Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NISOD 2008 - Welcome To College! Don't Let the Door Hit You On The Way Out...

This session was presented by Vincent Tinto and Arleen Arnsparger, project manager MetLife Foundation Initiative on Student Success, along with two students from Austin Community College. The session was conducted as a panel discussion with the students being asked questions about their college experience, specifically their experiences as new students. What a great hing to do - actually have learners at an education conference. I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Tinto later in the day and I thanked him ofr including learners in the session. we need to inlude learners more in opportunities like this.

The research behind this session comes from a couple of sources - CCSSE - the community college survey of student engagement and SENSE - the survey of entering student engagement. The focus of this panel discussion was starting right - a first look at engaging entering students. These initiatives were launched to determine why 50% of students leaving college were leaving before completing one semester.

Dr. Tinto used a metaphor approach to ask questions of the students - a process that he has used extensively with focus groups of students, faculty student services folks, and presidents. His advice on running a focus group was:
  • serve food
  • ask questions
  • 6-8 participants
Here are the two questions that were asked of the students using the metaphor approach:
  1. The process of enrolling in college was like...
  2. My first two weeks of classes were like...
and the students completed those statements. Some of the advice that they had for us (and other students) included:
  • make skills courses credit courses more students will take them
  • communicate what you need
  • take advantage of advisors/counsellors
  • talk to people
The interesting thing listening to the students is that both became successful when they took responsibility for their own college experience - they were engaged in the process.

So what needs to be done to help learners get engaged in their learning and at their institution? The learner experience of new students must be improved:
  • be available and accessible
  • advise, be open and honest
  • care about students
  • embedded advising - advisors go to class
This session was an amazing opportunity to hear about engagement and retention from the very people we are trying to engage and retain - learners! It was interesting to hear two students from Texas describe experiences that I know are happening at my college. We all need to get better at this critical piece of getting learners into college in the right programmes and then giving them the tool and resources that will keep them there.

It was also very cool watching Dr. Tinto interact with the students and the audience of educators. I learned a lot observing someone who is a master of their domain...

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