This year at NITOP, we (Karly and Jen) hosted a Participant Idea Exchange (PIE) about challenges educators face at open enrollment institutions.
If you are unfamiliar with NITOP, PIEs are round-table discussions where conference attendees discuss topics selected by the presenters for that table. There are multiple PIE sessions each year at NITOP, and in any given session, there are 20-30 tables, with each table discussing their own topic related to the teaching of psychology. Depending on the topic, a table can have an intimate discussion between 2-3 attendees, or a larger discussion among 8+ attendees. At some tables, you may “pick the brain” of the presenter(s), if they are talking about a subject you are interested in but have limited experience in. At other tables, attendees may have an open conversation about a familiar yet relevant topic.
At our table, there was an excellent turnout of academics from a range of different institutions, including community college instructors, liberal arts colleges, and bigger, research intensive universities (thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion!). The diverse group that attended lead to a fruitful discussion of the various difficulties students and faculty face at open enrollment institutions, and ideas for how to solve some of those problems. Below is a list reviewing the top 5 challenges we discussed, and possible solutions.
1. Students are often unaware of the resources available to them on campus, such as tutoring centers, the library, and computer labs.
Solution: If you teach an intro-level class, make a campus scavenger hunt for your students as a class assignment or extra credit assignment. Have them find certain campus buildings/resources, and get “proof” that they were their (pictures, selfies, brochures or signatures from staff, etc). Also, make sure to provide web-links to these resources on your LMS or in an email to your students. If you teach an upper division class, consider offering extra credit, or partial “grade exemptions”, if your students seek out these extra resources. For example, if you have students write a paper in your class, offer extra credit for attending the writing center. Not a fan of giving out extra credit? Attending the writing center could earn students guaranteed points for the grammar portion of that paper’s grading rubric.
2. Students are often unfamiliar with the university’s LMS and/or email.
Solution: At the beginning of the semester, spend a few minutes navigating your LMS. If you are like us, you post a LOT of material on there. Dedicate a few minutes to showing students where to find previous lecture slides or notes, course readings, assignments, and other relevant materials. If you are requiring students to turn in a paper through the LMS or via email, show them how to do it, and be prepared for hiccups on the first assignment. Consider having them submit a “rough-draft” version of the assignment, so students can learn how to submit the paper for a few points. Then, a week or so later, have them submit the actual paper that will be graded.
3. Despite many courses requiring prerequisites, many students have varying foundational knowledge.
Solution: Administer a pre-test at the beginning of each course to assess where your students’ abilities are at. For example, in Statistical Methods, we have our students take a math pre-test, testing very basic math knowledge. This serves two purposes: 1) it tells us about what our students know, so we can prepare review packets or lectures if necessary. 2) it tells students about what they know and gives them a chance to review rusty topics; or they can seek out extra support to help them succeed. If you offer pretests, we strongly recommend you also provide your students with the tools to review or learn the material that they were tested on. When we give our math pretest, we also give our students a chapter reviewing “math 101” so they can (re)learn how to turn fractions into decimals and use the order of operations. If you notice all of your students bombed one section of the pretest, consider taking the time to review that material in class.
4. Students don’t attend office hours.
Solution: One way we have combated this challenge is to re-frame office hours as review sessions. Doing this makes the sessions feel more group oriented and less intimidating. If you do this, it’s also recommended that you hold your review sessions in a small conference room to accommodate more students at once. Another option to encourage attendance at office hours is to “fib” to the students about the normal attendance rate. If you make attending office hours seem more of the “norm”, its possible students will be more likely to come. Additionally, you could give examples of how you have helped students during office hours. Telling the students how office hours can directly benefit them may be the push they need to start attending.
5. Students don’t reach out, even when they are struggling.
Solution: In this case, it may be easier for you to reach out to the student instead of the other way around. Some LMS platforms (e.g., Canvas) have a built-in tool to contact multiple students who meet a certain criteria. For instance, you can choose to contact students who failed a quiz or exam. Those students who meet that criteria receive an email that looks like it was individually tailored to that student. Don’t have this fancy tool in your LMS? You can still do it! The work just has to be done manually. Taking the time to reach out to those students may make a difference and be the wake-up call they need. Another strategy to encourage students to reach out is to give examples of failures/struggles that you have had. Sharing these experiences is a great way to build rapport and can prevent students form viewing you on a pedestal, which may make them more willing to seek out support form you. Also, you could share experiences from previous students. You could either read statements that students wrote and sent to you, or you could invite previous students to speak to the class about how to succeed.
These were just 5 of the challenges and potential solutions discussed during our PIE, but if you want to check out the full list, you can find it here. What other challenges do your students face, and how do you help them succeed?
Written by Karly Schleicher and Jen Blush