Abstract: Student Success and Engagement project

Our faculty has implemented a 3 year research project looking at improving Student Success and Engagement in the faculty. The project is being coordinated across several departments in the faculty and is the first time that we are collaborating on this scale. I will be using this blog as a public progress report of the project, in order to highlight our processes and challenges, as well as to report on draft findings. Here is the abstract of the project proposal.

Achieving promising throughput rates and improving retention remains a challenge for most higher education institutions. Student success in South African higher education has been unsatisfactory and universities have not been effective in developing strategies to enhance students’ learning experiences. Low throughput and poor retention rates have been identified as challenges in the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences at UWC. While success rates of students in the faculty are reported as students who complete their qualification in the shortest possible time, many students require an additional year to graduate. It is important to develop strategies that exploit students’ capacity to engage in their learning, as this may create a space that is conducive to student success. Therefore, the aim of this project is to identify and implement strategies to improve student success in the CHS faculty at UWC through an exploration of student and lecturer engagement. This project will explore student engagement in relation to the domains of assessment, academic literacies and tutoring.

Design-based research has been selected the overarching method as it is informed by the teacher’s desire to improve learning, based on sound theoretical principles. All of the undergraduate students (N=2595) and lecturers in the CHS faculty will be invited to participate in this study. Phase 1 includes the implementation of the South African Survey for Student Engagement (SASSE) and the Lecturer Survey for Student Engagement (LSSE). We will also conduct in-depth interviews and focus group discussions among key informants, who are likely to have insight into the challenges experienced in the areas of assessment, literacy and tutoring, and will be identified through purposive sampling. In addition, document analyses of UWC Assessment policy, Teaching and Learning policy and the Charter of Graduate Attributes will be conducted.

During phase 2, a systematic review will be conducted in order to ascertain which interventions have been demonstrated to increase student engagement in higher education. This data will be combined with the insights gained from Phase 1, and used to inform a series of workshops and seminars in the faculty, aimed at developing and refining principles to enhance student engagement. In addition, course evaluations and other documents will be reviewed, and data related to the domains of assessment, literacies and tutoring will be extracted and compared to the recommended guidelines and principles derived from the systematic review. These principles will then be used to inform interventions that are then implemented in the CHS faculty.

Following implementation of the interventions, Phase 3 will consist of focus group discussions with lecturers and the students who were involved in the project, especially those in areas of assessment, literacy and tutoring. A second South African Survey of Student Engagement (SASSE) and Lecturer Survey of Student Engagement (LSSE) will be conducted at the end of 2016 in order to determine if there has been a change in student engagement. By the end of Phase 3 of the project, a range of interventions within the domains of assessment, literacies and tutoring would have been implemented and evaluated. Ethics clearance will be sought from the University of the Western Cape Senate Research Committee, as well as permission from the Registrar and the various Heads of Department in the Faculty.