Getting Students Back on Track Introduction
Over the course of a degree, there can be many reasons why students may experience disruption in their academic journey. Alongside study, other life experiences may impact negatively on their engagement with learning for example, poor health, relationship difficulties, or unhelpful habits. In turn, disengagement and underperformance can cause students to doubt their own ability, leading to rumination, low mood and anxiety. On these occasions they may require additional interventions and support to persist with their studies and get back on track.
Given that it is inevitable that some students will experience such disruptions, curriculum design and delivery must take this into account. Curriculum that can only accommodate perfectly smooth student experiences and learning is not calibrated to reality. Scaffolding must be available to assist students to reconnect with their subject when they experience internal and external barriers to learning.
Each student will experience disruption and disengagement differently. How students fall off track cannot be predicted in advance and this, therefore requires a degree of flexibility within curriculum design and places a focus on curriculum delivery and the role of academics as individuals, teams and collaborative partners with other professional colleagues.
The role of the academic is clearly crucial and research has shown that students often turn to their academic staff first – before approaching other services. However, this does not mean that academics should become quasi-counsellors or advisors. For the safety of students, academics and universities, it is important that academic staff maintain the boundaries of their role. Delivery at this point must therefore be a collaborative endeavour, with colleagues from across the university.
This section explores ways in which design and delivery can support students to get back on track. It examines steps that can be taken:
- in advance of student need, building relationships between academics and Student Services and clarifying the role of the academic.
- during curriculum delivery through ongoing signposting and co-facilitation to support self-management.
- when students present in crisis, supporting them to access the appropriate support and ensuring academics can maintain their boundaries.
As ever, there is overlap between these themes and the other sections of the toolkit. For instance, students will find it easier to re-engage with academic programmes in which they feel they have social belonging. It will be easier for students to catch up with a curriculum that has good, scaffolded design and internal coherence. Students will be less likely to avoid re-engagement if they find learning meaningful and have a learning focus.