YOUR UNIVERSITY RRIP PROJECT AIMED AT MEETING STUDENT NEEDS ON ALL LEVELS
Working for You these initiatives can continue into the future without interruption,” says Mirau. The projects include the establishment of a student portal, the move from paper to electronic applications for graduate studies, the establishment of a 24-Hour Study Centre, the creation of a firstyear experience course and the prioritization of student tutoring, both on a broad scale and in individual subject areas. In addition, the push for more student housing came through RRIP recommendations, something that will be realized with the construction of Aperture Park Phase 3. “That was another major piece that came forward from that group,” says Hakin. “They identified that we needed more residence spaces, and the University responded to that because we know that students who are supported in a student housing environment perform better and have a substantially improved retention rate.” Both SEM and RRIP are ongoing initiatives. “It’s a continuous improvement vehicle,” says Hakin. “It cannot be one or two projects and we’re done, things need to keep improving in terms of how we support our students, how we interact with them and how we improve their academic experience at our University.” For more information on the RRIP project, check out the website www.uleth.ca/recruitment-retention
Student service and support are at the heart of five ongoing projects initiated by the RRIP team.
here’s no doubt you’ve heard the buzz about a student portal or seen the changes to the 24-Hour Study Centre, while just recently the University broke ground on another student residence. If there are common threads to these initiatives, it’s that they embody the studentcentred ideal that is embedded within the University of Lethbridge’s Strategic Plan; an ideal that is articulated in part by the activities of the Recruitment & Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) team. So what is RRIP and what is it doing for you – the student?
“RRIP basically looks at how to better support our students.”
DR. ANDY HAKIN
In 2009, a University wide Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) program was established to create a competitive advantage in recruitment by collaborating and sharing resources across campus. “It was designed as a vehicle that would pull the faculties together to support a more structured approach to recruitment techniques,” says Vice-President (Academic) and Provost Dr. Andy Hakin. Recognizing that getting students in the door was only half the solution however, Hakin began thinking about how the institution could keep its new students. RRIP was subsequently created in 2010 to compliment the work of SEM and to drive student retention initiatives. “RRIP basically looks at how to better support our students once SEM has done its work in bringing students to the U of L,” says Hakin. “They ask the basic questions about the student experience, about how students get into the institution and what supports students use when they are here.” Karen Clearwater, the former lead on the RRIP team,
This supplement is brought to you by the University of Lethbridge in conjunction with the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association.
brought members of the University community together from a number of different areas of the institution. “We did not necessarily want all unit managers, we looked at those people who work directly with students on a day-to-day basis or that have been directly involved in providing services to students,” says Clearwater. The team includes staff and faculty from across the University. The team started its work with focus groups and unit presentations, as well as an environmental scan. “We collected information
from as many sources as we could,” says Clearwater. From the information compiled, certain subject themes took on greater priority than others. It was at that point Subject Matter Teams (SMTs) were established. Currently 85 faculty, staff and students are working toward the completion of priority projects. Student leaders on campus have played a critical role in the SMTs. “The whole process has taken a lot of time and we are pleased to see some great initiatives coming forward as a result,” says Clearwater. Heather Mirau, the new
team leader since Clearwater’s retirement, outlines that, “there are still so many opportunities and projects to be pursued. Our team has gained much momentum and support from the campus community in helping our students find success.” Five major projects are currently in the works, all having been identified as priorities by RRIP. The operational projects will be piloted this coming year for review and refinement to ensure successful programming and delivery in the future. “We place sustainability as a primary factor in the delivery of each and every project to ensure
RRIP Working for You | www.uleth.ca/recruitment-retention
Easing the transition to university W
ith almost 8,500 students streaming through the hallways of the University of Lethbridge each day, it seems improbable that a student could feel isolated. Not necessarily so, says Dan Kazakoff, the director of Theory Into Practice Programs in the Faculty of Management, especially when it comes to new students. “First-year students are dealing with a lot of difficult things – it’s often their first time away from home, they may be dealing with a budget for the first time, among many other things. They’re feeling alone and not knowing where to turn,” says Kazakoff, who leads the Academic Success Achievement and Learning Resources Team. The group is responsible for a first-year experience course pilot project. The course is designed to help students with the transition to the university lifestyle, the goal being that it will increase their opportunity for success and see them continue their studies through graduation. Liberal Education 2850: Mapping Self, Community, Career, Campus will help make students more aware of all the services available to them at the University, thereby helping them overcome any hurdles they might encounter. The course will be offered
on a trial basis in January 2013. In addition to a look at campus services, it is also designed to give students a greater awareness of their community as a whole and what the City of Lethbridge has to offer them. “This course will give
our community, they’re more likely to achieve success and complete their degree.” Kazakoff says the team, part of the Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project, sought feedback from first-year students who felt
The pilot project course will see the class divided into groups. Each week, the groups will be assigned to check out different areas of campus – such as Career and Employment Services or Counselling Services – in order to come up with a map of the
first-year students a sense that they’re not alone,” says Kazakoff. “When people feel as though they’re part of a community, they’re more likely to give back. And if students are engaged with
they had issues that couldn’t be solved on campus. It was discovered that often, the support systems were in place but the students were simply not aware of the help available to them.
actual resources available to them. They’ll then be tasked to create a concept map of themselves, looking at who they are and the issues they are facing as first-year students.
Lecturers will be brought in from across the University to further enhance their knowledge of what support services are available on campus, and to expose them to the liberal education philosophy the University is based on. They’ll also hear from off campus guests on topics which could range from the University’s natural surroundings and First Nations culture to opportunities to volunteer or network within the community. Everything is geared to help students develop both academically and personally. “Hopefully, they’ll learn you don’t have to go away on weekends to Calgary, or head back home to have positive experiences,” says Kazakoff. While enrolment in the pilot project will be entirely voluntary, Kazakoff says there are universities where such courses are mandatory for all first-year students. The University will begin promoting the pilot course in September and the committee is confident they’ll have no problem filling the 24 available spots. Upon the term’s completion, the course will be evaluated to see if it served students’ needs, and if so, whether it’s feasible to expand it so that a larger number of students are able to take part in the future.
YOUR WEB EXPERIENCE THROUGH AN ONLINE PORTAL As the portal team began researching the intricacies of a new student Internet portal for the University of Lethbridge, two things became abundantly clear. First, the realization of how large the scope of the project was, but second, and more importantly, how welcome the technological advancement would be, when completed. As part of the Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) process, the portal team solicited input from a variety of focus groups. The consensus across the board was for the creation of a centralized information service – or “one stop shopping” – and it was essential that the system be self-managed. “It’s just easier for the student if it is created that way,” says team co-leader Heather Mirau. “That way, it avoids having to seek out an employee every time you need some information.” The portal proposes to
provide access to essential online information: e-mail and calendaring information, the academic calendar, admissions, advising, financial aid, campus services, tuition statements, tax forms, course timetable, Moodle, convocation schedule and the University of Lethbridge Students’ Union. It can also be used to set up communications for classes or other special groups. While a web portal that acts as a single point of entry for a world of information was identified by many groups as a need, there was no clear data on whether it would actually be utilized. This past September, a Services for Students web page (www. uleth.ca/services-for-students) was activated and it proved to be a good indicator of the demand for a portal. That basic offering – with links to approximately 100 pages of campus services and Faculty web pages – is getting 6,000
to 8,000 hits per month. “Even over the Christmas break it maintained its traffic, and that’s without a single sign-on system integrated into the product,” says Mirau. “It’s an indication we do need a portal and that it will definitely be used by students.” The concept of a single signon system has been identified as a priority in the development of any portal product. At present, the University has 21 distinct portals for students and they have to log in each and every time they visit a new one. “That’s obviously an annoyance and discourages usage, but more than convenience, a single sign-on is also much more secure,” says Mirau. The portal team has already made some headway in that direction, establishing a single sign-on for the University’s Moodle learning management system. Another is in the works for the library. Campus service web page
templates were also developed so that each will have a standardized look and allow for easier navigation from one page to another. Establishing a portal is a sizeable initiative, and as such, the team has broken the project down into several manageable tasks. Even so, every time one rock is turned over, another challenge emerges. “It’s not a quick and easy fix,” says Mirau. “But it’s important we get it right because this will be a major step forward for our students and we want to give them the best experience possible.” To date, the team has done extensive legwork on the portal project, surveying what a number of other universities offer. Mirau sees a student portal as aiding in not only the recruitment and retention of students by enhancing the student experience – but also in creating a stronger connection to the University. “I look at our graduate stu-
dents who still use the portal from their previous university, that’s huge brand loyalty on their part and shows how you can create a real sense of community,” she says. Three potential portal vendors have been reviewed and a recommendation from the portal team has been forwarded and is awaiting approval based on budget deliberations. The goal is to have a core portal product in place within the next year, with students being the initial users. Following that, faculty, staff and alumni would be incrementally brought on board as the portal continues to develop and evolve. “It’s exciting because it is a never-ending project,” says Mirau. “It will constantly be changing and improving to meet students’ needs.”
RRIP Working for You | www.uleth.ca/recruitment-retention
Graduate studies research opportunities will become easier to access via the new online application system.
Graduate studies applications moving online
arning a master’s degree presents enough challenges in itself. Applying for graduate studies shouldn’t unnecessarily complicate matters before that quest even begins. Through the Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project, an online graduate studies application process is being developed with the aim of making that task faster and more user-friendly. “Most of the graduate students are employed and they don’t have the time to work through our cumbersome paper-driven process,” says Alice Miller, the assistant registrar and team leader of the online graduate application review. Working online, graduate students are able to get an immediate response to their
efforts, such as the ability to upload essential documents. “They know exactly where they are as they go through the process,” says Miller. “That isn’t possible now and that’s a high source of frustration for them.” Miller says the University recognized it was lagging behind other comprehensive universities in Canada by not providing an electronic graduate application process. While some universities are at differing stages in the level of service or options they provide online, “everyone is moving forward to the next level of electronic capability.” The current paper-driven application process involves massive amounts of data entry, which is not only time consuming, but makes it subject to the possibility of input errors. Looking at the experiences of other
universities that have moved to an online system, Miller believes the electronic method could cut two to six weeks from the time a student applies until they receive a notice of acceptance. That is a significant benefit for students, and in the case of international student applicants, the quicker response could prove to be a deciding factor on whether to apply or not. A current graduate student application from an international student can take upwards of three to six months to move through the system (plus an additional three months if a student visa is required). By reducing that turnaround time and streamlining the process, the U of L becomes that much more accessible. Undergraduate students have had the benefit of an electronic application process
for the past three years and Miller says the feedback from all involved has been fantastic. The biggest plus has been the ability to request transcripts electronically, vastly improving the time it takes to move applications through the system. “As a result, we’re able to make earlier offers of admission,” says Miller. The need to introduce technology into the graduate student application process had long been a priority for the Registrar’s Office. With the launch of RRIP, that need quickly became a priority for the University as the team recognized it was essential to remove barriers for its graduate students. Miller says the increase in graduate student applications as a result of a move to an electronic application process could
be substantial. When another Canadian institution went electronic, its graduate studies applications ballooned from 2,300 one year to 4,100 the next. With 373 graduate studies applications in 2010-11, Miller says they estimate the introduction of the electronic process could result in 600 to 700 applications. The project team has passed its research on to the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Dr. Robert Wood, Registrar Don Hunt, and Chief Information Officer Clark Ferguson, who will now draft a final definition and scope of the project. If the development of the electronic application process remains on schedule, it could be active within a year.
STUDENT SUCCESS ROOTED IN ACADEMIC SUPPORT Providing students with the tools and resources for success is at the heart of the Student Success Subject Matter Team (SMT), which was formed as part of the Recruitment Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project. Student, faculty and employee focus groups, utilizing interviews with student service resource departments, identified a wide variety of needs and created a number of recommendations for increasing academic support for students. “These must now be prioritized in order to increase and focus our support within resource capabilities,” says Heidi MacDonald, co-leader of the Academic Support SMT. Two of the highest priorities established focussed on tutoring, in a broad sense to assist students in strengthening their skills, and specifically in individual subject areas. The team is now putting its efforts into
the creation of a pilot tutoring program and the hiring of an additional learning strategist. Andrew Williams, Students’ Union vice-president (academic), has been an enthusiastic advocate of increasing tutoring programs on campus and has given the SMT a great deal of good advice. The Student Success SMT has been working for the past couple of months with the Academic Writing program and the Department of Biology to design and implement drop-in, group tutoring programs as well as one-on-one tutoring for students who are seriously at risk of not receiving a passing grade in the course. At the end of January, Academic Writing began offering four, two-hour group sessions per week for current Academic Writing 1000 students. These workshops are facilitated by Academic Writing instructors and peer tutors, but the content
is built from the questions students bring to each session. The Department of Biology has designed its own version of a pilot-tutoring program. Biology 1010 and 1020 began lab sessions this term with study skills workshops presented by the Counselling Services office. Of the 335 students enrolled in these two courses, 285 participated in the 17 study skills sessions, with 98 per cent of participants saying the sessions were a useful, positive experience. Biology will continue participating in the tutoring pilot by offering three, two-hour review sessions before each of Biology 1010’s two midterms and final exam. As well, sessions are scheduled immediately after the midterms to help students assess how they might improve their performance on future midterms and finals. In the middle of February, the department will determine whether there is sufficient demand to offer addi-
tional weekly review and study sessions. For both Academic Writing 1000 and Academic Writing 1010, student participation rates and evaluations will be used to determine if and how the pilot tutoring programs will continue next fall. In addition to the need for discipline specific tutoring, the Student Success SMT heard many concerns that students need support in becoming more effective learners. The hiring of additional learning strategists was seen as the most efficient way to help students become better students. Learning strategists assist students individually or in group settings to learn such skills as time management, reading a textbook effectively and preparing for exams. In December, the part-time learning strategist’s position was increased to full time in order to meet demand for this important service, enabling students to
gain more control over their academic careers, while freeing up other critical support resource personnel to focus directly on their support services for students. Depending on student interest, the hiring of additional learning strategists may be recommended in the future. An advisory committee chaired by Registrar Don Hunt and composed of faculty, student services staff and Students’ Union representatives is being convened to oversee the tutoring program and determine how it might be expanded to faculties other than Arts and Science in the fall of 2012. The current pilot, involving the Academic Writing program, the Department of Biology and a full-time learning strategist, will provide valuable data for refining and expanding the program.
RRIP Working for You | www.uleth.ca/recruitment-retention
Study centre pilot gives insight to future plans
niversities and experiments go handin-hand. Rats and mazes, however, likely come to mind well before furnishings and interior design. The experiment in question is part of the University of Lethbridge’s Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project, designed to not only attract new students but also provide existing students every support possible to help them graduate. In the case of a new 24-Hour Study Centre, the goal is to find the proper combination of furnishings and technology to meet the learning and study needs of today’s students. The original concept of the centre called for major renovations or the creation of an entirely new space, says Brenda Mathenia, a member of the Learning Commons Space Subject Matter Team (SMT). Upon further review, however, the group has put forward a smaller, pilot project that uses an existing space. The idea is that it will provide the best means to find out what students want and need in a 24-Hour Study Centre.
Using an evidence-based design, the SMT has moved new, more flexible furnishings into the former study area adjacent to the University Hall Atrium, and will now observe how the space is being utilized and what might be missing. “It’s hard to ask students ‘what do you want’ when they have no concept of what’s available,” says Mathenia, associate University librarian. “We all know you can’t please everybody all the time, but that’s all part of the learning process – looking at what we didn’t get quite right.” The atrium study area previously offered only long study tables for group work and a number of old-fashioned carrels for more private studying. The SMT looked at what a number of other universities were offering for study areas and found today’s students demand a greater variety of options. She says there’s a desire to retain some “alone space” but they also want to provide options where classmates can pull up alongside one another and collaborate. “Students learn in a totally different way today than from when I was an undergrad,” says
Mathenia. “It seems students need a combination of quiet, noisy, group, individual, social and casual spaces for their entire educational experience.”
“It’s hard to ask students ‘what do you want’ when they have no concept of what’s available.”
While a different location for the 24-Hour Study Centre was contemplated, they decided it was best to revamp the existing area in the atrium. “There’s not really another space readily available and centrally located. It’s a known space, there’s heavy traffic and to be quite frank, it was in dire need of updating anyways,” says Mathenia. The changes began the last day of exams in December. The
carrels were removed and a barheight counter was installed to better accommodate students popping in and out to use the computers between classes. Also added were tables arranged in pods to accommodate multiple students huddled around one computer. The space also has flat, sturdy tables that can easily be moved around, and at one end is a SMART Board interactive whiteboard on a cart that allows students the ability to work on a variety of projects. The space also boasts a flat-screen LCD display where students could connect a laptop and share their work with others. There are soft-seating areas with low, comfortable chairs and coffee tables with whiteboards on top for jotting down notes, as well as large, rolling whiteboards, which can be used to create a buffer or a working wall to gather around. “As we saw in the library, there’s a lot of formal group work happening with students, as well as informal gatherings. There’s a real social aspect to learning,” says Mathenia. There are plans to introduce an assistance desk in the 24-
Hour Study Centre, with a proctor of sorts offering assistance with technology or referrals to other campus services. Mathenia says the introduction of Peer Assisted Technology and Support Students (PATSS) in the library this past spring has been a great success and they could be utilized to work the assistance desk on a rotational basis. She says the concept of students helping students has been well received and that the PATSS are not only well-versed in technology, but really understand their fellow students’ needs. “They understand the concept of customer service,” says Mathenia. “They may not have the answer to every question but they should be able to help them find someone who does.” The newly reworked 24Hour Study Centre space opened Jan. 10. As studying picks up throughout the term, the SMT will start actively observing how students are utilizing the space. The information they gather from the project will then be used to further modify the atrium space and assist with the development of future study centres in other areas of the campus.