Why are students failing? What works to improve retention and success Jon Scott School of Biological Sciences
“At least half of college was what went on outside the classroom, among the students, with no adults around”(Moffat, 1989) “Transitions are recognised as more individualised, reflective and fragmented.” (Holdsworth, 2006)
Research Projects • STAR project (Student Transition and Retention) to investigate failures • Structured interviews carried out by staff from Student Learning Centre • Student Feedback Project • Questionnaire & focus groups • Student Experience Project • Video diaries & focus groups • What Works? – Student Retention & Success Project • Surveys & focus groups
The Student Voice “It’s really cool that we can actually send in these videos and it’s like us being heard ’cos first years at university are normally never listened to”
Fragmented Transitions – Starting out “The hardest aspect of leaving home to come to university was leaving my friends and family behind for the first time, because this is my first time away from home for an extended period of time.”
Fragmented Transitions – Starting out • Students are continually adjusting and re-adjusting to the transition from home to university. • During the first semester students occupy an ambiguous ‘middle space’ between home and university. • Social transitions may complicate how students engage with academic transitions (and vice versa).
Also Key Differences in Studying • How did You Find Studying at University Particularly Different to School/College? ‘A lot of information in a short space of time whereas at college you would have it drilled into you’ ‘The level of the academic content was much higher. For A level you were doing one thing for quite a while and here you are doings lots of things at the same time so it is hard to know where I am at any time.’ ‘…some things are a big change. Getting back into writing essays, because I hadn’t written an essay since GCSE, and also the amount of work as well, suddenly writing essays and reports all the time.’ ‘It is really different. Here you are left to get on with it whereas at College you are told what to learn, what to revise, what to do….’ ‘… small sixth form at school, very informal, good relationship with teachers, socialised with them. Lecturers here can’t do enough for you, if you ask a question they will try, but I think I was used to having my teachers driving me forward…’
Friendships and Social Transitions • Central to student transition & the sense of belonging – relationships with other students & staff are important • Students establish friendships in varied ways • Some students build supportive friendships within weeks - others may struggle to ‘fit in’ • Social networking retains strong links with friendship groups – esp Facebook etc.
Mid-term Blues & Middle Space “All the excitement’s gone. Fresher’s was amazing and it just feels like you’re on a massive come down now of how amazing everything was and now it’s just like gone. You want to go home. You miss your mum. You miss your friends. It’s like you have friends here but they’re not like real friends yet. ….It’s really unsettling. I mean I know lots of people here but it’s not the same as knowing everyone back home.”
A Different View… “I don’t really miss home. I don’t understand how people miss people. When I’m here I’m with my uni friends and I’m having a brilliant time and then when I’m at home I’m with my home friends having a brilliant time. I don’t really miss my family. I spent 18 years with them. I can be away from them now quite happily.”
End of Semester 1 “It’s gone so fast. I’m really starting to enjoy Uni though. It’s getting really good. I’m sort of looking forward to going back (home) but sort of not. I think it’s going to be a big adjustment going back home and then when we come back in January it’s going to be an adjustment as well.” “Ah I just need a break. I know it’s not meant to be a break but … it really is. No more waking up at 7.30, making sure I get to lectures on time. I just want to go home. I miss my Mum. I’m sick of doing my washing, having clothes that aren’t ironed. 12 weeks is a long time and I’ve only been home twice.”
Christmas Holidays • Adapting to university is compromised by the desire and need to return home during the Christmas holidays. • End of 1st semester – students exhausted • Look forward to ‘the comforts’ of home • Need to ‘re-adjust’ to family ties again • Soon fall back into ‘dependent’ relations with parents
Home & Revision “Seeing all my family and being at home, it’s quite distracting. At university I have a set place where I can work, my desk and at the library. Where I can do revision at home there’s not any kind of facility for that cos’ obviously I don’t have a desk in my room and it’s really difficult being at home, trying to find a quiet place to work.”
Main Reasons Cited for Failure • Only 1 of 13 was surprised at failing • Unclear about the level of detail needed in answers (7 of 13) • Lack of effort (5 of 13) • Did not like the module (3 of 13) • Failure was my wake-up call! ‘I knew the 1st year wouldn’t count so I just wanted to pass. I was aiming for above 40, around the 50% mark. A lot of people who were 2nd years said they wished they had partied more in the 1st year, so I had that in mind’. ‘Didn’t spend a lot of time on study, maybe only one hour a day, but I know it isn’t enough. Rest of the time, play on the internet talking to people, sleeping a lot: I sleep a lot here, I don’t know why…’ ‘I am going to prepare a lot more. When I had the exams in January it really freaked me out. After that week I was like, I’ve really done badly. But I think it is good because it really kicked me up the bum. So I will prepare a lot more….’ ‘You think a certain amount is going to be okay but then you don’t pass so you realise that it isn’t good enough so you’d best start working harder’
Perceptions of the Helpfulness of Sources of Advice Family Friends Personal Tutor Central Support Dept’l Administrator Other Academic Staff
Moving Towards The 2nd Year... “We’ve had loads of trouble with our housing...there was lots of falling out and people weren’t speaking to others, it was really quite childish. It’s kind of sorted now. We went to see two houses. The house we went to see yesterday was just disgusting. The landlady didn’t show up to show us around, the fire door didn’t close, the fire alarms didn’t work …so we walked away.”
Transitions • Transitions are often viewed and talked about as a linear process. • “Transitions are recognised as more individualised, reflective and fragmented” (Holdsworth 2006). • Students are continually adjusting and re-adjusting to the transition from home to university. • During the first year students occupy an ambiguous ‘middle space’ between home and university. • Transitions don’t end, they’re just different – e.g. housing, different expectations etc.
Getting to Grips with University – points for consideration • Many students are unsure of what is expected of them • How many academic staff are really aware of what is in the school programmes and how it is delivered? • 1st year does not count • School/college students are accustomed to being able to resit exams and re-write coursework with directed feedback • Students don’t recognise/utilise much of the feedback they receive
What are We Doing? • Review teaching methods and practices • Assessment timing • Provision of feedback & student engagement • Establish stronger links between departments and central services • Review prospectus and Open Days to ensure consistent and transparent academic messages • Using social networking tools to deliver messages about academic demands
What are We Doing? • Personal tutors play a crucial role • Personal tutor project • Other staff become more important in other years e.g. final year project supervisors • Staff need to be capable, approachable and accessible to students • Staff need to be aware of the previous educational experience of the students
What are We Doing? • Map departmental activities that encourage social interactions • Strengthening the Peer Mentor System • Review Estates policy on use of rooms and provision of unmediated social areas • Foster links between off-campus students • Provide non-alcoholic social activities and link with Student Healthy Living Service
It’s Not All Bad News.... “You get to think, the Biochemistry practical is more about thinking and linking things together. It’s really cool.” “They’re all inter-linked. I went through my folder the other day and I was thinking ‘that relates to that over there, and that relates to that from Biological Molecules’. You sought of think ‘wow, they know what they’re doing’.”
It’s Not All Bad News.... “I was dying to get to Uni so I could spread my wings and be independent. That’s what I really wanted to do and yeah, Uni is brilliant. I really like it here and I can actually cook for myself now.”