• Terry’s story: A timely teacher-student connection

    by Terry Austin

    woman sitting on a couch with her laptop and book taking notes, a boy sat on the couch with a pad in his hands

    Understanding that your students are more than just a grade is one thing; going the extra step to show them you care about them as people is another entirely.

    Dr. Terry Austin has been an instructor at Temple College in Temple, Texas for more than 15 years, during which time he’s championed the use of digital learning platforms in his biology and A&P classes.

    Terry found out just how important these resources can be for him and students — and for a reason you might not expect.

    Warning signs

    During his Anatomy & Physiology class, Terry noticed something odd about one of his student’s Early Alerts reports within the Mastering® A&P platform.

    Crista had been doing well. Really well. Her first exam score was in the mid-90s and all her work in the course was great. His dashboard showed her solidly in the green or “low-risk” category. But that unexpectedly changed.

    “All of a sudden, kind of out of nowhere, she seemed to fall off a cliff,” said Terry. “She fell pretty quickly into the yellow (medium-risk) and even red (high-risk) category, and it felt like there must be something else going on.”

    Normally, you’d expect a noticeable drop in grade to trigger an alert, but this was something different.

    “Her Mastering grade didn’t really drop at all, but Early Alerts noticed something going on. That’s what really triggered me to want to reach out. It felt like talking to her was probably the best idea.”

    The human connection

    Crista was a little shocked to receive Terry’s call.

    “Her reaction when I first reached out was a little bit of a startle. I don’t think she was expecting to get a phone call from her professor,” said Terry. “She was almost in tears when I answered — she was really concerned.”

    After reassuring her that her grade was just fine, he explained that there was an alert in Mastering telling him that something might be amiss.

    He soon found out what that was.

    Crista and her husband had been in the hospital the previous weekend with their son, who had broken his arm. A surgery and complications had kept her there for several days. Her husband had brought her laptop to the hospital, and she tried to keep up with her coursework while sitting anxiously beside her son’s bed.

    It also became clear why the system had created an alert for Crista.

    "She was distracted,” said Terry. "Her correct on first try score dropped, the attempts it took her to get the correct answers rose, but her grade stayed solid.”

    That’s what triggered an “aha” moment for Terry.

    “If I was looking at nothing but her grade, I never would’ve known anything was going on. The ability to see the need to make an outreach really was empowering.”

    Crista’s reaction to his reaching out to make a connection with her as a person — not just a student — drove that feeling home, and also made her see Terry as something more than just a teacher. It went beyond just gratitude.

    "It really did seem like a gushing appreciation that somebody seemed to care enough to make sure she was OK.”

    With great power...

    Terry now likens his experience to a popular comic book trope.

    “For me, it did feel like that super power moment. I got that ability to see into a troubled moment in her life, I got the chance to reach out, and I guess — maybe more importantly — I took that chance.”

    Not only was he able to reassure Crista that her grade was all right, but he was able to reassure himself that she was all right.

    “Her grades were fine — I knew she was OK as a student — but I also knew looking at that shift from green to yellow — something had caused that to happen. It felt really nice being able to reach out and know that she was OK.”

    Terry says that this experience did truly change the way he looks at his students.

    “It’s a reminder for me that my students are far more than just their grades. It was an insight and really an awakening that there’s more going on with my students than just that grade in the moment. It’s a reminder that there’s a person behind that grade, it’s not just a number.”

    He finds that this technology is like having a window to peek through; to have an idea whether everything is all right, or whether he might need to reach out again.

    As for that feeling of having a super power?

    “It's one of those moments that kind of comes with great responsibility. And it would be nice to think instructors don’t ignore the opportunity being handed to them.”

    Learn more about the Early Alerts technology in this story.  

     

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  • How to build long-term relationships that foster student success

    by Terry Austin

    Young girl on her laptop

    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.

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  • Offering personalized advice — from someone who’s been there

    by Justin Tate

    Woman on her laptop

    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.  

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  • Raise retention rates with student support services

    by Nisha Khan

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

    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.

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  • Bridging the gap in higher ed with student support services

    by Lourdes Carvajal

    Two students talking with each other

    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.

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

    by Natasha Prospere

    Adult learner on laptop

    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.

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  • Retention: Creating learning environments that engage

    by Terri Moore

    blog image alt text

    Why retention is important

    Several national studies (Swail; American Institutes for Research; Lake) purport approximately 60% of all college students attending four-year institutions persist until graduation within 6 years. Thus, there is a 40% attrition rate nationally.

    American tax dollars contribute to the grants, scholarships and financial aid used by many students. According to LendEDU a college drop-out has incurred about $14,000 dollars in student aid debt. About half of these loans are in default. There are high stakes involved at the institutional level as well.

    According to a study of retention at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016, the cost to that one university of losing almost 40% of their enrolled students during that 6 years was $86 million. Given the high financial impact to society, institutions, and students, the study of college retention and student persistence has become an important one.

    Beyond financial loss

    While retention has hefty financial implications, perhaps more important, college degrees prepare students to critically evaluate the needs of their society and to understand how to effect change for the better. Retention also affects the national reputations of colleges where legacies, among other advantages, are at risk in institutions with high attrition rates. Finally, and perhaps most critically, the impact on the individual student of attrition, withdrawal, or dropout goes beyond crushing college loan debt.

    The impact on self- esteem and self-efficacy results in far more pervasive and damaging long-term consequences than mere financial limitations. The assault to self-worth may be the greatest danger of college attrition and the most important reason to show concern for increasing student retention. An examination of student retention can help us change the retention narrative, and help our students write brighter and more hopeful futures for themselves and our society.

    What we can do

    There are factors that lead to attrition beyond the control of institutions and instructors. Student abilities, skills, and preparation come with them to college. As do their personal attributes, values, and knowledge base. While we know students with the character trait of resilience are far more likely to persist against negative factors, colleges cannot control whether a person has this trait or not.

    The outside influences, often leading to student dropout, such as families, jobs, or lack of support are factors beyond the scope of college control as well. While programs within colleges may ameliorate the effects of some of these influences, these influences come with the individual and vary widely between students.

    The good news is there are a number of factors colleges and instructors can influence. Several of these factors are defined by Alan Seidman (2012). Seidman purports these may be the greatest contributors toward student success. These include; expectations, student support, involvement, and feedback.

    Expectations

    Expectations clearly communicated to students from their institutions and teachers is critical for student comfort, increasing engagement. While it is common knowledge that syllabi are contracts of the class expectations between the student and the teacher, institutional expectations are equally important.

    Students will most likely interact on an institutional level before having access to individual classrooms. Schools that have clear mission statements, clear and comprehensive student orientations, clear student handbooks, and information to access support services go a long way toward creating an open and transparent environment where students feel respected and valued. This atmosphere of clear expectations should flow into each classroom, reducing confusion and miscommunication, creating an atmosphere of comfort and clear outlines of how to succeed.

    Student support

    Student support should have a three-pronged approach providing services for academic, social and financial support.

    Academic support

    Academic support may be provided through tutoring centers, peer, and faculty mentoring programs, computer proficiency workshops, writing centers, computer labs, and service-learning centers. Not only do academic support centers help students in their classes, but they foster social networks between peers, teachers and the student, creating learning communities.

    Social support

    Social support in college has been linked to positive student engagement, potentially increasing retention. Social centers designed to bond like others for common goals or common identities have shown value in creating climates of collaboration in colleges. Social groups might include clubs or centers for foreign students, service groups, ethnic identity, or spiritual unity, among any other traits that bond groups.

    Financial support

    Financial support may take the form of required workshops on financial responsibility for any student on financial aid, or grants and student financial rewards, or student work programs. Some colleges have even offered short-term small cash loans to students struggling at the end or beginning of terms. Students who have a clear understanding of what they are getting for the amount invested are armed with information about the investment and may make better choices about wise expenditures of their energy, time, and resources.

    Involvement

    Involvement studies (NASPA; Purdue University) indicate students who feel positive emotional connection to their educational environments, through peer or faculty connections, are more likely to persist. College student populations have evolved from primarily residential students to the majority of students commuting.

    With busy, active lives beyond the borders of college campuses, involving students in campus life has become a challenge. Dissociated students are far less likely to find the support needed to weather the inevitable stresses of college. Programs such as peer and faculty mentoring also foster an atmosphere of connectedness.

    Methods of student involvement in the classroom include group projects designed for students to connect through remote or social media communication. Class time can also be allocated for group work. In short; happy, connected people are more likely to want to remain connected to each other and the environment that fosters those connections.

    Feedback

    Feedback is often overlooked as a critical factor in student retention; however, it is the one factor that is absolutely in the control of the institution and instructors. Transparency by all parties is the key ingredient for solid and satisfactory problem solving. Students need to know how they can succeed and what they need to do to get there.

    Institutional feedback

    Institutional feedback comes in the form of monitoring student’s academic standing. Students need accurate and timely assessments of their degree progress. They need clear communication of their GPA, college and national standing, as well as communications from financial aid concerning their current debt and estimates of debt upon graduation. Students also need early warning when they are steering off the path to successful completion.

    Instructor feedback

    Instructor feedback answers the common student questions of: “What is my grade? How do I measure up? Can I pass this course? Our assignment assessments are our feedback to these questions. The practice of assessing content mastery with only one or two major exams or papers gives little indication to students of where they are going off the rail before it was too late. This should not be the case in a learning-focused classroom.

    Learning-centered classrooms should offer immediate feedback on formative low stakes assignments. That feedback should be clear and meaningful resulting in the students increased awareness of what they know or don’t know. This translates into better metacognition and students are less likely to overestimate their knowledge acquisition.

    The learning-centered classroom

    Learning-centered classrooms demand students learn first-hand, moving away from the teacher centered classroom, where learning is strained by passive listening with little interaction. After implementing new learning-centered feedback strategies in my classroom such as quick mini quizzes using clicker type answering providing immediate feedback in a low-stakes situation, I saw striking results in improved preparedness and retention.

    Learning-centered classrooms are also collaborative. Building learning communities within the classroom is often the only peer association commuter students will have. Collaborative learning has been shown to produce greater levels of intellectual development. Teachers can foster this through group work in the classroom assignments.

    These might be problem-solutions focused or project-based. Service-learning opportunities in the classroom allow students to work together and apply the academic principles they are learning to real world settings. Other classroom activities that have been suggested in the book, “Make it Stick,” as excellent methods for student learning include:

    • Spacing Retrieval Practice, based on the testing effect, where taking tests increases the ability to be a better test taker. Activities that lend themselves to this might be short quizzes, one-minute essays, self-analysis activities, or partnered homework assignments.
    • Interleaving is cycling back to previous learning and bringing it forward for application. Reviews, reflections, quizzes, short essays, or group presentations might lend themselves to this type of assignment.
    • Elaboration gives new learning meaning and commits it to longer-term memory through application. Essays, scenario creation, group projects and presentations are all able to offer opportunities to elaborate on new knowledge. One particularly successful activity has been to have groups teach a portion of the new concepts for the week.
    • Generation is the process of finding creative and innovative solutions to problems or assignments. Offering students opportunities to submit drafts with feedback generates deep understanding of the concepts building towards a more successful final product. Working in groups to resolve a difficult problem is also effective in generating deeper understanding through the lens of other perspectives.
    • Reflection reviews new learning, making applications to prior learning or novel situations in real world settings. Service-learning group projects with field notes foster reflection on how the classroom principles apply in practical settings. Essays and scenario activities also allow students to make meaning of new information.
    • Calibration teaches students how to judge what they know. It increases metacognitive skills and helps student more accurately assess the time and energy expenditures needed to succeed. Testing of any kind as well as self-evaluation aid in calibrating, as do peer evaluations.

    Collaborative learning-centered classrooms where homework is due prior to class, where the student was provided immediate feedback on homework before coming to class, where the teacher has access to performance data from the homework, allows the instructor to focus on those concepts deemed most difficult for the entire class.

    This classroom is now flipped to address this specific group of students with their unique learning needs. The flipped classroom lends itself to collaborative learning and interactive problem-solution activities that address the most difficult concepts using valuable class time effectively.

    As a young teacher, my classroom was all about my teaching; how creative I could be thoroughly covering all the material. I now see my classroom is not about my teaching, it is about my students’ learning.

    I am empowered to know that while retention is an enormous problem impacting our society, colleges, and students, there are things we can do at the institutional level and the classroom level to combat student attrition and student dropout rates, leading to more students meeting their goals and achieving successful and productive futures.

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