First Year Engagement & Retention: A Goal-Setting Approach
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First year students face a daunting range of challenges as they make the transition to university life. Their experiences in the first months of university have a defining influence on their success or otherwise in their studies. The purpose of this paper is to report on the results of a case study that tests the efficacy of a student engagement and retention strategy aimed at first year students. The strategy encourages self-reflection and goal-setting by encouraging them to think constructively about their ideal future career. Once created, this idea is reinforced to become a firm goal. The student's perception of university study is thus reframed from being an end in itself to being a means to an end. Instead of perceiving the future as endless assignments and exams, they see themselves moving purposefully towards their ideal career. This paper, therefore, describes a three-stage case study that explores the effectiveness of this engagement strategy with a cohort of 258 demographically-diverse first-year ICT students enrolled in a Bachelor of IT program. In the first stage of the strategy, the lecturer spends 20 minutes of the first four lectures presenting material across a range of cutting-edge technology topics. In addition to this, the characteristics of high-performing IT professionals are elucidated. The objective of this stage is to paint a picture of a creative, high-performing practitioner who is producing cutting-edge work. In the second stage, an assessment item is set in which the students explore their ideal career using a Web 2.0 digital curation tool; in the third stage, a series of three questionnaires are administered, the results of which are analysed to determine the students' attitude towards the engagement strategy. In the final analysis, 63.4% of students surveyed indicated that the exercise had helped them to become more committed to finishing their degree program. It is suggested that this strategy could be generalised to work with other disciplines besides information technology. The results are sufficiently encouraging for a formal follow-up study to be performed in two and a half years, when this cohort are nearing the end of their degree program, to determine what longer term effect the engagement and retention strategy might have had on the students' commitment to their study.
Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice
© 2013 Tuffley et al; licensee Informing Science Institute. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/), which permits sharing and adapting, provided the original work is properly cited.
Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy