Improving Student Retention

Transcript

How digital technologies and improving digital literacy can meet students needs and improve student retention

Presented by Kim Catcheside

Richard Francis, Head of e-Learning at Oxford Brookes University.

I was involved with the setting up of the virtual learning environment here at that time and there really was no consideration of the kinds of technologies that the students themselves might be wanting to use. It was all about providing a virtual learning environment in which tutors could organise their courses for the benefit of their students – of course – but that has changed completely – on its head in the last ten years, so much so that now we’re looking at a central IT infrastructure which is laying down that the institution must support the learners devices, the learners technologies.

Kim  Catcheside

Students are no longer the passive recipients of academic and course information – today it’s recognised that students need active involvement in directing their learning.

Richard Francis

There are specific posts being created under the title “client device manager” – this is a recognition that the learner is bringing their own devices and technologies to the institution and expecting to use that and the institution needs to accommodate that and that’s a major sea change which has happened in the last ten years.

Kim Catcheside

Today there are 50% more students and from a wider range of backgrounds – keeping them on course is a pressing concern. Student drop out can be linked to financial difficulties, choosing the wrong course, a difficult home life…poor contact with tutors – it’s expensive – and for the student it’s often the beginning of a downward spiral out of education and employment.

More than ever, the effective engagement, contact and communication are vital to students completing their courses.

Research shows that the appropriate use of technology in learning and teaching can enhance learning, motivate students and improve retention,

Welcome to JISC ON AIR. I’m Kim Catcheside and in this programme I’ll be exploring how using digital technologies and improving digital literacy can meet students needs and improve student retention

Ellen Lessner, the e-learning coordinator at Abingdon and Whitney College

The link is our new initiative where we’ve put together the library, e-learning services student  mentoring and student services

Kim Catcheside

Not far from Oxford Brookes University, Ellen Lessner, is showing me around the newly refurbished library – the Link…

Ellen Lessner

in the corner there is the student mentor, Steve has a computer there to help everyone. Upstairs and down here there are approximately 50 computers.

Kim Catcheside

I can see it’s incredibly well used; there are students at almost every station. People clearly working quietly, but also talking to each other, looking over each other’s screens. How is this different from a year ago?

Ellen Lessner

Previously it was a very traditionally laid out library. Students from different courses weren’t always comfortable using it, but now we see a wide variety  of students  because it can be used so flexibly. And it’s much busier.

Stephen Jackson, Director of Reviews for the QAA – Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education

The whole idea of the library Is something that’s changed significantly in institutions in recent years. Libraries are no longer quiet avenues of leather bound books they are the social hub of a campus often and I think some very innovative designs about how the spaces are divided up  so that you have areas where people can talk and discuss and areas where people can study privately – and that use of technology to support that learning activity I think has been very effective.

Kim Catcheside

This simple transformation of an underused library to a central hub of resources including student services, support for e-learning and a traditional library. This was not expensive and staff and learners here at this Further Education college in Oxfordshire, believe it positively contributes to student retention.

Just outside the Link, I’m talking to student, Henry Gale…

Kim Catcheside

There’s this new wonderful library, The Link and different kinds of e-learning support. Has it improved your relationships with your tutors? People tend to think if computers as distancing us from human relationships, but do you think it might bring you closer together with your tutors?

Henry Gale

I would say yes. A lot of my friendships are done with people on line using different chat programmes. It’s very good to be able to talk to people in more than just a social aspect, but online as well.

Kim Catcheside

Does it make you feel as though the college cares about you? That it’s actually taken the trouble to do this stuff?

Henry Gale

Yes, definitely. I know the IT staff work very hard to keep it all in place. They’re constantly updating and upgrading it to make it better for the students. Definitely puts across  the feeling that they care about how we learn.

Kim Catcheside

Henry’s an IT student who has a good grasp of digital technologies, but for many of his fellow students, the presumption that all young people are born knowing how to tweet is misleading. To ensure all students feel welcomed and included in digital learning, the college has introduced a mandatory introductory course…

Ellen Lessner

We have a one hour mandatory session a year for students and when tutors take them through this, they get a memory stick with college information – which covers things like email, logging on, password changes…things you think people know, but if you don’t tell them, how do they pick them up?


Kim Catcheside

Helen Beetham, Specialist in research into digital technologies for learning. Here she describes how the majority of students become digitally literate.

Helen Beetham

There’s no doubt that most of the technology that will be useful to people in their lives are introduced to them during their FE and HE experience.

We’re finding that a lot of the web 2 technologies that there’s a lot of excitement about, like twitter, wikis, blogging, immersive environments – in practice most of the people who use these technologies get introduced to them by educators, it’s not the case that there are people out there, stumbling over them and using them for learning gains, and the same is true for open courseware and open learning content.

Kim Catcheside

This is the case for students who are digitally literate, but there is a still a vast majority who do not have the necessary skills to support the use of these technologies for their learning.

It’s vital that staff give students a clear guide to using all the available digital technologies – and explain the benefits of using these for their learning – which is the key to effective communication from the outset.

Ellen Lessner

We gathered some students and asked them questions and  we found out they didn’t know they had an email account at the college– so staff were sending them emails, but they had no idea and  so they weren’t getting much of a response.

Kim Catcheside

It sounds like it’s been an important factor in building relationships – in that the tutor is going to same level as the learner, introducing them to the college – saying this is how things work here.

Ellen Lessner

Yes, a more holistic approach in the induction. We’re as involved in trying to retain students and support them as much as anybody else. It was really Important for us to recognise that you can’t support someone effectively  if you’re not giving them the information explicitly.

Kim Catcheside

For FE and HE institutions who are working students from the widest range of backgrounds, digital technologies potentially play an important role in ensuring students stay the course….

Alex Bols, Head of Education and Quality for the National Union of Students.

Alex Bols

Almost 90% of students completed their course in the institution that they started at. But there are wide variances between institutions.  If you look at Oxford and Cambridge, it’s less than 2% of students that don’t complete whereas London Metropolitan and Thames Valley – 22 – 23% from HE Statistics Agency Recent report.

This is because of the type of students – their level of education…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Some are performing much better than others.

Those institutions that are having most challenges in terms of non completion are  doing most to widen entry in to HE. And actually the support that they need to provide is significantly more support than Oxford and Cambridge to support them to succeed. This is where ICT and technology can support these processes

Kim Catcheside


And how is ICT  supporting retention?

Alex Bols

Students talk about personalised connection between them and the institution. That’s where ICT is able to flag up areas of concern – ie able to monitor students progress through the VLE and this can enhance their link to the tutor. Eg.in an online tutorial when you’re sitting in a room of 20 people, the academic facilitating that discussion is able to see more easily who is not engaging and then get them involved.

Kim Catcheside

So ironically in an age where many students experience of academics is in huge lecture theatres with many other students, it’s the digital technologies which are bringing students and academics closer.

Alex Bols

Yes – it has the potential to do that and not just the academics, but also develop the social community amongst themselves.

Kim Catcheside

To find out how JISC can support your institution with the role technology can play in student retention please visit www.jisc.ac.uk/elearningprogramme

At Oxford Brookes University Richard Francis, has been researching how digital technologies can enhance the learning environment…

Kim Catcheside

Can you describe the most innovative ways you’ve used to respond to that challenge?

Richard Francis

Yes – it’s interesting to see how student accounts of how technology has helped their learning do develop over their programme of study. Where that’s most evident is in their ability to reflect on how they and their peers have worked together; how their work has been enhanced by working in a collaborative mode. So some of the most exciting developments have been in collaborative learning, particularly in the use of wikis, which is a tool which allows for the co-authorship of documents on line. And it’s very exciting to see how learners have made use of wikis for the co-authoriship of documents in ways that do enhance their understanding of the collaborative learning process.

Kim Catcheside

What you’re describing is how new technology at Oxford Brookes has enabled students to move from virtual communities to real communities and perhaps to build and strengthen their links with the university itself.

Richard Francis

Yes, the idea of a virtual community is often seen as a second best – face to face is always better than electronic, but I think that distinction is becoming blurred by these technologies because they do support real communities.

Helen Beetham

Certainly the research I’ve done shows students using facebook and their mobiless to keep in touch with their peers…But they tend to be people they have very strong face-to-face relationships with already – so I don’t think at the moment we’re seeing those web 2 technologies breaking national or local boundaries for students

but we are certainly seeing the potential for students to collaborate using technology as well as face to face

Kim Catcheside

Both Helen’s and Richard’s research highlights the fact that digital technologies help students to learn together- AND are more in control of how and where they study.

Helen Beetham

A huge difference that we’re seeing in the last 2 – 3 years is that students have far more technology in their own hands and students relationship with technology is a much more personal and social one rather than 5 years ago when they would expect the institutions to provide the technologies they needed for their learning. Now there’s much more of an expectation that tey will be in part responsible for the devices they use, but also for their own skills in information management and one of the first things you notice is the diversity of networks and sources they’re using and its confusing for both researchers and students – they’ll talk about google books, google scholar, google docs – and the difference between those sources of information:

Differences that they have learnt to navigate themselves, because often their tutors aren’t giving them specific guidance about those sources

Then they’ll lay out the official course-related sources – ie a virtual  learning environment , lecture notes, podcasts and those will be their background sources – they use these as security – they know that that’s what will tell them what they’re expected to know, but then the more savvy ones will have learnt to navigate open resources from other institutions – MIT’s open for example.

Kim Catcheside

But for all the available online information that Helen describes, the jury’s out about whether digital technologies support a learner’s ability to study…

Stephen Jackson

There are concerns about the substitution of forms of learning by technology and whether that produces a less satisfactory/less effective way of learning – there are various ways to achieve standards and many students learn by way of autonomous learning. The whole point about technology is that it’s the enhancement of the learning experience for students – it needs to be used in the appropriate ways to support learning.

Helen Beetham

Technology is magnifying in some respects, the differences between students. So those who feel in control of their own information and have lots of personal devices and a background in finding what they need, will feel very empowered by the availability of open knowledge, while others will feel very confused by it – so the digital divide is perhaps the widest not just in terms of ownership but also confidence and capacity to use the knowledge that’s available

Kim Catcheside

Here at Abingdon and Whitney college of Further Education, the divide is not just in knowing how to use the digital technologies – for many students, the Link is their only access to  a computer or mobile device. I’m talking to Emma Barwell, Learner Involvement Coordinator,

Emma Barwell

A huge number of our students still don’t have computers at home, or smart phones and we have to cater for the students that don’t. It enables them to stay at college and do their work that requires being on the interenet.

Kim Catcheside

We have pre-conceptions about students all being v computer savvy and online all the time – so must be quite alienating if you’re not – so this is a way of including the in the community

Emma Barwell

Absolutely.

Kim Catcheside

So particularly good for the more vulnerable students here.

Emma Barwell

Also, it’s a cost thing, it’s hard out there, and lots of students who come here find that

Kim Catcheside

How far do you feel the inclusiveness helps young people who might have been financially and socially excluded?

Emma Barwell

It just  means they can rely on doing what other may be able to do at home – there’s a resource here fair and open to everyone –

Stephen Jackson

I think it’s important to see it as only one aspect of what institutions do in order to support students. The whole business of retention has been a long running issue for institutions. It’s not happened more recently…institutions have been developing strategies to encourage higher levels of retention and at the root of those strategies is normally mechanisms which allow greater engagement with the student, regular contact, clear focus on communication and that’s where the use of technology has made a difference – because the growing numbers, ratio of staff, make it difficult for individuals to maintain face to face – but increasing access to info, email, online discussion groups – provides a sense of belonging for students – as part of that wider learning community which is very helpful in terms of securing retention.

Kim Catcheside

So digital technologies can go some way to supporting effective engagement, contact and communication – vital for helping more vulnerable students stay the course.

JISC may be able to support your institution with the role technology can play in student retention – please email us at :

onair@jisc.ac.uk

I hope you’ve found this edition of Jisc On Air useful. If you have, tell your colleagues.

In the next edition of JISC on air, we’ll be looking at efficiencies, enhancements  and transformation – how technology delivers.

Until then, goodbye.