Our last blog looked at how Universities are looking to implement personalized learning technology in their courses to attract – and attain – as diverse a range of students possible. The question is – does it work? And when the technology is in place, what else do students need?
Earlier in 2016 we interviewed a student who turned her C-grades to A-grades after one semester of using CogBooks’ BIOLOGY 100. Anna* is a first-generation student and through our discussion it became apparent that there are two significant – yet easy to adopt – factors that universities can implement to improve student success.
Initial impressions of a first-generation student
Coming to University as a first-generation student might have been a daunting prospect for Anna, but she was committed to striking out in a new direction and was confident in the education she received at her rural high school.
Like so many other new students, she was soon to discover that there were challenges ahead. What stood out most for Anna was the disparate levels of knowledge between herself and her peers. She was surprised at the level of instruction other students from charter and public schools had received on specific subjects.
“My chemistry teacher’s major was topography. He was learning chemistry with us. What we got through in an entire year, people on my floor covered in six weeks. It was a shock. We were all supposed to be standard and on the same level, but that’s just not the case”.
After she managed to get into university, Anna felt under pressure to succeed – in part as a result of her first-generation student status. Her confidence was shaken on discovering she was not at the same standard as her peers, and her parents were unable to provide the practical support she needed, as they had no shared experience to draw from.
Struggling students need support
Anna’s experiences are not unusual. With so many conflicting pressures around leaving home and beginning life at university, stress can run high. Often, emotional support is available from the support networks of friends and family, but practical support – like ‘how to study for exams’ – isn’t always a phone call away.
Universities are aware of the significant levels of emotional and practical support students need – especially at the beginning. What really worked for Anna was the level of one-to-one support available for students like her. Student advisors were assigned on a range of levels – for her college, for her thesis, for being a freshman. Each of them dedicated and knowledgeable to a student’s specific requirements.
“It was easy for me to reach out to my student advisor because they are dedicated to you and don’t have so many others students to work with. When I went to my advisor about my problem around being a first-generation student and feeling inadequate – they knew just what to do”.
Supportive instructors boost student success
Tailoring supportive links to individual students needs shows that the university is not only catering to the student’s needs, but genuinely cares about them. It goes a long way to building a trusting relationship with students. Anna’s experience of settling into her university life shows that a trusted and effective support network is needed for both personal and educational needs.
Another key factor that Anna felt was vital to her success was her attentive and caring instructor.
“Instructors have to show students they care. If an instructor is distant and doesn’t care if you come to class, the student has no reason to. Nobody notices if a student gets a D on every lab. They drop out. Instructors don’t have to be everybody’s friend but it’s important to let students know you care about their success”
Enhancing the instructor – student relationship through technology
Instructors are overworked, and the increased need to provide meaningful support to each student can seem like a stretch too far. Universities are introducing adaptive learning to support instructors with their personalized learning approach. In Anna’s opinion, the combination of adaptive courseware and having an instructor who was genuinely dedicated and used the technology to improve teaching practice, is important for student success.
The adaptive approach means instructors have insight into how students are coping with a subject. To enable teachers to recognize a student’s need for additional support, they have to be able to access each student’s activity. Adaptive can provide that insight and can ensure students stay on the right track for their course. This means avoiding the pitfall of misconceptions which can set them off on a series of errors and mistakes.
“If we were using a traditional text-book, there is no access to this information.”
Instructors now have the power to discover not just what students are learning – but how they’re learning it. With course technology and instructor mentality aligned in this way, Anna’s scores progressed from C grades to A grades.
Universities have higher attainment targets than ever before and as a result, are switching on to the needs of students at a fast pace.
Much can be learned from students like Anna. Institutions can embed a clear, stable support structure from the first day of a student’s university career by ensuring instructors have the time, flexibility and insight to develop meaningful relationships with their students.
“Technology is about bringing the goals of learning together. Having a teacher who is aware of their students and how they learn – and having the time and capabilities to do it is what helped me succeed”.
* Name has been changed