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Students First 2020 - Prof Denise Kirkpatrick's session debrief

Presented online by Prof Denise Kirkpatrick on 22 May 2020, as the opening session of the Students First 2020 Studiosity Symposium, chaired by Prof Judyth Sachs. 

You can view the full session here.

It’s important to look for positives even in the toughest situations, and for the education sector COVID-19 has demonstrated that we can respond quickly, and that our institutions' commitment to student learning is central. Courses being put online so quickly has surprised many of us, however learning is not just about delivery of content, it’s about recognising that students learn in different ways and catering to this.

The keynote speaker for this first session of our digital Symposium this year is Professor Denise Kirkpatrick, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney University. Professor Kirkpatrick gives some insight into WSU's longstanding focus on the student experience, with this review of their on-demand literacy and numeracy support service Studiosity and partnership with the organisation, when it comes to student satisfaction, retention, and academic performance.

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Review and Evaluation of Studiosity Online Tutor Program at Western Sydney University

Prof Denise Kirkpatrick: Today we're talking about academic support for students, and how these services can actually reduce anxiety as well as helping them to perform even better. This shared goal is what has led to the longstanding and successful relationship between Studiosity and Western Sydney University.

We of course looked at other service providers when we recently chose Studiosity for a longer-term partnership. We did a full evaluation of every competitor product in the market at the time; with our own set of criteria. While we've had a long and very positive relationship with YourTutor [Studiosity] for over a decade, it was our responsibility to do the due diligence and make sure that if we were committing university funds to a long-term partnership that we were committing to a service and product that was, from our point of view, the best in the market, and the best fit for us. We did a very rigorous evaluation, not just by my team, but our third-party procurement team at the university.

Who is Western?

If you aren’t already familiar with Western Sydney University, we are a medium sized university with around 48,000 students, 4,000 staff, and numerous campuses. We have traditionally been an on-campus institution, while like all universities we have engaged in flexible learning. We've done a lot more work on 'flipping the classroom' due to COVID-19, but one of our key focuses is to provide extensive support to all of our students, no matter how they learn with us. 

Student support is a really important contributing factor to progression, retention, and completion. We are also concerned about it because increasingly, 'support' one of the performance indicators against which universities are measured. But primarily, we are concerned about it because it is central to the student experience, and a part of our responsibility as a university to ensure that every student has every opportunity to be successful. 

"While we have always believed academic and learner support makes a difference, and now we have research to prove it."

While we have always believed study support makes a difference, and now we have research to prove it. We had done some light-touch and standard evaluations, but in order to optimise our long-term partnership with Studiosity and to leverage as much as we could from the services they provide, we thought it was important to get a benchmark. Who was using it, the factors that were influencing students in their use, the patterns of use, and importantly, what impact it was having on both academic performance and student retention.

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Which students use support services?

We did a detailed review of the previous years' data, and found the below insights into who used the Studiosity service:

  • Students in the School of Nursing and Midwifery were by far the largest user group. Our School of Nursing and Midwifery is also a very large school in the university - we have over 4,000 students studying with that area.
  • The characteristics of those students: mostly non-school leavers, women, and first-in-family students.
  • Computing, engineering and mathematics are the smallest user group.
  • The most common users were our undergraduate students, domestic students, commencing, younger students, under 24 years of age, female and English-speaking.
  • The highest proportion of users was older females, commencing, post-graduate, international students whose language spoken at home is other than English. 
  • Three quarters of the users were undergraduate students, and half of them came from homes where English was not the primary language.

The research uncovered the key reasons the students used Studiosity's support services were:

  • It gave them extra support, whenever they need it.
  • It reduces anxiety, while increasing confidence.

What impact does on-demand study support have on student outcomes?

There is a general trend and upward direction of travel; certainly that supporting and encouraging our students to use Studiosity and their use of Studiosity does make a difference.  Here are the key points about students' academic performance:

  • There was an improvement in both Grade Point Average (GPA) and progression rates from those students who used Studiosity, compared to those that didn't.
  • Retention rates also improved by 7% .
  • Studiosity was used by students traditionally considered 'at risk', but also used quite extensively by a number of very high achieving, high performing students who used the service 'strategically'.
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But I do think what's most important through all of this is students' motivation, and their engagement. Using any of the online services gets the students engaging with their studies - more frequently, and more deeply.

We know the importance of students' confidence - and particularly how that plays into persistence. Lessening anxiety, increasing student resilience, giving students the opportunity to access this anonymously from their peers and teaching staff is very important to both their learning and to their perseverence. 

"Students who use Studiosity's services do better."

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Meeting otherwise impossible demand

Students who seek support at our university are extremely diverse in terms of GPA, ATAR and socio-economic background, which means there is always going to be more demand for services than we can meet. I wouldn't want to put our own staff under undue pressure, as the support staff here are deeply committed to our students and to the university.

We wholeheartedly believe that Studiosity is therefore meeting demand that we would not be able to meet ourselves. There is no way that within our university's own resources that we would be able to provide the extensive, always-on services that Studiosity has made it possible for us to offer to our students. 

Ultimately, although WSU and Studiosity do have a long-term commercial agreement, it is also a true partnership. Both parties are committed to improving student success with support, in flexible ways to suit students' varying needs.  

Going forward we'll continue to do more integration of the Studiosity support services with the broad range of other support services that we offer, make it more discoverable for our students, and continue to make it as easy as possible for them to access. 

>> Watch the full video presentation here. 

About Studiosity

Studiosity is personalised study help, anytime, anywhere. We partner with institutions to extend their core academic skills support online with timely, after-hours help for all their students, at scale - regardless of their background, study mode or location. 

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