Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Going beyond the First-Year Seminar to Increase Student Satisfaction

The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of participation in first-year seminars on student success outcomes of interest, namely college satisfaction, grades, retention and four-year graduation rates. The design of the study allowed researchers to account for the biases often introduced by student self-selection effects. Subgroup analyses allowed the authors to draw conclusions about students based on a host of demographic characteristics.

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Linking Curriculum and Interest to Your Place: The Living Learning Community

How can place and community be leveraged to enhance the experiences and outcomes of undergraduate students? This study implemented a place-based learning community that included “a variety of curricular approaches that intentionally link[ed] or cluster[ed] two or more courses, often around an interdisciplinary theme or problem, and enroll[ed] a common cohort of students” in an attempt to foster deeper relationships between students within the cohort, and between the students and the campus locale (p. 510). These lessons frequently included cultural or geographical context linking them to the history and nature of the campus area as well as incorporating outdoor education methods.

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Shrinking Learning Communities to Maximize Gains from All Students

Colleges are not just places where students engage with course materials, but where they develop networks of friends and colleagues that support them throughout their time in college, and potentially, throughout their adult lives as well. The development of these networks is important for students’ successful transition to college and performance therein, and many colleges have created first-year learning communities to support their development. These communities are usually composed of 12–14 students who are in their first semester of college, who take identical classes, and who are expected to study together, work together on collaborative projects, and to develop close social relationships. Ideally, students with a stronger grasp of the material provide support to the other students in their communities, but whether this is actually the case has rarely been investigated.

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Service Learning as a Tool to Achieve Intercultural Effectiveness

This longitudinal study employing the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education dataset sought to determine the influence of service learning on the intercultural effectiveness of undergraduate students. Service learning is a form of pragmatic and experiential learning in which students learn about and help address the challenges a community is facing or learn about the goals of that community and meaningfully assist in achieving those goals. Examining 17 diverse institutions and nearly 2,000 students, the study revealed a strong positive association between participating in service learning and intercultural effectiveness. However, this effect appears to be entirely mediated by (that is, completely dependent upon) exposure to good practices in course design and pedagogy, such as having more positive interactions with diverse peers, more diversity experiences in general, experiencing greater academic challenge, and having integrated learning experiences.

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Infusing Diversity throughout the Curriculum Benefits All Students

Higher education has recently intensified its collective focus on enhancing diversity learning. However, the precise effects of diversity learning on student outcomes—that is, what is learned and by whom—has remained a cloudy, if not contested, question in the research literature. This large meta-analysis sought to provide definitive answers to these questions. The research team gathered 73 peer-reviewed publications from before 1990 to 2014 that examined diversity courses and their outcomes, resulting in a total undergraduate sample size of 116,092. Using this enormous data set and highly sophisticated techniques, they were able to provide definitive answers to longstanding questions about the effectiveness of diversity learning and how it is best conducted. Diversity learning improves many student outcomes, benefits both students of color and white students, and is most effective when distributed throughout the curriculum rather than in specific diversity courses.

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Boosting Academic Performance with Internships

Internships are traditionally geared toward aiding student employment after graduation from college, but do they improve students’ academic abilities as well? To answer this question, the authors of this study employed a longitudinal examination of 3,301 students at 44 institutions. The authors revealed that internship participation at any point in one’s undergraduate career was associated with a powerful increase in students’ GPA at the end of the fourth year, boosting their academic performance by roughly one-quarter of a standard deviation. This is a small-to-medium effect; however, in the context of higher education research, large effects are rarely observed. This effect was more pronounced for students with lower GPAs and was not specific to students based on racial identification.

Opportunities for Deep Learning Are Key to Successfully Deploying Collaborative Learning Pedagogies

Loes, C. N., and An, B. P. 2021. “Collaborative Learning and Need for Cognition: Considering the Mediating Role of Deep Approaches to Learning.” Review of Higher Education. SUMMARY How can university leaders maximize the cognitive gains promised by collaborative learning approaches? This four-year longitudinal study of 2,212 students drawn from 17 institutions investigated whether collaborative […]

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Collaborative Learning Makes the Big Feel Small

Social-cognitive skills are sets of mental habits that can be influenced and developed by one’s social interactions, and that in turn help to shape those interactions. These include skills that are important for student success, such as self-efficacy (one’s subjective evaluation of whether they are able to perform a particular task) and self-regulation (one’s ability to manage emotions, ignore distractions, develop goals, and monitor whether their behavior is bringing them closer to achieving those goals). Recent studies have shown that developing these skills is especially important for first-generation students or those who may feel less comfortable than others in academic spaces. This study sought to enhance students’ social cognitive skills. The research team designed a collaborative learning program that was attached to an introductory STEM course. In this program a peer facilitator who had experienced prior success in the STEM course and who demonstrated empathy and leadership skills oversaw the weekly meeting of small (5–7 person) peer-led study groups. In total, 604 students chose to participate in the collaborative learning program, and their outcomes were compared to 676 similar peers. The research team found that students who experienced the course exhibited greater self-regulation for learning, higher self-efficacy for course tasks, and were more likely to employ deep learning methods, such as seeking out underlying patterns and concepts, than their peers, who tended to rely more heavily on rote memorization.

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

Early Exposure to Undergraduate Research Positively Impacts Later Academic Performance

The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of participation in undergraduate research experiences during the first year of college on many student success outcomes of interest, namely undergraduate grade point average, university satisfaction, intentions for graduate school, retention, and four-year graduation. The authors grounded their study by using George Kuh’s 2018 definition of undergraduate research experiences which “involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions” (p. 10).

Digest No. 11 - August 2023

STEM Success with Undergraduate Research Experience

While participating in undergraduate research can provide benefits to students’ college experiences and performance, it is primarily designed to enhance their preparation for conducting independent research at later stages of their careers. This is especially important for STEM students considering the predicted shortfall in STEM researchers the U.S. currently faces.