By Chelsea Corsi and Meaghan Hagerty, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, BC, Canada
WHO WE ARE
For people who know us well, or have just met us for that matter, one thing we believe resonates is that we are passionate about health and well-being on our campus!
For me (Chelsea), working with students in my role as Wellness Coordinator inspires me every day. My experience over the past 15 years has shown me that the hearts and minds of students are open to learn more about themselves; they are open to critically reflect on their current values, beliefs, and perspectives; and they are ready to challenge the social and political context we live in…even when the issues, such as consent for sex and sexualized violence can be difficult to talk about. I believe students to be brave, courageous, and vulnerable, more so than I was when I was a student. Working alongside students to support their health and well-being fills up my cup and motivates me to do my best work!
For me (Meaghan), I scored the jackpot when I landed a position at TRU’s Wellness Centre as my first job post-graduation, and my luck continued with an opportunity to temporarily take on the Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Manager position. It’s one thing to learn about program development and community engagement in a classroom, but actually facilitating space for challenging conversations and hearing the rich dialogue and learning that follows is what professional dreams are made of in my world. We’re working to change some deeply entrenched social norms with topics like sexualized violence, but the energy and drive to shift the conversation exists and is growing. Learning from the students, as well as staff, faculty, and community organizations, through events provides motivation to keep looking for those creative ways of opening space for dialogue and learning.
We are fortunate in our roles at TRU because we are able to collaborate on health promotion and sexualized violence prevention programming in a way that brings creativity and innovation to the work. We utilize key pieces of evidence and theories in a way that engages student learning and, as we have noticed, improves the culture of health and well-being at TRU. Developing programming and outreach events about sexual health and sexualized violence prevention that have the capacity to captivate students is one of the most exciting, rewarding, and nuanced pieces of health promotion work at TRU. For us, this is the stuff that sleepless nights are made of!
THE NEED FOR THE WORK
In case you, or anyone else on your campus, need more convincing that this is important work for us to be doing, let’s recap what we know. Our campus understands sexualized violence as, “an umbrella term that encompasses any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent.” According to the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia, up to 25% of females report experiencing sexualized violence during their time in post-secondary education. On our campus this means over 1,800 females are pursuing their studies while navigating an experience of sexualized violence. While this statistic is staggering, it does not capture other gender identities or those who decided not to disclose for a variety of great reasons. This is a real and impactful thing that is happening on every campus. Post-secondary institutions are increasingly taking responsibility to provide dedicated response and support services on campus, and in parallel, education and prevention programming is growing.
But let’s be honest…while we know sexualized violence is a critical health issue impacting university culture, sometimes the education and prevention work can be heavy. It can be loaded with stigma, partially because talking about sex in general is often taboo and also because there is still a strong tendency to blame the victim while protecting the perpetrator; it can be uncomfortable to talk about; and it can potentially trigger those who have lived experience. However, if done well, it can be a catalyst for personal reflection, growth, and change as well as a positive shift in culture.
CONSENT TEA IN ACTION
Consent education is recognized as a cornerstone in creating that culture shift, and at TRU, our Annual Consent Tea has become one of our programming success stories. Capitalizing on pop culture, creative program implementation, activity-based learning, and peer-led dialogue, we have successfully navigated campus discussions on consent for sex and sexualized violence broadly. Instead of metaphorically pulling teeth and/or speaking to silent workshop participants, we took inspiration from the viral “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea” video to develop a ‘Consent Tea’ event, approaching conversations in a trauma-informed, anti-oppressive, and survivor-centred way. Tables decorated with fresh flowers, tea, and treats at a central campus location invite students into this peer-led space for learning and open dialogue.
The idea first came from a thoughtful reflection about how to help students ‘get’ or better understand the idea of consent for sex. How could we encourage student praxis (the practical application of learning) about consent in a meaningful way? How could we bridge the theory/concept with action and inspire reflection and dialogue about a difficult topic?
Opportunities for applied learning are woven throughout our Consent Tea event. We provide a safer, open environment that is foundational for reflection about key messages brought forth in the Consent: It’s a Simple as Tea video. For example, if someone is unconscious you wouldn’t force them to drink tea, and similarly if someone is passed out you wouldn’t force them to have sex. By physically drinking tea while discussing the fact that you wouldn’t force someone to drink tea with you, participants are ‘acting out’ part of the message. This helps to solidify the underlying concept that you also wouldn’t force someone to have sex or assume that they wanted it.
Some critics of this video believe the message is too ‘juvenile’ and doesn’t go far enough to address the complexities of consent. In our experience, we have found that because the key messages in this video are approachable and use plain language, it acts as a terrific entry point that resonates with varying levels of participants sexual consent literacy.
True Dialogue theory also underpins this event. The process is designed to increase empathy and understanding, promote self-reflection, and raise awareness that different cultures and communities have varying perspectives and practices. The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) explains that the key components of dialogue are to:
Inquire and learn
Discover shared meaning
Integrate multiple perspectives
Uncover and examine assumptions
While we recognize that different perspectives shape the dialogue about consent, we also know that it is our responsibility to educate about the definition and absolute requirement of consent in sexual activity.
Having peers act as dialogue facilitators helps to decrease or remove power imbalances that can be present in different contexts. Our trained peer-leaders have been key to our event success as they help create a safe, welcoming space at each table; bring knowledge about sexualized violence and consent; facilitate meaningful dialogue; and support students to access campus and community resources if and when needed. This past year all 11 students from the Student Wellness Ambassador Team (SWAT), as well as Student Services’ practicum and work-study students served as peer facilitators at our event.
During the Consent Tea, the use of visual, written, and activity-based aids prompt courageous consent conversations that challenge rape myths, develop understanding for how to support survivors, and increase awareness of campus and community support services.
The 2018 Consent Tea introduced Blackout Poetry as the primary tool for facilitating reflection, expression, and dialogue. This semi-structured, introvert-friendly art form proved to be an accessible vehicle for health promotion, emotional expression, and sharing one’s voice. Participants tore a page from a book and repurposed the words to create their own poem about consent and/or sexualized violence.
An example of a student black-out poem from our 4th Annual Consent Tea in fall 2018:
As student affairs/health professionals coordinating this event, we have seen a high degree of engagement and heard rich conversations each year. But don’t just take it from us. Nicole Stanchfield, a student survivor who was at the event and helped facilitate dialogue, wrote about her experiences. She writes:
“Through the blending of art and conversation, this tea party provided a safe and supportive space to share my story. Events like this are essential to understanding our collective responsibility to engage in an ongoing conversation about consent, sexualized violence, feminism, body autonomy, and the dismantling of my arch nemesis, the patriarchy.”
Additionally, this is what one of our student leaders had to say:
“Shockingly, the Consent Tea is where I had my first ever conversation about consensual sex. I learned the basics about rape and assault in high school; but at 22, I found myself unsure of the true meaning of consent. During the tea I was captivated by the bravery of the students who shared their stores, and so impressed by the nuanced and thoughtful discussions that took place. The opportunity to share insights with my peers at this event gave me the education and confidence I needed to have a healthier understanding about sexual consent. I know that I was not the only one there learning about it for the first time, and for that I am grateful for the awareness that this event offers because the concepts I learned will have a lasting impact on my life.”
– Angela Kadar, Student Wellness Ambassador
If you are interested in learning more specific details about our Consent Tea event, or want to host one on your campus, we have created a toolkit that outlines our experiences of running this event for the last 4 years. It is accessible through this link.
As professionals working with students, we hope that this has inspired you to reflect on your own practice and share some ideas with colleagues. How do you encourage open and accessible dialogue that challenges the current discourse about stigmatizing health issues faced by students, yet is also empathetic and caring? How can you inspire a positive change in campus culture? Please “leave a reply” so we can learn from each other.
Like we said, these are the thoughts and ideas that keep us passionate about the work and up at night planning our next outreach adventure!
How broad institutional support, strategic
partnerships, and opportunistic student affairs professionals launched the only
research centre focused on student success – at a 2-year or 4-year institution
– in Canada.
By Tim Fricker, Dean of Students at Mohawk College who also leads the College Student Success Innovation Centre (CSSIC).
I have been asked many
times in recent months how we got to this point, and truthfully, it is
difficult to distill our journey down into a couple of key determining factors.
There are a few things that I continuously point to including: 1) unbridled
institutional support, 2) a host of key partners, and finally, 3) the unique
ability of our Student Affairs team to see and respond to potential student
success research opportunities. At every single stage of our work over the last
seven years, each of these three elements has played a critical role in paving
the way for the CSSIC to become a reality.
The purpose of this article, with the invitation from
Tricia Seifert, is to share the lessons we have learned that could be useful
for others wishing to put more energy into Student Affairs and student success
assessment or research. As Student Affairs professionals, our strength is our
focus on students and day-to-day practice, which means we also do not naturally
celebrate or share our successes publicly. We are humble practitioners by
nature. This creates a scenario where our institutions could forget how core
Student Affairs work is to the academic mission, which in times of fiscal
restraint (such as what is occurring in Ontario right now, which is another
story and blog altogether), we risk diminishing resources that could increase barriers
and reduce support for our students. With those caveats, here are three
foundations of our College Student Success Innovation Centre at Mohawk College.
Broad Institutional Support
I am not entirely sure
where this research centre had its true beginnings, but since I joined Mohawk
in 2012, a few important things occurred. Perhaps one of those items was the
creation of my role at that time – Director of Student Success Initiatives – which
was designed to coordinate new campus-wide efforts to improve student outcomes.
Around that time, our then President made a public call to action, challenging all
faculty and staff to work harder to improve student persistence and graduation
In 2014, we launched
our first Student Success Plan to guide our institution on this journey. As
part of this work, we committed to more purposeful data capture activities,
which was more than just counting participation rates; it was our way of
starting on an important assessment, evaluation, and research journey. This
included introducing and using new advising software and dedicating a lot of
energy toward supporting our staff with training as they evolved their practice
Institutional support in
these efforts spanned all traditional college silos. We had committees that
included membership from academic, student, and corporate services. We had –
and still have – a strong relationship with our Mohawk Students’ Association, too. With these close partnerships, requests for data with our corporate
partners in the Institutional Research office were easy to navigate, and
collaborations with faculty, our Deans, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning also proved to be quite natural, especially
when we began our work with HEQCO’s Learning Outcomes Assessment
Consortium later in
In 2016, with a new
President, we doubled down on our commitments to students in a few meaningful ways.
First, our new Strategic Plan included pillars such as student success and graduate
success. Second, our new Strategic Mandate Agreement (a process directed by our provincial
government) included a pitch for a new provincial student success innovation
and research centre to build off the momentum we had gained over the last few
years. Each of these institutional commitments, pillars, and ideas created a
strong foundation of support to allow our team to take risks, say yes to new opportunities, and start to
build the collective experience in student success research that we have today.
The first partnership
we formed, which is still a critical partnership today, was with Dr. Ross Finnie at the Education Policy
Research Initiative (EPRI). Dr. Finnie and his team of researchers helped ‘mine’ some of our data
to help us learn more about our students. Seven reports were produced between
2012 and 2014, including the first drafts of a predictive model that would later be critical to our early
partnership opportunities presented themselves to us during this time,
including participating in the Supporting Student Success research, and some additional projects with
EPRI. For each, we simply offered our support ‘in-kind’ and received no
payments. Much of this work was done off
the side of my desk and those of my Institutional Research colleagues. In
other words, as new additional work that was not formally planned in annual
work plans, we fit it in wherever we could. With Dr. Finnie, for example, he
brought in partners from Statistics
Canada and Employment and Social
Development Canada (both federal government agencies), for what eventually
resulted in some fascinating research about the labour market outcomes of Canadian students. We also needed to develop data sharing,
transfer, and privacy agreements, and go through the research ethics process.
These experiences helped us learn even more about our students, our
institution, and how the research process should work at the community college
level. Understanding how to structure partnership and data sharing agreements
also became an essential element of future collaborative research with other
institutions and our local school boards.
Our partnership with
EPRI included participation in HEQCO’s first Access and Retention
Consortium, and a
number of publications, including one on a new approach to proactive advising. As an aside, HEQCO’s approach to funding research through participation in consortiums has
been a tremendously productive practice, fostering a network of partnerships
across the province. HEQCO has been our largest funder and an enormously
supportive partner for many years. Our success would not occur without the funding
opportunities or the partners we met through them. For example, we met a number
of incredible researchers through HEQCO, who we then joined forces with when
HEQCO launched their second Access and Retention Consortium. This resulted in
new Online Goal Setting interventions for our students, based on the work of Dr. Patrick Gaudreau at the University of Ottawa, and a new, ‘psychologically attuned’ way to communicate to students on probation
implemented with the expertise of Dr. Shannon Brady at Wake Forest
publications with both Dr. Gaudreau and Dr. Brady via HEQCO are forthcoming
later this summer or early in the fall.
partnership we are a part of today, however, is one that we are leading with
funding from the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities in Ontario. With EPRI as a research analytics
partner, we are replicating our proactive advising study from 2015 at Humber College, Centennial College, and Fleming College.
In doing so, we are trying to support them in their student success research in
much the same way that we have received support in the past from HEQCO and so
An Opportunistic Student Affairs Team
Every time an
opportunity to participate in research presented itself – one that provided the
chance to learn more about student success – we said yes. This would not be possible without broad institutional
support, or strong partnerships inside and outside of the college; however,
this also required a willingness to work extremely hard (often off the side of
our desks) to complete the work. While research was envisioned within the
Director role when I started in it, the projects were often not a part of our
regular operational work plans. So, I needed to find ways to make it happen.
One of my early
approaches was to create a new part-time staff positon in my department to
support the operations of the projects. I cobbled together funds from within my
budgets, secured small amounts from our Vice President’s contingency fund, and
built in staffing dollars into funding proposals. I also pitched this new role
as a support for divisional assessment, evaluation, and special projects to
have a more current and tangible set of outputs. In many ways, this staff
position and the projects themselves were like a set of pilot projects. And,
due to the success of the research and the local assessment projects, I was
able to propose and secure this as a full-time permanent role. We used a
similar approach to create our Learning Outcomes Assessment Consultant role
just this past spring.
We have continued to
build an incredible research team, for which I am grateful to work with every
day. These wonderful people include faculty and Student Affairs professionals
alike. Each person and each role contribute to the work of the centre in
formal launch of the CSSIC was only a year and a half ago, but we had been on
the research path for quite some time before that. This started with the
College investing in new and strategic leadership roles. Some of the next
critical milestones included the investment in external reports to understand
our students better. Then, we invested time and resources into data capture
initiatives and staff development. We started to support external researchers
who were doing research on student success, and provided them with access to
our data and student population. Through all of this, we learned many critical
lessons, and forged partnerships that prepared us to apply for research
funding. The opportunities continued to present themselves, and we continued to
apply (to receive funding) and re-invested in more roles on campus and with more
partners. This was the point when the Ministry funded our Centre, and we have
continued our momentum since then. Some of it still happens off the side of our
desk, too, but we are passionate about understanding ‘what works’ in our
student success programming.
There are two final
reflections that I think are important. First, while the Centre is led by
Student Affairs, the vision was one that was collectively endorsed and has been
continuously supported across our institution. Faculty and our partnerships
with Ideaworks (our Applied Research department), the Institutional Research Office, and the Centre for Teaching and Learning continue to play an increasingly important
Second, there are no
shortage of articles and books that express the role of institutional culture
on the outcomes of students. Project Deep and the work of George Kuh immediately come to
mind. The idea that there is a pervasive student success ideology and approach
on campus that everyone understands that ‘this is the way we do things here’
has been shown to be a defining factor of institutions that have strong student
outcomes relative to others.
So, on that note, last
month when I was cleaning out some old files in my office, I came across a 2007
concept paper from a large committee on campus titled, The Centre of Excellence for Students, Access, and Success. Perhaps
our Centre really isn’t so much of a new idea. Leading in student success is
part of our ethos at Mohawk – and I suspect it will continue.
A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of serving as a “conference weaver” for the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) annual conference. Along with Neil Buddel, we went to sessions, listened carefully, and took note of the threads that wove the conference together.
CACUSS 2019 concluded two weeks ago and it has taken me that amount of time to think, digest, and process all of the professional learning that comprised my four days in Calgary. I’m not alone in stepping back and making meaning of such a valuable opportunity to connect with colleagues. Chris Vera of ANZSSA (the Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association) recently posted how this experience was like drinking from a fire hose. You can read his reflection and what he took away from the conference here. I agree completely with Chris’ identification of key threads that comprise student affairs and services work today. I invite you to take a moment and read his awesome insights.
What sticks with me from #CACUSS19 and which I can’t stop thinking about is the number of times I jotted in my journal the hashtag, #ListenToStudents. At one point, I asked on Twitter how people are connecting with students and really listening to them. I was blown away by the crowdsourced response.
Straight out of the gate, John Hannah shared the arts-based approach that he and Tesni Ellis used as part of the Student Experience Research Team at Ryerson University. Check out the blog post about their work on SA-Exchange. The image below captures the ideation and creation process of making sense of the student experience. And give a listen to the videos the students made that tell their story as researchers.
Then in the CACUSS program on Tuesday afternoon was a session on the development of a student-ready rubric led by York University, along with Trent, Queen’s, ON Tech and Nipissing. The group was initially asked to develop a single student-ready campus metric for Ontario’s Strategic Mandate Agreement 3 but their work quickly evolved into a rubric for institutional self-assessment.
Okay, this blew my mind! Literally!! I couldn’t go to the session as I was presenting at the same time but WOW! Thank you, Brendan Schulz, for sharing.
Student involvement is the leading domain with three articulated levels across seven areas of practice: 1) policies & procedures; 2) financial literacy & support; 3) transition support; 4) career and academic goal clarity & exploration; 4) learning opportunities (outside the classroom); 5) cohesive student supports; 6) wellness education & support; and 7) peer support & mentoring.
In the above slide, you can see how student involvement is defined for transition support. What stands out to me is that students are first invited to provide feedback but this is recognized as only the most basic level of involvement. The next level seeks input into the development of the policy or program. The third level includes students in the evaluation and assessment of policy/program implementation. This takes student voice up a full octave AND it demonstrates clearly that students matter.
The student experience is at the centre of what we do.
This commitment to student involvement and engagement in policy making is at the heart of Jacquie Beaulieu’s doctoral research and was echoed by Atifa Karim from the University of Toronto who noted it is PRIORITY within her unit’s strategic plan.
So you might be in the choir already and don’t need to hear me preach. But sit with this Tweet from the #ContentEd19 conference in which my friend Liz Gross and Stephen App, from Campus Sonar, presented recently. Students talk. They create content and post it publicly on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and platforms we haven’t even heard of yet.
It’s up to us to LISTEN.
I suggest it is not only our opportunity but our obligation to #ListenToStudents. They are the center of our work and listening to them and responding with policies, programs, and services that address their concerns leads to continuous improvement.
We can’t underestimate the value of learning from students as a means to improve our practice. But it is also important we invite students to #ListenToStudents. As the Supporting Student Success team published in Higher Education Research and Development last year, students are coaches, confidantes, co-constructors, and students copycat those who model and mentor the way.
Students are the threads that form the tightest woven fabric of support for each other. Yet, they need to be invited to see themselves in this light. It is this notion of embracing the mantle of informal peer mentor that was the key implication and close of our session at #CACUSS19.
I would love to continue the crowdsourcing of how student affairs and services staff members #ListenToStudents. Please share and “leave a comment” below.
Tricia Seifert is Principal Investigator on the Supporting Student Success and Blueprints for Student Success research teams. She is Associate Professor in Adult & Higher Education at Montana State University and Associate Editor for International Research and Scholarship for the Journal of College Student Development. Email her at email@example.com
Higher education research
focused on Student Affairs & Services (SAS) is broad globally (see Osfield
and colleagues, 2016) with the greatest volume of literature
examining the American experience. To date, little research has been conducted regarding
SAS in the Canadian context (Fricker, 2017, pp. 27-28). Furthermore, the
documented experiences of Canadian SAS professionals and/or practitioners also is
limited. With significantly fewer higher education institutions by comparison
than the United States, Canada is the second largest country in the world and
ranks within the top five countries with universities topping international
rankings (QS University Rankings, 2018; Times Higher Education, 2018). While
there is contention with how post-secondary education rankings are viewed or
perceived, it’s interesting to note that there is a lack of research supporting
Canadian SAS: research, evaluation of programs, experiences of our students –
and those of the lived experiences of SAS practitioners.
As a Master’s level,
two-credit qualifying research project supervised by Dr.
Stephanie Waterman, I decided to explore the experiences of
Canadian SAS professionals; specifically, that related to how their personal
values connect to their work. While an ethically approved research project was
necessary for me to earn my Master’s degree from the leadership cohort at The
University of Toronto – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), my
hope was that research on this topic may bring greater meaning to the work we
do in SAS from the Canadian perspective, and perhaps be a beginning of new
research. I also want to acknowledge that this project stemmed from Dr. Nona
Robinson’s work on values of student affairs practitioners
(2011), and Dr. Kyle Massey also provided a ‘sneak peek’ of his doctoral
research on professional identity in Canadian SAS (2018), which contributes to
a chapter in the forthcoming book Preparing
Students for Life and Work (2019). Both studies supported the
goals of my research project.
From my position as a SAS
Practitioner, I wanted to explore themes related to people working in SAS;
specifically, how their values, assumptions, and knowledge influences their
work and practice. Weighing the current state of the world, with provincial
context, and how this fits within a broader SAS perspective outside of Canada,
it’s interesting to explore how Canadian SAS practitioners’ knowledge,
assumptions, and values work together, or ‘rub’ or conflict depending on
different factors. These influences may include, but aren’t limited to general
characteristics (i.e. age, experience, education) or more complex, deeper
qualities regarding identity (i.e. gender and sex, race and ethnicity,
privilege, socio-economics) which is just the beginning. In all, I argue that
our personal values are the root to our practice as a SAS practitioner, and our
knowledge and assumptions connect to this which ultimately influences how we
approach and view our work.
Purpose and Significance of the Study
I feel research on this
topic could provide greater meaning to the work we do in SAS in Canada. By bringing preeminent attention to needs
related to individuals’ values, assumptions, and knowledge about SAS work in higher
education, practitioners could have an opportunity to ‘make meaning’ of their
own experience. I wanted to deconstruct notions of ‘professionalism’ and
‘practice’ and explore themes related to SAS Practitioners; particularly how
our values, assumptions, and knowledge influences our work and practice.
While there is a myriad
of information, data and research focused on this topic, it is focused on specific
or broad populations by age and demographic focusing mostly on the United
States as a whole. Without comparison, how can we use current research to
develop, or perhaps understand our own identity? Who are we as Canadian SAS
professionals and practitioners? How do we actually bring our ‘whole selves’ to
work? Do we feel like we can? What does this mean and why does this matter?
Does it matter? Each are important questions not only for individuals, but insofar
as these questions shape our professional identity; particularly considering
how we engage within our institutions and how the field and higher education is
viewed from a governmental policy perspective.
This image represents my
argument: one’s values ground their work, and connect equally to one’s
knowledge and assumptions. In essence, these connect to inform a SAS
professional’s practice, which is at their core as a SAS practitioner. All of
the elements noted above connect to the notion of intersectionality,
which is an important lens of this study.
Intersectionality and Qualitative Inquiry (QI)
Scholar and advocate Dr.
Kimberlé Crenshaw familiarized this term (2016) from the idea of social
structures and cultural discourse, and how this influences intersectionality.
Intersectionality in educational research is “descriptive representation” (p. 93)
and all connects to qualitative inquiry (QI).
My research is grounded
in Davis and colleagues’ research (2016) defining intersectionality as
“…interrelations among gender, sex, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality.”
(pp. 93-95). While there are several appropriately broad, and many finite
definitions of intersectionality in the social sciences and specifically higher
education, I felt this definition connects most to ‘self’.
QI welcomes a
researcher’s experience and in-depth understanding of an issue or phenomenon,
and “…allows the researcher to approach the inherent complexity of social
interaction and to honour the complexity, to respect it in its own right to do
justice to the complexity, researchers avoid simplifying social phenomenon and
instead explore the range of behaviour” (Glesne, 1999, p.6). QI research needs
to include: (i) naturalistic settings, (ii) researcher as the instrument, (iii)
inductive data analysis, (iv) participants’ meaning-making, (v) emergent
design, (vi) interpretive inquiry, and, (vii) holistic accounts (Davis, et al.,
For this project, QI related
to my lens as a practitioner in SAS. Specifically for this research project, I
used my own experiences to influence and execute the research (i; ii), my
processing of information was structured and limited despite bias (iii), the
analysis wasn’t documented specifically from the practitioner context in Canada
(iv; v) aside from macro research with a Canadian lens of SAS practitioners
perspective of values (Robinson, 2010), and questions the understanding of SAS
practitioners/professionals on a national level (vi), while integrating Phase 1
of the study (survey) and Phase 2 (interviews) (vii).
Both the United States
and Canada have professional associations that developed specific competencies
which are nearly identical by label, but but are specific to their respective
context in how the competency is described . Perspectives on competency development
can be contentious (Jamil, 2015). Competencies in the field provide individuals
a foundation of understanding of the values, skills, attitudes, and behaviours
SAS Practitioners are required to possess at a minimum level through to
advanced proficiency. Both models are evolving; however, while the ACPA/NASPA
competencies have been reviewed, assessed, and edited over nearly a decade, the
CACUSS competencies were only launched a few years ago and plan to be assessed
Competencies provide individuals
a common language to communicate their skill, personal, and professional
development. The Canadian Association of College and University Student
Services (CACUSS) competency model was developed in 2016 long after the
American College Personnel Association (ACPA) and Student Affairs
Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) competencies in 2010. The CACUSS
competencies are indicated below, with asterisk indicating competencies that do
not share a similar label/category than the current American models:
and Interpersonal Intelligence
Diversity, and Inclusion
Management, and Administration
Planning, Research, and Assessment
Advising, Support, and Advocacy
Learning & Development
and Digital Engagement
While there are
similarities among labels, each competency model is unique to their association
through description and outcomes associated with application, intersections,
I was curious to explore
how this contributes to meaning making for SAS Practitioners; specifically, related
to Intersectionality and identity development. Competencies are skills and
particular qualities that are desirable for a practitioner to possess. While
the CACUSS Competencies are not necessarily ‘values’ of everyone, I want to
explore if or how practitioners consider these areas/definitions to be a value
to them – while considering their intersectionality.
This project was not
intended to assess or evaluate benefits or challenges regarding competencies
specifically; however, I decided to use the CACUSS competencies, or ‘labels’,
as a common language to define specific values regarding our professional work
Research Design and Methodology
Of the survey’s design,
QI influenced the open-ended questions asked in the instrument and interviews
for the research. The methodology of this study was mixed-methods in nature.
This was reinforced with my worldview being transformative and pragmatic
(Creswell, 2014), as I looked to examine an issue related to understanding
behaviour that is connected to an on-going issue where there is a lack of data;
specifically, Canadian SAS. Data consisted of survey results and interviews,
all related to practitioners connected to SAS (i.e. Student Learning Support,
Career Education, Housing & Residence Life, Student Health & Wellness,
Student Life Programs). Consenting, anonymous participants were invited to
share their views related to values through the survey and could opt in to be
randomly selected to interview. Of the sample, more than 75% of the
participants volunteered to be interviewed.
Data collection for this project was carried out in two phases: first, a
survey targeted to Canadian Student Affairs and Services (SAS) practitioners,
and second, interviews with consenting participants who have completed the
Phase 1 –Survey
The survey allowed
participants to rate – not rank – values that are generally associated with SAS
from a broad description of SAS specific competencies. Using a 5-point Likert
Scale, participants rated the specific value and their importance to the
participant. This scale was also influenced by Alwin’s work (2004) on ratings
over rankings, which replicates O’Brien’s work (1979) assessing values through
ratings. Values were assessed as being (i) not at all important, (ii) not too
important, (iii) fairly important, (iv) very important, (v) extremely important
Regarding the measurement
and assessment of values in surveys/interviews, ‘ratings’ are scientifically
less rigorous and stressful for a participant, as opposed to ‘rankings’ (Alwin,
2004). Further, rating allows participants to be more decisive and is generally
three-times faster for a respondent to complete ratings over rankings. Last, my
goal was to permit epidemiological factors and bias, which is better achieved
through rating and further embraced QI.
Phase 2 –Interviews
QI shaped the interview
questions involving a random selection of consenting participants which
registered through the CACUSS list-serve. Interviews were transcribed and coded
to connect and bridge themes, commonalities, and understanding discrepancies
through integration of this data with survey results. Using a random sub-sample
through Microsoft Excel, I planned to interview ~10% of survey participants
with varying levels of professional experience.
Sample and Results
Using the CACUSS
list-serve and Twitter to invite participants to participate in the study, the
survey was open for 10 days. Participants were categorized using the CACUSS
definitions for level of experience:
new professionals (0-5
year of experience), mid-level (5+-15), and senior professionals with 15+
Sample (n=72) for Phase 1
– Survey consisted of:
Sample (n=7) for Phase 2
– Interviews was a random group selected from Phase 1, including:
order to assess any variance among survey results (ANOVA), I conducted a
one-way Kruskal-Wallis analysis. This method allowed me to test differences to
survey responses between each of the experience levels; for example, comparing
results of new professionals to mid-level, and then again separately with
senior-level. More information regarding these statistics and this analysis is
available upon request.
There was no statistical
difference among groups for most of the competencies; specifically:
There were, however,
statistically significant differences among treatment groups for:
and Interpersonal Intelligence (H=6.48, d.f.=2, p=0.039): new professionals
assigned more importance to EI than senior professionals (p=0.036), while there
was no difference in EI importance between junior and mid-level professionals
(p=0.290), or between mid-level and senior professionals (p=0.257).
Diversity, and Inclusion: similar results to Emotional and Interpersonal
Intelligence (H=6.52, d.f.=2, p=0.028).
Cultural Awareness (H=7.62, d.f.=2, p=0.022): new professionals assigned more
value to the Inidgenous Cultural Awareness competency than mid-level professionals
(p=0.028), while there was no difference between juniors and seniors (p=0.599)
or mid-levels and seniors for this competency (p=0.327).
Learning & Development (H=7.79, d.f.=2, p=0.020): for the SLD competency,
senior professionals assigned less importance both new (p=0.017) or mid-level
professionals (p=0.038) did.
Raw data results are
available upon request.
I conducted interviews
following the survey in January 2018. As a limitation, it’s important to note
that these interviews are captured in a specific moment in time. There could be
certain factors that can influence responses to a survey or in an interview
setting, including but not limited to: time of year, change (i.e.
local/institutional level, government), etc.
Using a random sub-sample
through Microsoft Excel, I interviewed seven participants with varying levels
of professional experience: two new professionals, three mid-level
professionals, and two senior-level professionals. Participants included
representation from Ontario (2), Alberta (2), British Columbia (1), and
east-coast representation from New Brunswick (1) and Prince Edward Island (1).
The seven participants had experience in any/all of the following areas of SAS:
Student Learning Support, Housing & Residence Life, and Student Life
Programs. Therefore, there was no representation from Career Education, nor
Student Health & Wellness.
Interviews lasted between
45-90 minutes and the following questions were provided to participants in
advance for discussion:
1. How do you, as a SAS
Professional or Practitioner, value your work, personally and professionally?
2. What intersectional
aspects add to your lenses as a SAS practitioner/professional?
3. What influences and
motivates you as a SAS practitioner?
There were clear themes
from the interviews among all experience levels, which are described in the
table below through coding; specifically, open (labeling concepts; categories),
axial (core themes), and selective coding (core of overarching theme). Codes
were synthesized at each phase by integrating my own lens as a SAS
interviewed described identities that connect to Crenshaw’s definition of
intersectionality, particularly regarding how participants value their work
both personally and professionally. Values seem to be regarded highly at both
the individual level and how they connect or conflict with an institution. Among
the new professionals in the study, intersectionality seems to have played some
role these participants’ decisions to choose this line of work; however, both
mid-level and senior participants noted this work connecting more to helping
students succeed out of the formal classroom setting. A notable quote from one
individual that generally encompassed all participants’ responses: “I wouldn’t
be in this field if my values conflicted with this work.” It could be argued
that intersectional identities play a different role for new professionals than
those with more experience. There are many possibilities for why this happens:
direct-entry from post-secondary to first career placement, institutional
history and differentiation, priorities, generational perspective, etc.
However, we are working toward the same goal so a shared perspective is
important. In all, this would be an interesting area of research as
representation of individuals working within a SAS divisional varies and can be
quite broad. This could impact expectations, communication of vision and goals,
understanding of ‘wants’ versus ‘needs’, and perhaps enhance and overall
understanding and connection to our work holistically despite years of
How values motivate and
influence the interview participants were quite individual. New professional
participants’ discussions were more exploratory with connections to
self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2004). However, discussions with mid and
senior-level participants broached challenges regarding adapting to change, how
this can impact SAS mission and vision at an institution, and needing to adapt
to this change in order to communicate needs. One notable quote from a
participant was “…there is a difference between value and approach. Values will
influence approach. This could be different from the person and the campus.”
From all participants,
there was discussion regarding changing climate to higher education in Canada
and in some cases abroad, describing change to the work in SAS and
responsibilities in response to emerging needs, such as mental health/illness,
sexual health and violence, new and changing policy, performance indicators,
and emergent need defined by institutional leadership. One participant noted
“…our work is changing and moving beyond [Council for the Advancement of
Standards in Higher Education].”, yet no participant described wavering from
their commitment to their work in SAS.
important to note that while there is statistically significant variance among
some professional levels, all participants rated all values highly. However,
those that had no variance have been ‘day-to-day’ in our work in a clear way
(i.e. CAS Standards, training and development, and/or skill preparation), where
most of the four that presented variance – specifically Emotional and
Interpersonal Intelligence; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Indigenous
Cultural Awareness – have also always been day-to-day, but less privileged and
talked about until recent years. It’s clear these are important values to
practitioners, but perhaps newer professionals are seeing this differently or
more clearly due to their day-to-day.
As this was a Master’s
level research project already beyond necessary scope, a deeper analysis,
opportunity for follow-up interviews, etc., did not occur at this time.
Implications & Conclusion
results from the survey with interview responses, I’m curious to learn more
about preparation among professional levels, and how we can better connect
perspectives between new and senior professionals, but also better support the
broad group of mid-level professionals – also broad with more than five to
fifteen years of experience. While we are all supporting student success
outside of the classroom, all experience levels have different needs and
priorities depending on responsibility level. This is fair; however, how can we
better illuminate needs regarding these professional levels but also create a
better, equitable understanding of their professional priorities? What are
feedback loops that can be developed to connect ideas and perspectives of
front-line staff to inform senior members of SAS without completely depending
on ‘those in the middle’, meaning the mid-level practitioner? Last, while there
are clear supports in place to introduce and support a new professional to our
work in SAS (i.e. new professional training institutes, mentorship programs),
what supports are in place to help and advance mid-level and especially
senior-level administrators who are leading and advocating our work at our
Though this project
was not intended to assess the current competency model, there is a
differentiation among values that are also competencies regarding out work.
Naming competencies and developing a path for levels of
skills, knowledge and attitudes is an important step, but how can we support
practitioners at all levels to self-assess an accurate understanding and
ability of essential skills and understanding regarding our work.
From the survey and
interviews, it’s clear there is ‘heart’ connected to our work but conflict with
changing needs of students, our priorities, and responsibilities of SAS. For
those who prioritize personal values as high, it is important to consider how
you are positioned to do your best work and bring your best self, but also what
are limitations or rubbing of personal ethics. This is particularly timely with
shifts in government, challenges to access and funding, while all priorities
need to connect to supporting the needs of our changing students.
This research project
barely begins to explore issues, needs, successes, challenges, and
‘meaning-making’ associated with the Canadian SAS practitioner. Our values
matter and will always influence our lens, work, and approach. While a gap is
anticipated among what new and senior professionals may expect or value, my
hope is this project opens a door to new opportunities to explore issues
regarding not only the values of SAS practitioners, but their needs as well in
order to support the students we are here to serve.
Brandon is a first-generation student with 11 years of professional experience in Student Affairs & Services from Ontario and Alberta, Canada. Specifically, Brandon has worked in progressive leadership roles within Housing & Residence Life and Student Affairs; collaborating with students, faculty, administration, and the local community to enhance the student experience and engagement outside of the classroom. Currently the Associate Director, Residence Life & Education at Ryerson University, Brandon will be leaving Canada to begin the Ph.D. in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education full-time at Michigan State University in fall 2019 to ‘make meaning’ of his own experience as an emerging scholar-practitioner. You can contact Brandon on LinkedIn or on Twitter @brandonrgsmith.
Dr Claudine Provencher Head, LSE LIFE London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Challenging the structures that enable the current inequalities in access and success in higher education in the UK is not a small undertaking. This blog post explores an example from the UK where colleagues at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) work together to deliver transition and academic skills support to students whilst they are still in the final years of their high school study. The work is specifically targeted at students from backgrounds currently under-represented in higher education in the UK with a focus on their successful progression and transition to studying in higher education. The programme aims to move away from a deficit model approach and focuses instead on providing a level playing field to high school students who don’t have access to the academic and application support some of their peers might. In the UK this work falls under an umbrella term of widening participation (WP).
The Widening Participation team
at LSE runs a suite of activities specifically designed to support access
to higher education institutions, especially those that, like LSE, have very
high entry grade requirements and high levels of competition for places. We
work with children as young as nine years old as we believe that inequalities
must be addressed from an early age. Once working with older students,
especially those in their final two years of high school, our engagement
becomes more intensive and subject focused. At this point we have 300 students
each year from across London schools and colleges attending programmes based
around their potential future higher education subject of interest and/or future
career (E.g., law, finance, government, economics, and sociology to name just a
few). Depending on the specific programme, students will join us for between 8
to 16 months during which they will attend sessions taking them beyond high
school to their subject of focused study (i.e. major) in higher education.
A major objective of these programmes is to
support students’ application and transition to higher education programmes
and, to that end, a core focus of our work has been on providing practical
information and sessions to ensure a successful application, and raise
awareness of what students could expect whilst at university. Participants also
get introduced to possible career pathways connected with their subject of
interest and, depending on the programme they are attending, might undertake
in-depth work experience in a vocational area. Whilst none of the programmes
have any credit bearing element, attending participants are registered as
associate LSE students; this gives them access to LSE Library and the myriad
online resources available. Interestingly, many attendees utilise these
resources to prepare assignments and revise for their high-school exams.
However, recently, we have been able to
raise our ambitions and to enlarge the scope of the work with these students thanks
to the establishment of LSE
LIFE, a centre for the academic and personal development of students, which
opened its doors in September 2016.
Right from the start, colleagues complemented
the efforts of the Widening Participation team by hosting and delivering
sessions that focus on the key academic skills that pre-entry students will
need while completing their high school and later on, once they’ve been
admitted to university, such as preparing for exams and networking. Critical
thinking is yet another example of such sessions. For instance, in the Practice your Critical Thinking workshop offered to students
on the Pathways to Law programme this academic year, 30 A-level (high-school)
students worked collaboratively to deconstruct the following contentious
argument: “race is no longer the key determinant of life chances.” After a
short presentation on critical thinking (e.g., what is it, what are the skills
required), students set about scrutinizing the statement. Drawing on their own
experiences and empirical data, the students added layers of details to
arguments for or against the proposition, first in small group conversations
and then in a larger workshop discussion. The second part of the workshop was a
free-flowing discussion that built on the questions that had come out from the
first part, such as: Where geographically is the scholar basing their
statement? What time frame are they working in? What does life chances even
These sessions are also an opportunity for
these students to reflect on the type of skills they will need to develop going
forward, to take ownership of their development, to become more familiar with
the expectations that universities have vis-à-vis their students, and to get
familiar with a new learning environment. From a staff point of view, they represent
a great opportunity for colleagues to become more familiar with the challenges
faced by different students and to adapt their approach and the service
development and delivery to be ever more inclusive. Interestingly, this
reflection is also proving useful in terms of identifying initiatives that
could have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our student
community as a whole.
Proof of impact to date, obtained through student
feedback, pre and post testing, is positive with students commenting on feeling
more prepared for the transition to higher education, understanding what is
needed and being able to look at subjects in ways they hadn’t previously. Progression
to higher education is another useful indicator and, again, points towards the
positive impact our programme is having with 80% of the students we are able to
track post attendance going on to higher education, of which over 60% are going
to Russell Group universities (24
leading UK universities) including LSE.
We are now working on a quasi-experimental
evaluation of at least one programme to further ascertain its impact on
students’ overall attainment prior to higher education typically A-level
results and their critical thinking skills, two aspects that we know are key to
unlocking future education opportunities.
 For anyone interested in more information about the policy drivers
behind WP might wish to explore a research briefing by the UK
Parliament and explore the regulator of English higher education the Office
for Students (OfS). There is of course an entirely separate literature on
the reasons for the differences in participation and the efficacy of the
current activity aimed at addressing these inequities.
If you have been following our blog
and research, you probably know that we love talking to students. We believe that students’ perspectives are
crucial in our understanding of how to improve academic and co-curricular services
and incorporating their voices and experiences in our work is essential.
During phase II of the Supporting Student Success study, we spoke to 128 students across 12 institutions
in Ontario (4 colleges and 8 universities). We held both focus groups and
individual interviews where our main questions focused on students perceptions
of student success at their institution. We learned so much from our conversations
with students; from their understanding of how organizational structures promote
(or hinder) their success, the role
of peers in their lives, to their own definition
of student success. Speaking to students energized us, not just as scholars
but also as practitioners. Interview after interview, we learned so much from
speaking to students; their perceptions provided us with a different angle from
which to understand how colleges and universities can improve and simplify
their organizational structures to support their success. We left each interview wanting to know more,
wanting to hear the voices of more students in order to incorporate these
findings in each of our institutional reports and publications to highlight how
important their opinions were for our research.
Student voices enhance our
knowledge and understanding of what is working and not working at a college
campus. Students have an insider perspective that is invaluable in designing,
revamping, and improving both academic curricula and student services. More
importantly, students have particular knowledge about the trends, culture, and
values of our institutions, making them essential partners in any effort to
design or re-design programs and services that will improve the student
experience. As educators and practitioners, we need to take the time to
There are many ways that college
staff and faculty can gather student perspectives to improve programs and
services. Surveys are a powerful tool that are commonly used across colleges
and universities to gather student data. One of the benefits of student surveys
is the flexibility one has to administer and analyze the information. Surveys
can be sent electronically to hundreds (even thousands) of students at once, or
they can be administered in-person. If your institution does not have a
“home-grown” survey tool, there are some options for survey development like
SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, and Qualtrics to name a few. While we are not going to get into details
about survey design or usability (see
Lesley Andres), we can agree that surveys can be a powerful tool to gather
and analyze student input. However, surveys can often be a little rigid; that
is, that students must choose from very specific response options that have
been carefully crafted by the researcher. Even where there are opportunities
for respondents to write-in a
response, we are often unable to follow-up on that response to gather rich data
to help us understand what the respondent truly meant. Thus, if you are looking
to gather rich and thick data to design, revamp, or improve a program or
service, consider interviewing your students.
There is tremendous value in speaking
to students and gathering their perspectives and input through student
interviews. In particular, focus groups can be an amazing tool to allow
students an opportunity to provide both their individual perspectives and
collective experience. Like with surveys, you have the ability to develop the
questions you will ask them, but you have the advantage to ask participants to
expand on their responses to get deeper into the topic at hand. Additionally,
as you probe participants to expand on their answers, you may find that there
is new information that needs to be explored that you had not considered when
developing your interview questions. This flexibility allows you to gain a
deeper understanding that may better equip you as you incorporate student feedback
into your programming. Finally, in our experience interviewing students for
phase II of our study, we found that students appreciated and valued the
opportunity to be heard. While many students are accustomed to being surveyed
by their institution, few have been asked to voice their experiences and
perspectives in detail. There are
several things you should consider if you are thinking of conducting student
1. Explore your institution’s Ethics
Review Board (ERB) to ensure that you are following appropriate policies and
procedures to conduct student interviews. While ERB is typically required for
research-based studies, you want to make sure that you are following the
appropriate protocol to ensure the safety of your participants.
2. Develop a list of questions that
get at the heart of who, what, when,
where, and how of students’ experiences/perspectives.
3. Promote focus group participation
to students and explain why their input
is important for the program/service.
4. If you are able, provide an
incentive for students to participate. An incentive can be lunch during the
interview, coffee and donuts, or a gift card to the school’s bookstore.
5. Keep the focus group manageable
(6-10 participants) and if possible, enlist the help of a colleague to help you
manage the logistics (e.g. sign-ins, food set-up, note-taking, etc.).
6. If you are recording the
interview, you should identify and be comfortable with the technology that you
will utilize. Always ask participants’ permission to audio record before doing
7. Consider transcribing the
interviews (or at least portions of it). Incorporating students’ direct voices
into reports, flyers, or grant proposals, can play a strong role in highlighting
students’ opinions and perspectives.
Like with student surveys,
conducting interviews/focus groups with students has some limitations. One
thing to consider is how time-consuming conducting interviews and focus groups
can be. Planning, promoting, recruiting, and conducting the interviews can take
a substantial amount of time. Once the interviews have concluded, you also need
to consider how you will move forward in capturing what students shared (e.g.
transcription, notes, reporting, etc.). Another possible limitation to focus
groups is that you cannot generalize your participants’ experiences as a shared
experience of all students at your campus. However, what focus group data can
provide you with is a window of knowledge of what your students experience,
perceive, and understand about your programs and services and how you may
enhance these. This information can be invaluable from a programmatic
perspective as you design or re-design programs that are student-centered with
students’ voices at the forefront.
One example of how I have used
focus group data to improve a new initiative was at my previous institution at
a California State University. The institution, piloted a college-level course for
local high school students, where students would have the opportunity to
receive both high school credit and college credit at the same time (dual
enrollment). With the help of graduate assistants, we interviewed 30 students
who had participated in the dual enrollment course. The purpose of the
interviews was to learn about the experiences, challenges, and student opinions
on how to improve future course offerings. From the interviews, we identified
several themes that helped us understand students’ motivation to participate in
the course; their experiences in the course, including what they found most
valuable and most challenging; and the support that students wished they had
received from both their high school and the university. From the interviews,
we were able to pull direct examples to share with administrators and faculty that
would improve students’ experience and success in the course. One main finding
was that while students thoroughly enjoyed learning about the subject matter
and engaging in dialogue with their peers and their instructor, they had
limited knowledge about how to read and write at the college level. Students
wished that there was more information at the beginning of the course about the
expectations to read and write as a college student (as compared to their high
school curriculum) and timely support available to help them in the process. Another finding was that some students were
not aware that because they were “dually enrolled” that they had access to the university’s
resources (for example, library, tutoring, etc.). This information was
extremely useful for administrators who incorporated the feedback in subsequent
student orientations and informational materials. Additionally, administrators
and faculty got a better sense on how to provide resources for students to help
them gain academic skills in high school to read and write more proficiently in
their college-level courses.
Whether you want to develop a new
program, improve a service, or you want confirm that what you are doing is
working to promote student success, consider talking directly to your audience
(consider this as a form of market research). Focus group interviews provide
you with an excellent avenue to get direct feedback from students and
incorporating this feedback can have a remarkable impact on their success.
This was overheard from a student playing the first round of Tabletop University, a game designed to simulate students’ first semester in college or university.
“You know what else can be confusing?” asks the game master.
“The first week of college.”
Social events, the start of classes, and the litany of questions: What’s your name? What’s your major? Where are you from? Figuring out what to do and with whom can be bewildering for students in their first year of post-secondary study.
Players confront all of this and more in Tabletop University, the Blueprints for Student Success college transition board game. The object of the game is for players to manage time strategically with the goal of maximizing GPA and social connections while earning enough money to pay tuition and managing life events and stress. Simulating students’ first semester, it’s a lot to manage in a game. But it’s also a lot to manage in real life.
In addition to time management, players (or teams of 2 to 3) learn about the student success programs and services that exist on college/university campuses. Dr. Seifert’s research team has shown that students may be unaware of these supports and benefit from peers who connect them with campus services. By playing Tabletop University, students are introduced to areas such as Financial Aid and Supplemental Instruction. Players choose whether to allocate time to take advantage of their benefits, like grant monies/bursaries or enhanced peer-to-peer tutoring.
Tabletop University is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Tricia Seifert, Associate Professor of Adult & Higher Education and Principal Investigator of the Blueprints for Student Success project, and Magic Sails game development company. Dr. Seifert approached the Blackstone Launchpad at Montana State University where she met Waylon Roberts venture coach and game developer. After sharing an early prototype, Waylon suggested Magic Sails could bring to life a game focused on the college transition.
After several iterations and game play with hundreds of students in Montana’s rural communities, the verdict is in. The game is fun AND students learn from playing.
Anyone who has ever worked with high school students knows you can tell them a piece of information and a month later some will tell you they never heard that piece of information before. Watching students play Tabletop University, I could see the information being imprinted in a different way than just informing students about college. For example, students were able to hear about academic advising, and then make a strategic decision about how to spend their time and money that week in the game.
Students at our school were paired in teams, so they were able to discuss strategy with each other. It was obvious that this information was being imprinted on students watching them play the game for a second time when they were advising each other and talking strategy about the nuances of the game. One student was overheard saying; “Last time I played I did academic advising and my GPA rose, so we should definitely do that.”
Meeting with an academic advisor and identifying a good academic fit ignites interest in the subject matter and results in a higher GPA. Students learn this and other strategies through repeated play. The first time students play the game they may spend all their time in academics and have no friends at the end of the game. Let’s face it; it is hard to be successful in college with no friends. The next time students play they allocate their time in a way that balances academics as well as social life. Moreover, they realize they don’t have to do it all alone; they recognize the people, programs, and services on campus that can help them along the way.
Games allow students to try, fail, learn, and succeed in a space where the consequences are as simple as a ‘do over.’ This is the beauty of game-based learning. This is not the case when students are flung onto a post-secondary campus without the practice and knowledge of how to ‘do college.’ The consequences in this case can be dire. Students try college for a couple of weeks, fail to connect academically and socially, and deem they are simply not ‘college material.’ The key motivation for the Blueprints for Student Success project is to assist students to develop what David Conley and others refer to as the ‘college knowledge’ they need for early and ongoing success. This contributes to students persisting and achieving the academic and personal goals they set for post-secondary study.
It’s exciting times for the Blueprints for Student Success project with plans to make Tabletop University available for high school, college and university educators. It’s not enough, however, to make the game available. The long-term plan is to follow-up with students as they transition from high school to college, examining if they engage differently as a result of game play. If you find this as exciting as we do, we would love for you to be a part of this project. Let us know of your interest by leaving a comment and stay tuned!