Preparing for periodic review and revalidation Session 1: the key issues

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Preparing for periodic review and revalidation Session 1: the key issues

  • Sunderland University
  • Dr Sally Brown
  • June14th 2012
  • Emeritus Professor, Leeds Metropolitan University,
  • Adjunct professor, University of the Sunshine Coast, Central Queensland and James Cook University Queensland
  • Visiting Professor University of Plymouth and Liverpool John Moores University.

What are the key issues (from what I’ve heard):

  • Retention;
  • Attendance/engagement;
  • Enhancing the student experience;
  • Student satisfaction; coherent curriculum design;
  • Assessing effectively, efficiently and to good effect;
  • Managing the assessment process well;
  • Making a good start: the first six weeks of the first semester.

Retention is of increasing importance because of:

  • Financial imperatives, since universities lose money if students drop out;
  • Quality assurance concerns about high levels of attrition;
  • But more importantly because of
  • The high emotional and financial cost to individual students of dropping out, particularly if they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Statistics suggest that student drop out is likely to be linked with:

  • Coming from low-participation neighbourhoods;
  • Being in receipt of Disabled students allowance;
  • Being mature undergraduate students.
  • (Source, HESA)

Yorke (1999:53) reported that for full-time and sandwich students, factors which influenced drop out were:

  • Poor quality of experience
  • Inability to cope with course demands
  • Unhappy with social environment
  • Wrong choice of course
  • Financial need
  • Dissatisfaction with some part of university provision.
  • Yorke, M (1999) Leaving early: undergraduate non-completion in higher education London, Taylor and Francis.

Additionally, withdrawal or failure is more probable when:

  • Students have chosen ‘the wrong programme’;
  • Students lack commitment and/or interest;
  • Students’ expectations are not met;
  • The quality of teaching is poor;
  • The academic culture is unsupportive (even hostile) to learning;
  • Students experience financial difficulty; and
  • Demands for other commitments supervene.
  • Peelo and Wareham pp.34-5

Poor attendance also correlates with drop out:

  • Research at Southampton institute (Lim), Glasgow Caledonian University (Begg) and University of Kent (Van der Velden) shows associations between weak attendance patterns and attrition;
  • Whatever the cause, not being there exacerbates other problems with study;
  • Endeavours to monitor and follow-up poor attendance has high pay off in terms of improving retention;
  • Most universities now have or are developing attendance policies.
  • (For me, the real issue is engagement rather than attendance)

Further factors identified by Peelo and Wareham

  • The pressures of rising student numbers and reduced state funding have led to a decline in opportunities for staff-student interchange;
  • Higher education is becoming more impersonal;
  • Modularisation has led to semester-end (rather than year-end) assessment, which has led to a reduction in the amount of formative assessment being given to students - and formative assessment is a critically important part of the learning process.

Mature students drop out too

  • “The older female students were less likely than their younger peers to cite matters related to wrong choice of field of study. ‘Mature’ entrants tend to have taken time over a decision that is often buttressed by their experience of life outside the educational system. Basically, they know what they want to do. On the evidence of this study, however, these students more frequently run into difficulty with finance and family.”
  • Peelo and Wareham p33

What can universities do?

  • “Whereas a higher education institution can not do much about students’ background circumstances, it is probable that there is more academic failure in UK higher education than there should be. There seems to be scope in institutions for improving the ways in which they support students’ learning – and hence for reducing the incidence of academic failure. In the end, this comes down to an orientation towards the enhancement of the quality of the student experience.” (Yorke 2002 op cit p39).

Retention of international students: some important considerations

  • Is recruitment undertaken to ensure students have the potential to succeed?
  • Is induction framed appropriately to welcome international students?
  • Are steps taken proactively to ensure international students have a good chance of integrating with their study cohorts?
  • Is the right kind of support offered (language, crisis support, befriending etc.?)

What can HEIs do at a strategic level to minimise failure?

  • Have an institution-wide policy commitment to students' development;
  • Have in place structures and processes consistent with this policy;
  • Ensure that new students enter with, or have the opportunity to acquire, the skills needed for academic success;
  • Run programmes in which the emphasis is on maximising students' development.

Other institutional tactics

  • Acknowledge through practice that support for students' academic development needs to be augmented by support for their personal development; and
  • See retention as an integral part of educational policy and practice, and not a freestanding initiative.
  • From Peelo, M and Wareham, T (eds) (2002) adapted from Tinto.

Enhancements to curriculum design and delivery: we can:

  • Explore how we can best use the first half of the first semester to induct students into good study patterns and practices to enhance learning and improve retention (Yorke 2009);
  • Reconsider the kinds of activities students engage with to maximise ‘learning by doing’;
  • Rethink the way in which we use lecture periods to include activity as well as delivery;
  • Consider how we can best make use of technologies to support learning and engagement.

What can we do in the first six weeks?

  • Enable students to feel part of a cohort rather than a number of a list;
  • Help students acclimatise to the new learning context in which they find themselves;
  • Familiarise them with the language and culture of the subject area they are studying (Northedge, 2003);
  • Foster the information literacy and other skills that students will need to succeed;
  • Guide them on where to go for help as necessary.

Mapping out the programme as a whole: some questions

  • Are you ensuring that students are immersed in the subject they have come to study from the outset?
  • Is induction a valuable and productive introduction to the course?
  • Do students have a positive and balanced experience across the programme?
  • Are there points in the academic year when there doesn’t seem to be much going on (e.g. an extended Christmas break) when going home (and not coming back) seems like a good option?

Mapping assessment

  • Are summative assessments undertaken throughout the course, or is everything ‘sudden death’ end-point?
  • Is there excessive bunching of assignments in different modules that is highly stressful for students and unmanageable staff?
  • Are there plenty of opportunities for formative assessment, especially early on?
  • Are students over-assessed?
  • When you have introduced innovative assignments, have they been as well as or instead of existing ones?

Mapping progression

  • Is there a coherent model of progression across the student life-cycle from induction to ‘outduction’?
  • Do you manage transitions from year one to year two and year two to year three to ensure students remain committed and engaged?
  • Is there some continuity in the sources of student support throughout the course (e.g. personal tutors)?
  • Are students offered support and guidance in relation to personal development and employability?

Assessment and its impact on retention

  • “Roughly two-thirds of premature departures take place in, or at the end of, the first year of full-time study in the UK. Anecdotal evidence from a number of institutions indicates that early poor performance can be a powerful disincentive to continuation, with students feeling that perhaps they were not cut out for higher education after all – although the main problems are acculturation and acclimatisation to studying.” (Yorke, p37)
  • Implications: assessment in the first semester is critical: it should be formative, informative, developmental and remediable.

The uses of computer-assisted formative assessment.

  • While CAA is used in some contexts summatively, many would argue that it is most powerfully used to support formative feedback, especially where automatically generated by email.
  • Students seem to really like having the chance to find out how they are doing, and attempt tests several times in an environment where no one else is watching how they do.
  • Another benefit is that CAA systems allow you to monitor what is going on across a cohort, enabling you to concentrate your energies either on students who are repeatedly doing badly or those who are not engaging at all in the activity.

Assessment, confidence and retention

  • Crudely, student achievement is linked to students own beliefs about their abilities, whether these are fixed or malleable;
  • Students who subscribe to an entity (fixed) theory of intelligence need ‘a diet of easy successes’ (Dweck, 2000:15) to confirm their ability and are fearful of learning goals as this involves an element of risk and personal failure. Assessment for these students is an all-encompassing activity that defines them as people. If they fail at the task, they are failures.

Students who believe that intelligence is malleable may be more robust

  • Students who believe that intelligence is incremental have little or no fear of failure. A typical response from such a student is ‘The harder it gets, the harder I need to try’. These students do not see failure as an indictment of themselves and [can] separate their self-image from their academic achievement. When faced with a challenge, these students are more likely to continue in the face of adversity because they have nothing to prove. (after Clegg in Peelo and Wareham 2002)

Helping students understand the rules of the game

  • The hardship was not understanding. When they give you an assignment and say it was on this handout. But my difficulty is not understanding what to do at first… I think that there’s a lack of my reading ability, which I can’t blame anyone for. I can only blame myself because I don’t like reading. And if you don’t read, you’re not going to learn certain things. So I suppose that’s to do with me…’s reading as well as putting what you read into your essay. You can read it and understand it. I can read and understand it, but then you have to incorporate it into your own words. But in the words they want you to say it in, not just: She said this, and this is the way it should be. The words, the proper language.
  • (Bowl op cit 2003 p90).

Problems associated with reading

  • If 25% of your marks is from reading, you’ve got to try and show that, even if you haven’t read. I’m not going to sit there and read a chapter, and I’m certainly not going to read a book. But I’ll read little paragraphs that I think are relevant to what I’m writing, and it’s got me through, and my marks have been fine. But I can’t read. If I read too much, it goes over my head. If I’m writing something, I know what I want to say and I need something to back me up… then I will find something in a book that goes with that. I’m not going to try to take in the whole book just for one little bit. I have my book next to me and then I can pick out the bits. (Jenny, full-time community and youth work student).
  • (Marion Bowl Non-traditional entrants to Higher Education 2003 p89).

Help students understand what is required with reading

  • Help them also to understand that there are different kinds of approaches needed for reading depending on whether they are reading for pleasure, for information, for understanding or reading around a topic;
  • Help them to become active readers with a pen and Post-its in hand, rather than passive readers, fitting the task in alongside television and other noisy distractions;
  • Give them clear guidance in the early stages about how much they need to read and what kinds of materials they need to focus on.

Use formative assessment to help students with writing

  • Devote energy to helping students understand what is required of them in terms of writing;
  • Work with them to understand the various academic discourses that are employed within the subject/institution;
  • Help them to understand when writing needs to be personal and based on individual experience, such as in a reflective log, and when it needs to be formal and using academic conventions like passive voice and third person, as in written reports and essays.

Making the most of feedback

  • Plan to maximise the impact of formative feedback. Make extra time helping students to understand the importance of feedback and the value of spending some of their time after receiving work back to learn from the experience.
  • Provide opportunities for students to respond to our feedback, for example, by giving students follow-up task or give them ‘feed-forward’ comments to improve their next piece of work.
  • Think about the means by which we deliver feedback, since this can be vital in determining how much notice students take of what you say.

The relationship between part-time work and student success

  • Considerable research suggests that students who work more than about 12 hours per week are likely to be academically disadvantaged;
  • Students from lower SEGS are more likely to need to work part-time and are less able to stop working at peak times of study;
  • Disabled students may well be less well placed to find and keep part-time work, with inevitable financial repercussions.

What can we do as individuals?

  • Set small early assessed tasks (formative or summative) and turn them round fast in the crucial first semester;
  • Monitor student attendance/ engagement and take action when students disappear and particularly when work is not handed in;
  • Make time available for student support, but know when to refer matters on when the problems are beyond our capabilities;
  • Do what we can to personalise the learning experience.

What can we do in the first seeks weeks of the first semester?

  • Enable students to feel part of a cohort rather than a number of a list;
  • Help students acclimatise to the new learning context in which they find themselves;
  • Familiarise them with the language and culture of the subject area they are studying (Northedge, 2003);
  • Foster the information literacy and other skills that students will need to succeed;
  • Guide them on where to go for help as necessary
  • Consider using the first six weeks as a coherent immersive experience.

Useful references

  • Bowl, M. (2003) Non-traditional entrants to higher education ‘they talk about people like me’ Stoke on Trent, UK, Trentham Books.
  • Boud, D. (1995) Enhancing learning through self-assessment London, Routledge.
  • Gibbs, G. (1999) Using assessment strategically to change the way students learn, In Brown S. & Glasner, A. (eds.), Assessment Matters in Higher Education: Choosing and Using Diverse Approaches Maidenhead: SRHE/Open University Press.
  • Gibbs G. (September 2008) Designing assessment to support student learning Keynote at Leeds Met staff Development festival.
  • Kneale, P. E. (1997) The rise of the "strategic student": how can we adapt to cope? in Armstrong, S., Thompson, G. and Brown, S. (eds) Facing up to Radical Changes in Universities and Colleges, 119-139 London: Kogan Page.

Further references

  • Higher Education Statistics Agency
  • Hilton, A. (2003) Saving our Students (SoS) embedding successful projects across institutions, Project Report York: Higher Education Academy.
  • Northedge, A. (2003) Enabling participation in academic discourse Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2003, pp. 169–180 Carfax, Taylor and Francis
  • Peelo, M. and Wareham, T. (eds.) (2002) Failing Students in higher education, Maidenhead, UK, SRHE/Open University Press.
  • Sadler, D. R. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems, Instructional Science 18, 119-144.
  • Yorke, M. (1999), Leaving Early: Undergraduate Non-Completion in Higher Education, London, Taylor and Francis.
  • Yorke, M. and Longden, B. (2004) Retention and Student Success in Higher Education, Maidenhead, Open University Press

Diamond nine interventions

  • Monitor attendance
  • Use student liaison officers
  • Use monitored weekly CAA tests
  • Have a personal tutor schedule of meetings
  • Use regular texts to individuals
  • Encourage interaction on discussion board
  • Track and monitor course work progress
  • Have a prioritised list of students ‘at risk’
  • Use 2nd/3rd year students as buddies

Risk analysis: factors impacting on drop out: likelihood x impact

  • Within our control
  • Clear/poor channels of communication
  • Policy on access/ approachability
  • Peer behaviour
  • Inclusivity strategies
  • Availability of study skills/ information literacy
  • Outwith our control
  • Bereavement
  • Family crisis
  • Illness
  • Relationship break up
  • Financial problems
  • Accommodation issues
  • Homesickness

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