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'Students First 2019': Day One takeaways

Sarah Crossing

Sarah Crossing

Jul 25, 2019

Did you miss Day One of 'Students First 2019?' It's ok, catch up with these highlights.

Students First: 2019 Studiosity Symposium
What's different this year:

A 280% increase in delegate registrations. It threw us a little, but the reward of having 86% of Australian universities participating made it well worth the effort. It was also the first time the event was hosted in Melbourne (many, many thanks to La Trobe!)

What's the same:

Educators and leaders from the higher education sector, getting together to prioritise action for a better student experience.

Here's what happened.

Listen to your students

Professor Jessica Vanderlelie - La Trobe's Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Success - is one of Australia's most dedicated drivers of the student experience. Which makes it even more appropriate that she welcomed 'Students First 2019' delegates this year.

Jess Vanderlelie at the Students First Studiosity Symposium 2019

With a persistent theme of practical, progressive, student-led action, Jessica talked about student health and stress as reasons for dropout, which would foreshadow Keynote Professor Pat McGorry's sobering plea for mental health change. Meanwhile, hearing that 9% of students leave university for "administrative reasons" left some of the room amazed.

We heard that universities could learn from Kodak, and need to change a model that otherwise hasn’t changed in centuries. Partnerships with academics, with students, and with industry are key to effective, innovative change that adds value to the university.

Listening to students is a critical part of driving effective change. Jessica described La Trobe University’s initiatives to put student feedback at the centre, including highly segmented and targeted communications to student groups. 

With Studiosity in place for two full semesters at La Trobe:

  • 70% of Studiosity users felt they’ll get a higher grade

  • 81% of Studiosity users felt more confident

  • Studiosity users were 44% more likely to stay enrolled

  • 58% of Studiosity users find it more helpful than other support services

Outcomes: Students value career prospects, and La Trobe’s Career Ready Advantage program helps develop career readiness; there is a correlation with Studiosity use and positive student outcomes

Recommended action: Prioritise innovative change; listen to students, target your communications, partner with academics, students, and industry; measure your Studiosity service.

Studiosity's CEO reveals a personal ambition for universal, one-to-one, early intervention

Setting the scene in 'The future of student support,' Studiosity's CEO, Mike Larsen, described the reality of the accelerating transformation of the global education sector that's being driven by students and increasing student numbers. Mike described the company's own mission for transparency, reminding the educators in the room that they are partners on this journey.

With the room already nodding in agreement, Mike won them over again with photos of his young son, sharing his family's and son's journey with autism therapy. Universal access to at-scale, early intervention made all the difference to his son and his family. The parable was a fitting introduction to Professor McGorry's Keynote presentation on scalable, early intervention.

Outcomes: The sector is moving too quickly, and there are too many new students, to do nothing.

Recommended action: The sector needs to prioritise accessible, one-to-one, early intervention to ensure student wellbeing.


The opportunity and waste of human potential: Managing the mental health of tertiary students

Professor Pat McGorry, Executive Director of Orygen, and Professor of Youth Mental Health at the University of Melbourne stepped up, and all eyes and ears were on the former Australian of the Year.

The discussions that followed summarise the sentiment best:

Pat also talked about better curriculum design as part of the solution, to reduce pressure on students. International students in particular were highlighted - not only for the academic pressure they face, but because some cultures are also less inclined to talk about mental health. Staff wellbeing was also described as part of the solution for student wellbeing.

Outcomes: Students are a source of mental wealth; they need investment by society.

Recommended action: The Australian University Mental Health Framework Project provides universities with guidelines and standards conducive to good mental health and wellbeing. Also, improved curriculum design, staff professional development, and duty of care to international students.

National - and international - observations on student wellbeing

Symposium Chair and Studiosity Chief Academic Officer, Professor Judyth Sachs, thoughtfully brought the morning's themes together, as well as sharing results from this year's 2019 National Student Wellbeing Survey. Students feel a sense of isolation - how can universities reduce anxiety? Students want a greater sense of belonging - how can peer-to-peer services be extended? Can student wellbeing be improved by putting students at the centre of the university model - should students be recognised as customers?

Judyth then gave the room some homework, sharing the UK resource "What Works Wellbeing Centre," a resource that prioritises evidence and action to improve student mental health, before sending us all off to lunch.

Students First Studiosity Symposium

Feedback and cheating: The case for evidence-based action (or drones over exam centres?)

We are in the midst of cheating panic and some responses aren’t evidence based, explains Associate Professor Phillip Dawson, Keynote, and Associate Director of the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning (CRADLE) at Deakin University. Phill asked the room to consider - what if we let important cheating regulation carry out its function, without detracting from productive student feedback processes?

Also knowing a few things about getting the room's attention, Phill led with a shocking few revelations.

Polling the room, Phill asked:

Assoc Prof Phillip Dawson of Deakin University at the Studiosity Symposium 2019Phill entertaining and educating delegates 

Getting nods from the 140 delegates, Phill asked: where is the line between cheating and not? He continued: Let's consider that for students from an English as an Additional Language (EAL) background, a focus on authoritarian measures is especially problematic because these students need to learn to write in English in addition to doing the same degree as their non-EAL peer.

Phill closed by asking delegates to consider the pedagogical approaches wrapped around Studiosity. Noted, Phill! You don't need to ask us twice. We know that the interactions between the online specialist, the student, and escalation to university educators leads to sustainable student success via feedback literacy, improved skill, and increased confidence.

Outcomes: Some punitive measures to combat cheating aren't backed by evidence; Productive student feedback processes could offer a better experience for students and educators

Recommended action: Prioritise sustainable feedback literacy; be wary of a focus on punitive measures that aren't backed by evidence; be wary of a sole focus on authoritarian punishment.


Teach them to fish: building capability and awareness of academic integrity standards

Following Phill Dawson - in what might be the most seamless transition in 'Students First' Symposium history - Mike Larsen and Sherwin Huang led a discussion on feedback literacy and Studiosity's new 'Citation Alert' feature within the Writing Feedback function.

Explaining that rather than take on another policing role, Studiosity seeks to help the vast majority of students who don't mean to plagiarise, but perhaps do - due to anxiety, feeling rushed, feeling tired.

Partnering with German-based Plagscan, the additional feature inside Studiosity is an additional, practical measure that puts feedback literacy into action, with transparent oversight for educators.

Outcomes: Most plagiarism is unintentional, how can those students be better supported?

Recommended action: Studiosity partners can switch on Citation Alert in Semester 2, 2019


Studiosity and student retention: early signs of positive correlation at CQUniversity

Chris Veraa knows what the people want:

Chris Veraa is Director of Student Experience at CQUniversity, and brought the room three years (2017, 2018, 2019) worth of data on Studiosity users: retention, academic success, rates of unit failure, and also how students’ anecdotal feedback compared to academic outcomes.

CQUniversity Studiosity users (on average):
• Have a 16.45% higher rate of retention than the cohort
• Experience 21.7% less unit failure than the cohort
• Are 17.31% less likely to be placed on academic probation than the cohort

The 'Students First' room heard about CQUniversity's higher than national average student QILT ratings for student support, and about the university's diverse student population, high first in family, indigenous, mature aged students.

And it's a testament to Chris' presentation that the discussion kept going online.

Outcomes: Correlation between Studiosity and student - and institutional - outcomes is positive; a fantastic initiative to undertake this study and now more research is needed.

Recommended action: Promote to staff, promote to students (early)


The 'Students First' Panel

“If the house is not on fire and there’s no blood, don’t bother mum studying”.

Each year, the 'Students First' panel session offers a wealth of behavioural description and insight into the lifestyles of students, and this year was no exception. On the panel this year were two of Studiosity's online Subject Specialists (graciously joining us face-to-face as a bit of a professional change from the norm!) as well as special guest panellist, CQUniversity Deputy Vice Chancellor, Joanne Perry.

Delegates heard the pressure that mature age students are under, including family, business, work, and even the self-inflicted pressure to get High Distinctions, it is a mix that ultimately leads to stress. Studiosity takes the pressure off.

A common theme from the Studiosity online specialists, Graham and Helga, was the stress they see in students arriving to the 24/7 help, and the skill required to apply the socratic method stringently every time.

Outcomes: Student life is more complex, and more challenging, than quantitative data suggests. Circumstances are highly personal.

Recommended action: Universities could prioritise peer-to-peer networks to increase belonging; partner with external providers to cover staff shortages (for example, Headspace to provide critical help for student mental wellbeing); personal support for unintentional plagiarism would take away fear and anxiety for well-meaning students.


Shining a light on student capability

If anyone can re-energize a room at 4pm, it's Denise Stewart, General Manager Operations and Scott Harrison, Director, Partner Services at Studiosity. With the help of some props that literally helped shine a light, delegates saw first hand Studiosity's Academic Writing Evaluation (AWE) service. 

Helping universities with more - and earlier - insight into students' writing abilities, Studiosity partners can already use the service now.

Outcomes: More students enrolling are less prepared. Universities need the insight to control the quality of degrees offered; and most importantly, to provide the best possible experience for the students arriving, regardless of CALD, EAL backgrounds, socio-economically diverse circumstances, including international enrolments.

Recommended action: Academic Writing Evaluation (AWE) - ask your Studiosity Partnership Manager to switch on this extra service for your students, or particular cohorts.


And that was just Day One...

With a wealth of new information, it's lucky we had Professor Judyth Sachs to guide some actions and learnings:

• Listen to your students/customers - that's where solutions come from
• 'Retention' is a deficit discourse that needs to change
• The 15-25 year age group mental health risk was the most sobering discussion today, and needs immediate attention
• The discussion around plagiarism and academic integrity is about values
• Incremental change can be as effective as major innovation - any action is important

Next: Day Two was just as thought-provoking, but we always fit it into half the time. So, what happened? Read the Day Two highlights.


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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