“Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement!”: Using SRES in a large, first-year sociology course

A close up image of coloured pencils, with one pencil in yellow, slightly elevated above the rest. Set on a black background.

With over 500 students, lecturing shared among 5 co-coordinators, and 24 tutorials run by 10 tutors, reaching out to particular students in a first-year course like Introduction to Sociology (SCLG1001) can be quite an administrative headache. Many students can easily slip through the cracks unless there is diligence in keeping in touch. The Student Relationship Engagement System (SRES) though – through quick collection, analysis, and use of current student data – can help to ensure continuing contact with particular student cohorts.

This article was contributed by Alex Page and Dinesh Wadiwel, Sociology and Social Policy, FASS

In Semester 1, 2018, both Dinesh Wadiwel (Unit Coordinator) and I (Head Tutor) successfully used SRES to keep in contact with specific sections of the SCLG1001 cohort, with aims to:

  1. Increase the retention rate and engagement of students in SCLG1001 through to Semester 2 (SCLG1002);
  2. Support students who needed extra support throughout the unit; and,
  3. To congratulate high achieving students for their stellar efforts and encourage them to take up sociology as a major.

So how did we use SRES?

We used the SRES to send specifically tailored emails to students relative to grades, the piece of assessment, and how far they were through the semester, including:

  1. Different grade bands of students requiring congratulations, further consultation, assistance, and extra support services after the release of marking feedback:
    1. Non-passing – 49% and below, advised to seek a consultation;
    2. Passing, but needing further assistance – 50-59%, provided extra writing resources, along with an opportunity for a one-on-one consultation;
    3. High achievers – 80%+ and over, congratulated and encouraged to continue in SCLG1002, and a sociology major;
    4. Improvers – those who increased their grades by 10%+ between Essay 1 and 2, as above; and,
    5. Non-submitters – students who had not submitted a piece of assessment without Special Consideration, Disability Action Plan, or simple extension being recorded.
  2. Reminders to check feedback for non-viewers, particularly important after formative assessment in Week 6, and Week 10;
  3. Those who missed two tutorials, and were open to failing the course on account of the 90% attendance rule were advised to make contact before the Census date.

We were careful to tie in feedback to what had been taught in the course, and provided links to external support services for writing style, argumentation, how to reference, research assistance, along with a variety of resources for students in distress when needed.

What did we find?

A number of students responded to our emails directly, offering unprompted feedback, giving us four major insights into how what the SRES process meant to them throughout SCLG1001.

1. Congratulating students not only validates their efforts, it also helps students feel motivated to continue the course and the major

In a large first-year course, it sometimes can be difficult to reach high achieving students and give them praise for their efforts. SRES allowed us to overcome this issue via a ‘filter’ and email, for which many students were grateful, most letting us know they would be continuing in second semester:

“Thank you so much for your email! I’ve really been loving Sociology… I’m very glad that I’ve chosen it for my major and will definitely be continuing my studies in it… Thank you for all of your work so far too. I know that I’m definitely not the only one loving Sociology.”

“Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement! I really appreciate it! I’m looking forward to keep enjoying this subject and learning about sociology!”

“I’d like to thank you for your email, it was very kind of you! … I will definitely be continuing sociology next semester!”

2. When students needed extra support, many appreciated a tap on the shoulder

When students had a fail, or borderline passing grade, many appreciated a (digital) tap on the shoulder. Here we offered extra resources, such as Learning Centre and Library courses – and a significant number of students who received this notification followed up by making a consultation with a teacher in SCLG1001 to assist them understanding how to improve through a discussion of their feedback:

“Thank you for emailing me about my assignment. I’ve saw my grades on Canvas which is really not good – and I’m so worried about it. And I think I may need [an] appointment because I’m really don’t know how to improve my writing and researching right now. Could you please help me to book [an] appointment…?”

“Thanks so much for this email. I was in a bit of shock for the rest of the day… After reading the feedback it all seems completely valid though… Thanks for the resources, I’m going to attend some workshops at the learning centre and will be sure to meet with someone if I am still struggling!”

3. Those who were contacted for their improving grades were extremely thankful that someone had noticed their hard effort between assessment 1 and 2

While we used a variety of feedback methods – general in the lecture, specific in the tutorials, and electronic – following the second major piece of assessment, we also wanted to congratulate those who actively took feedback on board to improve their work. So we asked the SRES team for help to create a filter congratulating and validating those who had improved their grades between assignments:

“Thank you soo (sic) much. I couldn’t have done it without the amazing support and excellent resources that this course provides. I really appreciate your effort and hope to always do this amazing unit justice.”

4. Contacting non-submitters gave us an opportunity to assist students in distress

Finally, students who did not submit assignments were also emailed a personalised check-in message. We largely received responses from students who were struggling, often with personal issues external to their studies and course requirements. Giving us a key opportunity to assist students, we then offered tailored one-on-one advice, directing them to resources such as Disability Services and the Special Consideration System for further assistance in their studies.

What can we recommend?

SRES is fantastic when used for specific purposes in your course context. Having key aims and objectives can help scope the massive potential of data analytics that SRES provides. It also allows you to share results/ideas with colleagues in the future and to feedforward into future iterations of the course.

This semester in SCLG1002 we’ll be trying a whole host of new SRES adventures, including:

  • A ‘nudge’ in Week 3 to check-in with low Canvas usage;
  • A check-in before the Census Date for students who have missed 2 or more tutorials;
  • Improvements between assessments 1, 2 and final exam;
  • Rubrics tied to SRES for extremely specific feedback and support; and
  • Congratulations at the end of the year encouraging participation in senior sociology courses.

We hope any of our experiences assist you in your own data analytics through SRES!

For further guidance on how to use SRES in your Unit of Study, contact your school’s Educational Designer, see the range of articles here at Teaching@Sydney, and get in touch with the Educational Innovation team or Kevin Samnick and Danny Liu who support the SRES at the University.

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