The Student Services conundrum: Part 1 – setting the context

FlinConSign

Me: ‘You know you can make this purchase online and you won’t have to wait in a queue here, right?’

Student: *shrugs shoulders* ‘Yeah, but I’m here now anyway, so I might as well wait’.

This was a conversation, or a variant thereof, that I had more times than I can remember during the last week of February and first week of March this year. As you may already know, I accepted a role almost one year ago at Flinders University to lead the creation of a centralised student support centre, which went live in October last year, and which met its biggest test at the start of Semester 1 last month.

It was these many conversations that, about three weeks ago (just as the smoke was clearing from the start of semester frenetics), started off a blog post in my mind that I’ve been struggling to write ever since. It was only on the counsel of two people very close to me that I realised the post (which was seeming even more long and rambling than my usual efforts) was actually three separate posts, and should be written as such.

This post marks the first in the trilogy.

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Student retention – not how, but why

For the last two days I’ve been in attendance at the Strategies for Student Retention conference in Melbourne. The conference was an interesting mix of background information on retention stats in Australian higher education, strategies to improve these retention rates, arguments around the concept of students as customers, and plenty of discussion about the challenges that lay ahead for higher education. To summarise the themes of the conference in five points:

  • attrition at universities is a thing;
  • some of it is largely unavoidable, and relates to external factors in the lives of students;
  • some of it correlates to student demographics, but to varying degrees;
  • sometimes behavioural indicators can predict it;
  • sometimes intervention strategies can help students stay on if the challenges they are facing can be worked around.

I’m not going to spend time going into more detail on the above though – there are plenty of fine scholars already doing that far more justice than I can here. I will however demonstrate the variation of opinions on the matter by sharing some responses to the following question I posted on Twitter:

If I had a dollar to spend on increasing student retention, where would it be most effectively spent, and why?

Here are some of the responses I got…

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The MOOC as a network broker

Inspiration for blog posts can happen at the strangest, and most inopportune times, and this happened to me on Thursday last week, the penultimate day of preparation for the opening of Flinders Connect and a time when my mind was flying around the many last-minute jobs we still had to knock off. The inspiration didn’t so much hit me, it was more delivered in person as I was coming back with a quick bite of lunch, courtesy of Prof Colin Carati, the Director of the Flinders Uni Centre for Educational ICT. After exchanging pleasantries about the opening of Flinders Connect, Colin mentioned the blog post I wrote a couple of weeks back which in summary posited that the next big challenge for Universities could be how best to connect their students to large, open networks as a means to improve employability (based on research from the Booth School of Business).

Colin’s thought to me was a strikingly simple one – what if the real value of a MOOC is to act as a broker for students into these large, open networks?

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