Are you bummed your summer conference was canceled? Were you looking forward to sessions that inspire? Maybe you were stoked to share your great work with colleagues? Take that energy and go virtual to the Inland Northwest Student Affairs Colloquium. This FREE professional development series will take place throughout July and is accepting proposals until May 31.
I’m always looking for the lemonade when life gives me lemons. And let’s be honest, COVID-19 is a grove of lemon trees. With travel coming to a near halt, why not learn virtually from colleagues from the around the world? Did I mention that the final day to submit a proposal is May 31 — so don’t delay, submit today! https://lnkd.in/gMiDS-X
Few people have the funds (many higher education institutions cut travel budgets way before the pandemic) and/or the time (can we say child care and home responsibilities?) to travel, stay at a hotel, and pay conference registration for 3 days of professional development.
Virtual PD makes conference attendance more equitable on every level.
I’m super excited about the INSAC virtual event because I’m keynoting on July 7. The session, “Play, Fail, Learn, Play, Win!: Using Games to Promote College Success”, will focus on how games are a well-tested way to engage students. Rather than the staid lecture telling students what they need to know, games invite students to test ideas and strategy, reflect on choices, and make sense of their play. Game-based learning is experiential education at its finest. This is the course that 21st century higher education must chart if it wishes to remain relevant.
I’m also reprising my role as conference weaver. I love doing this as it pushes me to attend as many sessions as I can and then “weave” the strands of learning, challenges, and opportunities from the event into a single tapestry.
Although you may not have trekked out to eastern Washington pre-pandemic, there’s no reason not to go from the comfort of your own couch. Hope to see you there! Please feel free to share this post with your network. The more, the merrier. https://lnkd.in/gMiDS-X
The question of whether high school students transitioning to tertiary (higher/post-secondary) education are prepared for the digital learning environment of university is a multifactorial one. One popular point of discussion is that ‘digital natives’ are not as digitally literate as some educators assume they are. Another is the generation of students currently moving through the educational system encounter a great deal of variation in the digital skills gap among teachers, parents and administrators, as well as among schools. What we can surmise is the presence or lack of digital technology use in high schools will be most apparent when transitioning to tertiary education.
Students from regional and remote areas of Australia and low socioeconomic backgrounds face unique challenges in closing both levels of the divide. These challenges include:
Access: few retail outlets to purchase computers/devices with service or warranty plans and cost prohibitive data plans;
Connection: limited bandwidth and lack of IT person to troubleshoot connectivity problems at high schools;
Skills: Little to no influx of new high school teachers with digital skills;
Knowledge and Skills: Limited access and time for professional development on new technology for schools; and
Knowledge and Skills: Parents, teachers and administrators questioning the worth of technology use in classrooms.
To address the above challenges, we developed the LEAP-Links (Digital Literacy) program, designed to assist regional and remote low SES students to build the digital competencies needed to succeed in school and the transition to higher education. Digital Needs Assessment was undertaken to understand the perceived digital competency of students transitioning from high school into university and identify any gaps in key digital skills. We wanted to understand if the digital technologies students learnt in high school are transferable to those required at university.
138 university students who graduated high school in NSW were invited to complete an online survey on their use of digital technologies for learning in high school and university. Eighty-one students completed the survey. We analysed data of 69 students, nine graduating from regional high schools and 60 from metro area high schools in New South Wales, Australia.
High School Preparation
When we asked students if their high school prepared them for the digital technology requirements of university, half agreed or strongly agreed, while the other half remained neutral or disagreed to strongly disagreed. This suggests that an equal number of students felt ill-prepared as prepared for using technology in university.
Digital Technology Use for Learning in High School versus University
In comparing students’ digital technology use for learning in high school versus university, the results show students use spreadsheets more than twice as often at university than in high school and use social media for learning 38 percent more often in university than in high school. Even more telling, a third of students never used spreadsheets in high school, whereas only 7 percent have yet to use spreadsheets for their university studies. Additionally, nearly 6 in 10 high school students report never having used digital referencing tools like Endnote in high school, whereas 66 percent of students use it weekly or monthly at university.
Recommendations for First Year University Students
Of the 54 open responses, 30 students recommend learning to use spreadsheets (Excel) before commencing university. The other notable recommendations were to learn how to use online collaboration tools (Google drive), referencing software, coding/programming and online research techniques such as effective searching of online databases.
Our Response to the University Students’ Recommendations
We developed and delivered professional development workshops for secondary school teachers in three schools across three NSW regions (North Coast, Central West and Far West), accredited by the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA). Materials developed for the workshops and online unit were completed in August 2017. Participating teachers were credited 7 hours for the program in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – 5.5hrs for face to face workshop time and 1.5hrs for the follow-on online unit.
Content developed for the teacher professional learning workshops included:
Addressing the shift in pedagogy for using technology as learning tools in the classroom
Applying Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition (SAMR) framework to integrate digital literacy skills with theory and practice
Immersive skill-building activities using Google Suite
Practical ways to teach key elements of digital citizenship
Digital citizenship refers to ensuring students understand how to stay safe online, while taking advantage of all the possibilities offered by the internet and digital technologies.
Expanding personal learning networks to discover new online teaching resources.
The online unit of work developed as part of the program included a series of reference guides to support teachers and students with ICT digital literacy skills in the following areas:
The majority of teachers strongly agreed that this PD provided: relevance; new content; career development; perceived value; and applicability. Teacher feedback indicated:
The majority of teachers strongly agreed that this PD provided: relevance; new content; career development; perceived value; and applicability. Teacher feedback indicated:
Students were engaged and motivated to use new digital tools
Digital learning was incorporated in more informal ways in classroom contexts, and this was well received by students (particularly as some students were noted to not have access to ICT tools at home)
Workshops were valuable for learning new and relevant digital skills
Follow up support and sessions with practical activities, as well as on-going resource sharing and local resource-use were flagged as recommended program improvements.
Teachers encouraged students (14-16 years) to conduct a collaborative unit of work using the digital tools students learnt in the curriculum utilising the following skills:
Students designed a presentation of no more than two minutes for their class on their selected topic and named the source of images, videos, music from the Creative Commons repositories they have learned about. Of the 46 students who completed the unit of work:
89% reported increased confidence towards digital learning.
93% students reported increased interest in using online tools for educational purposes.
93% students reported increased understanding of the digital requirements of higher education.
93% students reported increased aspiration towards and preparedness for higher education.
One of the most commonly mentioned challenge is the lack of reliable Internet, as a result of low bandwidth in regional and remote areas contributing to a growing gap in digital competencies between low socio-economic status (low SES) students and the rest of the general student population. School teachers provided feedback on having technology but often struggling with poor bandwidth and lack of digital skills amongst teachers and students. One of the teachers commented:
“Our internet speed is always a problem being where we are and so therefore students get a bit frustrated, as we know students do, if things are taking too long or timing out. It depends how many students we’re trying to get on at any one time, so that does impact on things.”So teachers would always probably prefer paper based and go that way, because of the lack of reliable internet and/or resources in the school.”
Access to technologyis an ongoing issue as mentioned by teachers:
“Some students have devices, other students don’t have devices, so that’s always a challenge if we’re trying to set things up. Then our old technology in terms of our fixed computers around the school, they age and so some are working and some are not. “
Distance is a major challenge for teachers from regional and remote regions. Some couldn’t attend professional development training programs because of the locations where they were held:
“[The] professional development [trainings] seems to be centred more around the larger regional areas. When I say regional, I mean like Newcastle, Armadale, those kind of places. So anywhere to travel for professional development was a minimum of around two hours to three hours to be able to attend. So we couldn’t attend a lot of the professional development because a lot of the time the funding wasn’t there to put you up overnight teachers aren’t – when they travel six hours.”
The digital divide is created by varying levels of accessibility and affordability of technology resources. Students from regional and remote areas face unique challenges in overcoming the digital divide, based on location and the compounding impact of low SES status towards accessing resources. Similarly, teachers in regional and remote areas face difficulty in accessing the much needed professional development opportunities to further enhance their digital literacy skills. This work demonstrates that a more inclusive approach is needed to understand and accommodate the reality of students’ entering skills, rather than rely on supposition, to assure student success for all.
Sonal Singh is Manager, Student Equity, Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion, University of Technology Sydney. She tweets @SonalSingh2 and can be reached at her email: email@example.com
In student services, we often speak of the products of our work – a great workshop, a thoughtful mentoring program, a popular orientation program, etc. In this blog, I’d like to take a look at the administrative side of student success. These last two weeks, I’ve had the privilege to be at the senior leadership table where important decisions needed to be made for the safety, health and continued learning of our students. It’s been a scary roller coaster of a ride, but I am grateful to work at an institution* that is focused on students and kept their needs top of mind as we made our plans. First, a quick timeline of events, and then I’ll walk you through some of the lessons learned.
*I work at a large (17,000 students) Ontario College of Arts and Technology (commonly known in the US as a community college)
Wednesday, March 11
The World Health Organization issues a statement calling the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Travel restrictions and social distancing are not yet being discussed.
The president of the college calls his senior leadership council with guests from facilities, security, corporate communications and student services together for discussion. Our largest recruiting event, our Open House, is in three days. Our discussion is about what to do should things get worse; we decide to keep going with the Open House and assume classes will continue, we order extra cleaning of the campus.
Thursday, March 12
Late in the evening, the local school board announces that all public schools will close until April 6.
Friday, March 13
The president reconvenes his council and we decide to post-pone the Open House, but continue with classes and employees are to report to work as usual. I have a planned vacation with my family to ski in Quebec. All night my husband and I consider our options, mostly we speak of our own need for self-care and the need to be with our teenage kids. We decide that he will stay and the kids and I will go.
Sunday, March 15
The large university in our city announces it is cancelling classes for a few days and will resume their semester online mid-week.
Monday March 16
Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau closes the border to non-Canadian citizens and asks Canadians to not travel out of the country.
Employees report to work and students come to class at the college. Parents and students call our Contact Centre furious that we are still open when the university is closed. The decision is made to cancel classes for the week and resume online where possible on March 23. Employees are still to report to work as usual.
Tuesday March 17
The President’s council meets again, it’s time to send “non-essential” employees home. There is a scramble for laptops and staff rush to grab their resource materials and forward their voicemail. They water the plants, thinking they’ll be gone two weeks at most. Our Contact Centre is deemed essential so a schedule is quickly developed to decide which staff will be on campus.
Wednesday March 18
I drive home from Quebec as I experience separation anxiety from my husband and feel the need to support the staff who report to me as well as my fellow managers who are exhausted. It also seems logical to return home since I had spent most of my time in Quebec on conference calls and responding to emails anyway.
Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20
I am working from home, but spending three hours a day on conference calls. The new routine is a phone call with the Office of the Registrar managers, a phone call with the college student services managers, and then phone calls with my staff team. Once new decisions are made, the phone calls with each team go around again.
LESSONS FROM WEEK 1 – as we plan for online learning and online service delivery
The main question of Week 1 was: how do we get staff set up from home so they can support students? Technology was paramount. We quickly discovered who didn’t have reliable Internet at home, who didn’t have home computer equipment, and who didn’t have the technological savvy to learn how to set up a remote desktop session using VPN. Our concern was for students, but our focus had to be on staff. If they didn’t have the tools they needed, they would not be able to support the students. Additionally, the staff needed to be in place of strong mental health to be able to support students who needed it.
My work during week one was about getting staff comfortable – with new equipment, new software, and new routines at home. Many are struggling finding a balance between work and supporting students while also supporting their family – many have children at home. Our college has kept everyone on the payroll, but for many staff members, their partners are being laid off from work as businesses shut down. My expertise is in project management and operations, but this week called for true transformative leadership. What the staff needed was reassurance, help and understanding while learning new ways of working, and to keep well informed of the ever changing decisions being made by the college.
A distant second to supporting staff as they set up from home was figuring out how student services were to be delivered remotely. Daily meetings of the student services managers team were crucial to help each of us in our planning. Counsellors and advisors were set up with the capacity to do online appointments. The Wellness Centre launched Facebook live streaming of fitness classes that could be done at home. For students who could not go home, residence made a plan for food delivery to rooms. We were ready….
Monday, March 23 and Tuesday, March 24
It is the first day of online class delivery. I go to campus but it is a ghost town. Only one door is open; my entrance is allowed because I am on an essential services staff list. Five staff members of our 86 member staff team are in the office – all sitting six feet apart and all there to help run the Contact Centre. The phones are much quieter than we expected. The daily conference calls with college leaders continue. At noon on Tuesday, the president decides that no one should have to be on campus. The Contact Centre is closed and staff are sent home, but my next task is to find a way to open back up again … with the Contact Centre newly configured to operate remotely. We bring all the plants home, unsure of when we’ll return to our offices.
Wednesday, March 25 to Friday, March 27
Everyone is now working from home. Contact Centre staff are answering the emails that are coming in quickly now that students and parents have no one to phone. IT services staff work 12+ hour days reconfiguring the phone network and assisting staff and professors struggling to move to online delivery. My days are spent on the phone – 5 and 6 hours at a stretch. Student services are being delivered remotely. Our focus shifts to how we are going to complete the semester and what we will do about our next semester, with 3000 new students set to start a new college program on May 4.
LESSONS FROM WEEK 2 – as students begin their online coursework
There have been two main issues arising for students as they transition to online studies; technological access and money to support themselves. Our college put 2280 classes online last week. We are hearing from a minority of students that they are just not able to get online. The access issue is one of equipment failure; the students may live in place without cable internet or they simply may not own a computer. We have set up a computer lab, close to a college entrance with social distancing and cleaning protocols in place to assist with this access issues. More difficult to solve is an access issue related to students with disabilities or learning challenges that make online learning impossible. We are working with Counselling and Accessibility Services, Indigenous Services, and the Learning Centre to work with each student individually to come up with a success plan. Professors have also been incredible and adapting where possible.
With businesses closing, our students are experiencing layoffs from work. Many rely on this work to provide for their basic needs. Adapting to online learning is taking a back seat to figuring out how rent will be paid and where the next meal is coming from. We are working on a simplified bursary system as well working with our student’s union to distribute food vouchers.
The reality however is many students will not be able to finish, and this will be the focus of week three. We are working to put a withdrawal form online and remove the barrier of insisting on a 1:1 meeting with an advisor before withdrawal (but offering this service for those who choose it). We will then need to develop a recovery plan to help these students find a pathway to credential completion.
In Ontario, the peak of the outbreak is expected in the next two weeks. Public schools are no longer resuming on April 6. Staff supporting students from home may be our new normal for the foreseeable future. We’re focused on access to online learning and financial hardship faced by students. I wonder what new issues will arise for students in the coming months?
For some levity in a tough situation, I leave you with a game you I will be playing at work today….
How are you leading to support student success in your role? Please “leave a reply” as we would love to crowdsource the myriad of ways people from around the world are getting by in this time of vast uncertainty. Please be well and stay safe.
Dr. Krista Vogt is Senior Associate Registrar, Admissions at Fanshawe College and can be reached on Twitter @vogtkris
By Tanya Weiler, Program Director of Aboriginal Pathways Program and Regions at University of South Australia College.
‘You will go softly with the way you instruct, keeping in mind that the word for thinking and knowing in that [Aboriginal] language is also the word for loving’ – Yunkaporta, 2009
At the beginning of February 2020, 45 eager and nervous students across South Australia commenced the Aboriginal Pathway (AP) Program, a pre-undergraduate enabling program at UniSA College (of the University of South Australia). Completing 9 subjects over 18 months, the UniSA College enabling program develops students’ skills and the confidence to transition into any degree of their choosing, using students’ competitive GPA for entry. The AP program is an academically rigorous 18-month program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to engage with university study without leaving their community-based support structures. Piloted in 2015 with an initial 28 students in three locations, the program is now delivered face to face in Adelaide and all four regional UniSA College locations: some students travel >1000 kilometers to attend. South Australia is large (half the size of Alaska, but bigger than Texas!) and sparsely populated (1.7 million people, with 1.34 million in its capital, Adelaide). UniSA College programs are delivered in four regional centres (the furthest 775 km from Adelaide).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 3.3% of all Australians, but only 1.6% of university students (Universities Australia, 2017). Since the implementation of the AP program at UniSA, participation of Aboriginal students within the university has markedly increased, and the first completers are set to finish their Undergraduate studies this year.
Before creating the AP, consultation with Aboriginal Elders and groups at each delivery site established trust in the program as a partnership with the University, the community, and the students. The program design drew on Indigenous Enabling Education research (Fredericks 2016, Behrendt 2012) which recognizes a barrier in the competing course demands of a traditional semester model. We focused on mitigating this factor, giving students flexibility to study whilst balancing family and cultural responsibilities. Students study a maximum of two simultaneous courses in the first year (completing 6 in total), followed by 3 concurrent courses in the second year to mirror an undergraduate load. Intensive teaching blocks enable students who travel large distances to attend face to face, and the increased class-time supports strong scaffolding of skills. Given a cohort with many young parents, classes fit within school terms/hours.
Course design in the program is grounded in culturally-responsive teaching based on theories of intrinsic motivation (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995). In designing learning activities for Aboriginal students, understanding of the ‘8 Ways of Learning’ pedagogical framework (Yunkaporta & Kirby, 2011) which emphasizes storytelling and non-linear processes has been fundamental. Extensive discussion and ‘yarning’ (a dialogue circle) is a focus in tutorials and online, fostering trust and open interaction between educators and students. Students’ reflections on the community benefits of new knowledge is a key aspect of the curriculum. To reduce Internet connectivity issues common in remote Australia, all course materials are available in print format as well as online. This allows students to engage with learning materials despite unstable technology, whilst also providing teaching resources for students to use or share with family and communities.
There is always more to learn and ways to further embed Aboriginal perspectives, understanding and knowledges into such a program. We are consistently informed by research on best practice in Indigenous access education (Fredericks et al. 2015; Aseron 2013) and Culturally Responsive pedagogy, but most importantly building relationships and listening to Aboriginal Elders, communities and educators is fundamental and ongoing. Through these relationships and time spent with Aboriginal communities, we have developed detailed understanding of synergies between Aboriginal and Western pedagogies to best support students as they transition into their university experience.
‘If we find the overlap between our best ways of learning and the mainstream’s best ways of learning then we will have an equal balance.’ – Yunkaporta, 2009
How are you using culturally-responsive practices to support students, particularly in the challenging times we find ourselves in presently? Please ‘leave a comment’ so we can learn from you.
Behrendt, L 2012, Review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: Final report, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
Fredericks, B., Kinnear, S., Daniels, C., Croft, Warcon, P. and Mann, J 2015, Path+Ways: Towards best practice bridging and Indigenous participation through regional dual-sector universities. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.
Yunkaporta, T & Kirby, M 2011, ‘Yarning up Indigenous pedagogies: A dialogue about eight Aboriginal ways of learning’, in R Bell, G Milgate & N Purdie (eds.) in Two Way Teaching and Learning: Toward culturally reflective and relevant education, ACER Press, Camberwell Victoria
By Constance Khupe, PhD, Office of Student Success at the University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg, South Africa.
I was 16 when I decided I would become a teacher. I was the first in my family, and even in my community to have gone this far with school. I was in my last year of secondary school and registered for Ordinary level examinations, which would lead to a subject-based qualification as part of the General Certificate of Education. My class had been given application forms for Advanced level placement as was standard practice in Zimbabwean schools. Staying on to complete A-level study, would have meant two more years in high school, two more years of tuition and boarding fees which my family could hardly afford. I had heard that no fees were required in teachers’ college, hence the decision to go to college instead of going for A-levels. Students were in fact remunerated in the second and fourth year while on teaching experience. That was it! I was going to become a teacher. Being the most exposed to education in my family, I was the ‘best’ positioned to make the career decision. My family were relieved at the prospect of my imminent income. They sent me off to college with nothing much more than my few clothes. I and those from backgrounds similar to mine were fortunate to have a government (then) that supported higher education institutions to be ready for the kind of student that I was. I only discovered a few days into college that what I thought was free higher education was a government, low-interest loan that enabled me to pay tuition fees, food and accommodation, stationery, and even a stipend. Although the rest is now history, you can probably imagine my first year experience!
My personal history prepared me well to work as a student advisor at the University of the Witwatersrand (more intimately known as Wits University) in South Africa. Wits University is located in central Johannesburg, the largest city and the country’s economic hub. Johannesburg prides itself as “a world-class African city”, and it is. Wits University draws its student population from all over South Africa.
I am based at the Office of Student Success (OSS) in the Faculty of Health Sciences, providing academic support to undergraduate students. I can relate with the experiences of most of my students. At least a third of Wits Health Sciences students are from low-resourced school either in the townships, in rural areas or informal settlements. About 30% of the students are first in their family to attend university. More than a third of the students rely on government funding for tuition fees, accommodation and meals (University of the Witwatersrand Summary Report on Student Home and School Background Information, 2019). Wits University has made strides in terms of enabling access to previously disadvantaged population groups, with African students now constituting up to 52% of Health Sciences first year enrolment (University of the Witwatersrand Summary Report on Student Home and School Background Information, 2019). However, retention, progression and completion still favour historical patterns of privilege. It is in this context that the OSS contributes to creating a safe, welcoming, supportive and optimum environment necessary for student learning and success.
At least 900 first-year students join the Faculty of Health Sciences annually. Academic Advisors work closely with all stakeholders responsible for first year experience programmes. Beginning with a week dedicated for the welcoming of new students to the University and Faculty, orientation continues beyond the first week through much of the first semester and indeed the rest of the year.
Early Needs Identification
Given the diversity of our students, systems have been put in place for early identification and proactive support for the new students. Students’ needs are identified from multiple forms of engagements and sources, and resultant interventions include the students’ voice.
The multiple needs-identification methods have, over the years, pointed to risk factors for students in transition. As academic advisors, we use this information to develop interventions that address risk factors before they become fulfilled in academic failure.
Many students, regardless of schooling background, come to university with inadequate skills to handle the significantly increased workloads as well as assessment that requires deeper learning than memorisation. We address these challenges through face-to-face and online learning skills sessions. These continue through the first semester. Additional classes are arranged as and when need arises.
Individualised Learning Skills Sessions
Students have access to Advisors for one-to-one consultations either on self-identified learning skills needs or after being referred by a staff member. The sessions are interactive, starting with students sharing their problem and learning experience and reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses, and continue through to planning for the desired change. Agreements are made for follow up and feedback as applicable. The feedback allows both student and Advisor room to re-think their strategy if necessary. The process encourages students to reflect on their engagement and responsibilities in learning situations, and the bigger aim is perspective transformation, to shift responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student.
Although it is resource-intensive, individualised support is most helpful in keeping students accountable and responsible for their learning.
Peer Tutoring for High-Risk Subjects
Although Wits Health Sciences generally has high pass and progression rates, some subjects have over the years had lower pass rates. We introduced peer tutoring on the understanding that students ‘listen’ to students. We train and recruit senior students to assist junior students in small groups to encourage social learning. The tutor’s role is to clarify concepts and to encourage the tutees to think, identifying their mistakes and correcting them under guidance. The peer tutor programme reaches at least 400 students each year.
Interventions for Students from Low-resourced School Backgrounds
A critical goal that we keep in mind when working with students from less privileged backgrounds is to instill in them a sense of belonging to the university. Many already feel they are on the back foot because of language of teaching, computer literacy, and little familiarity with the city and with campus facilities. Academic Advisors host a day-long learning skills retreat for these first year students. The retreat has to be at a time when students have had at least a month on campus so that they have some experience to learn from, but also early enough for it to contribute to first year success. The retreat programme includes
general learning skills including the often taken-for-granted things such as using course documents,
a life skills component
student-student engagement among the first years and with senior students who come from senior backgrounds. This component includes group conversations and games.
The OSS is mindful of the diversity of mental health needs. All Health Sciences students have access to psycho-education and psycho-therapy services. Students are trained to take care of themselves and others, while staff are assisted to identify risk factors when they occur among students.
Responding to as Many Needs as are Identified
Students who have to rely on government funding do not always receive enough to cover their food and personal needs. Student societies, staff in the Faculty as well as external stakeholders often donate food and toiletry items to the OSS for distribution to students who have need.
Some students do not have required textbooks and others would appreciate assistance in basic stationery items: pens pencils, note pads and files. We have raised awareness regarding these needs, and both staff and students donate textbooks to the OSS for lending to students in need. We also welcome stationery donations. For students in need, these donations go a long way in reducing their financial burden.
Learning Through Pay: The Success Prints Crash Course board game
After many conversations with Tricia Seifert, we have introduced gaming to our package of interventions. Our hope is to adapt the board game to the Wits context and hopefully take it to other South African universities.
It is regrettable that more than 30 years after my own experience, there are students (albeit in a different context), who still arrive at university with hardly any information about the processes and resources that support their success. Fortunately, Wits University has progressively developed support structures that respond to students’ needs. How do we get the necessary information across to students in a format that they can relate with, and early enough in their university experience to support retention beyond first year? The answer to that question lies in practices that are responsive to emergent student needs, and plans that allow for student perspectives. In 2020, we are looking to use the Success Prints Crash Course board game as one of those interventions that students can relate better with that class-based information.
My rationale for wanting to go to University of Toronto for my doctoral work was to understand more about the research on postsecondary context. I was attending a conference in the summer prior to starting my studies and I presented in a session in which Tricia Seifert and Jeff Burrow were sharing recent findings from the Supporting Student Success study. I was able to connect with Tricia and several of the team members throughout the conference and I was fortunate to be invited to begin working on that study in the fall when I started at OISE. I credit Tricia with opening my world to student affairs and services. Prior to this work, I did not know that this was an area people researched nor did I know it was an area within which I could work. I connect this to the study in the sense that, not everyone knows about student affairs and services and what folks in this field do.
My doctoral research focused on understanding the experiences of graduate students with mental health challenges and examining the challenges they face and the supports they use. I used the 2016 Canadian Reference Group data from the National College Health Assessment to obtain an overall understanding of Canadian graduate students’ mental health. I then conducted semi-structured interviews with 38 doctoral students in Ontario who identified as having a mental health challenge or disability. Although the Supporting Student Success study was not the metaphorical “egg” to my dissertation research in the same way that Jacqueline Beaulieu described, I will detail three connections that I do see.
1. Defining “Success”
Seifert, Henry, and Peregrina-Kretz (2014) wrote an article titled “Beyond ‘Completion’: Student Success is a Process” and in it they highlight that degree completion is often considered the sole criteria for determining whether a student is successful. They draw attention to a need for a broader notion of what student success is and cite literature that refers to students’ academic goals and intentions as key pieces of what a definition of student success should have. Part of what I wanted to look at in my study was how mental health conditions impacted students’ performance and progress in their doctoral program.
I began by identifying the year of study and then the stage of program (coursework, comprehensive exam, proposal, dissertation). This was fairly straightforward. Next, I asked participants about the expected time-to-completion. This is where it started to get messy. Some participants referred to what the official timeline was from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, others referred to what their specific faculty identified, and others referred to what they personally expected for their time-to-completion. Questions about participants’ current year in their program and program length were asked to begin a conversation about whether participants were considered “on-track” to finish within the expected time frame. However, in the same way that Seifert et al. (2014) said that there is more to student success than completion of the credential, I learned that determining what would be considered “on-track” was also not straightforward. Participants’ timelines for completing different aspects of the degree varied and some were comfortable with being beyond the ‘expected’ time-to-completion because of their own expectations.
2. Shared Responsibility
One of the key things I learned while working on the Supporting Student Success study was that student success is the responsibility of everyone on campus: It is not the responsibility of student affairs and services professionals alone. There needs to be a broader campus culture that values and encourages collaboration across campus with the purpose of supporting student success. I connect this to my dissertation work because graduate students use support from a variety of sources throughout their experience. When I interviewed doctoral students, I found that many people play a part in supporting graduate students with mental health conditions. Participants sought informal academic and mental-health related support from peer networks and they also talked about a mental health culture within their departments where students are sharing their experiences of seeking mental health support. While peers can encourage others to seek support, they can also unfortunately deter others from seeking support if they had a negative experience. The findings that peers were primary sources of informal support was not surprising, particularly in light of this piece by Peregrina-Kretz, Seifert, Arnold, and Burrow (2018) that used data from the second phase of the Supporting Student Success study to identify peers as connectors, coaches and confidantes, co-constructors, and copycats.
Another way that I connect shared responsibility for student success to my dissertation work is by using findings related to the use of professional mental health support. In the NCHA, participants are asked if they had received mental health support from offices at their current college or university. About 45% of the graduate students with a mental health condition reported that they had. However, a limitation of this instrument is that it does not ask about use of off-campus support. In the interviews I conducted, I learned that 35 out of 38 participants reported accessing some form of professional mental health support during their doctoral studies: 13 used on-campus support, 14 used off-campus support, and 8 used both on- and off- campus support. This finding highlights the need for collaboration between on- and off-campus resources to support students’ mental health.
3. Survey Design
I joined the Supporting Student Success research team when we were starting Phase 3 of the project and developing a survey to send to faculty, student affairs professionals, and senior administrative leaders across Canada. During this time of survey development, I learned how important it is to take a close look at how questions are phrased to ensure that they are clear. Furthermore, I learned about decisions that are made when you develop a survey. After being involved in this survey development, I now examine survey instruments very closely and pay particular attention to how questions concerning graduate students are asked. Connecting this to my dissertation work, the National College Health Assessment could be revised in different ways to capture the graduate student context more effectively. For example, one question asks, “What is your year in school?” and response options are: 1st year undergraduate, 2nd year undergraduate, 3rd year undergraduate, 4th year undergraduate, 5th year or more undergraduate, Graduate or professional, Not seeking a degree, and other. Only one of these response options captures the graduate level and it does not allow for further categorized based on master’s versus doctoral level, or year of study at the graduate level (1st year doctoral versus 6th year doctoral).
I also want to draw your attention to how we ask questions about whether students identify as having a disability or mental health condition. In my dissertation, I examined participants’ responses across the three NCHA questions and found that a large number of respondents who responded affirmatively to “Have you ever been diagnosed with depression?” and/or “Within the last 12 months, have you been diagnosed or treated by a professional for any of the following mental health conditions?” did not identify as having a psychiatric condition. A total of 69% of the 975 participants who had been diagnosed with depression at some point did not identify as having a psychiatric condition. Similarly, of the 1,144 participants who identified as being diagnosed with or treated for a mental health condition in the past year, about 71% did not report having a psychiatric condition. Why might students be comfortable reporting their mental health condition on some questions but not others? What would happen if the question about having a psychiatric condition was not part of the disability demographic question? How are students defining disability?
The focus of student affairs research, particularly in the area of mental health, is focused primarily on undergraduate students. I therefore challenge you to consider how the needs of graduate students at your institution may differ from those of undergraduates and to reflect on the following questions:
How are you working together across the institution and beyond to support graduate students’ mental health specifically?
How are peers and faculty supervisors trained to support graduate students’ mental health at your institution?
In what ways are you collecting data about graduate students’ mental health?
How do the questions you pose in surveys reflect the nuances of graduate-level education (e.g. master’s versus doctoral level, year of study, academic requirements)?
Dr. Kathleen Clarke isa lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University. Follow her on Twitter @_KathleenClarke.
Peregrina-Kretz, D., Seifert, T., Arnold, C., & Burrow, J. (2018). Finding their way in post-secondary education: the power of peers as connectors, coaches, co-constructors and copycats. Higher Education Research & Development, 37(5), 1076-1090.
Seifert, T., Henry, J., & Peregrina-Kretz, D. (2014, July). Beyond ‘completion’: Student success is a process. SEM Quarterly, 2(2), 151–163. doi:10.1002/sem3.20042
At the beginning of 2020, Tricia Seifert, curator of the Supporting Student Success blog, asked: What are you doing in your practice that is interesting, innovative, or ground-breaking? How have you partnered with students? What have you done that missed the mark and you used the set-back to learn and move forward? David Ip Yam, from York University, shares his experience below.
What’s your institution’s innovation strategy and where do you fit? How and with whom will you collaborate? How will you balance students’ needs with the postsecondary systems’ needs and resources? What methods will you use?
These are some of the questions I wrestle with daily in my role as Director, Student Service Excellence at York University in Toronto, Canada. A few months into this job, it became clear that co-creating with students is a no-brainer for my primary initiatives. But in my experience, it’s not been simple.
Read on to learn about some of the practices that seem to be working. I’ll also share some of the challenges encountered and lessons learned about co-creating services with students.
1) Co-design with students
The service excellence program that I’m responsible for is about ensuring that we have the culture, capabilities and systems to deliver the highest level of service to students and the York community. We could attempt to design this program ourselves as a leadership team or as a staff team. Instead, we’re choosing to co-design with students by drawing on human centered design and design thinking methodology.
Understanding student needs and pain points
Early on, we formed a student experience design team to lead a stream of the project and to participate in a diary study. Over a period of three months, one group of students submitted diaries documenting their experiences with various services while the other group interviewed students at large about their service experiences. In the end, we collected about one hundred specific student experiences with our services.
Meanwhile, we formed a staff working group to lead a parallel study across the portfolio of over four hundred student services staff members.
Creating spaces for staff and student collaboration
From there, we invited the same students and staff to interpret the stories, identify themes, and draw out the student needs and pain points. Finally, a student skillfully analyzed the totality of the data collected from students and staff. From the data, the student developed a set of agreed upon principles that characterize the desired future-state student and staff service experience. Service experience principles serve as a foundation for service excellence when they are modeled and embedded. The diary studies and the co-creative spaces proved to be effective data collection mechanisms for developing the student and staff experience principles. Continuing the collaboration, these same students are engaged in reflecting our principles into actual service enhancements.
Potential challenges with co-design
Human-centered design may fly in the face of established bureaucratic and organizational norms. Many professionals are familiar with design workshops. They think of post-its, sharpies, and collaborative ideation alongside users (e.g. students). The ideas and energy generated from these workshops are seductive but only represent a fraction of the work involved in a co-creative process. Trust me, I wish that’s all there was to it!
As you can see from this design-thinking framework from the Nielsen Norman Group, the flow is meant to be iterative, cyclical and user-centered (e.g. students).
Design thinking is used to innovate and transform, is done over time, and requires a balance between adopting the perspective of the user and the postsecondary system as a whole. In Design at Work, Dunne calls these the tensions of inclusion, disruption and perspective.
The implementation of such “design thinking” is rarely accomplished in a day.
It’s essential that your user-group (e.g. students) see the value in being involved and are offered multiple avenues to engage. It’s equally important that your senior leadership team chooses to champion and invest in long-term resources to sustain such a program and shift in work. Thankfully, mine have been supportive.
2) Be agile and responsive to student desires
The other initiative I’m responsible for is to work with a brilliant team at York and at IBM to build and launch a student virtual assistant. The potential to elevate student satisfaction, engagement and outcomes through a smart virtual assistant is exciting…and daunting. From the beginning, we’ve tried to implement a project plan that is structured, yet agile, and responsive to student desires.
Responding to student desires
Before it was a student virtual assistant, it was just an idea. The hope was to leverage artificial intelligence to enhance student experiences and outcomes. Instead of jumping to the solution, we sought to understand the problem from students’ perspectives.
We asked students to tell us what they needed through design thinking sessions. Based on their desires and our feasibility and viability analysis, it was determined that we would start by creating a student virtual assistant. Throughout our rapid building period, we periodically went back to students to test whether we “got it right”. Sometimes we didn’t, but in a responsive environment, we want to ensure that we aren’t building based on our assumptions of students’ desires.
Using an agile approach
After the testing period, we launched a proof of concept in which we engaged 100+ students for 12 weeks to help the student virtual assistant get better and better at responding to inquiries. Through incremental and iterative sequences (known as sprints), our team made daily tweaks, changes and improvements to the virtual assistant.
After a successful proof-of-concept, we launched the student virtual assistant to a wider segment of the undergraduate population. Yet again, in an effort to be responsive and enable a degree of agility and responsiveness, we launched it in BETA mode with built-in mechanisms for students to give feedback about the content. Students are showing us where to take their virtual assistant next.
Potential challenges with an agile and responsive (student) service design approach
In my experience, agile and responsive service design is resource intensive. I’ve found that it’s important for the project team and senior leadership to clearly articulate the problem to solved, the opportunity to be had, the scope of the proposed solution, and the resources required (including from
Concluding thoughts about co-creating with students
While co-creating doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to meet everyone’s expectations, our student participants have voiced that they feel more connected to the institution. Moreover, they’re demonstrating leadership, communication, information management, thinking and problem solving skills. In time, we’ll all benefit from the ultimate outcomes of this co-creative journey. For now, here are some student impressions of co-creating WITH us:
“It’s so rare to be asked what WE want, beyond a survey here and there. This [initiative] goes even further and asks us to literally be a part of designing the solutions from the ground up.” – Student involved in the service excellence initiative
“Opportunities like this support students as they become leaders and guide students to think beyond their own experience to the experiences of those who will attend York in the years ahead.” – Student involved in the service excellence initiative
“Being able to be a part of a group that is shaping something that will be so integral to the student experience is such an amazing opportunity.” – Student involved in the student virtual assistant proof of concept
Personally, I think the only thing that co-creation guarantees is learning (for individuals and for the organization). In my case, learning has been about being able to plan, act, and learn all at the same time, to embrace failure and ambiguity, and to use/encourage adaptive forms of leadership. I think this is helping me to be a better higher education contributor.
Now it’s your turn to share, how will you (or do you) co-create with students?
I’d love to hear from you @DavidIpYam on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. If you’re interested in student success, check out my podcast, the Student Success Exchange.
Thanks for reading.
David Ip Yam is a higher education professional and leadership educator. You can learn more about David and his work atdavidipyam.com