Psychological health

We Really Can Help All Students Learn and Succeed in College

Sometimes there’s a big break between research and practice – what works in the lab either doesn’t work in the real world or isn’t even tried.

I am pleased to report on a recently published report showing that faculty and universities can effectively implement insights from socio-psychological and educational research.

The report is called Increasing equality in the undergraduate experience: results of a national collaborative. It was produced by the Student Experience Project (SEP), a collaboration between six universities (including my workplace!) that partner with a range of other organizations.

They begin their report by citing the empirical basis for their project: thirty-five years of research shows that the environment in which students find themselves is important to their success.

The results are clear: when students’ learning environments help them feel competent, valued, respected, connected…and supported…, students are more likely to engage in behaviors that support academic achievement…which in turn supports greater college retention and achievement score.

The SEP project applied this research group by implementing, measuring, and improving practical strategies that faculty members can use in their classrooms and that universities can implement more broadly. They’re not finished yet, but they’ve learned enough to release their initial report.

The period in which they studied – the 2020-21 school year – was tumultuous and posed more challenges than usual for students and faculty.

Nearly 300 faculty members in six universities, and about 10,000 students participated in the project. Elements of student experience in their courses have come largely from the social psychological research literature (see Walton & Crum, 2021, for the most recent reviews) and include a sense of belonging and a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006), and identity integrity (Lowe). (2020), a sense of confidence, fairness, and self-efficacy (Bandora, 1977).

Who are the students? SEP Didn’t Take The Easy Way! They focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students who traditionally performed the worst: “women, black, Latino, Native American students, and students with basic needs (such as food or housing) from insecurity.”

They wanted to improve the college experience for all students and help reduce disparities in outcomes between student groups. Students completed surveys about their experiences every three to four weeks.

What did the results show? I will present the five primary findings described in the report, with an example or two of each.

Outcome 1: Faculty members can improve student experiences and success. For example, in the first two semesters, the number of students who reported positive experiences increased by an average of 10 percent. That number was 25 percent for financially stressed black, Latino, and Native American women. Part of this sentiment was “the perceptions that their teacher believes in the ability of all students to grow and support student learning”.

Outcome 2: These students’ experiences correlate with outcomes. Check out the report for details, but in general, more students got A or B grades, and fewer students got D and F. The more positive students are about evaluating their experience, the higher their grades are at the end of the semester. The faculty reported that students were more likely to be approached by such behaviors as going to work hours and participating more in class discussions.

Outcome 3: “Student experience has important implications for equity in education.” In English, this means that disparities in educational attainment can be reduced. For example, this project found, consistent with much previous research, that improvements were greater for “structurally disadvantaged, educationally disadvantaged, or numerically underrepresented students (eg, low-income students; black and Latino students). and Native Americans; women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.” Here is one faculty member:

The data has shown me that marginalized communities really experience belonging differently in my course. It is no longer theoretical to me. This makes my responsibility for real change seem even more urgent and personal.

The fourth outcome: the faculty members benefited. Participation in the project increased faculty motivation and participation. They attend workshops, review their curriculum, collaborate with fellow teachers, implement a range of strategies, and then spread the word about what works.

They reported that they felt supported by their university and colleagues. They appreciated the learning and application of evidence-based strategies, the ongoing feedback (via student surveys) of how students experience their classes, and the ability to use this feedback to modify their courses in real time.

What were universities doing during this time? They did things like this:

  • They created or improved Early Alerts to identify problem students.
  • They have “normalized academic difficulty,” which means that instead of telling students, “Come to the math lab when you don’t do well on the first test,” the message might be more like “Come to the math lesson center and see how we can help you become a student.” Excellent,” while emphasizing that relapses are a normal part of the college experience.
  • They trained their academic advisors on how to convey a sense of belonging.
  • They have partnered with students on projects such as the student-led #WeBelongInCollege social media campaign.

What teaching strategies are we talking about? Many of these strategies have been known for a long time (eg, Tanner, 2013). SEP has setResource CenterOnline. Some of the strategies they mention in the report are exam wrapping tools, sharing teachers’ academic struggles, using wise notes, connecting concepts to important issues of the day, and scaffolding assignments.

The three main messages I take from this report are that (a) my behavior makes a difference; (b) I can implement strategies that complement the efforts of my university; and (c) the more I feel a sense of belonging and self-efficacy, the more successful my students will be.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button