Administrative Planning for Student Success during a Pandemic …

By Dr. Krista Vogt

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.

The talking between campuses is non-stop. What are you doing? What is your plan?

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.

Illustration by Paru Ramesh

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.

How do distance learners connect?
Credit: Adobe Stock: rocketclips

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

Beyond access: Turning every day engagements into life-changing opportunities for students in transition

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.

The University of the Witwatersrand, Campus East. (Photo by Shivan Parushath.)

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.

Wits first-year student during orientation week. (Photo by Wits University.)

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.

Whole-class Interventions

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 2020 retreat will include playing the higher education simulation and transition board game, Success Prints Crash Course®.

Mental Health and Wellness

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.  

Reflection

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.

2020 – Time to Reflect and Grow

There is something powerful about not only starting a new year but a new decade. At times like these, it seems important to pause and reflect over the past 10 years, knowing it will likely bring up a full range of emotions. There were invariably times when you hit it out of the park this decade but there has certainly been a couple of times when you missed the mark. It’s okay; this is true of everyone. Reflection provides a space to see the decade in rear view and a vantage point to glimpse the future.  

Reflecting on the Supporting Student Success project

2010 was the year that the Supporting Student Success project began. Phase 1 of the project was a multi-institutional study located in Ontario, Canada in which we drove thousands of kilometers talking to student affairs and services staff members from 9 universities and 5 colleges about their perceptions of how their campus support student success. Like any good research study, we learned we had as many questions at the conclusion as we had at the start.

From 2010-2015, the project expanded from focus groups and interviews with students, staff and faculty (Phase 2), to a mixed-methods data collection with a large scale survey component, with versions in English and French (Phase 3). We expanded our sample from 1 province to 17 universities and 7 colleges across 7 provinces. You can learn more about the project’s progression here.  

At the end of the day, three points stand out as central to the project’s findings. These are:

  1. You can’t refer to what you don’t know. People refer students to campus resources only when they are aware of these programs and services themselves. Breaking down silos creates awareness which is necessary for supporting student success.
  2. The message matters! If faculty and staff hear consistently that supporting student success is their responsibility and they are encouraged to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with student success in mind, they are far more likely to do so.
  3. Students are our partners. They are the ‘go-to’ for their peers when needing someone them to coach them through a tough course or someone in whom they can confide. Moreover, students have some of the hands-down BEST ideas for supporting student success and they often construct these services either on their own or co-construct with staff and faculty.

In the last decade, this team has seen 5 PhDs and 3 master’s students graduate (one has returned to pursue doctoral study) with another doctoral candidate actively dissertating. From the desert of California to the rocky shore of St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the coming year these team members will share how their experience on the research project continues to inform their work.

Launching “Blueprints for Student Success”

Throughout the project, we wanted to share what we learned directly with students. We coined the outreach part of the project “Blueprints for Student Success” as we had heard countless students comment that they wanted to draft their unique blueprint to be successful in higher education but did not always know how to do so. Under the leadership and creative vision of Christine Arnold, we launched the www.blueprintsforstudentsuccess.com website in 2014. But websites are only useful if they are used. So we partnered with the Pathways to Education program in Toronto and led interactive workshops with high school students involved in their summer programming. We developed a scavenger hunt game to help students learn how to navigate higher education’s hidden curriculum.

This was the team’s first foray into using games to familiarize students with situations that often arise during the first year in college or university. When students were turned loose with a bit of competition in the air, we saw something magical take place. Students engaged; they raced against the other teams to be the first to complete the scavenger hunt. They wanted to win but were keen to share how they resolved the challenge and what they learned in the process.

We knew we were onto something. Not another lecture with a talking head or even a panel of animated presenters, games are where it’s at in preparing students for the transition to post-secondary education. Game development has continued and in October 2019, we launched Success Prints Crash Course®, the higher education simulation board game.

Looking to the Future

We have presented annually at the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) and often at other conferences in Canada and internationally. We have published peer-reviewed journal articles and practitioner-focused magazine pieces. Learn more about our published work here.

From the beginning, this research was about informing and improving institutional practice. We couldn’t achieve that goal if the findings and their implications for our everyday work was hidden behind a paywall of expensive journals or at a conference where only those with professional development funds could attend. We launched this blog and started using social media (check us out on Facebook (Supporting Student Success) or Twitter (@CdnStdntSuccess) to ensure that the research was accessible, easily searchable and useable for anyone from anywhere. Across these channels, over 5000 people from around the world follow the project.

What began as a means to share findings from a single research project has become a virtual space in which we highlight the great work of people worldwide who are helping students realize their academic and personal goals. We’ve shared lessons from a ‘one-stop shop’ in Mexico and widening participation work with secondary students in England and Australia. We’ve published posts on innovative ways campuses have engaged with issues of obtaining consent and preventing sexual violence and indigenizing their approaches to student success. We are excited to bring this kind of learning from the field to your feed or inbox. 

Looking to 2020 and beyond, we will continue to share findings from the Supporting Student Success research project, but the blog is pivoting to become THE space where folks from around the world share what worked really well and was a ‘hit’ as well as what missed the mark. In either situation, we want to learn from each other’s experience — together. 

We know there is a need for such a space in the international student affairs and services community. People, worldwide, are innovating in how they support students to realize personal and academic goals. This work doesn’t always conform to the requirements of an academic research journal article. Sometimes it is best conveyed as a short blog post, an infographic, or a video. Or something else entirely.

The Supporting Student Success blog is the place to share, leave a comment, ask a question, and most importantly learn in our global community of practice.  With that in mind, do you have something you would like to share? If so, please contact Tricia.Seifert@montana.edu to discuss your idea and the process for publication. We look forward to hearing from you.

Tricia Seifert is a student success innovator, researcher, writer, and speaker. She is Principal Investigator on the Supporting Student Success project and curates this blog. She is on the Adult & Higher Education faculty at Montana State University and collaborates with students and colleagues in Canada and around the world on student success initiatives and research.

Widening Participation to University – Aussie style

By: Samantha Avitaia – Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus

In the Bega Valley on the south-east coast of Australia, less than 15% of people have a University qualification as opposed to 42% in major Australian cities (ABS Census data 2016).

Since 2011, the Outreach and Pathways Unit at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia has worked in partnership with the Department of Education (DoE) NSW, the Catholic Education Office (CEO) in Wollongong, Canberra and Goulburn and local school partners to ensure that individuals from our local community, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to access higher education. Our work is enriched through these partnerships and through engagement with individuals in schools and communities, enabling us to effectively implement age appropriate activities to build their awareness of higher education and develop children’s skills and knowledge to help them gain entry.

The UOW regional campus in Bega NSW is a very small rural university campus with under 200 students enrolled and a student body made up largely of non-“traditional” students including low socio-economic background, Indigenous, mature-age and students who are also family carers.

Despite, or perhaps rather because of these challenges, our little campus manages to run school outreach programs with over 1600 students per year in our rural areas to encourage participation in Higher Education. Ranging from Primary School Year 6 students to those in their final Years of High School, all of our programs are mentor led by current rural university students, sharing their challenges, fears and joys about Higher Education to those who attended the same schools.

We also host free purpose-built bridging programs alongside vocational education providers to encourage mature-age students to continue their vocational education onto university.

Our programs include:

Year 6 In2Uni

Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus day at their local UOW campus, the Kids In2Uni Program aims to help students begin building a positive and lasting connection with university. Students and parents participate in taster sessions, run by UOW faculties, career discovery activities, and toured the campus with current university mentors. This program introduces Year 6 students to the idea of higher education beyond school and starts conversations about their future career paths and options.
Year 6 students engaged with In2Uni activities.
Year 6 Kids In2Uni

Year 8 Future Me

Delivered in schools by In2Uni Mentors, the three-hour workshops consist of students being introduced to the language of higher education, and recognising the links between their own interests, curriculum and study options after high school that could lead to potential careers.The workshops culminate in students developing short and long-term goals for their academic study, and they were provided with a suite of additional resources to utilise throughout their high school progression.

Year 8 students in the Future Me program pose for a group photo.
Year 8 Future Me

Year 10 Future Finder

Through a range of higher education taster sessions (including university and vocational options), and participation in goal setting activities, students gained a taste of what it is like to engage in post-school study and explore potential future careers. Consisting of a teacher-delivered module and an on-campus event day for Year 10 students, the Future Finder Program is designed to help better inform students during their senior high school subject decision process.
Year 10 students engage in vocation/career exploration activities
Year 10 Future Finder

Year 11 HSC (Higher School Certificate) Bootcamps

This program was designed to give students an insight into the HSC and help to prepare them for their senior studies. The program was delivered by current university students who have recently completed and been successful in their HSC, and who have previously attended a local high school. The program focuses on tips for approaching the HSC, soft study skills and what students could expect over the coming 18 months. The topics covered in the workshop included exam preparation, goal setting, decision making, note taking, and how to build a positive learner identity.

Year 11 Higher School Certificate (HSC) Bootcamp participants.
Year 11 HSC Bootcamp participants

Indigenous Careers Program

This is a collaborative program run by Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students from university, TAFE (Technical and Further Education) Vocational Education and AIME (the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience). Aimed at providing personalised career and education pathway advice and support to local Indigenous students, information and support includes; Career exploration, TAFE and University entry options and scholarship information, apprenticeship and traineeship advice. Indigenous presenters from local industries are also invited to share their career stories and progression. The program is interwoven with personal stories and artwork.

Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.
Students taking part in the Indigenous Careers Program.

Year 12 University Preparation Program

Run over two school terms, the University Preparation Program (UPP) provides Year 12 students with the opportunity to improve their HSC study skills through tailored study sessions with trained In2Uni mentors. Students who participated in the UPP attend on-campus study centres each week for 90 minutes. During these sessions, students receive transition advice, support in applying for Early Admissions at UOW, and discuss post-high school options. Designed for students who are unclear about their higher education pathway, the UPP aims to give students a taste of what university life is like, and support their aspirations as they consider their career pathways.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.
Year 12 UPP students pose for a group photo.

Pathways to Higher Education

The Pathways to Higher Education Program aims to increase the awareness of pathways options and attainment of individuals to access higher education. Designed to improve the participation of low SES, mature-aged, and Indigenous people in higher education, particularly targeting non-school leavers, the Pathways to Higher Education Program provides an opportunity for individuals to increase their employment outcomes by offering them tangible information, opportunities and pathways to access higher education.This is achieved through: Building awareness and opportunities to access pathways to higher education through Vocational qualifications; Providing access to sponsorship; and Offering a Bridging Program to assist students’ transition to higher education.

Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.
Pathways to Higher Education students relax on campus.

Gaming to Uni

I first met Tricia Seifert at the 2018 ISFIRE – International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education in Montana and was immediately taken by the Success Prints Crash Course board game as a fabulous tool for demystifying university for school and first-year university students alike. Despite our geographical and cultural differences, we are doing very similar work on opposite sides of the globe.

We have formed a connection along with University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and are now testing the game in our rural locations, contextualizing the play and scenarios in partnership with our students. I am very excited to be working on this project and look forward to seeing what the Australian version of Success Prints Crash Course becomes and how it complements our widening participation efforts.

Samantha Avitaia is the Manager, University of Wollongong Bega Campus.

Enabling Excellence through Equity: Lessons Learned

By: Tricia Seifert

The image conveys moving from one water-based space to another. On the left is a picture of a rushing waterfall; on the right, waves washing up on the beach.

At the closure of the “Enabling Excellence through Equity” conference, the presenter shared the famous Winnie the Pooh quote from A.A. Milne in the right-hand photo above; “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come find you. You have to go to them sometimes.” I left the waterfalls, forests, and mountains of Montana to look up at the red bellied black snake hillside of the Woolyungah (the five islands), nestling my toes in the sand on the beach in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia. This wasn’t vacation — I was at a conference — but when people push your thinking and share ideas that ignite your imagination, it is a creative, generative holiday.

I spend the last week discussing how higher education can:

  • Widen participation from equity groups (Indigenous students; students from a Non-English speaking background; students with a disability; students from low SES backgrounds; regional and remote students)
  • Partner with schools, families, and communities to foster a higher education-going culture
  • Encourage and support students to see themselves as ‘uni material’ and develop necessary skills through robust enabling programs
  • Assist students as they transition to higher education and then as they enter the workforce

These were the central streams of the conference presented by the Equity Practitioners in Higher Education Australasia (@TherealEPHEA) and National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia. I am so thankful for the opportunity to leave my forest and learn from others in theirs. I wish to share some of what I take-away from the experience.

Take-Away #1: Widening participation in higher education is no longer a social justice imperative but an economic one.

Jobs of the future will require higher-order, complex, and critical thinking skills. There is a raft of evidence to this fact. I often cite the Center for Education and the Workforce report detailing the need for education beyond a school credential / high school diploma. But I was fascinated to learn of the 2019 study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics that found:

“social inclusion plays a critical role in lifting Australia’s living standards through increased productivity in the workplace, improved employment and health outcomes, reducing the cost of social services and by spreading the benefits of economic growth across society.”

Although I find it highly unfortunate that widening educational opportunity to groups historically under-served by higher education requires an economic justification to motivate policymakers to take action, I was excited to learn of the government provided Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program funding and support of the National Center for Student Equity in Higher Education (@NCSEHE). At a time when the government has re-instituted caps on the overall number of places for university study, HEPPP funding is not a panacea. That said, I applaud the overt support of efforts to bring higher education into schools and bridge what is often two silos.

Take-Away #2: Language is power; how we convey an idea has reverberating repercussions.  

This is the time in the conference where I had to do the most cross-cultural decoding of meaning. The conference organizer welcomed delegates by telling her personal story of higher education and shared she started her higher education journey through an ‘enabling program’. I was fortunate to have my friend and colleague, Sam Avitaia from the University of Wollongong-Bega, as my cultural translator and I asked her at morning tea what is enabling education.

As I grappled to understand this new concept, I kept looking for the American equivalent. In some ways, it may be akin to what we call ‘remedial education,’ which in its most generous term is referred to as ‘developmental education’. But here’s the distinction, remedial/developmental education is predicated on what students lack. There is something deficient about the students’ preparation and the university is called upon to fill in the deficiency.

After attending several enabling sessions at the conference, I came to understand that ‘enabling education’ comes from a different starting place. Rather than situating the student as deficient and in need of remediation, the student is seen as completely whole, with promise, potential, and capacity. The enabling education program is designed to assist students in calling upon their strengths in realizing their goals.

Dr. Leanne Holt, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy) at Macquarie University, also drove home the point of language. She shared how she was “not keen on support” and called on the delegates to re-frame their work as ‘student success.’ Again, ‘support’ as a noun suggests what students lack; what the university must shore up. ‘Success’ recognizes students’ capacities and strengths and places universities in the role of developing, fostering, enhancing, ‘supporting’ student capacity toward success.

Take-Away #3: Make the implicit, explicit. Decode the hidden curriculum

Sally Kift (@KiftSally) kicked off the conference with the opening keynote. It was a policy and practice Tour de Force. Amidst my furious writing of policy documents to download, she returned over and over to the fact that First Year Experience 3.0 must be whole-of-institution, shared responsibility for “transition pedagogy” (Kift, Nelson & Clarke, 2010).

Too often, students are left to arrive at university with their secret decoder ring to make sense of higher education’s ‘hidden curriculum’. However, for those who are First in Family (or first generation) to attend higher education, they have no such ring. These students must figure out #HowToUni (my favorite hashtag of the whole conference) on their own. Not only is this expectation of first-year students unfair, it is quite simply, wholly inequitable.

Drawing and extending from Dr. Kift’s presentation, I offer the following. If we are to realize the promise of widening participation, institutions must:

  1. Manage the transition by unpacking the hidden roles and inviting students to conceive of their own vision of success
  2. Acknowledge the diversity of its entering/commencing students and recognize these students come with different forms of capital that must be engaged as students master their new ‘student role’
  3. Design curricula with intention. Imagine curricula that was coherent, scaffolded, relevant, and organized in such a way that students received timely feedback on their performance. If higher education academic and professional staff purport to have this expertise, then students rightfully should expect them to employ it effectively.
  4. Create curricula that call on students to be teachers and learners with peers, academic and professional staff, industry, and with their families & communities. Learning is a social enterprise. We teach when we are engaged with another. We learn, similarly, in community.

As I reflect on an amazing conference, I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared and learned with equity and enabling practitioners and researchers from across Australasia. I come back to the Maori phrase written three times in my journal:

he tangata       he tangata       he tangata – it is people.

‘It is people’ (he tangata) is the answer to “what is the most important thing?” It is people who have spurred me to cultivate a rich sense of curiosity and inquiry. It is people, their possibilities and promise, that move me to teach.

Tricia Seifert is Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University and Associate Professor in the Adult & Higher Education program. She also curates the Supporting Student Success blog. If you wish to guest write for the blog, please leave a comment below, tweet @TriciaSeifert, or email tricia.seifert@montana.edu.

Do Something that Scares You

We invited contributors to share a promising practice or innovation they are testing in their work with students. In the post below, Tricia Seifert shares the process of creating a game to assist students in the transition to post-secondary education.

A friend’s advice: Do something that scares you. For some, launching into space is scary. For others, writing for a professional audience is scary. Writing scholarly and practitioner-oriented journal articles and blog posts from a decade’s research from the Supporting Student Success and Blueprints for Student Success projects didn’t scare me. I’m an academic; writing is what I’m trained to do.

Launching my research into a totally different orbit, now that is scary. Check it out here.

Success Prints Crash Course is launching. Check us out here.

It began by creating a board game, Success Prints Crash Course, which incorporates findings from a decade of my research conducted across North America. Designed to help students transition to higher education, I found the process of developing the board game exciting, exhilarating even. My creative energies were on fire. Rather than writing about the findings from my college impact and student success research, I was re-presenting, re-fashioning the implications directly for the people the research was intended to help, students and those invested in their success.

I have found so much joy in developing Success Prints Crash Course for students, with students. Not long ago, the Magic Sail Games team (Branson Faustini, Waylon Roberts, and Austin Boutin) confronted higher education’s hidden curriculum themselves. They brought this student perspective to the game’s central challenge: managing time to maximize academic performance and social connections while managing stress, earning enough money to pay tuition, and rolling with life’s unforeseen events.

Bran and Waylon with the first game prototype on the first 1000 mile road trip around Montana.

For the last 18 months, we’ve designed, played, iterated, and played some more. I’ve presented at 8 state, national, and international conferences; run 100+ play test sessions; and traveled 10,000 miles to share the game with students, parents, teachers, counselors, and higher education professionals.

None of this scared me.

What scared me was how to respond to the inevitable question at the end of a test play or conference session: how do I get a copy of the game?

I didn’t have an answer. I had been traveling with 2 prototype copies in the trunk of my car or on a plane. I didn’t know how to go from 2 games boards to 2000. I knew nothing about game manufacturing or how products are brought to market.

But I knew I had to push beyond my comfort zone if the game was to reach its potential and intended audience. I had heard high school students like the ones in rural Montana exclaim the game helped them realize they could ‘do college.’ I had played with first generation students, huddled around a game board during orientation, testing out their time management strategy. I had shared the game with higher education faculty and staff who emphatically stated how much they wished such a game existed when they were in school. It was from this group that I imagined how valuable the game could be for new faculty (or even better, tenured faculty) to understand the many demands today’s students balance.

How was I going to go from 2 game boards to 2000? There was a clear answer; I had to start a small business. I needed to source game manufacturers. I had to create a website to sell the game. I had to learn all the back-end business functions from shipping to search engine optimization.

This scared me. I am an academic after all.

I created Success Prints, LLC because it allows me to get my research into the hands of the people who can benefit from what I’ve learned in a form that will resonate with them, a game. Success Prints Crash Course is for students, parents, teachers, counselors, and higher education faculty and staff. Some call this ‘knowledge dissemination’ — I am disseminating in new and innovative ways what I’ve learned from talking to hundreds of students, staff, and faculty in both high schools and higher education institutions about students’ questions and concerns and the support needed to promote their success.

The website is now live and people can purchase copies of Success Prints Crash Course for their classrooms, residence hall lounges, or dining room tables. We are able to ship to Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the UK — — all countries where students are playing prototype versions. I invite you to check us out: https://successprints.shop/

It’s been a crazy road and it’s just the beginning. I feel better knowing as I get more comfortable, it will scare me less. In many ways, I feel like the first-year student who has pulled up outside of the residence hall and is unpacking to begin their post-secondary journey. They are scared and the idea of leaving home and starting in a new world feels uncomfortable. But if they can just hang in through the first two weeks, they will find the rhythm and flow. Their discomfort begins to shrink and their comfort zone grows.

Here’s to doing something that scares you and growing in the process. Here’s to harnessing the power of games to teach students in fun and engaging ways.

Dr. Tricia Seifert is Associate Professor of Adult & Higher Education and Head of the Department of Education at Montana State University. She is also a game designer and student success innovator. You can follow the trajectory of the Success Prints Crash Course game @TriciaSeifert and @_blueprints on Twitter; @blueprints4success on Instagram; and Blueprints for Student Success – Montana on Facebook.

Sharing Practice from Around the World

By: Tricia Seifert, curator of the Supporting Student Success blog

As times change, the purpose of some things change as well. This blog was originally created as a place to share findings from the Supporting Student Success research project, a multi-institutional mixed methods study that sought to understand how colleges and universities across Canada organized and cultivated a culture to support student success on campus. Information about the study remains on the website. There are tabs detailing the different phases of the project, the surveys we designed, the presentations and publications that have derived from the work, and the amazing team that made it happen.

Although we continue to publish from the Supporting Student Success project, the blog has become a place for practitioners from around the world to share promising practices that are improving their work and their ability to support students to achieve their personal and academic goals. In 2019, we published posts from scholarly practitioners in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with a post from Australia in the wings. Blog viewers come from over 50 countries including Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Philippines, South Africa, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.

Gall-Peters map. Image by Daniel R. Streve.

Recently, I was on a call with people involved in student affairs and services from around the world. We were discussing the avenues by which we could learn from the good work being done internationally. We identified the many wonderful venues that publish research studies on student affairs and services and their contributions to student learning and development. These include the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, Journal of Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association, Journal of College Student Development, Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, and the Journal of Student Affairs in Africa. But we were thinking about how we might share and learn from international colleagues in a way that is less formal than a standard research article.

I think the Supporting Student Success blog could be one place. With a post in January 2019 detailing how one university in Mexico created a one-stop shop for student services to a recent post from a Canadian university describing holistic supports for indigenous students studying Science Mathematics Technology and Engineering disciplines, the Supporting Student Success blog has provided a forum to share and learn from others.

So today, I invite you to give some thought as to what you are doing in your work that is interesting and innovative. What would you like to share with the 3,680 (and counting) Supporting Student Success blog followers? And let me ask this question on the flip side: what would you like to learn from others? Please take 2 minutes to “leave a reply” and answer one or both of these questions. If you have something to share in the form of a future blog post, please leave your contact information so I may follow up with or you can reach me directly at tricia.seifert@montana.edu.

Our readers look forward to hearing from you.

For map enthusiasts, the image at the top of the page is a representation of the Sinu-Mollweide map created by Allen K. Philbrick in 1953. These images were taken from the Future Mapping Company website.