Monday, May 26, 2008

NISOD 2008 - Factors Affecting Student Performance and How to Influence Them...

This pre-conference workshop was delivered by Dr. Jim Hammons, professor in the Higher Education Leadership Program at the University of Arkansas.

This was a very good workshop - Dr. Hammons has many years (over 40 by his count) of experience and presented in a very inclusive and participative manner - a great example of how to get your information across by engaging the audience in the process.

Two things were looked at:
  • Factors that influence student performance
  • Ways to influence them
Here, in raw form, are the factors that influence student performance:
  • A = Ability (what a student can do)
  • M = Motivation (a student's ability to use ability)
  • O = Opportunity (the chance to perform (and learn if they did so correctly))
  • C = Classroom Culture (the way things are), Classroom Climate (how students feel about it)
  • O = Organization (the organizational unit where instruction occurs)
  • C = Organizational Culture (the way things are), Organizational Climate (how faculty feel about it)
  • E = Environment (factors outside of the classroom that affect student performance inside the classroom)
The whole model together is described as C5AMEO2 - a way of looking at the factors affecting student performance. I found it a simple and clear way of identifying the factors that create the learning environment that your learners find themselves in, and then it allows you to figure out how to support learners (and yourself) deal with these factors. The bulk of the workshop was the discussions on how to influence these factors and support learners.

One of the influencers that was discussed was student success courses, a new concept for me, but one that many in the audience were familiar with. Effectively student success courses provide the knowledge and skills that learners need to succeed (or at least start on as level a playing filed as possible) at college. We have something similar that we call "College 101", but these student success course are much more formal, mandatory at some institutions, and in my mind a great idea that all learners should take at the beginning of their college career.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS) and the use of counsellors were also consistently mentioned as influencers that have an impact on student assessment - CATS inside the classroom, counselling outside the classroom. I firmly believe that learning IS a team sport and counsellors, student success processes, learning centres, in class assesment, and other resources are all part of the modern learning "team".

I believe that the factor with the greatest potential impact on student assessment and performance, and the one that we sometimes tend to overlook as educators is E, the environment that learners exist in. Fortunately, Dr. Hammons spent a significant amount of time discussing this factor and drove home its importance to everyone. From my own experience, the learner's environment, their "life" is what is going to impact the most on their learning experiences - knowing this, it is so critical to get to know your learners, to realize that they are people and to be proactive in supporting them.

Simple things like open computer labs for students who cannot afford their own computer, financial services and advice, counselling, proper academic advising and other tools that engage you in the learner's educational journey will allow you to assist learners to manage their environment and increase their opportunity for success.

This was a great workshop. If you get an opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Dr. Hammons, do so. He says he doesn't travel much anymore, but if you can convince him to travel to your institution or conference, do it, it will be a great experience for all...

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