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Otago creates Office of Student Success

Friday 30 November 2018 2:43pm

Members of the team supporting student success (back row, from left) Deputy Head of the Locals Programme Maya Turner and Student Success Researcher Leaders Dr Rebecca Bird, Professor Jacques van der Meer, Nicola Beatson, Dr Damian Scarf with (foreground) Head of Student Success Dr Stephen Scott.

The Head of the University’s newly created Office of Student Success, Dr Stephen Scott, is very excited about the difference it will make for Otago students.

Based in the Student and Academic Services Division, the Office has a University-wide mandate to investigate, trial and implement initiatives to improve student success.

Dr Scott, whose role as Director of First Year Experience has morphed into the Head of Student Success says the aim is that every student, at every level, is supported.

“We want to support students to be successful, recognising success is different for different people – for some it’s an A, for some it’s a pass, for others it’s working out what to do with their life.”

The University has been working hard in this area in recent years – with initiatives aimed at first-year students such as:

  • UNIO101: University transition and success – a lecture given in O-week highlighting the differences between school and university and giving tips on how to be a successful student.
  • UNIO101: Getting started at Otago – a Blackboard site available to all first-year students for the whole year. Developed by a team of staff in late 2017, it has all the information needed by first-year students in the one place, plus course advice tips and exam tips.
  • The Locals Programme – developed by a team of staff from across the University in 2013 – which provides support for students living locally; boarding, flatting or living at home in their first year.
  • Advice on workload – generally, a first-year student is more successful if they take three papers in their first semester. This level of work helps a student transition into university and therefore be more successful. There is now a University statement on first-year student workload.
  • Contacting students to see if all is well. Using engagement data from papers as a trigger, the University has trialled making contact early in the semester with students to see if everything is going OK, for example: do they have access to Blackboard, are they well, and to let them know of the importance of early engagement on success. In these trials administrative, course and health challenges were identified and students were referred to the appropriate support services.
  • A new theme – “It’s not too late to get back on track” has been incorporated as part of the Academic Progress Policy process. Using this theme the letters students receive when placed on Academic Warning and Conditional Enrolment were re-written, and support material was developed to normalise the challenges faced by students new to university. Then, working with the Residential Colleges, support services and a Retention Office, every first-year student on Academic Warning was contacted and offered support.

These excellent initiatives are making a difference at the first-year level – and now, with the new office, the University will extend these types of initiatives to second- and subsequent-year students.

"We suspect that due to the large proportion of first-year students living in a Residential College, in a student’s second year at university flatting will add a new set of challenges."

“For some students, their second or third year can be a challenge and we know very little about these challenges,” Dr Scott says. “We suspect that due to the large proportion of first-year students living in a Residential College, in a student’s second year at university flatting will add a new set of challenges. We will be looking at this next year.”

The Office will work collaboratively across the University, with the Office of Planning and Funding, Quality Advancement Unit, Residential Colleges, Academic Divisions, the new Shared Services and Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA).

Backing up the new Office is a team of student success research leaders, one from each academic division; Nicola Beatson from the Otago Business School, Dr Rebecca Bird from the Division of Health Sciences, Dr Damian Scarf from the Division of Sciences and Associate Professor Jacques van der Meer from the Division of Humanities.

“These four academic leaders bring extensive research-based knowledge in the areas of student success, performance and engagement to the Office,” Dr Scott says.

“Utilising their broad skill-sets is a great example of the University harnessing and capitalising on the depth of knowledge we have available to us. Their expertise will be invaluable as we look to equip each student at Otago with the tools they need to get the most from their time here.”

Dr Scott says Otago already provides an excellent experience for students.

“The main difference for the University is the ‘Whole-of-University approach’ that, when applied, means good practice can be available to all students in a cohort,” he says.

"I am very excited by this new venture, especially because of the quality and diverse skill-set and experience of the new team led by Dr Scott."

“For some students, such as those on Academic Warning, the differences will be large. For other students they may not notice the changes the University makes that support their success.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Vernon Squire, says the new Office of Student Success is the University’s next step in ensuring every single student at Otago has the greatest opportunity to succeed as they mature during their most formative and influential years.

Having watched the Office grow from the pilot initiative focusing on first-year transition, he says is excited with this new extension targeting all years of study, while still recognising the importance of the first few months at University in determining future success.

“While the primary aim is to help our own Otago students to achieve the absolute best they can by putting in place solutions that lead to the best outcomes, the Office has been constructed to learn from good practice at other institutions and to share our successful interventions in the academic literature,” Professor Squire says.

“I am very excited by this new venture, especially because of the quality and diverse skill-set and experience of the new team led by Dr Scott.”