Added Value in Collaboration

By Wei Wei, David DeBrot & Matthew Cowan

The LSU offers an array of services for our students which include workshops and one-on-one consultations to support them with academic language and learning support for their degree programs. But one service in particular that we provide has become probably the most successful in terms of numbers of students reached and outcomes achieved. This service is what we call ‘Commissioned Workshops’. The ‘commissioned’ aspect of these workshops refers to the traditional sense of the word in the world of business where experts or professionals are commissioned to provide a product or service for a client. But these workshops don’t just happen. Their initiation often relies upon lecturers identifying and reporting recurring weaknesses in their students’ work and doing something about it. One effective way is to ask us to collaborate with them on addressing the academic issues they’ve identified. Other times we might be the ones who pick up on recurring issues in student work when students come to us for consultations, which in turn prompt us to contact the Senior Lecturer on that particular course.

In one such course at RMIT Vietnam back in 2011, failure rates were quite high after Semester 1 prompting the LSU and lecturers on the course to embark on a collaborative project with the aim of bringing failure rates down. However, in an environment such as ours where the overwhelming majority of students are non-native English speakers, the challenge facing the project was in meeting the needs of such a disparate cohort of students in relation to language competencies. For example, the cohort of students could be placed into two distinct groups. One was Group A where their English competency was at a level allowing them to comfortably negotiate the language needed to understand assessment guidelines and rubrics and to ultimately successfully complete the assessment task. While the other was Group B who were at a level in contrast to the other one where their understanding of what to do and how to get started was an extremely challenging task in itself.

Another challenge faced was that in the second semester of that year, there was an increase in the percentage of students who matched the Group B profile of language competencies. That increase was from 36% to 40.2% (see Table 1). Previous records indicated that these students were at least two times more likely to fail compared to Group A students.

The LSU’s intervention, in collaboration with the course lecturers, included: 1) analysing students’ previous written assignments with lecturers’ feedback; 2) meeting with lecturers to clarify their expectations; 3) making suggestions in writing assessment rubrics; 4) setting up workshops to train students to understand assessment requirements, presenting successful and less successful examples, and explaining the breakdown of scores and overall scores.

This collaboration has achieved remarkable success, highlighting the value in cross-department/unit collaboration. After the LSU’s attempts to help the students in this course in the 2nd semester, the failure rate has dropped from 30% to 12% (see Table 2, Figure 1). Overall, there is no evidence that the LSU workshop had a positive impact on every student, probably because; 1) the attendance rate was low (24%); and 2) the objective of this workshop was to help students understand assessment rubrics better, which has nothing to do with students’ writing skills and understanding of the knowledge.

However, the evidence suggests that; 1) there is a statistically significant difference between students who went to the LSU workshop and those who did not; 2) there is a statistically significant difference between Group B students who went to the LSU workshop and those who did not; and 3) it seems that the workshop had a greater impact on the academically less successful students than the academically more successful students.

Table 1: The number and % of students enrolled in the course, 2011

Semester 1

Semester 2

Semester 1

Semester 2

%

%

No.

No.

Group A

64%

59.8%

309

317

Group B

36%

40.2%

176

213

Table 2: The description of students’ performances in Semester 1 and Semester 2, 2011

Semester 1

Semester 2

Semester 1

Semester 2

NN

144

64

29.8%

12.1%

PA

63

197

13.0%

37.2%

CR

187

192

38.6%

36.2%

DI

84

69

17.4%

13.0%

HD

6

8

1.2%

1.5%

In total

484

530

Figure 1: The comparison of students’ performance in Semesters 1 and 2, 2011

(Fig.1 is not currently available)

Overall, no significant difference has been found between students’ overall performance in the course between Semester 1 and Semester 2, 2011 (see Table 3). This is probably because only 24% of the students in the second semester attended the LSU workshop (see Table 4).

Table 3: Students’ overall performance between Semester 1 and 2

N

Mean

Std. Deviation

p

Effect size

Semester 1

484

58.54

11.393

0.759

NA

Semester 2

530

58.75

10.405

Table 4: % of students who attended the LSU workshop in Semester 2

No. %
Did not attend LSU workshop 401 76%
Attended LSU workshop 129 24%

The difference in students’ performance in the course between Group (Mean for students who attended LSU workshop = 62.77) and Group (Mean for students who did not attend LSU workshop = 57.45) in the 2nd Semester, 2011 is significant (p < 0.01) with a moderate effect (eta squared = 0.06) (see Table 5), which suggests that the LSU workshop had a positive impact on students’ performance in their assignments.

Table 5: Students’ performance for those who attended and did not attend the LSU workshop

N

Mean

Std. Deviation

p

Effect size

Attended LSU workshop

129

62.77

7.912

.000

.06

Did not attend LSU workshop

401

57.45

10.782

Effect size (h2) = t2/(t2+df),  > 0.01 suggests a small effect, > 0.06 suggests a moderate effects, > 0.14 suggests a large effect.

In relation to Group B students, the difference in their performance in the course between Semester 1 (Mean = 53.18) and Semester 2 (Mean = 55.92) is significant (p < 0.01) with a small effect (eta squared = 0.02) (see Table 6). More importantly, the difference in Group B students’ performance in the course between Group (Mean for those who attended LSU workshop = 60.63) and Group (Mean for those who did not attend LSU workshop = 54.51) in the 2nd semester, 2011 is significant (p < 0.01) with a moderate effect (eta squared = 0.09) (see Table 7).

Table 6: Group B students’ overall performance between Semesters 1 and 2

N

Mean

Std. Deviation

p

Effect size

Semester 1

175

53.18

10.682

.007

.02

Semester 2

213

55.92

9.289

Table 7: Group B students’ performance for those who attended and did not attend LSU workshop

N

Mean

Std. Deviation

p

Effect size

Attended LSU workshop

164

54.51

9.279

.000

.09

Did not attend LSU workshop

49

60.63

7.699

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