Student Success Toolkit

Student Success Toolkit

Faculty efforts to promote student success can have a huge impact, not just in individual classes but across students’ experiences at UO. Faculty can promote student success through (1) deliberate course design and teaching practices and (2) by guiding students’ development of knowledge and skills they need to succeed at the university. This toolkit provides suggestions and guidance for both approaches.

Promoting success through course design and teaching strategies. There are many steps faculty can take when designing and teaching their courses that can increase students’ chances of success; many of the strategies help address equity gaps. In the first section of this toolkit, we offer a variety of research-supported teaching strategies and practices for increasing students’ academic success. The ideas are divided into categories: overall course design, construction of course materials, and development of course culture and affect.

Assignments to develop knowledge and skills for success. Most students, especially those just starting their UO careers, benefit from some guidance in developing the skills they will need to succeed at the university and in particular courses. Time devoted to developing study skills, time management strategies, planning, reflection, knowledge of the support resources available to students, and how to fruitfully work in groups will be well spent. In the second section of this collection we share ready-made assignments deployable by instructors wanting to foster students’ abilities in these areas.

While the strategies in this toolkit focus on student success, including supporting student wellbeing, we know many faculty and GEs are struggling with their own wellbeing. Supporting students—particularly when that includes connecting students with mental health resources and responding to students in crisis—can take a toll on instructors. We hope you will give weight to your own needs as you consider how to continue supporting student success. You can find several easy ways for faculty to connect with care for themselves in the last section of this post, Supporting Wellbeing.   

Find Toolkit resources about:

 

Related Topics: Teaching Excellence

Course Design and Teaching Strategies

Planning
Active learning. Research shows (Freeman, et al., 2014) that students who learn by actively engaging with the content – by asking and answering questions, applying and synthesizing their knowledge – perform better and retain their knowledge longer than those who passively listen to lectures. For ideas on activities you can incorporate to make your class more active, see TEP’s Student Engagement Techniques and Metacognitive Activities handouts.

Connect the content. Showing students how the content of your course is relevant to their lives and interests can increase their motivation to learn (Frymier and Shulman, 1995). Try to incorporate “real-life” applications of course material and links to other courses and disciplines. You can do this through incorporation of case studies, authentic assignments, simply talking about applications, or asking students to reflect and find connections on their own.

Have some consistent elements of class sessions. Having predictable assignments that require students to engage regularly with course content has been shown to improve student performance (Haak, et al, 2011), particularly for members of groups underrepresented in college. And activities that build community in the class increase self-efficacy and motivation.  So consider having students complete pre-class preparation quizzes; converse with a base group (see below); engage in a consistent opening activity, e.g. a “microbe minute” at the beginning of a microbiology class (Feldman, 2013)); recall the main points of a class session as it closes, etc.

Consistent and predictable due dates. It’s easier for students to plan their time if they know they can always expect to have assignments for your course due on the same days each week.   

Leverage Canvas tools. Canvas incorporates a variety of tools for engaging with students as a class and as individuals.  In Speedgrader you can annotate student submissions, type feedback, or make audio or video comments. The Gradebook has a “Message Students Who” feature that allows you to send messages to students who meet criteria with respect to an assignment, such as scoring higher or lower than a certain score or ones who have not submitted the assignment. Discussion boards and Announcements also provide useful spaces for faculty to show their engagement with the course.

 

Using Groups to Promote Learning and Belonging

Group work icon

 

Get Module: Using Groups to Promote Learning and Belonging

Instructions for importing the module to Canvas.
  1. In a different browser tab, open Canvas.
  2. Select Commons in the green menu at the left of the Canvas page.
  3. Return to this page and click the Get Module button above
  4. In the Canvas Commons page that opens, click the blue Import/Download button at the right of the page.
  5. Select the course you'd like to put the module in, then click the blue Import into Course button at the bottom of the page.

Groups may be used in courses for a variety of reasons: to support social interaction and feelings of belonging; for faculty-designed learning activities or projects; or for student-directed independent study. Resources in this section are designed to support all three types of groups.

Creating and managing groups

Before students start working together in groups, take some time in class to discuss why you are asking them to work together. Emphasize that it's helpful to have connections in the class, that teamwork is an important career skill you want to help them develop, that it’s common practice in your discipline, and that teams are more innovative, productive, and find better solutions to problems than people working alone.

Much research has been done into how to create groups that work well together. A few key points to note:

  • If women and members of minoritized groups are significantly outnumbered, they may be silenced or discounted. (e.g. Niler et al., 2020)
  • Self-selected groups often display social cohesion but are less productive in the long term, and they often display little diversity of any kind. (e.g. Rienties et al., 2014).
  • To maximize learning, it is helpful for the group to include students with a range of knowledge/skill levels. (Lou, 2013)

Assign groups. We suggest random assignment of groups to mitigate the problems listed above. To put all students into random groups, consider creating the groups in Canvas. If students will have the choice to participate in a group or not, as with an optional independent study group, first poll the students to see who is interested in joining a group. One way to do this is to gather their names and UO ID numbers (95 numbers), perhaps using a Microsoft Form from Office 365. Sort the entries in the resulting Excel file according to ID numbers (or the last few digits of the ID numbers), then divide the now-randomized students into groups.

If the class is small enough to make it feasible, consider adjusting the random assignments with an eye to making sure women and members of minoritized groups are not alone in their groups. In any event, create an opportunity for each student to give feedback on how the group is working together.

Ask if there are problems. Students often hesitate to provide honest evaluations of other group members' contributions for fear of damaging relationships, so asking students to rate each other may not be effective. They also may have difficulty distinguishing social loafers and free riders from partners who struggle with content (Freeman, 2011). So it can be helpful to simply ask each group member if they have concerns about the way the group is working together.

Offer mediation for groups that report difficulties. This may present less of a burden for the instructor than it might at first appear: one published report (Brickman et al., 2021) indicated that only about 15% of groups indicated problems. Those groups were invited to mediation meetings, which only half accepted; the other groups opted instead to discuss the problems on their own. During mediation meetings, invite each member to respectfully express their views of how the group is working together. Brickman et al. recommend two strategies for resolving problems: (1) move the poorly-performing group member to another group (depending on circumstances, the removed student could decide if they want to join an existing group open to a new member committed to success, if they prefer to form a new group with others that might be less invested in group success, or if they don’t want to be in a group at all), or (2) maintain the group composition but develop new rules regarding the problem behaviors.

Recommendations

  • Talk to students about the importance of teamwork and how to get the best from everyone on the team.
  • Assign groups randomly, about 4 people per group.
  • If possible, set aside time during class for the students to have their first meeting, even if most meetings will occur outside class time, such as for independent study groups or group projects.
  • If you have capacity to help groups be successful: After about 3 group meetings, administer the 1-question survey (included in this module) to identify groups that are having difficulties.
  • Invite the groups with difficulties to meet with you for mediation. 
  • A helpful resource: Teaching for Student Success podcast Episode 8.

Materials in the module

Video. A link to a YouTube video about the importance of working well in teams and strategies for doing so.

Group effectiveness survey. A graded survey with two questions: one asking which group the student is in, the other asking if the group is having any problems working as a team. Submission: A Canvas survey.

Cooperative base groups for social interaction, belonging and academic support

Students benefit greatly from having a supportive group of people they know in their courses, whether face-to-face or online.

Cooperative base groups (Johnson and Johnson, 1999) are long-term, stable groups created with a view to providing students with a welcoming and supportive circle of people who can help create a feeling of belonging in a course and at the university. The group members check in with each other about academics, helping each other stay on track with course deadlines and offering support, but base groups do not do learning activities together.

Implementing cooperative base groups

Have groups meet for five minutes at the beginning of a class session. Supply them with a discussion topic. Early in the term this might be an icebreaker question designed to help the group members get to know each other and build community; later, the questions can have the goal of helping students support each other academically.

Supporting materials

Student-directed independent study groups

Students usually recognize the value of working and studying with others outside class to help them understand, retain, and learn to apply course material. But they often have difficulty finding or organizing a group to work with and appreciate a faculty-led structure for establishing groups. They also benefit from guidance about the kinds of group study activities that are helpful.

Faculty can facilitate formation and smooth functioning of independent study groups, whether they are voluntary or required.

Materials in the module

Studying with others: Tips for making it work. A student-facing document outlining why group study can be helpful, why it sometimes fails, and suggestions for making it productive.

Studying with others: Suggested activities. A list of activities groups might use to make the most of their time together. We encourage you to tailor this list to the knowledge and skills you want students to learn and practice in your course.

Study group: First meeting. A list of suggested activities for the group’s first meeting, designed to help the students get to know each other, set group meeting times and establish behavioral expectations. This resource is set up as an assignment for use by faculty who are requiring groups to meet outside class time. Submission: A group photo or screenshot of a virtual meeting.

Study group: Week X. A framework for regular meetings of a student-directed study group. This resource is set up as an assignment for use by faculty who are requiring groups to meet outside class time. Submission: A group photo or screenshot of a virtual meeting.

 

 

Learning Skills and Planning

 

Study Skills Icon

Get Module: Learning Skills and Planning

Instructions for importing the module to Canvas.
  1. In a different browser tab, open Canvas.
  2. Select Commons in the green menu at the left of the Canvas page.
  3. Return to this page and click the Get Module button above.
  4. In the Canvas Commons page that opens, click the blue Import/Download button at the right of the page.
  5. Select the course you'd like to put the module in, then click the blue Import into Course button at the bottom of the page.

The assignments in this module present students with structured opportunities to consider how they spend and manage their time, learn about study strategies supported by research, consider their goals, and make plans that align with what they have learned. See below for a description of each assignment in the module. Follow the instructions at left to upload the Study Skills and Planning module directly into your Canvas course.

Activity Log.  Students record all their activities for three days, then assess how they could spend their time more effectively. The assignment provides an Excel spreadsheet for recording activities, but many online alternatives exist. Submission: None, but a short follow-up class discussion is recommended.

Goals and Planning.  Students reflect on and record their goals for their time at UO, then make a shorter-term study plan. Submission: Screen shot or photo of completed planner.

Class Reflection. Students reflect on the structure and content of a class session and how they engaged in it. The figure below shows the PowerPoint form that guides the reflection. Submission: The completed PowerPoint form or a photo of it.

Getting the Most Out of Your Readings. Students search for a credible source presenting a method for engaging with challenging reading materials. They answer questions about the source and the method, then try applying the method in one of their classes. Submission: Text entry of answers to questions.

Studying Effectively. Students watch a video and read an article about research-supported study strategies, answer questions about which strategies are most effective, and make a plan for incorporating the strategies into their own study plans. Submission: Multiple choice Canvas quiz.

Examining Returned Tests. Students determine why they lost credit on individual questions on a recently-returned test and draw conclusions about what to work on for next time. Assignment includes an Excel Spreadsheet (shown below) for recording the reason for each missed question, with the possible reasons grouped into overarching categories such as Insufficient Information and Test Savvy. Submission: Word document listing areas of need and plans for improvement.

Memory Mining. Students practice retrieval, a research-supported practice that helps students learn and retain information. They try to recall and write down (in the format of their choice) all the information and concepts from the last class session, then compare with their notes to see what they missed. Next they reflect on the material and generate questions about it or let you know what confuses them. Submission: Canvas quiz including submission of retrieval document and questions/points of confusion.

What's the Point? Students practice figuring out the purpose of an assignment, what course goals and learning objectives it addresses, and how the material relates to other parts of the course, to other courses, and/or to the world in general. They also consider why the assignment is structured the way it is and the skills that structure makes them practice. Pair this with a content-based assignment. Submission: a brief written or recorded explanation directed at a person not in the course.

 

 

 

Reflecting on Classes and University Life

Self-Reflection Icon

Get Module: Reflecting on Classes and University Life

Instructions for importing the module to Canvas
  1. In a different browser tab, open Canvas.
  2. Select Commons in the green menu at the left of the Canvas page.
  3. Return to this page and click the Get Module button above
  4. In the Canvas Commons page that opens, click the blue Import/Download button at the right of the page.
  5. Select the course you'd like to put the module in, then click the blue Import into Course button at the bottom of the page.

The assignments in this module promote student metacognition and planning about various aspects of their performance in classes and their lives at the university. See below for a description of each assignment in the module. Follow the instructions at left to upload the Reflecting on Classes and University Life module directly into your Canvas course.

What Do You Value? Students read a list of values and activities and select the two or three that are most important to them.  Then they write a paragraph or two explaining why. Values affirmation activities like this one have been shown to reduce equity gaps and improve students’ sense of belonging. (Wu et al, 2021) The effects may decrease or disappear if students know the reasons behind the assignment so it is important to use care when talking about the assignment with students. Submission: Canvas quiz with multiple choice and written parts. It is helpful to do this exercise early in the term and again just before the first major assessment in the course.

Dear New Student Letter. At the end of the term, students reflect on what they have learned about how to succeed in one of their courses and the university overall, then write an advice letter to next year’s students. Submission: Written text submission to Canvas. (Possible: modify to include submission of video or voice files.)

Weekly Reflections. The writing prompts listed below ask students to generate short reflective pieces about various aspects of their course performance and behaviors and overall adjustment to life at the university. It will be necessary to modify these prompts to fit the particular circumstances of your course and the term overall. Submission: Written text submission to Canvas. (Possible: modify to invite students to submit video or voice files.)

Reflection 1: The First Week
  • What surprised you about your first week at UO?
  • What was best about your first week at UO? What concrete steps can you take to build on this good experience?
  • What was hardest about your first week at UO? What concrete steps can you take to improve the situation?
Reflection 2: Class Behaviors
  • How have you prepared for and participated in your classes this week? Did you do readings that were assigned or preview the content in the textbook? Did you review your notes and identify the most important points (or alternatively the least clear points) from the previous day or week? In class, did you have all the materials you needed? Did you pay attention and take notes? Did you make a good faith effort to participate in small-group activities? Did you make an effort to participate in class discussions, even if doing so makes you a bit uncomfortable? Did you leave your electronic devices stowed away unless your instructor asked you to use them for something?
Reflection 3: The Social Situation
  • Who are your friends so far here at UO? How are they similar to you and how are they different? Do you support each other academically, or do your interactions  have a different foundation? It usually takes time and/or effort to form deep friendships. Do you want to take active steps to make more or closer friends, or are you content with the way things are? If yes, list a few concrete steps you will take.
Reflection 4: Feedback and Strategies for Success
  • Describe a situation from your past where you initially found something difficult and didn’t do well, but where you eventually “got it.” What helped you improve? How does this apply to your current situation?
  • Why do your instructors provide written or oral feedback on your work? How do you use that feedback?
  • Unrelatedly, consider how well you feel you know the material to be covered on any upcoming midterm exams. How have you done on any assignments or quizzes so far? What are you doing to study? Then predict your score for each of the exams and write it down here.
Reflection 5: Thinking About Learning
  • What are the most important things you're learning in your classes? Are your classes all about knowing facts? Or are they more about developing skills (like writing, constructing arguments, thinking critically or creatively, applying math to other disciplines, etc) and applying them? A blend? How will your new knowledge and skills be useful for you in your other classes and in your life outside the university?
  • What key choices do instructors, peers, and you yourself make to aid your learning during class?
  • Now that you have taken your midterm exams but presumably don’t have your scores back yet, look back on your experiences during the tests. Do you feel confident about your answers to the questions?  Make predictions of the score you earned on each of your midterms. How do these predictions compare to the ones you made last week?
Reflection 6: Exam Performance
  • What score do you think you got on the CH 221 exam? How did you prepare for the CH 221 exam? What parts of your preparation do you think made a positive difference for you? What parts of your preparation should you keep doing, what should you stop, and what should you start doing so you can learn the material better?
  • Have you had a math exam yet?  If yes, how did it go? Answer the questions from prompt #1 for the math exam.
  • Chemistry exams are difficult. In a large class like CH 221, there are always people who fail tests, or at least get scores they consider shockingly low in comparison to what they were accustomed to in high school. Imagine that one of your friends finds themselves in this situation and is questioning whether they belong in college. What could you say to help them get through this? Is that person the only one feeling this way? Is it normal to experience setbacks as you learn to navigate a new system? Is doing poorly on one test really a signal that one is doomed to failure and “doesn’t belong here”? Based on what we have learned so far in this class, what advice do you have for them going forward in terms of learning strategies and possible sources of help?
Reflection 7: Free Choice!
  • Free choice! Write about something that’s on your mind this week; identify a problem, success, or other issue and analyze it in a way that is helpful for you.
Reflection 8: The First Week
  • What surprised you about your first week at UO?
  • What was best about your first week at UO? What concrete steps can you take to build on this good experience?
  • What was hardest about your first week at UO? What concrete steps can you take to improve the situation?
Reflection 9: Thinking About Thanksgiving

Are you going home or otherwise seeing family for Thanksgiving this year?

  • If yes, what are you most looking forward to? You’ve been managing your own schedule, eating habits, etc for the last 8 weeks. What issues do you think might arise as you see your family and friends again?
  • If no, will you miss your family? If you’re staying on campus, have you registered to remain in the residence halls? (https://housing.uoregon.edu/thanksgiving-break). The dining halls and many nearby restaurants will be closed on Thanksgiving and have limited hours the rest of the break. Do you have a plan for food on Thanksgiving? Who will you spend time with and what will you do in general?
Reflection 10: Looking Back and Looking Ahead
  • Overall, how do you feel about your first term at UO? Identify one thing that you are happy about/satisfied with. What did you do to bring about that situation, and how can you transfer your success to next term? Identify one thing you could improve on. Brainstorm three things you could do to improve the situation for next term.
 

 

 

Knowing and Using Campus Resources

Helping Hand Icon

Get Module: Knowing and Using Campus Resources

Instructions for importing the module to Canvas
  1. In a different browser tab, open Canvas.
  2. Select Commons in the green menu at the left of the Canvas page.
  3. Return to this page and click the Get Module button above.
  4. In the Canvas Commons page that opens, click the blue Import/Download button at the right of the page.
  5. Select the course you'd like to put the module in, then click the blue Import into Course button at the bottom of the page.

Assignments in this module help students develop knowledge and agency for using the resources available to them on campus, including faculty office hours, tutoring, mental and physical health resources, and more.

See below for a description of each assignment in the module. Follow the instructions at left to upload the Knowing and Using Campus Resources module directly into your Canvas course.

The Office Hours Challenge. Guiding questions help the student to plan a visit to a professor’s office hours. After the visit, questions in a Canvas quiz help the student reflect on the visit and generate ideas for dealing with any challenges associated with it in order to make the next visit easier. Submission: Canvas quiz.

Campus Resources Scavenger Hunt. The assignment contains a list of various campus support resources.  Students choose resources from the list and visit their physical locations on campus, taking selfies of themselves while there. This assignment will need modification to fit your course and the circumstances of the term. Submission: Photos of students at the support locations they visit.

Crowdsourced List of Campus Support Resources. Students contribute to a list of resources they know about or find in a variety of categories, including ones for course-specific needs, general academic needs, stress management and mental health, exercise and physical health, and others. Submission: A post to a Canvas discussion board or other shared document.

Campus Food Security Resources link. Link to Dean of Students food security resource page.

 

Supporting Wellbeing

Leaf icon

Teaching, learning, and just living through the last few years has increased stress levels and personal and professional demands on our time, throwing into stark relief the need to care for our wellbeing. Even as faculty themselves grapple with these problems, they are often the ones who see students struggling and make efforts to help. We present here some tools and strategies you can use in the classroom to promote wellbeing, information on where to direct students for further assistance, and resources for caring for your own wellbeing.

Student Wellbeing
Visit the Student Wellbeing Toolkit page for a comprehensive look at how to effectively support student wellbeing.
Faculty Wellbeing

Therapy. We encourage faculty interested in therapy to contact two resources that frequently have a very quick response time: Cascade Centers and the HEDCO Clinic. Cascade Centers, Inc. (1-800-433-2320) is part of UO’s Employee Assistance Program; the HEDCO Clinic (541-346-0923) provides therapy through upper-division graduate interns who are completing their clinical component of study for UO’s Couples and Family Therapy master’s degree. HEDCO clinicians work closely with licensed faculty supervisors and provide highquality care. Both of these options provide services for employees and their dependents. Faculty can also scan the HEDCO QR code to fill out a survey and get connected with care.

Wellness seminars and programs. Human Resources provides a Wellness Seminar Series and other wellbeing support. 

UO Wellness Listserv. Get resources related to physical, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, financial, environmental, and occupational wellness delivered to your mailbox. Faculty, staff and graduate employees can subscribe.

Protect your time. Try designating specific start and end times for your work day, privileging blocks of time for particular tasks, and/or forcing yourself to take meaningful breaks during the day.

Design your course to reduce low-value demands on your time. Make it clear who students should contact with specific types of questions, provide venues where the whole class can see answers to frequently-asked questions, and--if possible--allow students a limited number of no-questions-asked assignment extensions or excuses. These strategies can reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with the clerical parts of the course and free you to focus on helping students learn.

Get ideas from colleagues

Your friends and colleagues are facing many of the same problems as you. Try consulting with them to trade ideas, conversation, and moral support. Also check out this Spotlight on Creative Instruction post, in which three faculty from TEP’s Teaching Leaders CAIT–Maile Hutterer, José Meléndez, and Lori Shontz–share their own approaches to wellbeing. While the Spotlights were written during the height of the pandemic, they continue to provide valuable ideas. Professor Lynn Fujiwara and Dr. Yvette Alex Assensoh shared their practices and paradigms around wellbeing at a Fall 2020 teaching forum called "Demonstrating Care for Students" (UO login required).