How can we support students when we’re limited by time and resources?
Teaching in college has its own set of challenges. Teaching as an Adjunct while working full-time and supporting a family can make those challenges exponentially more difficult.
This was a project I conceptualized, researched, designed, iterated on, and put into practice over several years. This case study looks at how I successfully tackled challenges students encountered outside of class that impacted their schoolwork.
Not all students who go to college make it to graduation. Many times, outside factors beyond their control make it difficult or impossible to continue their studies. They can face daily challenges with mental health, studying, and completing assignments on-time. And, unfortunately, I’ve had students fail or drop my course or leave school entirely due to some of these issues.
So the challenges I wanted to address revolved around three important questions:
How can we…
- Address students’ mental health and well-being needs?
- Foster students’ ownership of their learning and study habits?
- Tackle attendance and motivation issues among students?
To complicate matters further, these topics can be very sensitive. In a culture that rewards ‘bootstrap’ mentality, it can be hard to even know when and who to ask for help from, much less what to ask for.
The feedback I received from students who’s trust I was able to gain with my approachable nature was that they needed support.
Unfortunately, not only did I not work full-time as an educator, but I also had many other personal and work responsibilities. So I wanted to find a way I could effectively help them without becoming overwhelmed myself.
Exploration & Research
Because I had been through a traditional 4-year college education, I was able to anticipate and understand some of the difficulties facing students. Also, because of the course structure and content, my COMM351 class attracted a higher proportion of students returning to college after a break and those managing full-time jobs or parenting responsibilities. Being a full-time parent and employee outside the classroom myself, I could empathize with how their challenges and concerns differed from traditional students’.
I wanted to find a way to solicit feedback from students and offer them timely support.
But I also wanted to empower students to think about the work they were doing in the course, see the value in it, and plan ahead for their own success.
In my research, I found some teaching strategies that included regular individual check-ins with students to ask them about their progress and address any concerns. Using them as a starting point, I tailored a solution to my experiences and needs as an Adjunct.
What I Did
Drawing from my personal experiences, insights from productivity topics, and skills in empathetic listening, I designed a paper and online forms ticket system made to handle these issues in a private and supportive way.
Because I realized that the students who needed support the most might not ask for it, I made them regular, graded (for completion only) assignments. This made it easy for them to ask for and get the help they needed in a way that respected their privacy.
Monitoring attendance in class was also made easier. By handing out paper copies in class, students effectively checked themselves in. And with an online version, I was still able make sure students were keeping up with the weekly reading and assignments.
The following is how I formatted the most recent online form version of Check-ins for my COMM351 Messaging for Mobile Media course. In the online version, each student’s Check-in was privately sent to me via the online learning system and included their name and the date/timestamp of when they submitted it:
Your check-ins will give me a general idea of where you’re catching on to the main concepts and expose any gaps in learning so I can adjust the course as necessary, so Thank You in advance of submitting it!
Did you complete all the assigned reading, lessons, videos, assignments, and assessments on-time up until now? (Are you able to follow along with the Course Schedule?)
[Yes/No radio buttons]
Plan for Success
What specific steps will you take between now and the next Check-In to stay or get back on track regarding completing course requirements on-time? When, Where, and How will you spend your time? (For example: When and Where will you read, watch lessons, etc. and do you have deadlines set in your calendar?)
[multi-line fill-in form field]
At this moment, how do you feel regarding your overall learning in this course?
[Radio buttons/Likert Scale:
5 = Awesome! I’m having no problems learning the core concepts of mobile marketing and/or keeping pace with the course.
4 = Great. I’m learning a lot, even if sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle.
3 = Ok. I’m learning some, but am having difficulty fully understanding some of the main points.
2 = I’m learning a bit, but either I’m struggling to keep pace or just can’t connect with the overall ideas presented.
1 = I’m drowning in a sea of uncertainty.]
Write one question you still have about Mobile Messaging.
[multi-line fill-in form field]
The response from students was overwhelmingly positive. Many expressed deep gratitude for the role these surveys played in sustaining their effective study habits and providing an accessible and friendly source of assistance.
Because the surveys were short and to the point, I could quickly look through them regularly and address any problems quickly.
No matter how much I accounted for risk, I couldn’t anticipate how much of an impact a worldwide pandemic would have on my system. But as my teaching modalities shifted from in person to online, I was able to easily adjust my ticket system so it still accomplished the same overall goals.
I was also able to adjust it for both individual and group project check-ins. This gave me valuable insights into group dynamics and revealed areas where I needed to improve my teaching and feedback.
In essence, these surveys have become a vital asset within my teaching toolbox, and have had a significant impact on my approach.