Enhancing learner support
Sinclair Community College, one of the top community colleges in Ohio, offers more than 300 degree and certificate programs in a wide range of subjects. Committed to helping every student achieve their academic goals, the college takes a proactive approach to learner mentorship and support.
Jessica Hodell, Manager of Flexible Learning, says: “Academic study doesn’t come naturally to everyone and sometimes students experience personal challenges outside of the classroom that can impact their performance. To support those who are falling behind, we have a dedicated team of success coaches who help struggling learners throughout their academic career.”
To ensure that they’re providing the best possible support for all students, Sinclair Community College regularly reviews its success coaching program. In its most recent review, the college found that learners enrolled in online entry-level courses were typically achieving lower pass rates than in-class learners.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdowns forcing institutions to move most courses online, Sinclair Community College looked to close the attainment gap between online and in-person programs.
Jessica Hodell adds: “Our teaching faculty reported that there was a consistent pattern of online learners being less prepared for assessments, achieving lower grades, missing weekly assignments, and generally being less engaged with course content. To help these students, we decided to establish a system that would help us identify these patterns of behavior and provide early interventions to help learners adopt more effective learning strategies.”
Taking a data-driven approach
To gain greater insight into student behavior, Sinclair Community College created a dedicated support program—called Coaching to Complete—using Brightspace. The aim of the project was to develop new course progress tracking capabilities that would help success coaches offer targeted support for struggling learners.
To test the viability of this new initiative, Sinclair Community College ran a proof-of-concept exercise focused on eleven online courses, involving a team of seven faculty members and four success coaches.
“Brightspace was key to the success of Coaching to Complete,” says Jessica Hodell. “It gave us detailed insight into student performance and helped us to track when learners engaged in potentially detrimental behaviour—such as irregular course log ins, dropping grades, low content engagement or leaving assignments to the last minute.”
Brad West, Professor, Business Information Systems, says: “Brightspace took care of routine messaging, reminders, and nudges, and allowed the coach and I to concentrate on the real work of coaching struggling students.”
Jessica Hodell adds: “With the progress tab in the Brightspace platform, success coaches can get instant insight into how learners are engaging with content. This provides the evidence we need to explain to learners how their behaviour may be impacting their academic goals. It gives us a data-driven approach to what can sometimes be difficult conversations around performance.”
64% of learners said they felt much more successful in their course since engaging with a success coach. Students also expressed greater motivation and an improved ability to meet deadlines and find useful resourcesJessica Hodell, Manager of Flexible Learning
Closing the attainment gap
Following a successful trial of Coaching to Complete, Sinclair Community College rolled out the program to 279 new courses. 50 faculty partners now work with the initiative and Sinclair Community College is already showing impressive improvements in online course attainment.
Jessica Hodell explains: “We found that courses participating in the Coaching to Complete program averaged 5% higher passing grades when compared to courses with no dedicated success coaches. What’s more, learner uptake has been tremendous. 90% of students have interacted with success coaches since we launched the program.”
As well as helping students boost their grades, Coaching to Complete has helped to improve morale. Overall, Sinclair Community College estimates that 6,400 learners have been positively impacted by the initiative.
“64% of learners said they felt much more successful in their course since engaging with a success coach. Students also expressed greater motivation and an improved ability to meet deadlines and find useful resources,” Jessica Hodell remarks. “Ultimately, this helps to reduce stress and create a more enjoyable and rewarding student experience.”
Daniel L., a student at Sinclair Community College reflects: “Had my success coach not been there to help me through my experience, without question, I never would have been able to resolve my issues and I would not have gotten an A grade. I may not have even passed the class without the Success Coach.”
Sinclair Community College expanded its work with Success Coaches to identify and develop opportunities for further enhancements. Starting in August 2021, Coaching to Complete transitioned to the Tutoring and Learning Center to expand the service model to all course modalities. Through this partnership with Flexible Learning and the Tutoring and Learning Center, the number of course sections with an embedded coach increased 116%. In Fall 2021, 49 course sections were connected to the program, and in Fall 2022, 106 course sections have an embedded Success Coach. In addition to the increase in course sections, Coaching to Complete has also expanded which courses are supported. While the program still targets gateway courses, it is now supporting gateway courses specifically for the Health Sciences Division. With this expansion and the previous recruitment done by the Flexible Learning Team, Coaching to Complete has multiple touchpoints with students who are majoring in a health sciences program. Currently there is a Success Coach embedded into the Physical Therapy Assistant, Nursing, and the Emergency Medical Services programs; however, there are plans to embed a coach into the Occupational Therapy Assistant and Surgical Technology programs in the spring. Through its ongoing commitment to learner success, Sinclair Community College can help more students achieve their academic goals.