Scaffolding Student Success

by | Dec 7, 2021 | Learning Design

According to Cengage’s Digital Learning Pulse survey, more than 70% of students say online courses have a place in their class schedules. Whether it’s because of the flexibility online courses provide, or just a personal preference, students recognize the value of having access to online classes.

But, in order to be successful, online learning requires a different set of skills compared to in-person classes. Online students often struggle with time management, juggling priorities, and getting the help they need. We have seen that struggle with students taking TEL courses. After working with thousands of students, our Academic Services Team has created a series of support systems that have led to an increase in student completion and pass rates in TEL’s online courses.

Our Focus On Supporting Students

Our mission is to help any motivated student access and succeed in college-level learning. TEL courses are often one of the first steps a student takes toward college, and ultimately their larger career goals. General education courses lay the foundation for a student’s educational journey, so we are dedicated to helping them master the knowledge, skills, and competencies in each course.

We know that access is the first hurdle. Because of that, we make our courses affordable and asynchronous. But getting students to complete online courses is an issue for any online course provider, and we are no different. Each month, our Academics team pores over student data to see where we can best help students not only complete the course but also master the material.

After a few semesters, we were able to see where students were likely to struggle. Sometimes it was a particular concept within a course. Many times it was getting started on a mastery assignment. We set up interventions, scaffolding, and nudges to help students through those tricky spots. But we found that what students needed most was help with time management.

Support For Time Management & Study Skills

Self-paced, asynchronous courses provide students a lot of flexibility to work around their other priorities and schedules. They can take the course where they are comfortable without worrying about transportation or out-of-the-way campuses. But what makes the course more convenient can also cause problems for students who haven’t learned how to manage their time.

In 2021, we launched our Student Success Coach program. Our student coaches help students build confidence and skills in the two most challenging areas for online courses: time management and study skills.

We found students were often hesitant to reach out to the instructor or attend office hours, so we hired coaches who were closer to the students’ ages. Our coaches are college upperclassmen or recent graduates, so they can relate to the students and share their experiences. The Student Success Coaches meet with each student at the beginning of their course to help them set goals for the course and break those goals down into actionable steps. While the coaches don’t provide content help, they do facilitate group study sessions so students can work with other students also taking the course.

Student Success Coaches also lead workshops on areas students need help with. One of the workshops, Creating Academic Goals Using the Student Dashboard, shows how to use TEL’s Student Learning Dashboard to create and track their academic learning goals. They will also learn how to earn mastery badges that can be added to their future online portfolio. The second newest workshop is called Essay Writing 101. During this workshop students will learn how to incorporate brainstorming, rewriting, and outlining techniques into their writing.

Support For Writing Skills

Year after year, communication is always a key skill that employers look for. And yet, on-campus or online, many college students struggle with the most common assignment: the paper. Most of TEL’s courses have at least two writing assignments. Despite having these papers due in stages—thesis, outline, draft—many students would give up when they reached these tasks.

Similar to many on-campus environments, we built a writing lab and other writing resources for students to receive extra help developing and improving their written communication skills. The Writing Lab is a one-on-one virtual coaching session available to any student who would like assistance with writing assignments in their TEL courses. Topics covered in Writing Lab consultations include:

  • Essay organization
  • Writing style formats
  • Basic spelling and grammar
  • Thesis creation

Writing is one of the mastery skills that are mapped into almost every TEL course. No matter what discipline, it’s important to us that students complete a course with stronger writing skills than when they started.

Student Success Numbers for 2021

As we recognized the areas where students had the most trouble in our courses, we were able to establish various levels of support. Since launching aspects such as the Student Success Coaches and the Writing Lab, we’ve seen both completion rates and pass rates improve significantly. At the end of November 2021, our courses had a 94% completion rate, with 6% of students who enrolled in a course withdrew from the course before the drop date. Of those students who completed the course, 80.2% passed the course with a 70% or better.

While we don’t ever expect to have a 100% completion rate, we know there is still more we can do to help students succeed in our courses. We are excited about the progress we’ve made in helping students reach their educational goals.

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