Better Classroom Experiences, Better Grades

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A new report found that faculty members can improve students’ experiences in the classroom by adopting practices that make students feel a sense of safety and belonging, which can in turn affect their academic outcomes.

The report was released Wednesday by the Student Experience Project, a collaboration of campus leaders, faculty members, researchers and national education organizations to promote practices that enhance students’ college experiences and create more equitable learning environments.

As a part of the project, 295 faculty members at six universities learned new classroom practices focused on fostering students’ growth mind-set and sense of belonging and safety, among other goals. Faculty members participated in professional development workshops, revised their syllabi to include more motivating and inclusive language, and made changes to their courses, such as including more diverse scholars in course materials. Then the Student Experience Project solicited feedback from 10,000 students each semester during the 2020–21 academic year.

The report found that the percentage of students reporting an overall positive experience increased by about 10.5 percent in fall 2020 and spring 2021. Classroom experiences significantly improved among Black, Latina and Native American women experiencing financial stress, according to the report. The percentage of these women who reported an overall positive experience increased by about 25 percent in fall 2020 and spring 2021.

As students felt more positively about their learning environments, they were more likely to get better grades, the report found. Rates of students earning a D, an F, or withdrawing from a course fell by 26 percent in fall 2020 and by 18 percent in spring 2021 relative to past rates for the same instructors in the same courses. The rates of students earning A’s or B’s increased by 12 percent in fall 2020 and by 7 percent in spring 2021. The report notes, however, that different withdrawal policies at different institutions during the pandemic may have somewhat affected these results.

“Research shows that several aspects of the student experience, including social belonging and identity safety, have a direct impact on academic achievement,” Samantha Levine, associate director of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, said in a press release. “We’re thrilled to release the results of a years-long examination of impactful evidence-based practices instructors and institutions can use to improve students’ experiences and increase student success.”

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