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  • Three women are looking at a laptop computer screen. Two are seated at a desk while the third is standing.

    Taking a Proactive and Positive Approach with Students about Academic Dishonesty

    By Jessica Bernards and Wendy Fresh

    As educators, one of the biggest issues we have recently had to tackle in our classrooms is the increase in academic misconduct. At our college, there was a 703% increase in academic misconduct reports from Winter 2020 to Winter 2021. Additionally, there has been a tremendous rise in ed tech companies that flourished during the pandemic. We feel like every time we look in the app store, a new “math solver” app appears. As educators, we can’t even keep up!

    In a presentation with Pearson Senior Learning Designer Dr. Elaine W. Tan we discussed specific strategies to be proactive with students about academic integrity. One of those strategies was to introduce academic integrity at the beginning of the term. This proactive approach from day 1 has really made a difference in our classes. In this post, we will go into more specifics.

    Define academic misconduct in your syllabus

    It’s important to define different forms of cheating and why they’re problematic. It’s equally important to state the value of academic integrity for learning. Many students might not see a given behavior as cheating until you tell them. In fact, in a College Pulse study1, students were asked how acceptable or unacceptable it is to Google homework questions to find the answers and use study websites to find answers to test or homework questions. Over 50% of the respondents said it was acceptable to Google homework questions and 44% said it was acceptable to use study websites to find answers to test or homework questions.

    A syllabus statement about academic integrity, including a link to your institution’s student code of conduct, is an important first step to making sure your students are all on the same page. See the wording that we include in our syllabus.

    Discuss academic integrity early

    Dr. Tan’s research2 found that most students don’t find cheating a problem, with only 15% saying they are very or extremely concerned about contract cheating. This may be because instructor’s aren’t talking about it. Only 1 in 5 students had instructors that discussed that cheating was problematic. Those are alarming statistics, and a good reason why it’s so important to begin the conversation early.

    One way to begin that conversation is by setting aside time in the first two weeks of class to show them a video covering academic integrity. Presented in an engaging way, a video like this gets the students’ attention and is more effective than lecturing them. You can also find a math-specific academic integrity video in the MyLab® Math shell for our textbooks Precalculus: A Right Triangle Approach, 5th Edition & Precalculus: A Unit Circle Approach, 4th Edition.

    Build connections with students

    More findings from Dr. Tan’s research show that one of the reasons students turn to academic dishonesty is because they feel a lack of personal connection, or a sense that instructors don’t know or care about them. This can be especially true with online learning and the isolation brought on by disruptions to learning over the last few years. We can address this proactively by creating a connection within the first days of class.

    Something we started doing this past year is having a required 10-minute one-on-one meeting with each student within the first two weeks of the term. Within that meeting, we communicate to them that we are invested in their success and how the course material can help them achieve their real-life goals. We also talk about academic integrity with them. Get the template email we send out to our classes.

    Set clear, specific instructions

    Have clear and specific rules and instructions for assignments and exams so students know what is ok to use and what is not. This even comes down to stating “you cannot use the solve feature on the calculator to get the answer.”

    One of the things we do is use an exam policy checklist that students have to complete before they’re able to take their test. This checklist states which resources are allowed and which are not, links to the student code of conduct, and clearly lays out the consequences for an academic misconduct violation. View our exam policy checklist.

    By bringing in these strategies at the beginning of the term, we have found that the number of academic misconduct issues in our courses has decreased dramatically. Although academic dishonesty may never fully go away, it is important to talk about and provide students with the education to improve their actions.

    Dive deeper

    Watch the full presentation, Proactive and Positive Ways to Engage Students about Academic Integrity.

    Get sample documents for communicating with your students about academic dishonesty


    Sources

    1. Academic Integrity. (2021). College Pulse.

    2. Bakken, S., Tan, E. W. & Wood, A. (2021). A Research Review on Student Cheating. Pearson Learning & Research Design.

  • A woman with short hair and glasses sits at a desk smiling at a laptop. Behind her are shelves of books and decorative items and a glass wall to the outdoors.

    End of term: Tweaking your course for next term

    By Dr. Terri Moore

    Many of you may be experiencing those end-of-term emotions ranging from relief to exhaustion. On top of all the final grades and last-minute faculty duties, it’s time to think about the next term’s classes, whether that’s a short summer session or getting a jump on Fall class designs.

    Course review

    If you’re a Revel® user, I suggest you examine your aggregate class data from the easy-to-access dashboard view before automatically copying the current course into the next term’s course shells. The dashboard view gives you a wealth of actionable data.

    The Revel dashboard is a completely different tool for analytics than I have ever used in terms of providing numbers that reflect what was working and what needed improvement. The data helped to inform my decisions about the efficacy of the current course and implied changes I could make to the current design to increase students’ engagement and content proficiency next term. Let’s walk through what I found most helpful.

    Educator Dashboard insights

    The Revel Educator Dashboard provides a great deal of information in the following areas:

    • aggregated class data for a view of overall performance
    • score details to see class performance on each type of assessment assigned
    • struggling and low performing student gauges for quick identification and communication
    • assignments with due dates as well as additional details, including challenging items
    • settings tab showing assessment types and ways to improve the course design

    Assessment data

    When reviewing the assessment data, I ask myself if there are any settings or scoring policies that I might change to increase both engagement and comprehension.

    The view score details section provides aggregate scores for students on each type of assessment assigned, allowing me to note assessment types that received low scores. This can indicate a lack of understanding or a lack of participation. By drilling into the details of some assessment types within the assignment view of the grades section, I might see a lack of participation rather than low scores. This could indicate I should assign greater value for these types of assessments if I feel they are sound activities for students to become proficient with the content.

    Increasing the weight of certain assessments might incentivize students to complete them. Or, by allowing fewer attempts for the Revel module or chapter quizzes, students may be less likely to complete the quizzes without fully understanding the concepts they should have read before taking the quiz.

    You might choose to exclude certain types of assessments next term if you feel the value is less than you wish for students to expend energy and time completing. In that manner, you might increase compliance on the assessments you feel are more robust in helping students acquire the knowledge needed to become proficient in your courses’ required outcomes.

    I acted weekly based on the struggling and low activity student gauges by sending a brief email to those students and it made a dramatic difference in my classes, both face to face and online. For three years I conducted my own efficacy study by examining the effect of using this intervention strategy with my low-performing students. I opened the dashboard view early Monday mornings after the Sunday due dates and dropped each student an email stating I noticed they were having some issues in completing their work in Revel the previous week. I would tell them to contact me if I could be of assistance with anything.

    This simple, very quick intervention was so telling during COVID-19 when students would email me back and share things like they had little connectivity at home with four siblings using the same Wi-Fi, or they had lost their homes and were in the process of moving. Issues that I had no ability to resolve yet tugged at my heart. However, I could put skin on the computer by letting my students know I cared and connected with their struggles. Even if the student was simply slacking, they knew I was an active presence in the online classroom. We know from research on distance learning that human connections between students and teachers, and between peers, are often the variable that increases persistence to completion.

    Over our three years of COVID-19 I have seen an increase of slightly more than 25% retention in my online classes and 13% in my face-to-face classes. Apparently, being engaged with the content outside of class was equally important as in-class presence.

    Deeper course analysis

    The next question I pose for myself relates to what I can change or renew for even greater success next term.

    When you scroll beneath the dashboard to the assignments and you see challenging items, this means there are questions on the quizzes that many of your students did not answer correctly on the first quiz attempt. This could indicate the concept is difficult to grasp by simply reading the material.

    When you dig deeper, you can see the exact question/concept where students struggled. This information has prompted me to add some of my own content to the Revel material to increase students' understanding. For instance, with psychology, operant and classical conditioning are concepts often confusing for intro to psych students. I have added material in my LMS, class, or Revel by using the highlighting and sharing a note feature to increase students’ understanding of that difficult concept.

    I also like to look at overall trends in the term by scanning the dates, the scores, and the participation. This can inform me about seasonal changes in students’ performance such as midterm slump, spring break fever, or those times in any of our terms where students’ performance historically declines.

    Student engagement tactics

    Interventions to increase student engagement might include reducing the number of assessments or using more active engagement assessments, such as asking students to present or to work collaboratively to engage them more fully.

    If you go to the resources tab and open your book, you can select the section you found of challenging items. Highlight that section, add a note or even a URL to create an active link in your students’ notes. You could add a TED talk, or, as I did with my psychology students, a link to YouTube of The Big Bang Theory show where the actors are using operant and classical conditioning to train their significant others. When you share notes like this, the information appears in your students’ notebooks, and they can use your notes as study guides.

    Revel offers the right amount of actionable data for me to understand my students’ progress, their engagement, and where they experience challenging concepts. The platform also helps me improve my delivery, increase student success with Revel, and helps students become proficient in the learning outcomes.

  • Two women and a man are sitting at a table that holds a laptop computer, books, and a mug. They are looking at the screen and smiling.

    Harnessing the power of positivity in higher ed

    By Pearson

    There's a well-known quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking, that says, “Our happiness depends on the habit of mind we cultivate.” You’ve likely heard it — or some version of it — numerous times, and the reason for that is because it’s true. And this may be especially true of higher ed environments, where helping students cultivate successful habits and mindsets is top of mind for instructors.

    No one embodies this idea more than Dr. Nora Junaid, professor at the Isenberg School of Management at University of Massachusetts Amherst. In fact, everything Nora does seems to radiate positivity, which has been the guiding force behind her success as an instructor & mentor.

    Positivity starts with yourself

    When Nora joined the Isenberg School in 2016, she was handed two Introduction to Business Information Systems classes, with 220 students each. She got through the first semester without knowing exactly how to approach it.

    “I didn’t have a structure, I wasn’t sure about the software, I wasn’t sure about the book, and I didn’t feel that I had a good connection with the students,” she says.

    It was clear something needed to change. Nora spent every day of that first holiday break poring over the course, thinking of strategies to reorganize it and coordinate her TAs. By the time break was over, she’d revamped it entirely into something she felt would work much better for everyone, faculty and students alike. When she saw her evaluations after the second semester ended, they were up by at least 30% — a huge jump.

    The course quickly became very popular, and more courses were opened to meet demand. What started as two sections with 440 students has become 5 sections with around 900 students enrolled per semester.

    Building a positive team...

    With such an in-demand course, Nora can’t handle it alone. She manages 25 TAs, each of whom teaches a section, and three PhD students, and they all must be in sync so that every student gets the same positive teaching experience.

    Nora is quick to point out that fostering camaraderie, transparency, and positivity among her TAs is important to the success of the course and helps in mentoring and coaching her team. Using weekly meetings, online message chains, and other technology helps them stay on the same page and feel supported without demanding too much of their already busy schedules.

    “Most faculty fail to realize that these students have a life, they have courses, they have dissertations. I make sure I show them that I have their backs and that they’re appreciated. It makes them feel a step above being just an undergraduate student and helps them a lot.”

    ...building a positive community

    Creating a positive and supportive environment for 25 TAs is one thing; replicating that for 1,800 students a year takes something entirely different. Nora recognizes the special considerations needed to keep them motivated and engaged.

    Going into a lecture with 219 other students can be intimidating, exhausting, and de-motivating. There’s no guarantee the instructor will notice if you’re even there or not. To help build a more connected community, Nora again turned to technology.

    She developed her own app, Nora’s Corner, that students can download for free and get insights about everything that’s going on in the course, their TA’s contact information, and an open forum in which they can ask questions anonymously. She also created an Instagram account for the course — @excel.ninja — featuring her and the TAs answering questions & uploading lighthearted but still helpful posts.

    “We’re using technology to let students know that ‘Hey, we’re a community, we’ve got you — no one’s going to slip through the cracks.’ It’s a huge motivator for both students and TAs.”

    “We are changing students' lives”

    “I knew I was onto something,” Nora says. “After that first semester with the revamped course, I realized that being a lecturer was my passion. I didn’t want to apply for assistant professor positions, I just wanted to work on improving as a lecturer."

    The thing that really fuels her is seeing learners succeed because of a piece of information she shared or a skill that she taught them. Providing that influence and focusing on how to help students stay positive by using positive teaching strategies is one of her biggest drivers.

    “We are changing students’ lives. When they come into the classroom, there’s an ‘a-ha’ moment you can see in their eyes. No amount of research and no paper or journal publication can satisfy an instructor in that way,” she says.

    Nora admits that the idea of changing the world by changing students’ mindset sounds like a bit of an exaggeration. But when you're teaching and influencing 900 students a semester, and you can positively affect one thing in their thinking, then the scope of that change becomes very real.

  • Young girl on her laptop

    How to build long-term relationships that foster student success

    By Kristina Campbell

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Kristina Campbell 

    Coaching students isn’t just a job, it’s a two-way bond that helps students focus on their academic goals. It also gives the student support coaches a unique understanding of what students need to complete their online degrees or programs. And it affords institutions the ability to retain students who are tracking toward their goals. Kristina Campbell tells her story as a student support coach below.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    For me, it’s being with a student from start to finish. Nothing is more satisfying than being a part of the student’s process and hearing the excitement and joy they have upon their completion of the program. To be part of their celebration of a momentous achievement.

    What's it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?  

    Long term relationships are the most rewarding experience of being a coach. They give me a deeper and richer connection with the student. I even love going through those rough stages and gently pushing others when they feel that they can’t continue moving forward.

    Recently, I spoke with a student who is in their last semester. They told me that had I not given a gentle nudge the first week of class, they would’ve stopped and never reached their last semester. Students have told me they truly value the role of a coach; they’ve gone through programs before where coaching wasn’t provided and have felt the importance of having one in the programs we provide.

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners? 

    1. Good communication that goes beyond just talking. A coach needs to listen actively, provide helpful responses, and cultivate an atmosphere where students feel comfortable to speak.
    2. Empathy to understand that going through an educational program is not an easy feat. Students want to work with someone they believe will try to understand and show they care.
    3. Being supportive because everyone wants to be affirmed in their decisions. Coaches are part of the support system for a student.

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees? 

    Time management is one of the main concerns I hear from students when starting a program or when the tempo of the program changes due to course load. Students have several constants in their lives that take priority before everything else (i.e., family and work). School is a wonderful variable that they are throwing in the mix.

    I try to help students figure out how to balance school, work, home, and life. We work on finding ways to make time for learning, figuring out what needs to be adjusted or omitted in their schedule, and on making time for self-care.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs? 

    I try to keep learners engaged by calling them regularly, sending emails, and texting. I also send reminders, resources, and any aids or tools I can find regarding their courses.

    How do you coordinate with the university to support your students? 

    My team has a wonderful relationship with our school partner. We have been able to identify issues and bring them to the institution’s attention as needed.

    And, on multiple occasions, I’ve reached out to instructors to advocate or help a student succeed. I had one student who was diagnosed with a severe health condition. They were in the hospital and needed help to get extensions on their work. I was able to connect with the instructor to get resources to help the student complete the course.

  • Woman on her laptop

    Offering personalized advice — from someone who’s been there

    By Justin Tate

    Q&A with Senior Student Support Specialist Justin Tate

    If you're an online learner, it's great to know you can always turn to someone who’s been in your shoes, understands how challenging it can be — and knows you can succeed. Senior Student Support Specialist Justin Tate earned his own graduate degrees online. Now, drawing on that life-changing experience, he counsels other online graduate students on how to stick with the program, balance its demands, and make the most of the experience.

    What led you to become a coach?

    I grew up in a family where college was expected. There was never any doubt whether I would be getting a degree after high school. Unfortunately, when I got to the university, I realized my study habits weren’t as good as I thought. The workload was way more intense than I expected. It took me two years, and a few dropped classes, before I understood myself: how I learned, and how I needed to balance life, work, and education.

    By junior year, I was doing great. I even started working at the university Writing Center where I tutored other students on developing their essays. That’s where I first realized I enjoyed helping learners like me — those who had what it took to succeed, but needed to find their own strategy to get there.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    College is tough, especially if you're a working adult with many competing priorities. For me, grad school was an entirely different challenge from undergrad. In the long gap between, I developed professional skills and a greater sense of purpose in my life, but I also had more commitments beyond even a full-time job. My priorities and energy levels had changed so much it was like starting over. Again, it took a while to find a strategy that worked.

    It’s rewarding to support students through their challenges in class and in life, because I know how tempting it can be to give up. If I didn’t have someone to talk to — or people in my life who understood what I was feeling — it’s very possible I would have dropped out. My goal is to be that person you can call any time, who understands what it’s like, and can guide you through the difficult times.

    What is it like to work with a student from enrollment to graduation, and to watch them succeed academically?

    The path to graduation does not always run smooth. It’s great to maintain that relationship all the way through, because you have a greater understanding of individual situations and what approaches might work best on a personal level. I tend to get emotional every time a student graduates, because I know what it took for them to get there.

    What characteristics or skills do you need to coach adult learners well?

    Start by understanding that every adult learner is different. They have a wide variety of priorities, obligations, and challenges. The only way to understand the obstacles they may face is to take time to listen to what’s going on in their world. Once you build that relationship, it’s easier to offer support that is relevant to their unique situation.

    What are some of the main concerns students share, and how do you help them overcome those concerns?

    The most common concern is fear about how to find time for higher education. Adult learners balance a lot of big priorities. At first it can seem impossible to find time for them all. Helping them process each class, shift strategies, or find their own unique study style isn’t easy, but we try to get to that space as fast as possible.

    How does your coaching help learners stay engaged, so they don’t fall by the wayside?

    I’m always personally interested in how classes are going, what big assignments are coming up next, and the general feeling each student has about their experience. By talking through what’s going on in and outside of class, we can collaborate on strategies to help them become more efficient as a student and still get the most from their education.

    How do you work with the university to support students?

    As a support coach, I’m primarily focused on talking with students, learning about their challenges, and supporting them through times of stress. This includes navigating complicated university processes, registering for the correct courses, and connecting them with the appropriate financial resources, or other departments which are part of the college experience.

    As a coach, I collaborate closely with the university to share feedback from students, smoothly implement changes, and distribute information. Since I’m usually the first person to hear about a potential obstacle, I can easily pass that information along to the appropriate parties.

    It’s also common for faculty to reach out to me if there are students who could use some extra support, are lacking engagement, or could benefit from walking through resources. All this has retained learners who don’t just go through the motions, but actually feel a part of the program.

    Have you or your colleagues ever helped a university discover a problem sooner, so they could support their students more effectively?

    My goal is to be a neutral advocate for student learners. That means many students are comfortable sharing their honest perspectives on courses and university processes. This includes identifying clear frustrations about their experience, but also the things they love most. Sharing this feedback with the university has led to more efficient processes, improved curriculum, and innovation in the classroom.

    What new issues are you beginning to see now, as more learners come online, or move through and beyond the pandemic?

    The pandemic has impacted students in very different ways. Some mention they’re more motivated than ever, with fewer competing social obligations. Others feel additional stress, as they support family and their own mental health during difficult times. Almost everyone has been touched by it in some way, and a good week can easily turn bad. Planning ahead and making contingency plans are a big part of coaching conversations, so we can expect surprises and work through them together.  

  • Student with headphones in front of laptop computer, engaging in conversation

    Raise retention rates with student support services

    By Nisha Khan

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Nisha Khan

    Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults highly focused on careers. They worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.

    Student Support Coach Nisha Khan works with learners in MBA programs to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:

    Why did you become a student support services coach?

    I was with a cosmetics company for 3 years where I worked my way up to a services coordinator. I already had the customer service skills — active listening and the ability to offer quick solutions. I knew that I wanted to help people and continue to build strong relationships. When I saw the job description for the student services specialist, I knew this would be the perfect role for me!

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    It is a joy to work with the same population and have the same group of students for years at a time. You really get to know a lot about each student as an individual, but also learn a lot of insights about the program that, as a coach, you might not have the opportunity to experience.

    What it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    It's truly so special to be part of a student’s life during their studies. You get to watch them from the start, when they are the most passionate and excited to start their degree, through the ups and down of an MBA, and come out the other side to graduate.

    We learn a lot about students through proactive outreach. You could be calling a student to simply check in, and they will share that they are nervous to take the upcoming accounting class. You’ll then get a call from that student after the class is over to celebrate their passing grade with you.

    For them to include you in their wins is so heart-warming. We also learn about students' personal lives, and we are there to celebrate these milestones as well. Watching a student grow in all aspects really drives me to find out as much about my students as possible!

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?

    You need to be compassionate, empathic, and have great attention to detail — simple as that!

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?

    Students value their education and have a high expectation of the quality they will receive, especially with how high tuition can be. Even though we strive to provide the most cutting-edge and smooth experience for our students, sometimes “life happens.” It can be a technical error, a miscommunication on course materials, or grades on their homework that they disagree with. For many of our students when their expectations are not met for the price of their tuition, it can be grounds to take time off from the program, and, in the worst case, withdraw entirely.

    Many times students want to be heard, and that is exactly why I’m here. When they share feedback on the quality of the program, I can see whether it was a one-time incident, or if there is an overall trend that I can report to the partner to see if we need to implement change.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    My school has 9 terms a year and classes are between 3–5 weeks in length. While there are benefits to this model, it means that students have registration and drop deadlines in conjunction with their class deliverables deadlines.

    My biggest role is assisting students with registration and ensuring they are reminded about upcoming registration periods. By staying in constant email and text communication, along with proactive phone calls, we help the student think in the future and keep track of the administrative and degree planning items while they focus on their studies.

    When have you worked with the university to help students more effectively?

    I am a coach to online MBA students where most students do not have a background in accounting or finance. As a result, the accounting and finance classes have the highest fail rate and the highest drop rate. Coaches also hear the most amount of feedback in these specific courses.

  • Two students talking with each other

    Bridging the gap in higher ed with student support services

    By Lourdes Carvajal

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal

    Learners today are stressed. They hold down full-time jobs. They’re returning to learning as adults. They’re first-generation college students. They're highly focused on careers and worry about debt. But even with all these additional obligations, learners have big dreams of advancement through education.

    Student Support Coach Lourdes Carvajal works with learners to bridge the gap between institutions and students. And both sides benefit from higher retention rates, less stress, and fewer hurdles to graduation. She shares her story of helping students below:

    Why did you become a student support services coach?

    I was an online student in my graduate program and had a lot on my plate to balance. I didn’t even know there were resources at my university to help students like me. I wanted to make the difference in a student’s experience while they’re achieving their academic dreams. It would have made my life a little easier if I had someone to go to from the university on the tough days.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    I love when a student confides in me that they’re struggling and need help. Life throws us curveballs when we least expect them and having someone to confide in makes it a little bit easier to withstand. The trust that I have earned from my students means a lot to me because I know how much they want to make it to graduation. I want to be able to help them get there.

    What is it like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    It’s an honor helping someone who has dreamt of achieving their academic goals. They share those goals with me from the very beginning, and I remind them of those goals throughout their journey. We go through ups and downs together, and we get to know each other very well. We become like family. I’m always so proud of them when they do finally achieve their academic goals.

    What are 3 characteristics or skills that you need to be an effective coach of adult learners?

    You need to be able to see the student holistically. They’re an individual who’s balancing a lot on their plate in addition to their coursework. As an effective coach you need to check in on how they’re doing, not just in the classroom but at home, too. This will greatly affect their performance academically as well.

    You also need to be supportive, in whatever decision the student makes. Our students come to rely on us, as they may not always have an effective support system at home.

    I believe another skill needed is to have good communication among your students but also the university. I believe the phrase “it takes a village” is very much applicable when working with students. Having good communication in the end will result in better support for the student.

    How have you or your colleagues helped a university better meet the needs of students?

    Some of the main concerns I hear from students are about mental health and overall wellbeing while being a full-time online student. We brought up this issue to the university and worked together to develop more mental health resources for our program. We have partnered with a resource center at the university to provide workshops on mental health for our students.

    How do you help students overcome their concerns as they’re working toward their degrees?

    My background is in social work, and mental health is very near and dear to my heart. I do mental health check-ins with my students, just to see how they’re feeling. We so often are busy taking care of everyone else, we tend to put ourselves at the bottom of that list. I remind them to prioritize themselves by doing some self-care every once in a while. We talk about activities or hobbies that they like to do to de-stress, and I remind them to do this when things are becoming too stressful.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    My coaching style is to be very transparent with my students. If I’m transparent with them, that will make them more comfortable to come to me when they do have an issue. I remind them that they’re never on their own throughout this journey, and I’d love to help them as much as I can. I believe this has helped my students stay engaged in their courses in the program. Just knowing that someone is really looking out for them makes them feel more comfortable and motivated.

    How do you work in tandem with the university to support students?

    I like to define my role as being here to support the student. The university really likes how my role interacts with learners, as there is generally an academic adviser for the program as well.

    The academic adviser takes care of any academic issues, like course planning and grades.

    I work with the student to ensure they’re always set up for success. I allow the student to talk about their week, how their personal lives are affecting their coursework, and we also talk about their courses.

    The academic adviser and I talk almost every day so we can both brainstorm ideas on how to best support the student.

    In what ways do you partner with faculty members to help a student succeed?

    I’m very lucky to work with such amazing faculty members at the university. A faculty member will reach out to me personally to talk about a student who could use more support. I work to find the root of the issue and help find resources to best support them.

    I reach out to faculty members as well when I notice a student struggling academically and provide the context for what’s going on and how I’m working with the student. I love the collaboration between the faculty, the institution, and myself because we all want the same thing for our students, and that is to see them succeed.

  • Adult learner on laptop

    Empathy, skill, knowledge: How a great student coach helps adult learners succeed

    By Natasha Prospere

    Q&A with Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere, M.ED

    Every online learner needs somewhere to turn when they have a problem or need someone to listen — someone whose advice is empathetic and reliable, and who can point them to resources that help them succeed. For many learners, Student Support Coach Natasha Prospere is that person. See how she approaches the crucial work of guiding learners from enrollment to graduation — so learners, institutions, and employers all get the outcomes they’re hoping for.

    What do you enjoy most about coaching students?

    I enjoy interacting with my students. And I enjoy working on new challenges every day — you never know what to expect. It's rewarding to support each student along their path, to encourage them and to provide the resources they need, from orientation to graduation.

    I let them know what to expect along the way, guide them through their upcoming courses, and help them meet their graduation requirements. I can help them access the resources they need, whether that’s mental health, tutoring, writing center, or something else. Students often thank me for being their advocate and facilitator.

    What's it’s like to have a long-term relationship with a student and watch them succeed?

    Building relationships and positive rapport with students is fundamental to their success. My students know I truly care about them, their families, and their academic success. They feel supported by me.

    In our first conversation, I learn about their academic goals — and also about their home life, what brought them to the institution, who’s part of their support system, and their ultimate goals. So, when times get tough — and they will — I can be there to remind them why they started in the first place.  

    As coaches, we provide motivation, as well as encouragement through personal struggles and life events, whether that's sick children, taking care of elderly parents, or even divorces.  We also celebrate, sharing in joyous occasions such as weddings and pregnancies!  Whatever’s happening in their lives, we’re there, with personal outreach, regular communication, and timely feedback. 

    What are three skills or characteristics you need to coach adult learners effectively?

    First, you need empathy and compassion. Second, you should be a constructive, active listener. Third, you need to be a problem solver — and to do that, you need to thoroughly understand the resources you can provide to learners, and the university policies you’re operating within.

    What are some concerns you help learners overcome?

    Time management is a main concern: feeling overwhelmed as they try to balance work, school, personal life, and raising a family. I provide tips on being a successful online learner, both during our conversations and via email. For example, I tell them to:

    • Plan your study time.
    • Print and/or download your syllabus so it’s always handy.
    • Check your school email every day — something important might be happening.
    • Log into your course(s) several times a week.

    Stepping back, I also encourage them to find their passion. What do they do for fun? Are they making sure to take time for self-care, exercise, time with family and friends? Are they eating well and getting enough sleep? That’s especially an issue for my nursing students.

    How do you help learners stay engaged with their courses and programs?

    Online graduate advising is so much more than telling students “what class comes next!”

    Students rely on their Support Coach for information to solve problems, make decisions, navigate university procedures, and overcome technology challenges. We help them register for their next class, but we also make sure they know what to expect in their upcoming courses. We help them add the concentration courses they’ll need, transfer programs, take leaves of absence if they must, and — for our Nursing suite — prepare for clinicals and campus visits.  

    We don’t just connect frequently with students. We advocate for them. We share their concerns with the university. We provide the right guidance: information they can use. It’s all about building a personal relationship that shows each student we truly care about them as individuals — and about their success. 

    How do you coordinate with the university to support your students?

    The institution’s on-campus Academic Advisors (AAs) handle grades, GPA concerns, academic standing, instructor concerns, and similar issues. With my Nursing program, Duquesne also has a clinical coordinator to help learners secure a preceptor and complete their required clinical hours. As a success coach, I send learners a program plan to follow, and remind them when it's time to register, order books, and complete financial aid.

    Students tend to reach out to me first, as their main point of contact. I can direct them to their AAs, clinical coordinators, or instructors, as needed. I often copy the AA on emails, and provide time and day when it’s best to reach the student. We follow up via email, and we meet bi-weekly with the university to discuss student affairs.

    We're a great team. Here's an example just from today. An AA called me with a heads up that a student may contact me. The AA said she knows we have a great relationship and wanted me to know what was going on with him academically. Since I know his academic situation now, I can proactively reach out to him, as he may need an updated program plan.

    What issues are rising to the forefront, as more learners come online, or as they begin moving beyond the pandemic?

    Some continuing issues are even bigger — for example, time management. We're always offering advice to help learners stay organized, set aside a dedicated study space, or use a physical or digital planner. And some students who’ve been out of school for awhile struggle with the technology. We’re there to provide resources, including a 24-hour tech support, live chat, and a writing center. So they always have what they need.

    One issue I’m anticipating: helping nursing students find a clinical rotation. With COVID-19, many sites weren’t accepting students in person. Now, I suspect, there will be an overflow that we’ll all have to carefully manage together.