Amy Potthast | Instructional Coach & Designer | Learning Design Studios

The Evergreen State College in Olympia expects students to take responsibility for their own learning and integrates learning contracts throughout the curriculum. Its website also happens to have a cash of institutional research about admissions and retention trends, student engagement, and other reporting that helps me answer some of my questions.

For example in a fall-to-fall comparison of student retention, it’s clear that the further up the food chain, the higher the retention rates. Grad students’ retention rates are in the upper 80s while first-year undergrads are around 70 percent. (Fall to fall retention 2009-2010). In addition to self-selection (especially at the undergrad level, where retention is stronger as students move towards graduation—- indicating (maybe) that students who are sticking with the school are the ones who are succeeding there. But also the higher retention rates of the relatively shorter-term grad programs makes me think that grad students, ostensibly more mature and more experienced with the content of their studies, have an easier time with independent, self-directed work. So that supports one of my main hypotheses (that more experience with content makes constructivist approaches easier on students).

Another study I read relates to student engagement including observations of a team of outsiders who did a site visit to the school. The report doesn’t go into much detail about who struggles versus succeeds, but it does indicate that some mixed student groupings (i.e. freshman in the same program with seniors) are problematic for faculty because freshman struggle.

The same study describes supports for all students including those who struggle:

  • More support from faculty (for those who struggle)
  • A nine day orientation for all first year students to help them understand TESC’s approaches
  • Informal peer support — learning from other students including those more experienced at Evergreen
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