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Academic Advising in Science


This Academic Advising project has been funded through the HEA and the National Forum.

PROJECT TITLE: Determination of science student’s academic advice needs, and the development of an advisory resource tool
PROJECT COORDINATOR: Professor James Sullivan

DN200 Science Program students


The flexibility of our DN200 science programme is one of its unique selling points, but it can sometimes lead to difficulties in module selection. Although B.Sc. students receive detailed guidance in module selection, given the range of degree majors available (27), and the different prerequisites for each, this can be surprisingly complex and invariably some students end up at the end of stage two without the required prerequisites for their desired major. In order to better support students in module selection, we decided to split this project into two separate tasks.

Firstly, we wanted to understand the student’s experience with advisory information and felt that focus groups would be an appropriate form for data collection. This approach would allow us to separately hear from those in different stages and discuss particular unmet needs.

Secondly, we developed an interactive application using data from programme structures to map out degree pathways. Students are far more inclined to seek information through digital means so we believe this tool will act as an effective additional resource for students navigating their module pathways. We stress that the tool’s purpose is not to replace the current faculty-led advisory sessions.


The overall objective of this study was to better understand the student experience with advisory information in order to better support those navigating module selection. 

Understand the student's experience

Through focus groups we aimed to better understand the student’s experience with advisory information in order to improve support available. We concentrated on what students from stages three and four would have benefited from in their earlier years, what advice students feel they are currently missing from stages one and two, as well as any particular information gaps for ACCESS students.

We also hoped to learn what resources are most useful, as well as ways for the University to improve on. 

Application Development

Using data from programme structures we developed an application that shows module pathways to each degree, what majors the user is eligible for after having selected a group of modules, and module pathways for a combination of selected majors.

This tool will not act as a registration tool or replace any lecturer-led advisory resources but will act as an additional information tool for navigating module pathways to desired major. 


The Innovative Approach

Undergraduate Students were an integral part of the advising committee that decided on the directions we should take within the project. 

Understand the student's experience

  • We first discussed ideas with other teams carrying out similar projects.
  • Once our ethics application was approved, we started recruiting student participants through class reps and peer mentors.
  • We developed and modified focus group questionnaires.
  • After grouping students appropriately, three separate sessions were held over zoom with a total of eight participants.
  • Unfortunately, four students volunteered to participate but were unable to attend, so to provide additional data they filled out the questionnaires themselves. 

Application Development

  • We reached out to staff from Computer Science who helped us get started.
  • Reviewed literature developing these types of applications.
  • Gathered data from programme structures to map out each degree’s stage one and two module pathway.
  • IT at UCD provided a server upon which we could host the tool.
  • We hired three Computer Science student interns who transcribed this data into an interactive application.
  • As we presented the latest iterations of or tool, feedback was gathered throughout development from our advisory committee and heads of schools.
  • The final task of the interns was to prepare a user-friendly way edit the tool to allow for changes to science structures in the future. The College Ed Tech and James Sullivan have been trained in this.


Understand the student's experience

The main findings from the focus groups were:

  • Students felt mislead by the mismatched information across advisory resources, and recommended information be updated.
  • Students wish to be better prepared to plan their module pathways in order to keep options open.
  • Students hoped to access all advisory information in one assigned place such as Brightspace.
  • Participants felt confident in receiving advisory information from older students and recommended there be more interaction with those who have experienced the programme.
  • It was recommended there be more advisory information available on social media platforms.
  • It was recommended that the process of selecting a major be more standardized.
  • Students from less flexible degree programmes, wished for more module options in order to broaden their programme. 
  • It was suggested that upon registration there be more guidance or prompts on what modules should be taken for certain degrees.
  • Mature students wished for more inclusive teachings, for those who have not come straight with foundation LC knowledge.

Application Development

See the link to our final product: https://major-pathways.ucd.ie/, we hope that this tool will be mainstreamed on Brightspace as an additional resource.

Please see the application's main screen below (figure1), further details on how to navigate the system can be found in this brief application overview document.

major pathways system

 Figure 1: Application main screen


We first contacted other teams at UCD carrying out similar projects to discuss various tasks and methodology.

A useful resource would be a well-to-wheel guide to carrying out focus groups. We all seemed to have different approaches and concerns about student privacy, student perception and the format of these.

Major Pathways Tool

We have developed a resource that may well be extended to related flexible programmes in UCD.  To do this anyone looking to extend should discuss this with faculty and staff in the School of Computer Science. We might also consider embedding the tool within UCD IT (this would automatically update with programme changes, rather than the manual way which currently must be used.


  • Ciara Jennings, 2021, Academic Advising, UCD Teaching and Learning
  • Nina Hagemann, 2021, A Live-User Evaluation of a Visual Module Recommender & Advisory System for Undergraduate Students, Insight Centre for Data Analytics, University College Dublin