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Students First 2020 - Prof Philippa Levy's session recap

Professor Judyth Sachs

Professor Judyth Sachs

Jun 24, 2020

Presented online by Prof Philippa Levy on 18 June 2020, as the third session of the Students First 2020 Studiosity Symposium, chaired by Prof Judyth Sachs. 

You can view the full session here.

At Studiosity, we believe that it's important to connect with our partners and other interested groups to continue the conversations about supporting students first, despite all the challenging circumstances of 2020. 

More universities are continuing to teach remotely until the end of the year as a risk mitigation strategy in case of a possible COVID-19 spike. And others are giving people the choice to either work from home or to come on campus. Either way, how we work and where we work have certainly been tested, and how we work in the future will be up for negotiation.

Our speaker today, Professor Philippa Levy, is Pro Vice Chancellor of Student Learning at the University of Adelaide, where she is responsible for quality assurance enhancement and innovation in learning and teaching for the university. 

Embracing and effectively leveraging online student support at an institutional level

Prof Philippa Levy: At Adelaide, we embarked on a new journey to develop online academic support for our students in partnership with Studiosity in 2018. We saw this as an important new plank in our student support strategy. Of course we never envisaged the circumstances that in 2020 are acting as an accelerator of transformational change in online and flexible delivery. So it's proving to be an interesting journey.

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From traditional to progressive - change at Adelaide

The University of Adelaide is one of Australia's oldest, founded 146 years ago. Today, the institution is a member of the Group of Eight research intensive universities. We have a proud history of - and commitment to - research and education excellence. We're very much an international community with students last year, for example, from more than 90 countries. 

Our diversity profile is traditional for a Go8 university of our kind. The majority of our students are full time, domestic, metropolitan, and school leavers. Around 15% of our students are from low SES backgrounds.

Future Making

But we're changing. We have a progressive history, but in many ways we have been conservative in relation to educational delivery, and our target student cohorts. Our current strategic plan sets out the university's fundamental purpose as 'Future Making', and recognises the need for the institution to change in order that we make our fullest possible contribution to benefit the communities and industries that we serve, at a time of tremendous change in the world.

One of the ways that we seek to change is to reach out to a wider, more diverse student cohort than historically we've attracted, as well as changing our education offering and the way in which that is delivered, to be more flexible, more online. Our aim under 'Future Making' is to deliver a truly great 21st century education. To achieve that, we know we have to adapt to drivers in the wider environment.

"We are a university that is moving through a process of transformational change."

We will maintain the close nexus between education and research, that's fundamental to us, but we're combining that with a new emphasis on strengthening the nexus between education and industry. To guide our change agenda, we've established five key principles: flexibility, quality, relevance, inclusion and employability.

This emphasis on flexibility is reflected in the initiatives we're taking forward - a renewed education portfolio, flexible structures and modes of delivery - including increased fully online delivery, learning and teaching excellence - this is where high quality, flexible academic support comes in, as an essential enabler of student retention and success. And also community and connection, including the personalised digital experience. We are a university that is moving through a process of transformational change. 

Engagement, retention, and success

The way we think about our academic support is very much framed by the principles and assumptions that underpin our approach to student retention and success. We take 'success' as both academic achievement and preparedness for graduate employment or further study. 

When we established our new plan, our retention rate had sat at the mid-point for Australian universities for the past decade. Not a lot had changed despite trying a range of initiatives, so we set new targets, and included a range of different actions. Our focus on 'online and flexible' is part of that picture. It has been incredibly pleasing to see the impact of these actions; we saw an improvement in 2019 in undergraduate commencing retention - up 2.7% on 2018. 

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Obviously this year has thrown a curveball in terms of these numbers, and unfortunately particularly for international undergraduate student attrition, which is up by roughly 12% this year. 

So we're doing a lot of thinking now around how we can better support - that is enhance our support and provide additional support for particularly international students in the current context, which is largely online. 

Embracing online in our academic support ecosystem

Today I'll be talking through some of our academic support services, which sit in my portfolio, the Student Learning portfolio. I'll be focussing on the Maths Learning Centre, the Writing Centre, and Studiosity - because these services are closely related and at the core of the ecosystem. 

So how did it all start with Studiosity?

We needed to scale our support to students and we wanted to complement the fairly small-scale campus-based services already in place, and wanted to meet our new strategic objectives around change in education delivery, reaching our current students, and thinking about reaching out and serving a more diverse student body. 

"We needed to scale our support to students and we wanted to complement the fairly small-scale campus-based services"

We first piloted Studiosity in 2018 in about 30 courses, it went very well with really positive feedback, so we rolled the services out to support all undergraduate students in 2019. From the outset, we envisaged the services as likely to be most useful to students who might spend less time on campus, commencing students dealing with transition, international students needing more help with written English and at-risk groups.

Bringing staff on board with this change

It was a process of change management. We tried hard to engage academic leaders and staff across the institution from the outset. There was skepticism and worry, but we were clear about our objectives: providing enhanced support for student success, allowing us to do this cost-effectively at scale, using experts in online academic support practice, providing a service that would complement what we offered rather than compete, and that new value would be the 'anytime, any place, out-of-hours' aspect. And the rapid - really rapid - turnaround of feedback.

We highlighted the quality, evaluation, and appropriate in-house governance in place. We simply demonstrated what could be achieved with Studiosity, and academics' concerns have not persisted. The more we've demonstrated students' engagement with the service, and its value to them, staff acceptance started to occur. We have developed usage reports for each faculty, and can show data about its impact, as well as transcripts of the interactions so that academics can easily see exactly what Studiosity does, and how much their students use it.

Engaging and supporting students

We have tried to make Studiosity as visible as we can in the environments where students hang out, both online and face to face. There's a link from every course in the LMS. We've also used staff champions to promote Studiosity to their own students during classes, and we promote it strongly through our central student hub, in the same location as our other academic success services. We try to talk about it as an integral part of our services, rather than a peripheral add on.

Engaging students

The Writing Centre has a volunteer programme with 20 student volunteers who address Studiosity enquiries during opening hours alongside the other help they provide. They show students how to connect with a Subject Specialist on Studiosity, for example, or how to submit a document to the Writing Feedback service.

Quite often our face-To-face appointments are full, particularly at peak times for the remainder of any particular day. And a student who's just turned up may have something that's due very soon and they want some feedback really quickly. So the volunteer will sit down with them and help them to submit their work to Studiosity. Also, our writing mentors sometimes encourage students to bring in their feedback from Studiosity, so that they can look at it together and build on it. So our academic success staff are very positive champions of Studiosity and use it to extend and enhance the service they provide.

Studiosity evaluation

We evaluated the first full year of rollout of Studiosity. Here are some of the findings:

Who is using Studiosity?

  • 6% of students accessed Studiosity in 2019
  • 84% of those used Writing Feedback and 60% used Connect Live
  • Higher engagement than the university average in the faculty of Arts
  • Lower engagement in the faculties of Engineering and Professions
  • Engagement was also higher amongst commencing students, regional and remote students, students with English as a second language, and low-SES students, which was really great to hear. We felt that the service was mostly reaching the students that we wanted it to reach.
  • Engagement with Indigenous students didn't differ significantly from the overall average. On the other hand, we noted that our part time students and students with an academic progress rate status showed a significantly lower engagement. 

When are they using it?

The service is a well used at weekends, especially Sundays, and we've had very good use at all times during the night by some students across the year. We we see peaks at the most intensive assessment and exam period time.

So we wondered whether our Studiosity users were using other services as well. Across the full year in 2019, Studiosity did reach students who weren't using other centrally provided services. So only 28% of Studiosity users also use the Writing Centre. Eight percent were using the Maths Learning Centre and just three percent use all three services. 

What do students think?

The student response has been excellent. Over 90% reported satisfaction with Writing Feedback. Over 80% with Connect Live. Many students reported increased confidence, capability, sense of their own self efficacy. 95% of them overall agreed that the help that they had sought had been delivered, which was fantastic. A lot of students said good things in the open feedback, for example, about convenience and rapid turnaround of advice, but also things like feeling it was easier to ask for help online than face to face, without embarrassment. And it does seem clear that Studiosity is reaching students who are not asking for help in other ways.

Did Studiosity use result in higher marks and improved GPA scores?

Overall, students who used Studiosity did receive higher average course marks (74%) than non-users (68%). They were also more likely to have improved their GPA scores over the previous year, than non-users. That's great to see. Of course, we don't assume causality. We have started to explore this issue further, using a regression model to adjust for some of the possible compounding factors that we thought would be likely to influence improvement.

Higher GPA

Even after accounting for GPA, high GPA and high to moderate SES, Studiosity users still had higher marks than non-users by nearly three marks, which was interesting. We do treat the results with caution. The model was only able to account for about 25% of the variability in student marks. This suggests that other factors that we weren't able to include are also affecting the grades, like ability, and effort and so on.

"There's some good evidence to support the benefit of Studiosity."

But we think that there's some good evidence to support the benefit of Studiosity. We also gained some feedback from a small student group who participated in a different survey that they themselves perceived a positive connection between using Studiosity and getting better grades. So this was really good news. We haven't looked in detail at impact on retention.

Moving fully online: 2020 and beyond

All of our support services moved fully online in semester one 2020, rapidly and as an emergency response to the pandemic. This has changed the landscape, and enabled us to learn and experiment with more flexible on-campus services.

Levels of engagement with Studiosity have grown this year, compared with other services. Studiosity has been an especially important feature of our support, under the COVID-19 circumstances. This year, a substantially higher percentage of students used Studiosity than the new online versions of our existing services. We don't know exactly why that is, and have a lot to investigate and understand around our students' responses to different support services. 

More SY in 2020At Adelaide, we are committed to bringing back as much face-to -ace activity as we can, but we are offering, at scale for the first time, three modes of delivery. The blended mode, which brings back as much face-to-face as possible for onshore students. Combining all online lectures and online exams with face-to-face activities, dual mode - we'll offer many courses in both blended mode and fully online to cater for mixed cohorts of onshore and offshore students and to provide choice of mode for our onshore students. And we will deliver some courses in remote mode only.

Growing demand for flexible, online support

Our planning for our new flexible delivery mode is informed by student feedback. From our mid-semester survey, about 82% of students were positive or neutral about their experience of learning and teaching in this semester, not too far off our usual satisfaction ratings. We certainly feel confident from the feedback we're getting from our students that there is untapped demand for flexible and online amongst our onshore domestic, quite traditional cohorts.

Students told us through the survey how much they value and miss the richness of the campus experience, and they do look forward to returning, that's for sure. However at the same time, many reported the benefits of online, and they wanted us to retain the best aspects of the experience in the future.

We're very pleased with the way our partnership with Studiosity is helping us to meet our strategic objectives around student success in this context. We expect that the at-scale expert online delivery that Studiosity offers will continue to be an embedded part of our academic support ecosystem, and we will be working toward further expanding student/staff engagement with that. We see it as entirely compatible with the development of more flexibility in our in-house services, and we'll be seeking to ensure that our services in our ecosystem continue to complement each other.

You can watch Prof Philippa Levy's full presentation and download the slides.

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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