eLearning Technology Blog

To help first-gen students, increase access—and reduce acronyms

by Ruth Gregory 14. April 2015 15:33

By Richard H. Miller/WSU Global Campus

Four out of 10 undergraduates at WSU Pullman are first generation. How can faculty help them succeed?

The answer, said Professor Gregory Eiselein, founding director of Kansas State University’s first-year experience program, is more about access than identity.

“Things that work for most students work particularly well for first-generation students,” he said. “We just need to make sure they have access to those educational opportunities.”

So what works for most students? Get students involved in their own learning, Eiselsein told a crowd of about 60 WSU faculty, staff and administrators at April 8th’s “First-year, First-generation Pedagogies That Work” presentation in the CUB Junior Ballroom.

Combine challenge with support

Students do best when they are equally challenged and supported, and when they feel connected to a community, he said.  Examples are first-year experience programs, common learning experiences—such as WSU’s Common Reading program—affirmation from faculty, and service learning opportunities. The first-year seminar program at Kansas State, he said, increased first-year retention by 6 percent and the four-year graduation rate by 14 percent.

A few tips were quite specific. Avoid confusing acronyms. Be as obvious as possible—“teach them how to do what it is you want them to do”—and use such highly effective classroom techniques as group discussions and having students teach others, as opposed to lectures and reading, which, he said, have lower learning retention rates.

“We are the people’s university”

Eiselsein was introduced by Melynda Huskey, interim vice present of student affairs and dean of students. Her father was a first-generation student, she said, and her personal commitment to reaching new students matches the university’s commitment to its land-grant mission.

“We are the people’s university,” Huskey said. “We bring students who might not otherwise have access to a four-year education here, and we expose them to an incredible range of gifted faculty members.”

Eiselsein’s presentation shows how WSU can harness its research capabilities to its land-grant-mission, she said: “There’s a kind of dizzying quality to using top-notch research to extend access. It folds the two together in a beautiful origami way.”

April 8th’s presentation was hosted by the WSU Office for Access, Equity & Achievement, Critical Literacies Achievement and Success Program, Department of English, First Scholars Program, Office of the Provost, Suder Initiative for Faculty Professional Development, Student Affairs, Teaching Academy and WSU Global Campus. It was live-streamed by the Global Campus. The video is available on YouTube

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