The Tennessee Board of Regents seeks to understand the multiple noncognitive factors that play a role in student success. By broadening our understanding of the psycho-social factors related to student success and teaching, we can begin the conversation around developing classroom interventions and an implementation strategy changing the focus and the face of student success. Capturing the complexity of our multifaceted student body more effectively is a critical element in understanding how to best ensure a successful educational experience for students enrolled at TBR institutions.
The TBR's work on this initiative has leaned heavily on the works of David Yeager at the University of Texas at Austin and Carol Dweck at Stanford University. Yeager focuses on the development and understanding in students, how their social cognitions contribute to how they respond in different areas, and how to redirect negative beliefs into positive pathways. Carol Dweck's work focuses on the why and how of failures and success and how to encourage a successful mindset. She has shown that it is possible to change students' mindsets in ways that leave a lasting impact on their academic careers.
Funded through a National Science Foundation grant and in collaboration with the University of Virginia’s Motivate Lab, the Tennessee Value Project focuses on one important learning mindset: Value—the belief that there is a worthwhile reason for engaging in a task. In this project, students are introduced to activities that highlight the utility, or practical usefulness, of course content in community college math classrooms. Utility-value interventions are activities that help students identify connections between course content and their lives. These activities are designed to help students draw real-life connections between what they are learning in class and their lives outside of school. By helping students recognize the practical value of what they are learning, we hope to inspire greater interest in coursework and motivation to learn, leading to better outcomes for incoming students.
The primary goal is to improve the engagement, academic achievement, retention, and progression of incoming students through introductory math courses. The project focuses on the intentional development of students' learning mindsets, which are individuals' beliefs about learning that shape how they interpret difficulty. These learning mindsets are critical predictors of students' performance and decisions to stay in college.
In Spring 2021, the Tennessee Value Project piloted utility-value interventions in introductory math classrooms at three community colleges: Chattanooga State Community College, Nashville State Community College, and Southwest Tennessee Community College. By Spring 2022, TBR will expand this project to all 13 community colleges in Tennessee.
In collaboration with the University of Virginia’s Motivate Lab, TBR organized focus groups at five community colleges in Fall 2019 in order to learn more about the student experience. One goal of these focus groups was to inform institutions on how they can create environments that support student belonging. During Spring 2020, focus group protocols were transitioned to an online format to continue reaching students during the pandemic.
Belonging is an important aspect of the college experience and is linked to critical academic outcomes (e.g., grades, retention). By implementing protocols designed to learn directly from students, we can identify which aspects of the college experience are most important for cultivating an adaptive sense of belonging. Identifying targeted areas for supporting belonging has the potential to help all students, and can be particularly powerful for students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education and for students who worry about whether or not they fit in.
A primary objective of the Student Voices Initiative is to examine student belonging in order to improve student engagement and success. When students are unsure whether or not they belong at their school, they are more likely to disengage from classes and drop out at a higher rate. These focus groups are designed to encourage students to discuss what helps and hinders their belonging so that we can better support them in the future. Providing students with the space to share their perspectives and learning across institutions also provides a blueprint for sustaining discussions about belonging beyond the scope of this initiative alone.
The Tennessee Board of Regents would like to acknowledge and thank the Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation for their contributions to this initiative.
For more information about TBR's Academic Mindset work, please contact Emma Huelskoetter, TBR's Coordinator of Campus Mindset Interventions, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 629-216-4084.