I am a Success Advisor here at Centennial College. My role is to support student success and help students navigate the College system. I meet with students on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. I am housed within the School of Community and Health Studies and I am the Success Advisor for three specific programs: Child and Youth Care, Recreation and Leisure Services and Community and Child Studies Foundation. I work closely with the academic programs, faculty and administrators.
Students can book an appointment or just drop in to meet with me. I do find that students have lots of questions, especially about the College system. Even though the information is available on the website or in an email, students often want to check or have the information explained. In my first year as a Success Advisor and being new to Centennial College I observed that the College systems uses a lot of acronyms and they seem to have their own language. I call it Centennial speak. I spend a significant amount of time helping students decipher the information. I get the sense from students that the College environment feels different and perhaps even uncomfortable. It does make me pause – if students have this much confusion and questions about the system, they must have similar if not more questions about course work? As a Success Advisor, we direct all student questions about course work to the faculty of the course. I have noticed that some students are nervous about coming to ask me a question. I wonder how this may translate to unasked questions students have about course work.?
First year students in my programs can have up to 7 courses and that can translate in to 7 different instructors; 7 different teaching styles; 7 different assessment and feedback frameworks, and 7 different ways to contact faculty/office hours. To confuse matters, both Communication and General Elective courses are housed in a different school, The School of Advancement. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the system and process and who to contact, so I can understand a bit how the students might feel. Sometimes the road to learning and achieving can have many turns and even stops. It take perseverance to stay or get back on the road. I feel it is important that students understand that they are not alone in this journey and that bumps and curves are a part of the process.
In my role I try to address these main areas with students; support new students with the College system and the mechanics of the system; importance of student engagement in course work and understanding grades; and the significance of a faculty- student relationship.
I have noticed a pattern that has me a bit stumped. Students come in to my office and ask, “Can you check my grades?” or “Do you know what I got on my assignment?”. I can see this is one of those unasked questions to the faculty. Leads me to wonder – why are the students coming to me regarding their marks? Why are they not speaking with the instructor? What’s going on? How can I support this process?
One thing I can do is help the student understand the learning process and the importance of engagement with the course and the faculty. I spend time with the student and we discuss different aspects of the College experience. How are they feeling about College? Program? Courses? Life? And strategies for success.
I inform the students that I do not have access to their marks, but if they want we can look at them together. 100% of the time students say, Yes. We talk a bit about the idea of being a learner, and the process of assessment and feedback . The idea that learning at the post secondary level may be different then the learning process they are familiar, it tends to be a more learner centred approach . “A learner-centered approach views learners as active agents. They bring their own knowledge, past experiences, education, and ideas – and this impacts how they take on board new information and learn”(Lawless, 2019, para. 3). We discuss the objective of being active in the learning and what it means for assessment. The idea that bumps in the road are a big part of the learning and is where the most important learning can happen. That being active in learning and assessment also means being active in regards to the feedback. Feedback is where instructors help students get over the bump and back on the road. I have a quote on my wall by Arianna Huffington and sometimes I point to it and ask them what they think about it.
Second, we discuss the importance of the relationship between learner and faculty. I try to set the stage and encourage the students to reach out and have a conversation with the instructor. “In general, the research literature supports a strong positive correlation between positive student-instructor interactions—both inside the classroom and out—and student learning and development. What is unknown, however, is whether students are aware of these benefits”(McInnis Brown & Starrett, 2017, para. 1). I feel that this is a great point. Are students aware? I feel that one of my roles is to support and encourage the learner to reach out and connect with the faculty. I ask students do you know how to contact your faculty? Do you know their office hours? What has been your experience? Students often say that they do not want to bother the instructor or that they do not know what questions to ask. Some students say that they did ask, and the instructor referred them to the written feedback that was given. Or the instructor said , please come to my office hours. Together, the student and I come up with some questions and ways to start the conversation with faculty. At the end students will say, “I did not know I could ask that” or “I did not know that my faculty would be open to having that conversation”. It is important that we all have an open mind and understand that asking any question may be difficult for the student.
Next, I ask do you know where and how to find your marks? At this point, I have the student log in to the learning system. This sometimes brings up a problem of it’s own. Student are not able to log in. They do not know their log in or password. In the system if you have too many failed log in attempts, it automatically locks you out for a period of time. Some students will say – I have the password saved on my computer. They may bring out their computer and the same thing happens. Again, I wonder, how can you engage in your learning and be successful, if you cannot access the learning platform. Typically, students type the password in fast. This leads me to think that they are anxious and perhaps worried about the conversation or the just talking about marks in general. Students usually confirm that yes, they are anxious and worried as they do not want to fail. I realize how much weight and worry that the student has been carrying with them regarding assessment. Some students even admit that they have stopped going to class because of the worry.
I try not to let the student leave without seeing that they can access E centennial (the learning platform). Sometimes, I have the student call the Helpdesk from my phone and sometimes, we walk down the hall to the IT department as I want to show the student where to find the IT support in case they need to use it again.
Once the student is logged in, the fun begins. I ask a series of questions that lead the student through the problem. “What course and/or assignment do you want to look at?” Often, they just say Dave’s course or Professor Andrea. We then together figure out the course name, number and find the course on the learning platform. This can take a bit of time but it is worth it. Along the way I am asking questions and trying to figure out the comfort level of the student and their learning.
One of the things that students say is that they are afraid of seeing their mark. They will say ” I know I failed” or ” I never do good on tests”. Again, we talk about why they feel that way and what is going on. They are worried that they have not done well on an assessment and what that means. We can all relate to an assignment where we thought we did great only to get feedback to the contrary. I imagine that students past experience with evaluations play a large role in their feelings and apprehension. This leads to the idea of the mindset of the student. Dr Carol Dweck (1988) has examined the idea that how a student views their own intelligence has a big impact on them, and has come up with a continuum from a fixed to a growth mindset. With the fixed mindset students believe that all assessments are test of their “intelligence which often result in minimal effort, giving up, blaming, and/or avoiding challenging subject matter“(DeLaughter, 2014). And on the growth mindset end, learners see every opportunity as a chance to grow their brain, viewing even failures as growth opportunities(DeLaughter, 2014).
Many students have the idea that one low mark means that they will fail the course. They often feel overwhelmed with the College experience and any feedback seems to set them on the negative path. They often compare themselves to other students and feel that everyone gets it but me. Normalizing the process of assessment, feedback and growth is a very important step and that bumps and challenges are a part of it all.
Together, we look at the grade book and I point out how much the assignment is worth, percentage of the whole mark. Students are often surprised to find out that the assessment was only worth 5%. I hope to instill hope when students realize that one mark will not have the lasting impact that they feared.
Although most faculty have office hours and offer to meet with the students, some students mention that they do not feel comfortable talking with their instructor. A few students have mentioned that they have asked a question in class and the perception from the student is that the interaction was not positive. Therefor they do not feel that they can reach out to the instructor. Or some students have explained that they have reached out to the instructor and that they never received a response. Again, the first thought from the student is negative. The faculty saw my email and did not want to respond or the idea that they are bothering the faculty. Sometimes I delve in to the particulars. When did you send the email? What did you say? Can you show me the email. Sometimes, it seems that students have an unrealistic timeline for a response, or sent the email to the wrong person, or the email is poorly constructed. Again the students first reaction relates to the fixed mindset and they automatically read in a negative outcome. Often, in my opinion, the faculty have answered with a supportive response but the student has interpreted the answers through their negative lens. I try to emphasis the idea that at Centennial College the learner and faculty work together and that it is a shared process. and it is crucial to student success.
An interesting pattern arose in one program and that is the students said that they know that their faculty is supportive but they did not want to meet with them for that reason. When I asked the student to tell me more, they explained that they felt that they had disappointed the faculty. So even through the faculty were approachable and supportive the students still did not want to go to the faculty about the assessment feedback. This is such a interesting dynamic. Can faculty be too supportive and accommodating?
Lastly, I feel that students that follow this pattern of fear of assessment and feedback are often first generation students; students from Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas or that do not have a lot of support. They do not seem to be familiar with the College and learning systems. They often report feeling completely alone and lack of confidence. One of my number one keys to success for students is to not struggle alone. Reach out to someone. I always humbled when students choose to meet with me, and proud of them for taking the very first important step.
Andrew Greer (2014) from the Centre for Teaching in Excellence, Vanderbilt University, talks about the importance of increasing inclusivity in our classrooms. Most students struggle to transition into higher education, but students of less privileged and more marginal backgrounds face even greater challenges as they enter what they can perceive to be an unwelcoming or even hostile environment (Carter, et al., 2006; Kalsner & Pistole, 2003). To help students overcome challenges integrating into college/university life, teachers can work to cultivate a sense of belonging among their students. I encourage both support and academic staff to promote a welcoming environment as this will support the students learning journey. Personally, I commit to continue to support and foster the importance of the learning relationship between student and faculty and assessment and feedback. Let’s bring this concept in to all our areas and normalize the process.
Based on my observations and experiences as outlined so far, here are some resources that faculty might find helpful to decrease the fear that students may have and encourage the students to get assessment feedback from the instructor:
1. Take time in class for assessment and feedback.
Show connection on why feedback matters: Take time to introduce the concept and work through it with students. Discussion on past feedback experiences may be helpful and lead towards a collaborative feedback interaction and understanding.
One idea is to show a quote and discuss. Continue this theme.
Here is an article with some ideas: Getting Students to Engage With Feedback
2. Taking time to talk about learners mindset.
Here are two good videos to show in class and then have a discussion.
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset:
The Power of belief – mindset and success:
If you or students would like more information or wonder what is your mindset here is a free 8 question quiz by Mindset.com.
3. Exam Wrappers
Exam wrappers are exercises in which students reflect upon their performance and goals through multiple choice, short answer, or essay questions. While the wrappers may be customized for specific classes or assessments, they are generally administered in the following method:
- Return assessments along with a brief handout
- Provide class time for students to review their performance and complete the exam wrapper
- Collect the exam wrappers and use their insights to improve classroom lectures and activities
- Return the exam wrappers before the next assessment
Bowman, J. (2020, March 4). Getting Students to Engage in Feedback: Scaffolding Feedback can be an effective way to help students improve their work. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/getting-students-engage-feedback
Carter, D. F., Locks, A. M., Winkle-Wagner, R., & Pineda, D. (2006, April). “From when and where I enter”: Theoretical and empirical considerations of minority students’ transition to college. Paper presented at American Educational Research Association annual meeting, San Francisco.
DeLaughter, D. (2014, September 15). Using Exam Wrappers as a Learning Tool. Teaching Academic: A CTLL Blog; Teaching and Learning. http://blog.ung.edu/ctll/dede-delaughter/
Dweck, C.S. & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality. American Psychological Association, 95(2), 256- 273.
Greer, A. (2014). Increasing Inclusivity in the Classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved June 2021 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/increasing-inclusivity-in-the-classroom/
Kalsner, L., & Pistole, M. C. (2003). College adjustment in a multiethnic sample: Attachment, separation-individuation, and ethnic identity. Journal of College Student Development, 44(1), 92–109.
Lawless,C. (2019,September 26). Learner-Centered Approaches: Why They Matter and How to Implement Them. LearnerUpon. Blog. https://www.learnupon.com/blog/learner-centered/
McInnis Brown, M., & Starrett, J. (2017, April 7). Fostering Student Connectedness: Building Relationships in the Classroom. Faculty Focus; Higher Ed Teaching Strategies From Magna Publications. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/fostering-student-connectedness-building-relationships-classroom/