Higher Retention and Better Student Success? Yes Please.

In Higher Ed we are constantly trying to find ways to help students be successful while also trying to increase enrollment and retention. With budget and time constraints it can be difficult for universities and professors to achieve these goals. Universities are trying to tackle these problems with what may seem like unconventional approaches.

Successful Students

Successful and Happy Students

An article from Inside Higher Ed chronicles the efforts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to break the “Iron Triangle”.  The triangle they are referring to is the balance of quality, cost, and access. It often seems that one of the three parts of the triangle has to be sacrificed. UNC Greensboro is challenging that assertion with a project they have been running the past two years called CRAFT.

 

CRAFT is short for create and curate Content, Replace lectures with Active, and Flipped, Team-based learning. Specifically the project focused on general education courses and courses with high rates of students withdrawing or receiving low marks. They have had positive results and found that this format allows for more students to be enrolled in the class as well.

 

This type of strategy certainly seems like it could help bring quality, cost, and access together without the need for one of them to sacrificed. This is Higher Ed, however, and nothing is quite as simple as it sounds. Developing these courses takes a lot of time and support. It would be asking a lot of a professor to use the CRAFT method on their own.

 

The bigger message of this article, however, is that you can serve more students, retain more students, and help lower achieving students be more successful with a focus on active learning. When students are actively involved in the learning process they are more likely to be successful. There is research to back this up as a report from the National Academy of Science shows. They examined 225 studies and found that 3500 more students would have passed if active learning was used in those courses. That is certainly compelling data.

 

It can seem daunting when considering how to start or increase active learning in your courses. The good news is that here at USFSP, OLITS is here to help. We offer trainings on active learning and can help you add active learning to your courses. Check the OLITS Professional Development website to see when upcoming trainings are available or schedule an on-demand training with us. If you want to learn more about active learning, check out this blog post by our very own Otis Wilder.

 

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What is Active Learning?

Active learning 2Active learning is a term that has been tossed around quite a bit in the last few years. While active learning has gotten its share of positive press, it raises a host of questions. What is active learning? Is it an education fad? Should I use it? Can I do active learning in an online course? Let’s take a look under the hood and see what makes active learning tick.

Bonwell and Eison (1991) described active learning in which students, “do something and then reflect on the meaning of what they do.” While this simple description does get at the heart of active learning, it still really doesn’t describe how to recognize it when you see it, much less how to create active learning. Another way to describe active learning is that it is a technique of teaching in which students become active participants in the learning process, rather than passive consumers of knowledge. But, if we dig a little deeper, I think active learning can be best described by the criteria that makes students active in the learning process.

The first criterion is autonomy. Students become more participative when they have choices. Autonomy means the students feel a sense of agency in their own learning journey. Good examples are allowing students to create test questions, or allowing choices in their learning artifact for an assignment (presentation, paper, video, etc.). Autonomy supports intrinsic motivation, which in turn supports active student engagement.

The second criterion is relevance. This is where faculty really get to share their expertise and their passion for their field of research. This is your chance to show it off! Show students why what they are learning is important. Be creative at helping them connect their personal and professional goals to the content in your course. One great example comes from Nikki Stowell. She teaches a business law class and has her students post a picture they actually take to their Canvas course of what the law means to them. Relevance means students stay engaged and they tend to see content as important to them, rather than just busy work.

Our third criterion is exploration. Exploration encourages students by activating their curiosity. Curiosity can often trigger situational interest, which in turn can develop into long-term interest. One of the best ways to do this is to use problem based learning. Talk to your students about the big problems in your field and let them explore the ways in which researchers have grappled with those problems. Allowing students to explore your chosen field, with you there to guide them along the way, can be a fantastic learning experience.

The fourth, and last, criterion for active learning is reflection. We now come full circle back to our original definition. Reflection is the glue that makes learning stick. The practice of reflection is one that allows students to process their experiences in a new way by recalling the experience and sharing it with others. Reflection is most powerful when it is shared and makes for excellent discussions. Reflection allows students a freedom of expression which reactivates their experiences and creates lasting meaning.

To learn more about active learning we encourage you to attend our workshops on active learning here with OLITS and the CITL.
Bonwell, C., and J. Eison. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. AEHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.1. Washington, US: Jossey-Bass.