Day one session One- papers and Workshop

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What Works? Student Retention & Success

Two-day Retention Convention

Wednesday 3rd & Thursday 4th March 2010

Parallel Sessions

Descriptions and Abstracts

Session One- Papers and Workshop
Option One- Papers: Early Transition Support
Flying Start Transition Support Programme
Matthew Hunt and Amanda Foster, Sheffield Hallam University

Presenter: Matthew Hunt

In 2005 a Business Analysis Group convened within Sheffield Business School to review and evaluate issues raised through LTA forums and internal WP transition support research relating to student transition and retention, particularly within the first semester at level 4. Concerns were raised in relation to settling into the university, adapting to new modes of learning and teaching, not developing relationships with peers and staff and a lack of student engagement with their course. Research within the school in 2004 and 2005 reflected the outcomes of national research (Yorke; 1999) investigating common themes for withdrawal in the first year of study.

One of the key recommendations the working group proposed resulted in a pilot programme of timetabled transition support activities delivered to first year students in 07/8.

The Flying Start programme frontloads six timetabled sessions around key academic themes of personal development planning and creative and analytical thinking in to semester one of the first year to facilitate the academic and personal transition into higher education.

The aims of the programme are to; raise attainment, support transition from further education, enhance the retention of students into the second year of study and build support structures through peer networking.

The Impact of Good Selection of Students on Retention
Mary Crawford, King’s College London
This paper will explore the relationship between selection and retention, examining entry qualifications and their influence on successful completion. The author’s experience is from nursing but delegates will bring experiences across the sector for discussion.

If the characteristics necessary for nursing are identified, applicants with the potential to succeed may be selected, thus reducing attrition. In nursing many students come from diverse educational backgrounds; selection on academic grounds alone is not sufficient to predict retention on and successful completion of the programme. In the author’s institution the mean age of students entering nursing programmes is 30 years of age; mature students bring family and financial responsibilities which may impact upon their ability to concentrate on their studies. In contrast, however, mature students are also a group who have high successes. Returning to studying after a break can lead to anxiety and this group of students may require a higher level of support, especially in areas such as e- learning. Programmes to help mature students settle into their studies may impact positively upon attrition. These may also help identify those students who are “at risk”, enabling coping strategies to be put in place, thus retaining students on the programme.

Option Two- Workshop
The Effects of Student Integration on Non-Completion
Anne Boyle, University of Sunderland
This project is a collaboration between the Universities of Hull, Newcastle and Sunderland who are working together to identify, evaluate and share knowledge about student integration activities which positively affect student retention.
From particular institutional concerns regarding non-completion, each partner identified student groups to test the following hypothesis:
‘Does a student’s sense of integration support their retention?’
Hull is working with part-time and mature groups, Newcastle with engineering students and Sunderland with local students.
A key output of 2008/09 was the successful completion of a collaborative survey with year 1 students. This gave baseline data to explore further through longitudinal research, and will be repeated in 2010. Although some differences exist depending on the respondent’s institution, early findings suggest that the academic experience may be more important to students than the social experience, with implications for transition and freshers activities.
This workshop will highlight our key findings as at February 2010, with reference to institutional audits and shared knowledge of good practices. Activities will encourage participants to review existing institutional practices which support student integration, towards discussion of the implications of our findings on practice elsewhere.

Option Three- Peer Mentoring Special Interest Group

Peer Mentoring: Training and Supporting Peer Support Programmes to Promote Student Transition & Success.
Pathways to Success Research: Jane Andrews, Robin Clark & Baljit Gill Aston University. Margrit Lundestad, Oslo.

Presenters: Jane Andrews and Margril Ludestad

The value of Peer Mentoring and Peer Tutoring as pedagogical tools within a Higher Education a is reflected in the literature (Hartman, 1990 Woodd, 1997). However, few studies have focused on the distinctive contribution made by Peer Mentoring in respect of promoting transition and retention for first year students. Indeed, there is little empirical evidence regarding the degree to which Peer Mentoring Programmes contribute to overall student success in the first year of undergraduate level studies and in doing so promote retention. By focusing on the pedagogical and social value of student peer mentoring from the perspectives of both student mentee and mentor, this workshop will critically consider issues of practice and policy in promoting student success through peer mentoring.
Building upon emergent research findings of a large international study, and bringing together the experiences of colleagues from 8 institutions, this Special Interest Group discussion will highlight a collaborative approach to researching issues around training and supporting student mentors and mentees. It will bring together best practice from each of the institutions in an open discussion to critically consider how mentoring may be utilised to promote a smooth student transition and retention, and in doing so ultimately enhance student success.

Option Four- Workshop

The HERE Project: Learning from Student Doubters & Successful Programmes

Ed Foster and Sarah Lawther, Nottingham Trent University; Becka Currant and Ruth Lefever, University of Bradford
The HERE Project is one of the seven research projects funded as part of the ‘What Works?’ series (2008-2011). It has focussed on two areas associated with student retention:
Why do many more students have doubts about being on the right course than actually withdraw, and what can we learn from those who doubt but remain?
Why do some programmes have a better rate of retention than their peers?
This session will concentrate on key lessons from the findings so far.
In spring 2009, students at the partner institutions were surveyed. Doubters viewed the experience more negatively than non-doubters and had greater concerns about being able to cope. In November 2009, doubters were subsequently found to be four times more likely to withdraw than their non-doubting colleagues. Crucially, the reasons doubters cited for having doubts were different to those that had subsequently helped them remain at university. These findings have been developed into a review tool being used with programme teams to better understand what impact actions at programme level can make on student retention.
Participants will have the opportunity to reflect on their own practice in light of the research findings and engage in debate about the key themes.

Option Five- Papers: Academic Integration
Evidence based practice: supporting student transition using a blended learning approach.
Sarah Grain and Anna Holloway, Newman University College Birmingham

Presenter: Sarah Grain

Underpinned by research reviewed in Gorard et al (2006) and student feedback collected from Newman University College, HEADstart is an innovative 14 day, blended learning course taking place prior to Fresher’s Week, for a cohort of non-traditional learners. Crabtree et al (2007) notes the review identified a range of issues regarding student retention and success including ‘…the importance of social and academic integration, the mismatch between student expectations and experiences [and] lack of appropriate academic study skills’. Intended to assist students in their academic and social integration, HEADstart is delivered online via the Virtual Learning Environment (Moodle) and on campus through study skills workshops.

Salmons’ (2002) five stage framework was considered when designing the online elements, alongside recommendations from projects such as ‘Flying Start’ at the University of Central Lancaster (Cook, 2009; Abramson et al, undated), and in consultation with the ‘Student Transition and Retention (STAR) Guidelines’ (Cook et al, 2005).
This presentation aims to engage the audience through demonstrating how research evidence can inform design and implementation of activities promoting student integration and retention. It will discuss early indications from research of student perceptions of the benefits of participation in such an intervention.
Two-Point Feedback System: Improving Student Experience in ‘Real Time’
Rikke Duus and Amanda Relph, University of Hertfordshire

Presenter: Rikke Duus

Improving the student experience is high on many HEIs’ agendas, driven by demands from The Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Quality Assurance Agency. As such, HEIs are realising that as service providers students are at the core of most decisions made in order to improve the service experience. Keyth (1998), Rowley (2003) and Ramsden et al. (1995 in Jackson, 2006) suggest that market research amongst the students should be done with the aim of changing teaching and assessment processes to deliver better quality.

The two-point feedback system (TFS) assesses the student experience twice during a semester, allowing for actionable recommendations to be implemented in ‘real time’ whilst students are still undertaking the specific module. The aims of the TFS are to understand student dissatisfaction at a deeper level in order to proactively deal with these issues, which may otherwise lead to student drop-outs and a poor learning experience.

The development of the TFS is supported by empirical research undertaken at undergraduate level at a Business School in United Kingdom.
Session Two- Papers and Workshops
Option One- Papers: Promotional Learning Communities
Supporting undergraduate academic and social integration in Higher Education: developing a pedagogic learning community.
Lorraine Weaver and Ian Scott, University of Worcester

The widening participation agenda has led to an increase in students accessing higher education and institutional practices which encourage students to be independent learners from the outset. Modular degree programmes may contribute to the social and academic isolation (Malcolm, 2000). Malcolm suggests that strategies such as online lecture notes and resources may exacerbate students’ feelings of isolation because they reduce opportunities for human interaction. Tinto’s model of student retention (1975) recognises that successful integration into the social and academic life at university is vital in keeping students engaged with academic study. Thomas (2002) supports this emphasising that successful integration relies on social interaction and the development of meaningful relationships. Thomas goes further than Tinto offering 5 spheres of integration namely: academic, social, economic, support and democratic. It appears that successful undergraduate integration is accomplished through the establishment of meaningful ‘connections’ with other human beings, resources and knowledge. Fowler and Zimitat, (2008) introduced the concept of ‘common time’ to support Australian undergraduates and employed activities which focused on improving opportunities: for students to work together on subject content, gain informal feedback on learning and to meet department academic and support staff on an individual basis.

What works? Building Relationships in Learning Communities
Susan Robbins, Oxford Brookes University
Students entering higher education are moving from their known comfort zone into new unknown situations. Unless they successfully make the transition from their former environment and settle and feel part of their new environment, they are unlikely to attain their full academic potential. Before arriving at university students would have had various networks of relationships that supported them: family, friends, colleagues, schools, social groups. Now at university they need to build fresh supportive networks through making contacts with fellow students and with staff. As established members of the university community we can put in place opportunities for students to make the links and develop the relationships that will underpin and support them in their studies.
This paper will introduce a number of initiatives that are being used to encourage the establishment of learning communities within an academic School. They include experiential learning during induction of foundation students, Peer Assisted Learning with second year students, and our Personal and Academic Support System (PASS) of pro-active personal tutoring and support for first year students. We have evidence that the introduction of these initiatives has improved student success rates over the last five years.
Option Two- Papers: Differential Achievement
Journeys to Success: an enquiry into those factors which contribute to the successful attainment of Black and minority ethnic students in four discipline areas at Roehampton University
Jo Peat and Julie Hall, Roehampton University

This paper forms part of a national project exploring attainment for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students across the UK. BME students constitute almost 40% of Roehampton University’s undergraduate population. Data indicate that in 2007 -2008 they were less likely to gain a 1st or 2:1 than their white counterparts and less satisfied with their experience.  Through appreciative inquiry (AI), we have identified factors which have contributed to improving the attainment of students across 4 discipline areas. This has led to a series of recommendations to policy groups across the university, suggesting ways of enhancing the student experience.

One aspect of our project involved asking groups of BME students to visually represent their ideal university. This could be done purely pictorially, via a visual, annotated map of their learning journey or a mind map. These pictures have provided rich data for analysis, as the students depicted aspects that had not arisen in interviews and questionnaires. We will explore these with participants, asking them to contribute their analysis of the pictures to the debate. 

Using Institutional Information to Understand Student Retention and Support Enhancement
Alison Ashby, Naomi Jeffery and Anne Slee, Open University

Presenter: Alison Ashby

A straight forward comparison of pass rates between Open University courses would not take account of the diversity of OU students and the different courses they study. To help us understand more about the factors that impact on course pass rates we have developed a statistical model which considers student and course details. The results of this model enable us to provide a more robust analysis of course pass rates and a fairer method of comparison between courses. The aim is to support colleagues in understanding more about their courses and the factors that contribute to success, to identify actions that may enhance the student experience and to share good practice.  This presentation will consider the benefits and the limitations of this approach and how we use the results along with other key performance indicators / information sources.
Option Three- Papers: Identifying “At Risk” Students
Identifying students ‘at risk’ of early withdrawal: issues and dilemmas
Elena Bedisti, Kirsten Hall, Sue Robbins, University of Reading

Presenter: Elena Bedisti

To increase student success, many HE institutions use HEFCE criteria to ascertain which students are ‘at risk’ of early withdrawal with a view to taking preventative action. This paper discusses the usefulness of this and other possible ways of identifying ‘at risk’ students. These are early findings from a major project which is exploring the issue of retention at two UK universities with very different undergraduate demographics.

Three methods of identifying ‘at risk’ students will be explored, these are: the HEFCE criteria (based on a complex weighting of a variety of factors), Robbins criteria for science subjects (based on entry qualifications in science) and students’ self reported academic competence. The usefulness of the methods will be compared using data on withdrawals from both institutions and additional insights from focus groups and interviews with students. 

We will discuss the potential application of our findings by institutions and their impact on individual students. In doing so, we hope to open a debate on the usefulness of these and other ways of determining who is ‘at risk’.

Investigating and developing a measure of students at risk

of discontinuing first-year studies prematurely
Alexandra Dobson, Newport Business School and Ron Fisher, Griffith University

Presenter: Alexandra Dobson

The authors report a cross-institutional study to develop a measure, based on Biodata and Situational Judgement Indices (SJI), to assist educators in identifying students at risk of discontinuing university studies early in their academic life. Biodata has been shown in numerous studies (e.g. Owens, 1976; Owens & Schoenfeldt, 1979; Neiner & Owens, 1985; Mumford, Stokes & Owens, 1992) to be a valid and reliable means of predicting future behaviour and performance based on questions about life and work experiences.

The study is a pragmatic approach (Tashakkori & Teddlie,1998; Creswell, 2000; Easterby-Smith et al 2002) using mixed methods. A qualitative phase collects data from a range of sources (including academic staff and students) to establish a framework for conceptualising what factors lead to students discontinuing university studies prematurely. The second phase of the research develops detailed Biodata and SJI questionnaires using outputs from the qualitative phase. Questions and measurement rubrics will be developed and tested until all themes generated in the qualitative phase have been accounted for. The questionnaire will then be trialled on students enrolled in Griffith and Newport Business Schools.

The main outcome of the project is an assessment tool that will identify students at risk of discontinuing studies prematurely. Identifying students at risk early in their university life will enable a range of interventions to be made to improve retention (e.g. one-on-one advice, mentoring, counselling etc). The power of the research lies in Biodata’s predictive ability to identify students at risk, possibly during their first weeks at university.

The focus of the paper is concerned with both developing the measure and then testing it on a student population to identify students at risk. The actual interventions are beyond the scope of the current study which is aimed at program level with a view to extending it in the future.

Option Four- Workshop
What Makes Students Feel They Belong at University?
Martin Pennington, Craig Bartle and Kine Dorum, Leicester University
The Student Retention and Success Project at Leicester is investigating the importance of ‘belonging’ and ‘intimacy’ as factors contributing to its successful record in retaining students through their courses of study. Initial investigation indicates that students value ‘feeling a belonging to the institution/department’ and the importance of ‘the intimacy of the institution and its staff’. The project aims to identify what lies behind these statements, and to explore and evaluate the practices that might foster these responses.
The workshop will be based on current parallel strands of research:
A survey of 1st Year students (total cohort c370 students) within the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology to identify influences on the development of ‘belonging’

Qualitative data from a student video diary project run by the GENIE CETL

The workshop will consist of:
Presentation of main research findings

Structured opportunities for delegates to:

Share their perspectives on concepts of belonging

Draw on each others’ knowledge and experience

Consider the implications of the research for institutional practice
Option Five- Synthesis
Student Persistence and Success in United States Higher Education: A Synthesis of the Literature

There is a long tradition of researching student retention and success in the US, and many of the US models have been very influential in the UK. In the US ‘persistence’ or ‘retention’ refers to the enrolment patterns of students at specific points within postsecondary institutions. The terms are often used synonymously, although Mortenson (2005) describes the distinction between the two terms as being either a ‘student-initiated decision’ (persistence), or as a reporting and tracking indicator from the ‘institutional perspective’ (retention). In this document we outline the theoretical models related to student persistence, institutional retention, and student engagement that have evolved in the US context, and institutional responses to improving student persistence, retention and engagement.

The synthesis has been commissioned by the Higher Education Academy as part of its EvidenceNet resources on equity and widening participation. The synthesis has been prepared by Dr Wendy G. Troxel, Illinois State University. The full synthesis will be available soon on the Higher Education Academy’s website.
Charlie Nutt, Executive Director, US National Academic Advising Association (NACADA)

Session Three- Symposia
Option One- Diversity and Student Success
Who Would Learn in a Place Like This? Tensions, Challenges and Future Directions for Improving Student Retention in the 21st Century
Christine Brougham, Coventry University
Abstract to be confirmed

Retention: A Holistic Approach

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