One of the biggest challenges that universities face is retaining students and keeping them engaged until they graduate. Now, with institutions being forced to adopt remote learning due to COVID-19, several students are deferring enrollment entirely this year; and those taking remote classes report feeling increasingly disconnected from their instructors and peers.
Studies show that, both these challenges — falling enrollments and lack of engagement — can be addressed by fostering a sense of community and belonging. This was hard enough in-person, even with athletics, cultural associations, thriving student organizations, and other activities. It only gets more difficult to replicate this online. It is here that thoughtful technology can help. Universities can leverage applications to enable peer mentoring, staff care, and faculty support.
Here are a few student retention strategies to help you give your students a personal experience and keep them connected on the virtual campus.
Let the students get to know their instructors.
“It’s important for instructors to present themselves as a real person, and also design a course that involves opportunities for students to do the same thing,” — Michelle Pacansky-Brock, author of Best Practices for Teaching With Emerging Technologies.
Humanizing the course is a great way to build engagement and make students feel at ease. The first step to achieve that is to humanize the instructor. When instructors model vulnerability and share uncertainties, they’ll help students see that they’re allowed to do the same.
Make time to make connections.
One of the things that has drastically changed is that students get way less time to mingle and communicate with each other. Unlike an in-person class, there aren’t many avenues online for students to drop by and hang out.
Enable them with the resources to create online communities and have meaningful human interactions. Start your classes a few minutes late, giving students time to settle in and talk to each other. Begin by checking in with them, which will help students establish a rapport with you as well as each other.
Demonstrate care and compassion.
During this tumultuous time, teenagers experience greater levels of sadness, anger, stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Further, the lockdown has already led to another crisis: A marked increase in domestic violence. Students need people they can trust. You can earn their trust by first placing your trust in them.
We’ve got a few examples of how you could do that:
- When conducting online tests in class, recalibrate your expectations keeping the pandemic and its impact in mind.
- Accept that attendance is a different kind of metric online. Use the attendance data to offer a hand or restructure their learning methods.
- Offer a little flexibility in assignments, deadlines, and other commitments.
- Use office hours to help students catch up on what they might have missed.
- Make your virtual office a safe space.
Reimagine your pedagogy.
This is the perfect opportunity to find innovative solutions that would address students’ every need. Revisit old practices and principles, and evaluate if they work in today’s scenario.
- Experiment with different modalities like audiovisual means, lectures, and text.
- No longer constrained by location, bring in experts, alumni, and other valuable resources to converse with the students.
- Build in two-way feedback sessions and virtual break rooms into your syllabus.
- Upload course material well in advance so they can prepare for every class and stay on top of the curriculum.
- Monitor their progress, and actively reach out to see if anyone needs help.
But, college experience is more than just the course and curriculum. Enable the entire student experience online including counseling services, events calendar, access to financial aid, and other resources that they might need.
And you have to remember the digital divide: Not all students own a laptop or high-speed internet, which puts a strain on both your students and the college’s limited resources. When you think of ways to reach them via their phones, you’re definitely taking a step closer to getting their attention. Find intuitive solutions that will help you deliver powerful student experiences right to their smartphones.
With the right tools, you can provide students flexibility, personalized support, and all the resources they need to belong, and therefore be productive. If we embrace this period of uncertainty including all its possibilities, we can foster community among remote students and help them stay committed to their educational goals.