Students are facing a Christmas break like no other. Thanks to COVID-19, a mixed term resulted in an early finish at the start of December. Now, a phased return in the new year means that some students aren’t scheduled to come back to campus until February 2021.
There’s a short holiday period within that time. Yet students will be expected to continue their studies from home for up to eight weeks. With teaching taking place entirely online, and students away from campus in the winter for longer than ever before, your university faces a real challenge to understand how students are doing.
Monitoring engagement is an urgent concern. Naturally, it’s essential you understand it so you can support student wellbeing. Yet lack of engagement also presents huge retention issues. In fact, a recent survey by Wonkhe revealed that 13% of current students consider dropping out on a weekly, or even daily, basis. Universities are worried that students simply won’t return in the new year.
Identifying at-risk students and keeping them motivated is now even more essential. Your best chance of engagement and retention success is to identify problems and put processes in place to make positive changes. Yet how can you measure engagement in a challenging period, through which you’re relying solely on digital systems?
Isolation: a changing landscape that increases loneliness
It’s not only the students returning home who feel a sense of isolation. Commuter students are arriving at an almost empty campus with a huge sense of disconnect. And there are thousands of students remaining in their accommodation over the lengthy Christmas period. With quiet surroundings and staff away for at least two weeks, it’s essential to combat the inevitable sense of loneliness that no doubt enhances the risk of disengagement.
This problem has arisen at a notable point in the academic year, as the Christmas period is always a key time for student retention. The full impact of this turbulent year on student progression isn’t yet completely clear, and we may not get the real picture of retention figures until later on. However, what is clear in this time of vulnerability and looking to a future whereby blended learning is undoubtedly here to stay, the need to identify early warning signs and take immediate action has never been more pressing.
Engagement: a strategy for progression and retention
Some universities have openly admitted they’re not sure what engagement at their campus looks like, nor are they sure how to action, or even make sense of, the data they have. And with invisible engagement comes the concern of retention. How do you progress students without understanding their concerns?
It’s here that good technology and data enable good practice for understanding engagement. At the University of the West of England Bristol (UWE), staff and external teams are working through to the Christmas period to call students to find out how they’re coping. Concerned that students may go home for Christmas and not return, the university is keen to understand student worries and what they may be able to do to help.
‘It’s a mammoth task,’ admits Jo Midgley, Registrar and Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience at UWE Bristol. ‘Yet it’s one we know is vital. Thankfully, it’s also a process that goes hand-in-hand with our use of Solutionpath’s StREAM platform. The real-time data it provides is allowing us to identify students giving us the greatest cause for concern, so we can contact them first. Basing our priority list on evidence-based, measurable data, we can act quickly to avoid any student falling through the cracks.’
Data: spot early warning signs and act quickly
COVID-19 has certainly brought into question the way universities monitor engagement. So far for many, engagement’s been a trial and error approach based on hypotheses. Yet with out-dated methods to give limited measures of success, there’s little consistency, which prevents universities from identifying struggling students.
StREAM has proven crucial to providing the daily learning analytics that universities desperately need. StREAM’s` real-time data gives you an impartial understanding of what’s important. Not only does the data allow students to monitor their own engagement, but it also gives tutors an insight into potential progression issues as soon as they arise.
To support engagement that leads to retention, identifying these early warning signs is crucial. Once you can pinpoint problems, you can design your response so you can take the right action at the right time. Something we believe is not only important in the current climate but needed to support changes to learning delivery in a post-COVID world.
Students are facing a Christmas break like no other. Thanks to COVID-19, a mixed term resulted in an early finish at the start of December. Now, a phased return in the new year means that some students aren’t scheduled to come back to campus until February 2021. There’s a short holiday period within that time. […]
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