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Academic Support for Underserved Students

Non-traditional students who have family and work commitments often have sporadic schedules and take advantage of off-hours for study. Consequently, higher education continues to expand options for hybrid courses, blended classes, and flexible classroom models to increase accessibility for students of all backgrounds.

Some enterprising institutions have even gone beyond updated course offerings to ensure that educational options meet the needs of underserved students. The holistic approaches these institutions take endeavour to integrate educational technology and innovative teaching to encourage academic success.

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley: A Case Study

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) developed a new hybrid curriculum for supporting student success. The majority of students at UTRGV, which serves the poorest counties in the United States, balance full-time work and familial obligations while they complete their studies. To support their students–and by extension the Rio Grande Valley community–the university piloted a brand new Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences degree (BMed) in Fall 2015.

The BMed curriculum was built from the ground up to ensure students receive the practical and theoretical training they need to directly enter the health profession upon graduation. As a result, unlike traditional degree programs, each course in the BMed curriculum is taught through the lens of the health sciences. For example, while students take courses in subjects such as literature and history, the content emphasizes the medical humanities and the history of disease and vaccines. All content in the curriculum is related and builds upon itself.

Digital Support for Students

The UTRGV program focuses on enhancing learning through traditional and digital resources. Digital access is important since essential course content, activities, and assessments are delivered digitally and incorporate gamification to maximize student motivation and engagement. To ensure each student has access to the materials and resources necessary to succeed all learners in the first iteration of the program were provided with iPads.

The digital connectivity of the cohort also serves to foster student collaboration and enhance communication with faculty and advisors.

Early Successes

In-person learning components of the program are available in both morning and evening, ensuring students have access to essential courses regardless of their extra-curricular responsibilities. Initial results indicate the BMed hybrid curriculum model is a success.

Student participation and retention rates have increased with the introduction of block scheduling and digital content access. Students also performed better, with the majority receiving a B grade or above in biology courses and a C grade or above in General Chemistry; both courses typically see lower averages in traditional degree programs.

Giving Flexible Academic Support to Your Students

While flexible course models are typically done at a departmental or institutional level, there are ways to deliver flexible academic support at the course level.

  • Make coursework available digitally. More than 50% of online students prefer using mobile devices to complete course-related activities. Creating mobile-friendly courses that focus on modular design, while giving online access to all digital resources, can accommodate students who wish to complete coursework in situations where a laptop or desktop is not ideal. Similarly, mobile-friendly design can support students without internet access at home.
  • Facilitate digital collaboration in the classroomCooperative learning and collaborative learning can enable peer interaction and support. Incorporating cooperative learning groups and assessments into a course help students get to know each other and begin building personal bonds that can morph into academically beneficial relationships.
  • Innovate with gamificationHigher education is expanding the use of gaming and gamification to increase engagement with and comprehension of course materials. For instructors just getting started with gamification, beginning with a simple points and/or badging system may be ideal.

Concluding Thoughts

Through UTRGV’s integrated hybrid curriculum, at-risk and non-traditional students are being provided the opportunity to receive a quality education otherwise inaccessible to them. With a little work, instructors can introduce a similar level of accessibility at the course level.

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About Crowdmark

Crowdmark is the world’s premiere online grading and analytics platform, allowing educators to evaluate student assessments more effectively and securely than ever before. On average, educators experience up to a 75% productivity gain, providing students with prompt and formative feedback. This significantly enriches the learning and teaching experience for students and educators by transforming assessment into a dialogue for improvement.