We’re just past mid-semester, and that means some of our students are starting to ask for help in catching up on what they should have been doing every week. As with many institutions across the country, we have been working on improving student success and retention for a number of years now. We assign the textbook-related website, we have our own online resources, and we provide an on-campus open lab for reviewing models and answering questions. So, you might wonder, what are we missing? Why aren’t all of our students availing themselves of all these wonderful opportunities, and achieving their dreams in A&P?
The HAPS List serve had a lively discussion this week about allowing electronic devices in classes. One of the points made was that students don’t always make the best choices, and that poor decision-making can, at least in some cases, be explained by their state of maturity (or lack thereof) due to age and experience. Each of us, as faculty, needs to decide how much we will control in our courses, in terms of student behavior. We all implicitly control student behavior through awarding points for exams, discussions, participation, or other course-related activities, so banning or enhancing the use of electronics is just one more example of options we exercise to control the learning environment. The exchange of ideas has me wondering if I’m providing enough structure for students to make better choices. To me, that means setting clear consequences for failure to comply with the requirements I set up – all of which are designed to improve student outcomes. But do students see these policies in the same light? Or do they simply recognize additional barriers that they need to circumvent?
At my institution, we are planning to implement two major changes, which we predict will improve student mastery. We are requesting approval to add the online text website access as a tuition-related course fee, and to add a contact hour of compulsory open lab attendance. The process for each involves explaining the rationale for the action, ensuring that it is revenue-neutral (at least), and that it is feasible. I think we can justify these actions based in part on data provided by our textbook publisher (in terms of success of their online resources) and a small pilot program in our open lab. Yet, it remains to be seen if we get the level of success we are hoping for. I hope to use my soon-to-be-acquired educational research skills to help inform future decisions of this sort.
I have yet to find a way to consistently jump-start all students’ intrinsic motivation, curiosity, or mental acumen within a single semester. I don’t seem to have much impact in determining what students sign up for my course, or whether they are truly readying themselves to focus on their coursework. So, I try to zero in on what I can do to encourage, enable, and channel their actions toward success. I’m hoping our new online and in-person supplemental instruction initiatives will have a measurable effect. I’ll be sure to share results with you all, and hope to hear from you about what you are doing that works well.