This was the opening presentation on the first day of the Educause Learning Initiative 2013 Annual Meeting. Unlike the rest of the webinar sessions, it was not recorded, so I have to capture as much as I can of Dr. Vincent Tinto’s presentation, along with my own commentary.
A summary of Dr. Tinto’s presentation can be found online at the official ELI web site for the Annual Meeting.
Dr. Tinto’s presentation boils down to four basic criteria for student success:
- Set expectations.
Provide academic and social support.
- Expectations should be clear, consistent, and accurate. Students do not thrive well in an ambiguous environment. This is something at EdTech strives to help instructors understand when they are creating their learning objectives for their courses–especially for lower level courses, where students are not as “well trained” to becoming self-directed learners.
- Expectations should also be high for students. We all know that students, when properly motivated, are often very capable of achieving goals well beyond what they believe are possible. Students MUST be held to high standards! Lowering standards and expectations does not help students and ultimately will not be beneficial to society as a whole. Unfortunately, there are trends in education today where students are being held to *LOW* standards in the K-12 education, which is causing terrible problems for students when they enter higher education.
Give students assessments and feedback.
- Any academic and support structures on campus (or online) must be contextualized within the learning environment. On our own campus, we have several such structures for various courses. The LEAD sessions for Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, and other courses are perhaps the most well known, but we also have a Writing Center in Campus Support Facility 113. And now we have the brand new Student Success Center in Toomey Hall, directly across the hall from Toomey 199 (large lecture hall). The mission of the Student Success Center is to explicitly provide students with the tools and resources to help them succeed (it’s right there in the name!).
- Students must be given opportunities to apply their knowledge in a variety of ways. Project-based learning is one such way, along with the various labs and design teams on campus. This is one area where our campus will have particular difficulty achieving this online because of the heavy emphasis on science and technology. But thought-experiments can be conducted online just as they can be in a classroom.
- Embedded academic support should also be available for online/blended courses. Supplemental instruction can easily be added to a course by linking to videos, web sites, and other resources that benefit students and save the instructor valuable time. Why re-invent the wheel when you can find a great video that describes the concept? Make students responsible for the content by testing them over the knowledge in the video. You can also point students to basic skills learning communities where they can “brush up” on the fundamentals of a topic. For instance, one complaint we have heard from faculty in the Math department is that students have trouble with the algebra needed to solve the calculus problems, even when they can grasp the calculus concepts just fine.
Engage students in the learning process.
- Institutional monitoring of progress. This is already done (more or less) through student CAPS reports, midterm grades, final grades, and so on. However, perhaps more can be done.
- Early warning systems (e.g. Academic Alert) can give students an idea that something may be wrong with their learning at the earliest stages of the process. At that point, corrective measures can hopefully be made–assuming the student is receptive to such measures, of course (some students just don’t care). The key to successful use of such systems is that they MUST be done early. Test students on the first day of class just to see what they know, and also get an idea of how they learn, which methods will be most effective for teaching the majority of the students (no method can reach all students all the time). In-class assessments are becoming more and more popular–clickers and one-minute papers, for instance.
- Frequent contact between faculty, students, and others involved in the learning process makes a big difference. Students learn differently when engaging with each other than when they engage with the instructor. That is why all three of instructor-student, student-student, and student-content interactions are so very important in the learning process. Just about every instructor will agree that teaching the material is also a great way for learning the material (though it can also be a way of introducing misconceptions without proper supervision from the instructor).
- Going back to the first point, build the expectation that engagement matters both in and out of the classroom.
These are the four main points Dr. Tinto covered. EdTech will be more than happy to engage with any instructor interested in discussing any or all of these issues in more detail. Our Instructional Designers are well-versed in these issues. I believe all instructors *know* these things on an instinctual level to some degree. How these issues play out in the classroom will vary from instructor to instructor, though.