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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The ‘work ready’ graduate and the problems of perception

RegrowthAs often happens, a valued node in my professional network friend has got me thinking, and thinking to the extent that I need to write a post to help structure out my rambling thoughts.

The background to this is a post by Techxplorer about his perspective on universities teaching ’employability’ skills, and in particular this quote from his post:

I’m not convinced that I want higher education institutions teaching students to be ‘work ready’.

On thinking through this statement I couldn’t help but feeling a general vibe of disagreement, but it took a little time to work out why.

As Techxplorer goes on to discuss, the conversations that go on around being ‘work ready’ or ’employable’ can be viewed through a number of different lenses, and I think this is where so much of my discomfort was springing from, and so I thought it was worth delving into that a little deeper here on this problem of perception.

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