E-mail survey to evaluate first-year student progress

September 8, 2009 | UToday
By Kim Goodin

First-year students will receive a unique type of assessment in mid-September.

It won’t contain grades and will be delivered exclusively through their UT e-mail accounts. The feedback in these interactive reports may be vital to their success as students in the University community.

The reports are part of MAP-Works, a program offered to all first-year students as part of Beginning the Academic Journey course. In addition to evaluating academic progress, MAP-Works will help identify areas in their overall lifestyles that may require fine-tuning.

“Research shows that students who do well in their first semesters, who set goals and establish time management strategies, are more likely to do well the rest of the year,” said Jennifer Rockwood, director of the First-Year Experience program in UT’s Learning Collaborative, which administers the program in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs.

“College is much different from high school. Not everyone is prepared for the vast difference in cultures, learning styles, degree of independence and other challenges that face first-year students.”

Factors that can affect success include adaptability to new environments, academic responsibilities and lifestyle freedoms.

“All of a sudden, they’re on their own,” Rockwood explained. “They make the decision on whether they get up in time for class, when they go out, when they study, when they come home and whether they do their class work. It’s all on them, maybe for the first time in their lives.”

MAP-Works, she said, educates students about their coping skills and guides them toward strategies and UT staff who can assist in easing the transition from high school to college.

The reports will be generated from students’ responses to a survey that will be sent to all first-year students’ e-mail accounts by the end of today. Answering the 160 questions — 20 of which are UT-specific — will take 15 to 20 minutes.

Participation in the MAP-Works survey is part of course work for the Beginning the Academic Journey class.

“The format of the report is interactive and fun, almost like a video game,” Rockwood said. “There are tips for how students can do better, whether it’s just getting more sleep or refining study skills.”

If significant problems emerge from students’ responses, members of a UT support network will be notified in tune with the severity of the problem.

“The data will give us a good idea if there are a lot of first-year students struggling at three weeks into the semester or just a few,” Rockwood said. “We’ll know what fields are giving them difficulty and be able to offer support systems early in the semester.”

Some of the feedback students receive will include:

• Ranking in academic and social skills;

• Individual strengths and weaknesses;

• Contact information for campus support resources; and

• Advice and anecdotes from UT upperclassmen.

At present, UT’s retention rate for first-year students is 70 percent. Rockwood said MAP-Works is one of several measures being implemented this year to help increase the retention rate and encourage student success.

“We care about you as a student,” Rockwood said, addressing the nearly 4,000 first-year pupils on Health Science and Main campuses. “This is your chance to let us know how we’re doing in helping you achieve your goals.”

Students will receive three reminder e-mails after the survey is sent. Responses should be e-mailed back by Friday, Sept. 18.

The results are secure and will be sent only to students and members of UT support staff if severe at-risk behaviors are noted. Students are encouraged to share the reports with their parents, guardians or others in their personal support systems.

A second MAP-Works survey will be sent at the end of the semester.

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