Technologies that Support Retention
Why is this important?
Retention is improved by maintaining student motivation through an enhanced learning experience and engaging learners early in the induction process.
Institutions can be more effective at improving retention with streamlined admissions systems providing more effective recruitment, faster response times to applicants, a personalised prospectus, and a simplified application process for part-time learners.
This briefing looks at three approaches to improving student retention. The first of these is providing better information to support applicants to make a correct choice in the first place. Two examples are provided: the use of a web-based alternative guide to an institution, and the improvement of admissions processes. The second is supporting the induction process/improving the learning and teaching experience: examples provided are social networking resources to engage learners, improved feedback on assignment, and the use of lecture capture podcasts to support learning. Finally, the use of retention prediction services is explored, with one example where a set of processes have been developed to identify students at risk of failing.
Higher Education Institutions have been encouraged to engage more work-based learners and part-time learners and seek to expand alternative markets, which at present require systems that streamline the processing of applicants to these courses.
Most institutions will have developed a coherent policy/strategy around improving student retention. Several of these examples have provided a framework for institutions to implement that policy across the institution.
The ability to examine student performance and predict at-risk learners provides an effective mechanism in making appropriate timely interventions.
What are the lessons for institutions?
Promote policy through technology
Institutional policies around student retention often require a vehicle to enable implementation across an institution. The implementation of a technical innovation can provide the opportunity to realize the aims of such a policy.
Involve students in improving retention
The examples from these projects used students to create material or feedback on the requirements and development of approaches to improve retention.
It does not only benefit at risk students
Any steps made to improve retention will inevitably improve the student experience for all learners. The projects provide examples that provide feedback or improved information to all students.
This is being done by...
Current students supporting prospective students
The Alternative Guide (to UCLan) is an online, dynamic platform of support to enable students to develop realistic expectations of university.
The web site is not 100% student-led as it is owned by the institution, however existing students were encouraged to contribute and assessment activities for some modules were structured around developing content for the site. The approach has been used to share current students’ experiences of all aspects of university to help potential students prepare for university and to support them through their transition into HE.
The web site has acted as a focus for the institutions to implement policies around providing better information to prospective students and improving retention. The approach is not unique and similar web resources have been developed at other institutions, such as the University of Bradford (http://www.brad.ac.uk/developme/) and alternative guides produced by the National Union of Students, for example at Cambridge University (The Alternative Prospectus at Cambridge) and the University of Bristol.
There are also several student-led forums and national web sites that offer alternative information on universities. The institutional-led alternative guide provides information produced by students, alongside accurate information about the university.
Simplifying Learner Admission Processes
The University of Gloucestershire has undertaken a project to simplify admission processes. Although this project was not specifically aimed at improving retention, the link between retention and improved admissions processes is easy to see.
The institution made existing systems more efficient and effective through streamlined process and better systems integration. They also produced an online open day booking and prospectus order system, and a web-based electronic application and admission decision process.
Using learning analytics to predict retention problems
Thames Valley University have been exploring the use of retention prediction services. This has involved the mining of data across existing institutional information resources to extract any useful data about an individual student’s background, performance or activities (such as use of the library or learning systems) that may be able to predict if that student is at risk of under achieving and perhaps dropping out of the course.
The information and analysis is then presented back to the individual student or to a member of staff. Staff and/or students can be alerted if the student is thought to be at risk, and an appropriate intervention can be initiated to assist the student if necessary.
The intervention system puts students at the centre of the process, providing a means for students to see how they are performing using a gaming type interface. The system benefits all students as it helps to motivate learning and achievement, not just predict those at risk.
Improving motivation through learning and teaching
Feedback was identified through the HEFCE National Student Survey as an area students scored low. At the University of Reading the use of video feedback on assignments was used to provide high quality and timely feedback to engage and motivate students and help them improve performance in subsequent assignments. Many students found it “more engaging and informative than methods that they had previously experienced”. Staff were also encouraged to think about how they provided feedback to students, leading to improvements in practice.
At Coventry University a system has been implemented across the institution to support the capture of lectures to be made available as a video podcast after the lecture. One intended benefit is that, by providing the lecture in a format that students can revisit at any stage, the retention of learners at the institution will improve. Students can feel reassured that they can go back and view the lecture again to clarify any points they did not understand or provide an alternative to attendance if a student is ill or unable to attend for any period.