As the student population continues to evolve, so do the ways they learn — and the forms of support they need. The role of faculty has never been more important as colleges and universities work to create the academic experiences that today’s students need to be successful.
Non-traditional students factor significantly into today’s student population. They include students who are 25 years of age or older, enrolled in an online or distance-learning program, first-generation college students, employed full-time during school, responsible for dependents, of veteran status or re-entry students. According to the CLASP Center for Postsecondary & Economic Success, enrollment of non-traditional students is projected to increase more than twice as fast as traditional students from 2012 to 2022. Barnes & Noble College, a Barnes & Noble Education company, conducts ongoing research to better understand the student journey and provide insights on their experiences, including reports specifically addressing the non-traditional student journey as well as ways to support at-risk non-traditional students.
Barnes & Noble College recently conducted a faculty survey to better understand how faculty have adjusted their teaching methods in response to changing student demographics — and learn what forms of support they need to educate today’s non-traditional students. Their perspective yielded several insights for colleges and universities to consider moving forward.
The majority of faculty surveyed have noticed an increase in non-traditional students, both on campus in general and in their classrooms. In response, over 80 percent of those who have noticed an increase have adjusted their teaching methods in some way. The degree of adjustment varies; some faculty members have made minimal changes, while others have implemented specific strategies and accommodations. Across the spectrum, several themes emerged.
• Almost half have adjusted their course content and/or learning strategies. Most commonly, these adjustments reflected an increase in digital course materials and/or learning, a change in class format or an increase in applied learning.
• Over one-third have adjusted scheduling, incorporating flexible deadlines and increased availability to students outside of the classroom.
• Some faculty members even mentioned incorporating more student feedback into their course designs.
Non-traditional students often face a unique set of challenges as they navigate their academic journey. Balancing school with family and work were the top two factors recognized by faculty — over 80 percent named these as moderate to large challenges for non-traditional students. Over two-thirds also named financing education as major challenge.
These challenges can have a significant impact on non-traditional students’ academic experience and performance. When it comes to supporting these students, faculty expressed that feel they have good — but not great — capacity and help from their school. They also rated referral resources, staff support and learning tools for students as the most helpful forms of support.
In terms of what they still need, faculty were most likely to say that they are lacking training and educational materials for themselves on how to support non-traditional students. This gap may be a factor in the wide variety of tactics faculty have employed as they adjust their teaching methods to provide this support.
In addition, 92 percent of faculty would find real-time student behavior and performance data to be at least a little helpful to support early intervention for non-traditional students.
Solutions like LoudCloud Courseware were designed to address these types of faculty concerns. Leveraging a foundation of high quality open education resources (OER), including content from OpenStax, LoudCloud Courseware combines complete eText with a full range of ancillary materials to create a platform that is easy for faculty to customize and available to students by the first day of class. Faculty also have the ability to personalize their course with a wide range of materials developed, including auto-graded practice problems, summative exams, lecture slides and homework activities. LoudCloud Courseware integrates with campus learning management systems (LMS), allowing for seamless, single sign-on access by students and convenient grade-book sync option for faculty.
LoudCloud Courseware provides integrated analytic insights powered by its LoudSight predictive analytics solution. By tying all content and assessments to learning objectives, LoudCloud Courseware can measure students’ progress by the skills they obtain. These analytic insights are a core, differentiating feature that enable both students and their faculty to monitor performance and improve learning outcomes.
In a recent interview with NEXT, Dr. Dan Krane, Vice President of Faculty at Wright State University and Professor of Biological Sciences, discussed how he values the insights courseware provides. “With the analytics we’ve been experimenting with LoudCloud this year, we can, for the first-time, take steps to help students succeed — even before they have a poor performance on an exam to drag down their grade and, even better, before they even start the course,” Krane says. “It’s particularly important because they’re getting the support and insights they need — as they need it — and what’s remarkable is that those students participating in these special recitations are now performing at a level that is comparable to the very least at-risk students.”
Barnes & Noble College will continue conducting research with faculty and students to cultivate a deeper understanding of the changing student journey and demographics. These critical insights will help colleges and universities better understand the needs of its faculty and non-traditional students — ultimately improving student retention and graduation rates.