying, prepare for tutorials and take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. 

Setting time aside for relaxation, and getting involved in clubs and societies, is important too.

people jumping in air 

A student at Newham Sixth Form College says: "I found the Independent Learners' Toolkit to be fun and easy to use and it has helped me to understand many things such as how to budget, because that is something I had never considered."

A teacher at Meopham School, who used the toolkit over a six-session course, says: "I've noticed a confidence in the students from when they first started to the end result." 

Step-by-step guidance to applying for a university place 

The third in the university's suite of interactive resources is the 'Higher Education Application Journey', a guide to let young people know exactly what they need to do to apply to university. 

The beauty of having this information online is that students can return again and again to check key information, such as which websites to use and what their deadlines are. After an overview which runs through choosing a course, paying fees, living expenses, and the UCAS application process, users are encouraged to research and compare courses and to prepare questions for open days. 

An in-depth section on the personal statement takes the mystery out of the process with step-by-step tasks that build up a personal profile. 

Free and accessible to everyone 

The university has made these resources free to schools, colleges and individuals. Anyone can use them, simply by creating a username and password. 

At a time when budgets for career services continue to tighten, resources like these will ensure that crucial work to reach out to young people and widen access to higher education can continue. 

Thousands of young people in southeast London and Kent are already benefitting as the university outreach team and local teachers use the tools alongside discussion and mentoring in the classroom. They are also available to careers advice practitioner networks such as Prospects, Linking London and the Kent & Medway Progression Federation. 

cartoon people in lecture theatre 

Greenwich Explore, the new interactive website that makes it all possible 

The university has created a new public website for prospective students called 'Greenwich Explore'. It is designed to house these digital outreach resources, as well as taster courses showing what it's like studying specific subjects. The first one on Environmental Conservation is already live, with ten more in the pipeline. 

Michael Downes, Learning Technologist at the University, says: "Greenwich Explore is an online interactive learning resource that provides free and secure access to schools and colleges." 

Transforming lives through inspired teaching and research 

The university has a motto, "Change starts here", because its alumni have shown that people's lives can be transformed through the education they receive at Greenwich. 

It is no surprise that Greenwich is pioneering new methods to help young people aspire to higher education. The university has a proud history of reaching out to people of all backgrounds and providing the support they may need to overcome obstacles such as poverty, discrimination and low expectation. Greenwich believes that everyone who can benefit from higher education should have the opportunity of successful participation.