Driving student outcomes and success: Immediate interventions to improve retention

Student retention is a core component of Navitas’ goal of delivering world-class quality education through excellent student outcomes. In order to develop a strategic approach to improving student outcomes, L&T Services began a major initiative during 2016 in collaboration with divisions, business units and colleges. The initiative had three key aims: to surface the many student retention and success initiatives across all divisions; to provide opportunities for sharing successful strategies across business units; and to identify key student retention drivers.

Analysis of the wealth of literature on the first year experience and student success, as well as previous initiatives undertaken by individual Navitas colleges and good practice across Navitas reaffirmed what we already know – that retention is very complex and requires a number of interconnected levers and actions.

To illustrate these levers, the ‘Retention Driver Tree’ was developed, which conceptualises the retained student as one who is both ‘connected’ and ‘capable’. An overview of the thinking behind the Retention Driver Tree can be found here – or click on the image below to open a larger version and explore in more detail:

About the retention pilots

Once the Retention Driver Tree was developed, a pilot program was established to trial the initiatives in two colleges in Melbourne, designed to lift student success and ultimately retention. Three ‘high impact units’ (HIUs) were identified from each college to be included in the pilot. These units were typically first trimester subjects studied in the first year. The units chosen had pass rates lower than the Navitas target of 75%, which is a major cause of attrition as students lose confidence in their ability to complete their program of study if they fail the first units. These units typically had large cohort sizes, therefore interventions had the opportunity to positively affect large groups of students.

A set of immediate interventions was developed following a series of observations, interviews and analysis undertaken to understand the current state and core issues impacting pass rates and student success.

These immediate interventions kicked off in October 2017, centering on:

  • Structuring content for clarity and deep learning
  • Developmental activities to build skills for assessment tasks
  • Models and templates to demonstrate requirements
  • Rubrics and marking guidelines to model areas for improvement
  • Providing practice opportunities prior to the final exam

Immediate interventions: positive results

These interventions, implemented in a rapid ten-week period during the trimester, have already shown a positive impact on engagement and assessment results. Conversations with staff focused on clearly aligning learning outcomes, activities and assessments and creating a stronger unit narrative in the Learning Management System (Moodle). Unit material was clearly sign-posted, with the creation of before class, during class and after class material for students. Activities were chunked, where possible, to reduce cognitive load and increase visual pathways.

Below are three examples of the interventions and their results:

Authentic practice using online multiple choice quiz

Students complete a timed multiple choice quiz (MCQ) on Moodle, which simulates authentic quiz conditions and provides students the opportunity to problem solve under guidance and receive immediate feedback.

Previously, quiz practice was completed on paper via a PDF upload, which took a week to mark and provide feedback and bore no resemblance to the ‘real’ quiz conditions.

Results for this assessment have subsequently improved, with the average grade increasing by 9%. The percentage of students achieving 91-100% in this assessment has increased from 3% to 23%.

Practice activities for the first assessment

In the first assessment of a high impact unit, students submitted lengthy and challenging essay responses to three questions. This task had low submission rates, which poses a high attrition risk as success in first assessment tasks is a key determining factor of later success. As part of the immediate intervention, practice questions were created using an interactive tool called H5P. This allowed students to complete the practice question with clearly defined and chunked sub-sections, and have peer discussion as a classroom activity.

Following this practice opportunity, staff noted that student submissions were “unusually good” with 47 out of 49 students successfully submitting (2 with approved extensions). Previously, approximately 60% submitted.

Rubrics and marking guide

In another high impact unit, a calculation-based general rubric was created for the second assessment, along with a detailed marking guide for the teaching team, to improve consistency in marking. All assessments were started in class, with an explanation of the rubric.

The quality of student submissions has improved with teachers noting the absence of hand written assignments, which were sometimes illegible and not acceptable in the university context. Written communication of calculations was also clearer. The average mark for this assessment has increased from 34% to 70%. Feedback from students directly linked this to the availability of clearly defined rubric criteria.

Next Steps

As the pilots are still underway, it is too early to make any definitive statements. However, the initial results provide substantial evidence of the positive effect on student results and teacher attitudes. These interventions, undertaken in a short period during the trimester, can be applied in multiple contexts for maximum impact.

For more information about the retention pilots, and guiding academics in implementing these interventions, please contact Learning and Teaching Services.