ACE system supports success of all first-year students at UC

A new system at the University of Canterbury (UC) has proven effective at identifying and contacting first-year students who may need support.

The first year of university is exciting but can also be challenging for new students as they transition to a new way of life with different social and academic expectations. To help them adjust and thrive, UC offers a comprehensive and cohesive range of services to assist with academic or personal challenges.

However, a small number of students who need assistance don’t access the services available to them and don’t make contact with the Student Care team.

These students are of the utmost concern, because they could be at risk of developing mental health problems and of failing to achieve their academic potential. UC’s Student Care team wanted to connect with such students as early as possible.

New system to promote student engagement with courses

To identify at-risk students, UC launched the Analytics for Course Engagement (ACE) monitoring system for first-year students in January this year. UC academics contributed their expertise to developing the new system.

The team worked with software development company Catalyst to develop a student-facing dashboard on LEARN, the student learning platform. Students in first-year courses can view how their engagement levels are tracking compared to their peers.

A workflow was developed to monitor UC’s communication with each student that ACE identified as being at-risk with a series of stages – beginning with text messages, then escalating the student to the college staff for follow-up, and finally referral to Student Care management.

A report released last week, based on data up to 27 May 2020, shows that very few cases progressed to the final stage of Student Care management. Of 1010 students who were identified as disengaged, 429 received a first text message, only 170 required a second text message. 154 students were subsequently referred to their college and 20 were later referred to Student Care management.

The report’s author, Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Academic, Professor Catherine Moran, said no students required emergency contact.

“By identifying students quickly and making contact early, we believe we are capturing at-risk students in time to support them to make positive changes and access the support they need,” Professor Moran says.

“Through ACE we identified a range of reasons students were disengaged with their study. Many of these were easily managed and could be as simple as students having issues with logging on to LEARN. Others were more complex personal and academic challenges that we were able to provide the right support for.”

The ACE team worked closely with college and halls of residence staff, to create individualised response plans for each college and hall to appropriately manage their students.

The Covid-19 response

Moving learning online after the Covid-19 lockdown presented new challenges for a system based on Machine Learning from a pre-lockdown environment. The ACE team moved quickly to more closely examine the alerts from ACE and ensure that they were capturing all at-risk students.

The system was also broadened to allow all undergraduate students to view how their engagement was tracking compared to their peers and a teacher-facing dashboard was also developed, allowing teaching staff to view engagement levels of the students within their course. These major changes were launched at the beginning of Term 2.

“ACE takes our student care to a new level and helps us to assist all students, and especially those who don’t come forward and ask for help.”

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