The Secret of Student Success

Within the field of higher education, one of the important metrics for gauging the effectiveness of programs is student retention. Retention measures the number of students that a school has been able to keep in their programs and in contrast, attrition measures the number of students who have withdrawn – either voluntarily or involuntarily. Another important word for this field is persistence, and that is meant as a student measurement. While retention and persistence may seem to measure the same criteria, I have made a distinction based upon the actions taken. For example, a school may have retention programs in place; whereas, helping students succeed in their programs bolsters their ability to persist and continue to make progress.

The sector of higher education that I have the most experience in is the for-profit online college, with roles ranging from online educator to faculty development specialist, Chief Academic Officer, and Dean. For this industry, the typical retention rate is 50% or less. Retention initiatives that have been implemented in many of the schools I’ve worked with included changing feedback requirements, grading requirements, and the curriculum itself to make it easier for students to pass their classes. While these initiatives may provide some help for the bottom line, I have found that it has little impact on the student experience. What matters most for students is their ability to persist and be successful in their attempt to be involved in the learning process. Is there a secret to student success? In my experience, I have learned there is and it has to do with the support and resources students receive from the school and their instructors.

Growth of the Non-Traditional Student

When I entered the field of higher education over ten years ago, the phrase “non-traditional student” was becoming popular and I have watched it become prominent now – especially with regards to how courses and curriculum are designed for students. The essence of this phrase is meant to describe new types of students, other than those who are starting college right out of high school, who are enrolling in college level courses and programs. This one of the important factors that drove the growth of the for-profit online college industry. It is not uncommon to see online programs being offered for what is called the “working adult” – with promises made that the degrees obtained will help them advance within their chosen career.

As a general rule, the non-traditional student can be a mix of someone who is older, part of a minority group, speaks English as a second language, attends school part-time, is employed, and has prior life experience. I have had non-traditional students in my online classes with a range in ages from their 30s to 60s, with many who were also working full time. What this means for these students is that their school work is not their only responsibility and that can create periodic time management challenges for them. In addition, by having life experience these students cannot be treated like blank slates, which is someone waiting to receive knowledge being dispensed.

The Role of an Educator

Within traditional colleges and universities, the role of the educator has remained largely unchanged. This means they are at the front of the class and the center of attention during each scheduled session. It is a teacher-centered approach to instruction that is utilized in primary education. This educator typically provides a lecture and students are expected to study for quizzes and exams. In contrast, an educator who is teaching online courses is finding that their role is evolving. The very nature of a virtual learning environment puts the primary responsibility for learning on the students.

I have coached many traditional educators who have tried to make the transition to online teaching and found it to be difficult to adapt to as traditional teaching methods do not translate well. I can empathize with them as educators devote time and effort into developing their career and becoming a teaching expert – and then having to learn new methods may produce a lot of natural resistance. Online teaching requires changing the focus from teacher-led to student-centered instruction. Does this have a direct impact on student success? The answer is absolutely yes, as an educator must be comfortable in their role and understand the needs of the students they are charged with teaching.

Advisor vs. Success Initiatives

The traditional responsibility for working with students has been part of the role of the academic advisor. The advisor is someone who may assist students with a wide range of tasks that includes registration, enrollment, course selection, and the list continues. Often this was a reactive role and that means an advisor could address a wide range of questions but only when initiated by the students. Within the for-profit online college industry, I have seen the advisor’s role evolve and include responsibility for conducting follow up for those students who were at risk for failing and/or dropping their courses.

There have been other initiatives taken by online schools to help students persist and one that I was part of was a success coach program. I was responsible for conducting a periodic check-in with students, and these were students outside of the classes I was assigned to teach. Unfortunately, the project was short-lived and to this day I am not sure of the reason why it was disbanded. I have also watched an increase in the number of resources that are made available to students as a means of helping them succeed, and one of the most common resources provided is through the use of a writing center.

There is a newer non-profit online school that has been hiring mentors, who are meant to take the place of faculty. Students do not have regular classes and instead, they study to take an assessment – usually with a very low or minimal required passing score. It is similar to correspondence courses that preceded the online for-profit industry. There isn’t clear evidence yet to support that someone calling students every week, without having course specific knowledge, subject matter expertise, or higher education experience, has an impact on student persistence rates.

How to Support Student Success as an Educator

What I can state with certainty, based upon my experience and my work with hundreds of educators, is that students need an instructor – and just as important, they need ongoing support. I realize this statement goes against the foundational concept of a massive open online course or MOOC; however, I know that an educator serves as the front line for helping to implement retention strategies put into place by the school and being able to work with students to help them persist or succeed. This is where the secret to student success can be found and it is within the relationship that is established with students. An instructor is in a position to develop a relationship with students because they are working with them through learning activities, feedback, and discussions – and all of these tasks prompt learning. In other words, learning is relational. Below are strategies that any educator can use to help support student success, regardless of the class or subject matter being taught.

#1. Provide Ongoing Support: Are you keeping track of the progress of your students? Every student has developmental needs, even those who are doing exceptionally well in your class. When you are familiar with their needs you will know what resources to recommend – whether those are sources provided by the school or supplemental resources. Even recommending additional materials to review, along with subject matter related videos, can help to enhance the learning experience and encourage engagement in the course. Why? The more interested a student is in the course, and the more they are able to develop their areas of weakness, the more they are going to be able to persist.

#2. Provide Engaging Feedback: I have heard many instructors state that students do not read the feedback provided and if they do, those students never seem to implement the suggestions provided. What I have discovered is that students develop a perception about feedback based upon their experiences. As an instructor, I have tried to provide engaging feedback by taking time to insert comments directly into student papers and ask questions, offer insight, share my expertise, and relate the topics to the real world. Again, if students find that you have taken time to do more than provide a grade, they are going to take time to at least consider what you have written. The more engaging your feedback becomes, the more likely they are going to maintain an interest in performing their best.

#3. Develop a High Level of Responsiveness: For some students, the thought of asking a question or making a request for help can be intimidating – especially at the beginning of a class when there isn’t a relationship established with their instructor. When students approach you, and seek your assistance, your ability to demonstrate responsiveness is going to make a difference for them. If you can demonstrate a genuine concern for their request, and make it a point to help them in a meaningful manner, they will develop a perception that you care and become more willing to work with you in the future. They will also be more receptive to your coaching and feedback.

#4. Always Be Aware of Your Disposition and Tone: As an educator, you must be mindful of how you feel and the emotions you are experiencing as you work with students, as this will have a direct impact on your disposition. It will extend further into the tone of your communication and for an online class, you are represented by the words you use and you must consider how those words will be interpreted. While you need to remain professional, it will be helpful to add some warmth to your messages to help develop a connection with your students. For example, consider the difference between the following two options for responding to a student’s email: #1) “Student: This is my response to your email,” or, #2) “Hello Student: It is good to hear from you. Here is a suggestion to help answer your question.” Do you see how the second option communicates professionalism, warmth, and a genuine concern for helping?

#5. Provide Follow-Up and Follow-Through: This probably one of the most important elements for student success and that involves going beyond answering questions or providing feedback. It means you are paying attention to your students, all of your students, and you make it a point to maintain coaching and mentoring attempts at all times. If a student asks a question via email, and it involves something complex or may not be easily resolved, a simple follow-up email or call can support their success. When a student is struggling, has performed poorly, or is not active in a class discussion – don’t wait to see if they improve. Contact that student right away and offer assistance. In addition, consider the value of a phone call and how a personal touch could influence their well-being. As another example, if you tell students you don’t have an answer to a question, be sure you find an answer and then follow up with them.

With all of these strategies, you are working to bring out the best in your students and nurture their ability to succeed. This leads to another question: If learning is relational, can someone other than an educator work with students to help them succeed? From my experience, the answer is yes. If there are individuals who are tasked with helping students succeed, and are trained to do more than ask “how are you doing” types of questions – they can also develop a productive working relationship. It then becomes a matter of training those individuals to understand the many factors that make up student success and persistence, including self-motivation, grit, determination, and resilience – along with academic habits such as time management and study habits.

The role of someone who serves as a success coach needs to support both the students and instructors. For example, an instructor can utilize an early alert system and notify the success coach when a student is at risk. The coach can also support the students by devoting time and attention to all of them, checking in with them- even when it may seem that they are doing well in their classes. While adding a role like this to online degree programs requires a financial investment, the ultimate goal is to improve student success or their persistence rate. This in turn can have a positive impact on student retention overall. Student success is not a one-time event or something that occurs because a school changes its courses or curriculum. The secret to student success is the relationships that are established, nurtured, and maintained at all times with students.

A Handful Expressions about Contraction and Relaxation of Cardiac Fibers in Enrollees Crafting

A Handful Expressions about Contraction and Relaxation of Cardiac Fibers in Enrollees Crafting

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University or higher education reach regards to cognitive assessment of selling that portrait its unique positions in the modern day really competitive market. Continue reading “University or higher education reach regards to cognitive assessment of selling that portrait its unique positions in the modern day really competitive market.”

Some Universities Say They Stand Together, But For What ?

Before I get started here, let me just say, I’ve been debating if I should even write this article, why you ask? Because I believe in higher education – so you ask me why did I decide to write it? Well, I turned on my TV set on February 1, 2017 and watched student riots at UC Berkeley in California. Apparently, it started because a right-leaning speaker was to hold a talk there. Windows smashed, buildings ablaze, cars turned over, and people hurt – campus police watched but hardly intervened, eventually local police units came to curtail the riot which lasted many hours.

A couple of days later Donald Trump tweeted that perhaps these Universities not allowing free speech ought to be defunded from Federal Funds – and if you know anything about Research Grants you know just how much money these schools get in taxpayer funds.

Why are students rioting? What is the point? Why does faculty incite such activity? What happened to free speech? What’s the point in all this?

Well, if you ask a college professor, he/she/it will tell you that they are just trying to protect the most vulnerable of our society? Sounds like an apologetic stance for political correctness to me. Coddling students and sending them out into the real world later will be a rude awakening for them, all the while holding backpacks filled with laden weight from those student loans which will take years to pay off. By the way, did you know that many University pension funds invest in student debt bundles, yes, like those mortgage bundles that led to the 2008 crisis, so essentially the pension funds are enabling this credit crisis as the bubble is ready to burst.

There was an interesting video posted to the UCR – University of Riverside, YouTube Channel titled: “UCR Stands Together” (posted on February 1, 2017) which depicted students of ethnic origin and Muslim students in hijabs telling the listeners that the stand together with the University community in times of insecurity, hardship, and conflict, also with the local community. But this is just propaganda using socialist buzz-words. You see, the conflict and hardships to them means that Donald Trump was elected and they didn’t get their way, so now they are morning and standing up against our government and duly elected officials in solidarity to continue to fight. Wow, is that what they are teaching now at our universities?

“Stand Together” is merely a slogan, similar to the “Hope and Change” slogan of Barack Obama’s campaign. It sounds innocuous even righteous, but there is an insidious plan behind these slogans. In this case the students, along with their politically correct tokenism shows 3 female Muslim students and one student each from other groups; Hispanic, Black, white Female, and of course, not to offend one-white male and they plead to us that; UCR promises to “Stand Together” but is that what’s really going on here?

No it means the University wants to have and/or incite more civil disobedience, more protests, riots, and remain PC while producing more snowflakes with worthless degrees who haven’t a clue, which means more to vote in socialist rules into our society. Well if UCR ‘stands together’ and if this institution stands against America and economically enslave our children with college tuition debt and teaches them to be nice little socialists – then maybe that institution doesn’t need my tax dollars to subsidize tenured professors pensions.

Indeed, maybe we should stand with Donald Trump and his tweet to defund these Universities from Federal Funds, as there need to be a penalty for such activity.

Are You Teacher? Read This – How Do You Make a Difference for Your Students?

What do you believe students remember most about the courses they have taken? Is it the course, the school, their grades, their instructors, or something else? As I reflect upon the courses I took as a student, which wasn’t too long ago, I do not remember many of the textbooks I’ve read, discussions I was involved in, videos I watched, or written assignments I had to complete. What I do remember are some of my instructors – those who inspired me and encouraged me to perform my very best, and those who taught me what I should never do as an instructor. In other words, the most vivid memories I have involved those instructors who stood out for extraordinarily outstanding instructional methods, especially those who took time to develop a personal connection with me, and those who were extremely ineffective in the classroom. Whether instructors invoke the best or the worst emotional reactions, it most always creates a lasting impression for students.

I have learned from my work with faculty development that it is not possible for a school to guarantee that every instructor hired, especially as an online adjunct, is going to create optimal learning conditions and have a disposition that is agreeable with all students. I have reviewed hundreds of online classes and found that contractual faculty requirements can never fully dictate what an instructor must to do excel in their role. If instructors are meeting the basic requirements, they will likely retain their position – but that doesn’t mean they will be memorable to their students. Many instructors I’ve worked with are not even concerned with the perceptions of their students, demanding compliance from them whether or not they are well liked.

Within the field of distance learning, which is my area of higher education expertise, students rarely know who their instructors are before the class begins. Many online schools do not have a searchable faculty directory and that means students rarely know who the instructors are until they read a posted introduction. Once their classes have concluded, students may never be assigned to those same instructors again as adjuncts are usually teaching a specific class – depending upon enrollment, availability, rotation, seniority, and other factors. Whether or not instructors will be assigned another class with the same students, the cumulative effect of the interactions they do have has a potential to make a difference in their learning experience. Every instructor can have a positive impact on their students, whether or not it is immediately realized.

Academic Educator vs. Subject Matter Expert

From my experience, I have discovered there are two distinct perspectives of the work that educators perform. One perspective is a result of the traditional role of an educator, who is working full time at a college or university and has dedicated their career to the development of their instructional practice. They are working to become a teaching expert and usually have strong subject matter expertise, along with a highly developed academic background. This type of educator has dedicated their career to helping students learn, conducting research, publishing, and furthering their scholarly expertise.

The other perspective of an instructional practice is based upon those educators who are working as adjuncts. Online teaching was a thriving career up until a few years ago, when the for-profit industry came under intense scrutiny. Approximately ten years ago, there were more jobs than adjuncts and now that trend has reversed. The primary difference between adjuncts in this field and traditional instructors is that online adjuncts are often hired not because they were academics, rather they are practitioners in a field related to the subject being taught. When someone teaches a class without an academic background, their primary focus is often on the need to manage a class and complete the facilitation requirements.

What does this mean for the classroom learning experience? Is one type of educator more effective than the other? I believe that it is a matter of perspective. An academic educator is going to better understand the learning process and how to educate adults. A subject matter expert, as an instructor, may be able to provide the necessary context for learning and that means either educator can be effective. I chose to bridge the two types of educators by choosing postsecondary and adult education as the major for my doctoral degree, to add to the business and business management subject matter expertise I already had acquired. However, that only tells part of reason why my work with students has made a difference for them as knowing how adults learn is part of the equation but not the complete answer.

How You Can Make a Difference for Your Students

Regardless of which type of background you have as an educator, I have discovered that what makes a difference for students is the attitude and disposition an instructor holds about learning, along with their ability to see a potential for growth in every student – and how they are able to relate to and work with their students. Below are three areas for self-assessment that you can use to determine if you have had, or could have now, a positive impact on the learning and development of your students.

#1. Do you do what you say you will do? What you say to your students matters, along with what you say you will do and then what you actually do. For example, do you state that you are easily accessible and responsive to their needs, but then you are slow to answer questions or unwilling to provide assistance that actually helps them? When you state that you care about their academic needs, how do you show it?

Students may forget what you state or what you have written, but they will usually remember what you have done. As an example, if a student has asked a question and received a timely response, especially one that is meaningful and demonstrates a caring tone, they will remember that and likely seek assistance again when needed. It goes back to the saying that “actions speak louder than words” – and I’m certain this is something you have experienced yourself.

#2. Do you want to make a short term or long term impact? Have you ever taken time to consider the impact of your teaching practice? If so, what kind of impact do you want to have on your student’s academic life? When your goal as an instructor is to complete the required facilitation duties and assist students only when they request help, the impact that you will have on their learning experience will likely be short-term and soon forgotten. In contrast, if you are cultivating relationships with your students and you are focused on their academic success and ongoing persistence, your impact is likely to be more long-term or memorable.

You may not know the full extent of how you have helped your students if you work with them for only one class; however, the long-term effect is one that will be transformative as they continue working towards completion of their academic goals. You may also never know about the impact you have made if your students are not directly responding to you. But the smallest of gestures made by you, done with a genuine concern for the well-being of your students, may influence them in a positive manner both now and in the future.

#3. Are you working to develop sustainable connections with your students? A follow up question for you to consider is this: Do you stay in touch with students, even after the class has concluded? For many online adjuncts that I have worked with this question seems like a foreign concept. How can you develop lasting connections when you interact with students for just a few weeks? Why would they ever remember you? Perhaps you have learned this lesson, or may you have not, but even something as simple as being willing to take extra time to explain challenging concepts, provide additional tools and resources, or craft engaging and meaningful feedback, may be enough to start a connection. For example, I am still in contact with students today who stated it all began with the level of feedback I provided and how it helped them grow.

I also utilize social media to connect with students and that creates discomfort for some educators, and even some schools, as this platform can be utilized in a manner that is not suitable for academic interactions. What I have done is to develop a following on Twitter as a means of sharing academic related resources and staying connected to a global base of students and educators. Students have also viewed my LinkedIn profile and for that reason I do not post personal information or political perspectives as I want it to remain professional in nature. I know this can be a challenging practice for some educators to follow and that is why many schools do not encourage instructors to share social media information within their classes.

What Can or Should Students Expect?

Should students expect the best from their instructors, if the school promises they are highly qualified and will provide a positive learning experience? I used to think that ineffective educators make a poor representation of their school and could create a negative impression for their students; however, it seems that students have almost become used to experiencing a wide range of instructors and they have become proficient with tuning out those who they perceive are ineffective. Some students have even taken to social media to express their frustrations, and there are websites that allow them to provide both feedback and ratings for instructors. I have looked at those websites and it is difficult to determine if the instructor was at fault or the students are not receiving the outcomes they expected. Whatever the reason, there was something that was left unresolved and that created frustration on the part of the students.

This is similar to end-of-course instructor evaluations that students are often given to complete. I have observed a very low return rate with online students, and the reason for completion of the form was often related to being extremely satisfied or dissatisfied with the course outcomes. I know that some schools base teaching assignments on the evaluation outcomes and it is a source of frustration for many instructors – especially when they have done their best and still have an occasional unhappy student. But what I have also noticed is that the more I focus on what I am doing in the classroom, rather than on trying to make students happy so they will give me a good rating, the better my evaluations have been overall. When I am determined to make a difference for the learning experience of my students, over time the number of positive responses tells the entire story of my teaching effectiveness.

Whether you are interested in developing academic or subject matter expertise as an educator, the most important aspect of your instructional practice needs to be on the strategies you use to meet the developmental needs of your students. They are only going to persist and realize their potential if you encourage them in a supportive manner. Your disposition will influence the tone of what you say and what you write, and this can build up, empower, and motivate your students to do well. You can make a difference for your students by looking at your role as more than a series of tasks to complete, and nurturing a proactive, positive approach to how you interact with your students. Even if you never know the full extent of how you have made a positive impact, you will likely develop some long term connections that remind you of the value you brought to the classroom – and that will make your hard work feel very rewarding.