Retention Centre

Retention Centre

South Africans have always had creative solutions when required to ‘make a plan’. Using technology in new ways is always interesting. Director of the Centre for eLearning, Sakkie Smit, has shared examples of how the learner management system can be used to identify multiple factors that can put a student at risk of failing or dropping out.

At CPUT, the Centre for eLearning has been working with Student Affairs, Fundani Centre for Higher Education Development and the Quality Management Directorate on a series of surveys within Blackboard Learn to comprehensively identify risk factors that may negatively impact on student success. Mathematics readiness can be tested in line with practices locally and globally.

Mr Smit points out that the former Cape Technikon had already started diagnostic testing with electrical engineering students in 2003 to help determine maths readiness. These tests were expanded to mechanical and civil engineering programmes. The project was run in conjunction with the Highline Community College (HCC) near Seattle in the USA as part of a USAID funded project. HCC had developed its pre-college mathematics placement tests over a number of years and these tests were adjusted for South African notation and standards.

The tests included basic, intermediate and advanced mathematics and a fourth test, mathematical comprehension, was developed by Gregory Leigh of the Faculty of Applied Sciences. All four tests were made available on Blackboard Learn. Mr Smit says that these online tests proved effective in determining whether students were prepared for mathematics in higher education. Prospective students who were unable to pass the basics and intermediate tests, would clearly be unable to pass mathematics at university level.

Another area of application is the academic enhancement survey, which covers several areas of non-academic factors that can place students at risk of failing or dropping out. It is noted that many students may not be accepted into their first career choice and then simply enrol for any other course where there are still openings to get a higher education qualification. These students are at risk because they do not have any real interest in the particular field.

The academic enhancement survey also includes questions on students’ study methods, time management and other factors that can impact on student success. Students can get individual feedback through the LMS and be referred to Student Affairs for the necessary assistance with an academic planning programme.

This use of Blackboard Learn is made possible by the Retention Centre, which is located in the Evaluation field of the Control Panel in Blackboard Learn, helps lecturers to identify students who are at risk of failing a subject or dropping out. The Retention Centre can be connected to all items in the LMS that are used for assessment and evaluation. Additionally, the Alert function is located on the home page and lecturers can send an email to students, their guardians or the department head to inform them that the student is at risk. Appropriate steps can then be taken to intervene before the student fails or drops out. Such examples of innovation are a fantastic achievement worth sharing.

Thank you Sakkie Smit and Hannelie Swanepoel for sharing your tech tips from CPUT.

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