03 August 2023

Supporting students through real-life challenges: how Presto can help

Over the past decade-or-more we have seen significant effort and developments in registering student engagement in their learning activities. Where early engagement management focussed on registering attendance at in-person learning activities for Tier 4 Students (now known as Student Visa holders), we now see a shift in approach towards a more holistic view of student engagement at touchpoints across the university. This wider consideration of data allows a clearer view of the type of support students may need during their studies and how this demand can shift throughout a course.

With clear anecdotal links between attendance, success and retention/progression rates, the wider consideration of student support through engagement management is an important step for any university.

It is no secret that recent economic shifts and the dramatic (continuing) increase in the cost of living, have piled further pressure on the shoulders of students who continue to face the perennial concerns of moving away from home (often for the first time) and the expectation to succeed on a course of study which could define the rest of their lives. Universities are also feeling the challenge of continued increases in costs whilst being unable to charge increased fees to cover these costs (like any other service providing business has been doing in response to the increased costs of supply), helping students but further stretching University resources.

Today’s students face a range of challenges, to differing levels compared to 10 years ago and it is with this in mind that we need to consider more than just a student’s attendance in class as a sign that things are going well on their course. Students are more accustomed to multi-channel delivery of content and are more able than ever to engage with their studies in a multi-channel environment so it is vital to look at the whole picture of student engagement with their studies to get a sense of how students interact with their studies and where they might be struggling or “going through the motions”, including looking at wider considerations around equity of access, residential location and engagement with paid work.

Knowing who is at risk is the basic requirement for building a strategy to help students who may be in an identified risk category. Using a wide range of student engagement data alongside attendance information can give a valuable indicator of support needs. This can be targeted at students as soon as any given threshold drops below a significant level, or by identifying where there are imbalances in the types of engagement a student undertakes. Whilst not being a precise correlation, changes in engagement levels or patterns can be an indicator of wider issues at play in the life of a student. The first expectation is that this might be an indicator of a mental health concern but could equally be a sign of disruption in the family environment, financial instability or the increasingly identified lack of a sense of “belonging”

It would be reasonable to expect that we start to build the dataset by measuring engagement with scheduled learning activities, be they in person or online. To build upon this information further, we can look at other educational points of physical and digital contact including (but not limited to); virtual learning environments (like Moodle, BlackBoard and Canvas), MS Teams sessions, tutorials, sports events, library visits, unscheduled or ad-hoc engagement with departmental staff and, of course, coursework submission and outcomes. By bringing together this wide range of datapoints into one cohesive and structured system, staff at all levels can be empowered to spend more of their time working with students to support them, spending less of their time trying to gather the data needed to figure out who to target in the first place.

At Simac, we are committed to supporting institutions by identifying at-risk students who may need support to continue studying and successfully reach their potential during their studies. We are always open to discuss student support and related issues so if our observations resonate with your experiences, or you would like to know more, we would love to hear about your challenges and priorities, and how we can contribute to your success.