Last week, I attended the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. While I was able to see a bunch of really gifted presenters who shared insightful and inspiring messages, one presenter really stood out. Dr. Newton Miller is the Associate Dean of the Department of Educational Studies at Ashford University. Dr. Miller shared research that examined ways to support men of color in collegiate academic settings. By interviewing at-risk students who had were successful academically, Dr. Miller was able to identify three critical “pillars of mind” that led to student success. These pillars include:
Pillar 1: Men of color were more successful when they had positive experiences with educators, curriculum interactions, and academic support teams for services.
Pillar 2: Men of color were more successful when they have an intrinsic commitment to well defined personal goals.
Pillar 3: Men of color were more successful when they use their responsibility to those depending on them to meet their obligations as a source of motivation towards success.
In his presentation, Dr. Miller outlined how these pillars can inform advising, teaching, and support services on all college campuses. Because the conference focused on online teaching, Dr. Miller condensed these three pillars of mind into five best practices for serving at-risk students in online classes. These strategies are critical for supporting at-risk students who Dr. Miller described as navigating a “survival mindset.” Like many recommendations, however, the best practices that Dr. Miller shared would actually work for all students in all classes.
- Early in the semester, provide course at-a-glance tables to let students know what’s expected week to week and identify when the course is going to be the most demanding.
- Provide scheduling accommodations when appropriate. Dr. Miller discussed how relaxing some deadlines can be a huge difference maker to at-risk students.
- Schedule students as cohorts. This can help to build community and give students a support system when needed.
- Personalize the course by providing testimonials from previous classes and individualized communication to students.
- Collaborate with advisors and coaches to welcome students to classes and provide support when needed.
Looking across Dr. Miller’s recommended best practices, it’s clear that he is promoting strategies that support student growth and success. Reflecting on these strategies, I’m reminded of another conference session where a faculty member from Arizona State University shared her institution’s charter. She said that ASU is “measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed.” By incorporating more targeted strategies to support at-risk students, we can help all student populations feel more included in the ranks of academic success.