Why do students drop out of university? How do they handle the transition into university (be it from secondary school or as mature aged students)? What does student success mean? How can we influence students to achieve? And just as important, what does success actually mean?
These are all questions that I have tried to confront from the moment I started teaching at universities…
One of my passions has always been the experience and success of first year students. It is an area that I have researched and studied – not just from a theoretical point of view but also from a practical perspective.
Early in my career, I was asked to coordinate a first year subject that had a fail/drop out rate of 23 percent! Think of that: almost 1 in 4 students would drop out!
I implemented a number of changes to make the subject more engaging: some where informal discussions with students who had undertaken the subject, others with colleagues who had excelled at first year teaching. The changes I introduced as a result included ‘flipping’ the classroom (something I achieved despite there being over 800 students enrolled in the class); drawing on contemporary issues that students could relate to rather than rely on theory ; and introducing a range of new technologies that allowed the students to enjoy different modes of delivery.
Over a two-year period, the fail rate collapsed to less than 2 percent! Surprisingly, I found myself receiving much criticism despite these achievements – often being accused of delivering ‘edu-tainment’ rather than education.
Despite this criticism, my practice was also based on a great deal of research and in the process I stared coming across the work of a number of impressive scholars including Karen Nelson (University of the Sunshine Coast) and Beverley Oliver (Deakin University). The Office for Learning and Teaching was also providing a wealth a research and guidance – and the door of ’transitions’ opened to me. Within my own university, David McInnes and Sara Knox.
I was honoured (and very nervous), when in July this year, I was invited to be on a closing plenary panel with both Beverly and Karen, as well as Marnie Hughes-Warrington and Sally Kift – a panel chaired by the amazing Ron Oliver. This was part of the STARS conference: Students, Transitions, Achievement, Retention, Success (2015).
The invited panel at the STARS Conference concluded the formal presentations for the event. As part of the panel, we were asked to share our personal thoughts concerning each of these broad areas particularly around the issues of transition and retention.
The editors of the STARS journal published the transcript (after a decent edit) to present the key points of each discussion – a copy of the article is available HERE as well as being attached below…