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Investigating and developing a measure of students at risk of discontinuing first-year studies prematurely. Collaborative Research Project. Alexandra Dobson – Newport Business School – Lecturer in Law Alexandra.dobson@newport.ac.uk

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Investigating and developing

a measure of students at risk

of discontinuing first-year

studies prematurely


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Collaborative Research Project

  • Alexandra Dobson – Newport Business School – Lecturer in Law

  • Alexandra.dobson@newport.ac.uk

  • Dr Ron Fisher -Senior lecturer,Griffith Business School, Griffith University Gold Coast, Australia

  • Dr Mark Francis – Reader in Business and Management- Newport Business School.

  • Both institutions provided teaching and learning grants to support the research.


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Background

  • Discontinuation of studies and the outcomes flowing from that are generally perceived to be negative for both the individual and the institution and are worthy of close analysis. Following preliminary discussions, it was felt that an interesting and useful international co-research project could be mounted where researchers could collaborate with one another to construct an assessment tool and test it, with the ultimate goal of assisting the debate.


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Rationale

  • Many issues relating to transition are well known, and a range of actions to reduce attrition has been implemented at university-level in both NBS and Griffith. However, the issue of propensity to discontinue first-year university studies from the perspective of students themselveshas not been adequately addressed, either at the institutional level or in academic research.


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National Audit Office

  • The 2007 report found that ‘around 28,000 full-time and 87,000 part time undergraduates who commenced their studies in 2004-05 were no longer in higher education in 2005-06.

  • Russell Group - highest average continuation rate - universities created since 1992 having the lowest average rate overall.


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Background to the Research

A considerable amount of work had already been carried out at both institutions into the complex reasons why students discontinue their studies. However the use of biodata as a predictor for discontinuation has received little attention in education.


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Methodology

  • Using a mixed methods approach, the research will collect and analyse interview data from a range of interviewees. (staff and students)

  • The qualitative stage will enable Biodata and Situational Judgement Inventory (SJI) indices to be constructed, together with measurement rubrics to evaluate the data.


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Methodology

  • Biodata questions will be supplemented with Situational Judgment Inventory (SJI) items, both of which will invite students to select from predetermined responses. While biodata has been used extensively as a selection tool for employment and in marketing contexts (Carraher et al, 2006), it has received limited attention in educational research. While one study reports the use of biodata in higher education (Oswald et al., 2004), there are no reported studies of its use in the area of student retention.


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Methodology

  • Biodata measures are designed to measure students’ non-cognitive attributes and predict multiple dimensions of university performance (Oswald et al., 2004). Biodata has been shown in numerous studies to be a valid and reliable means of predicting future behaviour and performance based on questions about life and work experiences (based on the belief that future actions may frequently be predicted by past behaviours).


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Methodology

  • Items such as opinions, values, beliefs, and attitudes are also considered (e.g. questions about knowledge, ethics, leadership etc). Biodata questions will be supplemented with Situational Judgment Inventory (SJI) items, both of which will invite students to select from predetermined responses.


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Approach at Griffith

  • In this study a pragmatic approach is proposed using mixed methods. Firstly, a qualitative phase collects data to establish a framework for conceptualising what factors lead to students discontinuing university studies prematurely. Successful students (e.g. student in Griffith Honours College) will also be interviewed in order to gain a second-order insight into success and potential failure at university (i.e. from the perspectives of the students themselves). As with all qualitative research the exact number of interviews needed has not been decided at this stage.


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Methodology

  • At Griffith it is estimated that up to 25 interviews will be required for each group of interviewees (i.e. academic staff and high performing students), a total of approximately 50 interviews. Interviews will be audio-recorded and transcribed prior to analysis, which will be undertaken using Leximancer data mining software


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Methodology

  • At NBS the number of interviews may be less – a smaller cohort but this is still under discussion.


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Situational Judgement Tests

  • Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs) – sometimes termed Situational Judgement Questionnaires are a type of psychological test that assesses judgement required for solving problems


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Methodology

  • At Griffith, questionnaires will be trialled in a large first-year core business course, with results analysed using the measurement rubrics. It is anticipated that the instruments will identify students at risk, enabling appropriate action to be taken. A similar approach will be adopted at Newport Business School (NBS).


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NEXT STEPS

  • AT NBS and Griffith carry out the interviews that will assist with Biodata and SJI.

  • Top-down approach – staff and students

  • Difficulties – interviews with students who have discontinued.

  • Exit interviews


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