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Building a Team to Bridge the First-year Learning Gap CACUSS 2007. Sheilagh Grills Brandon University.

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“Building partnerships and facilitating collaboration is an involved, multi-faceted process of building trust, increasing understanding and enhancing effectiveness which occurs within the historical and cultural context of the institution.”
    • (Walker, 2007: 24)
learning skills at brandon university
Learning Skills at Brandon University
  • According to Maclean’s, BU had a 72.2% retention rate in 2005
  • We have historically offered non-credit, no-cost workshops on specific academic skills, targeted primarily at first-year students.
  • 6-week ‘Success Series’ of workshops dealing with the most commonly requested topics
    • Students were encouraged to attend all six sessions, but attendance was strictly voluntary
    • I looked at entry characteristics of students and the number of sessions they chose to attend
academic aptitude rating scores coming in to university account for less than 2% of the variability in at-risk students’ first-year GPAs
  • some estimates are that 1/3 of students who have earned academic scholarships in the U.S. take developmental or remedial courses in their first year
at risk students must learn the academic skills necessary to actively engage the material and get the most out of each lecture in their first year, or they risk dropping out (voluntarily or at the request of the institution)
Using this data I began the process of building this series of workshops into a learning skills and critical thinking course, called ‘Fundamentals of Inquiry’, team taught by staff and faculty, which would count as an elective.
  • A credit-bearing course that used critical thinking and learning skills to improve student engagement was received with some skepticism.
    • “University 101” model was attempted over the years, but was never approved.
team approach
Team Approach
  • Student Perspectives
    • Students’ experiences and ways of knowing can be important stepping stones, but with this information alone we can end up with various pathways in no particular direction
  • Staff/Front Line Experience
    • Anecdotal evidence can suggest a particular path of action, but can also fan out in a wide variety of short, time sensitive lines
Faculty Research & Institutional Data
    • can produce enduring plans, but can also produce actions based on 20 year old protocols
    • can be removed from HOW questions, and process or procedure issues
  • Building a Team of Students, Staff and Faculty was central for:
    • Grounding the project
    • Basing it on data
    • Implementing
  • 1. The Transition Course as Learning Community
    • First-year learning communities can assist with both social and academic integration, which in turn increase satisfaction and persistence rates
    • Peer cooperative learning programs that specifically embed learning strategy practice or active learning methods into academic content are more effective than collaborative learning that simply increase interaction, but are more demanding of institutional resources
James, Bruch & Jehangir (2006:11) distinguish between the functions of a learning community and a learning community
    • “[In] a learning community … members help each other learn to join the academic community: by supporting each other through listening, disagreeing, and working together, students build academic skills and explore ideas in ways that value individual knowledge”
  • 2. Demonstrate, teach and require deep processing of broad, interdisciplinary concepts.
    • the acquisition of cognitive skills rather than the acquisition of facts
    • deep processing produces the greatest and longest effects in knowledge acquisition, comprehension and retention
    • emphasize skills that transfer broadly across disciplines and form the foundation for subsequent intense studies within a particular discipline.
engage in self-regulatory learning, and to see themselves as part of the broader academic community rather than passive receivers of knowledge
    • students who monitor and take control of their own learning are more successful academically, are less likely to attribute failure to external, stable sources, are more likely to work harder, longer and select more challenging learning tasks and have an improved sense of self-efficacy.
  • multiple forms of evaluation
    • smaller, weekly assignments
    • research essay
    • an oral presentation
a peer cooperative learning program that includes:
    • peer interaction
    • structured activities
    • interdependence and self-directed learning
    • informal and formal student-faculty interactions
    • senior students as mentors and models
    • high academic expectations
    • scaffolded instruction
    • discussion of affective components of learning
learning and study strategies inventory lassi
Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI )
  • Provides standardized scores and norms for a 10-scale assessment of students’ awareness about and reported use of learning and study strategies:
    • anxiety, attitude, concentration, information processing, motivation, self-testing, selecting main ideas, use of support services, time management or test taking.
initial group differences
Initial Group Differences
  • Students enrolled in the ‘Fundamentals of Inquiry’ class had significantly lower scores than their peers in the first week of the semester on four dimensions:
    • Motivation
    • Self Testing
    • Time Management
    • Test Taking
pre post comparisons
Pre-Post Comparisons
  • Looked at any changes in awareness and reported use of learning skills between the first week and last week of the semester.
  • There were no significant differences in the control group for any subscales.
  • Students enrolled in the introductory psychology course were found to have no significant changes between September and December.
For the students enrolled in Fundamentals of Inquiry, significant improvements were made in all areas except the Attitude subscale
  • Even for the subscales where the control group was found to have significantly higher scores at initial entry, these advantages were all erased at the end of the semester
  • Make a topic of Attribution theory and Intellectual development
    • Gaps between student expectations and institutional or faculty expectations:
      • faculty wanted graduates of this course to be at an advanced level in critical thinking and essay writing
      • students wanted to know what was the ‘magic bullet’ for university success
  • Continuity is Critical
    • one central coordinator  
    • someone respected by both ‘sides’
    • guest speakers with specific units or objectives
The Team’s the thing
    • Follow Schroeder’s (1999) principles for developing successful partnerships
    • involve others in planning and implementation, especially a potential antagonist
      • advisors/guidance counsellors
    • be systematic about aligning resources
      • data & institutional support
      • collective agreements & control of for-credit course delivery
The Relationship Factor Carries forward Exponentially
    • the informal student-faculty relationship happens!
    • don’t underestimate the time and resources needed
      • Imbedded learning skills instruction within academic content demands a lot of institutional resources
      • By building a diverse team, we were able to put together sufficient ‘portions’ of workload of existing staff
      • senior students as tutorial leaders and mentors helps build the learning community, a sense of belonging AND helps wean the needy students
Interdisciplinary Aspect allows for greater range of connections
    • allows for discussion of discipline areas and how specific areas relate
    • identifying the types of questions that each student tends to ask in weekly assignments and class discussions.
    • Helps undecided students sort out what types of courses to take the following semester.
    • a new major: BA in Interdisciplinary Studies
in sum
In Sum
  • Not quite a learning community, not quite a philosophy course and not really learning skills workshops
  • It seems to have been helpful
  • Ongoing
  • Build the partnerships