Educators and researchers have long been interested in the factors that impact learning outcomes. Chamberlain University’s work in identifying a Social Determinants of Learning framework (SDoL; Study (chamberlain.edu)) highlights six important dimensions for institutions creating learning environments that break down barriers and provide equitable opportunities. Some of these dimensions explore the extrinsic factors that community environments or economics might have on student access and progress, while others explore intrinsic factors such as student motivation and critical thinking that influence student progress.
In all cases, the model suggests that it is critical for universities to understand the specific needs of their students and design recruitment, engagement, and educational policies and processes that meet students where they are and facilitate their success.
We know our adult and working professional students at Walden University come to us with a great deal of knowledge and experience, but their prior training and background often differs from the discipline they are now pursuing. We also know our students vary widely in what preparation they have prior to starting their programs, with some taking advantage of our many onboarding resources (i.e., orientation) while others do not. Therefore, our aim to meet students where they are to deliver the very best, customized learning experience is vulnerable when the processes for how we develop and organize our first term courses do not take into account students’ incoming personal and academic readiness.
With a broad-access enrollment mission that essentially randomly places new students into first-course sections, the classroom is filled with students of varying readiness and experience. Instructors must find ways to both challenge the already-prepared, focused students while trying not to leave behind the students coming in with less experience, clarity of purpose, or motivation. Does this variability produce good outcomes, and do students and faculty perceive these student differences as having any effects on learning?
We were curious to learn if the perceptions of students and faculty about variations in student readiness for their first course might impact all learners. Specifically, how do new students perceive their own and their peers’ motivations and abilities and in turn, do they think that impacts their educational experience? Likewise, how do faculty who teach first courses perceive their students’ readiness, and do they think variations in readiness affect their teaching and students’ learning?
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