Motivating Struggling Students

CTEL's second Teaching Showcase event focused on ways to identify and motivate struggling students. In this article, we share key takeaways from the event.
USM Digital Learning
How do you identify students who are struggling in your class, and once you know who they are, how do you get them back on track? Are there ways to structure your course to get students off to a good start?

Faculty convened to discuss these questions on October 31st for the second event in our Teaching Showcase, “Motivating Struggling Students.” The discussion was led by two experienced faculty members, Paul Dexter and Sharon Timberlake. Key recommendations emerged through their conversation with participants.

Make your course available in advance

Making your course available in advance means posting your syllabus in Blackboard, then changing your course’s availability setting so that students are enrolled in it, a process that can take up to 24 hours. This allows students to

  • buy their textbooks before the class starts so they don’t fall behind at the beginning of the term,
  • see the course workload in advance and drop the class if it’s more work than they expected, and
  • plan ahead for major deadlines and get advance permission to miss class for scheduled events.
Dr. Sharon Timberlake, Leadership & Organizational Studies faculty member

Want to learn how to prepare your Blackboard for a new term?

Record an introductory video

Both Paul and Sharon create introductory videos that walk students through elements of their Blackboard course sites and set expectations for students.

Dr. Sharon Timberlake, Leadership & Organizational Studies faculty member
Dr. Paul Dexter, Learning Commons Director and faculty member

Want to see some examples?

Sharon has provided a sample introductory announcement, along with a sample weekly announcement. Also, Paul has provided transcript for the introductory video tour and text of the course welcome announcement for one of his courses.

Establish a personal connection at the start of the term

Connecting personally with students typically goes beyond email. It can include participating in a Blackboard discussion with them or scheduling one-on-one meetings (either in-person or via web conference or phone).

Dr. Sharon Timberlake, Leadership & Organizational Studies faculty member

Sharon noted that this important first interaction with a student establishes a connection and sets a tone for their conversation from the very start of the term.

Want to personalize your class discussions?

VoiceThread is a web-based application that CTEL provides for faculty; it hosts audio- and video-based discussions.

Identify struggling students early

Both Paul and Sharon discussed signs that indicate students are struggling in an online course.

Dr. Paul Dexter, Learning Commons Director and faculty member

When students first show signs of struggling, Paul recommends reaching out to them via email and normalizing challenges, giving them something actionable to do, and connecting them to resources that will help them stay on track. He added that it’s important to look for changes in a student’s behavior later in the term, as some start out strong in a course and begin to struggle after the first few weeks.

Dr. Sharon Timberlake, Leadership & Organizational Studies faculty member

Sharon noted that sometimes students don’t think to contact faculty directly as they’re experiencing issues; they only share personal information in response to emails she sends. She recommends meeting one-on-one with struggling students to help them get on track.

Looking for resources to share with struggling students?

Check out printable resources on the Learning Commons’ new AGILE website.

Send emails and announcements strategically

Both Paul and Sharon keep their students up to date by regularly sending announcements and emails.

Dr. Sharon Timberlake, Leadership & Organizational Studies faculty member
Dr. Paul Dexter, Learning Commons Director and faculty member

For start-of week and other messages, Paul suggests that you number action items in your email in the order in which they should be completed.

Want to see some examples?

Paul has provided example announcements that he has sent to students in undergraduate courses and graduate courses. Also, Sharon included a sample weekly announcement with her aforementioned sample introductory announcement.

Conclusion

All of the actionable steps recommended by Paul and Sharon correlate with their view of their role as instructors: reinforcing the collaborative nature of the learning environment and emphasizing their commitment to the success of each student.

To learn more best practices from exceptional USM instructors, join us for our November Teaching Showcase event, “Assignments that Engage,” or read take-aways from our September event, “The Art of Giving Feedback.”

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