By Karen Herland

Provost’s office stepped in with STEPUP

How to address the needs of at-risk students whose academic performance is not up to par has been an ongoing concern of the university.

This year, the Office of the Provost decided to step in, and the result is STEPUP – Strategic Transition and Enhanced Preparation for University Programs.

This 24-hour/eight-week course was offered for the first time this term, under the auspices of the School of Extended Learning. Over 750 students benefited from the program, and were able to continue their studies despite previous failing grades.

Counselling and Development did individual assessments of the students who were doing poorly. Students who fell behind because of poor study skills (as opposed to economic or other personal factors) were encouraged by their faculty to enrol in STEPUP and follow the not-for-credit program as a condition of being able to continue their regular courses.

Juliet Dunphy, who has spent the last eight years in Student Learning Services at Counselling and Development, was seconded to the Provost’s office to design the program. She also met with the various academic vice-deans to get their input and ensure that the results represented a range of perspectives.

“The course is more than study skills. That’s part of it, but we also want to encourage behaviour change. We want to increase motivation and develop resourcefulness,” Dunphy explained. Students who do poorly academically can fall into a downward spiral.

“If you have high self-esteem, you know when a situation is not right, say, when your work is judged unfairly, or if a professor is in error. But if you’ve failed one or two courses, you don’t self-advocate.”

So, in addition to study tips, STEPUP students learn about services available through Counselling and Development and other programs on campus. They also find out more about different learning styles, and ways to retain material. Dunphy taught one of the 29 sections of the course offered this term to see how her curriculum worked in practice.

“Students recalled that at high school they used to pace around and talk when they wanted to remember something, or create rhymes to learn formulae,” Dunphy said.

“At university, some students lose touch with individual, creative ways to study and fall back on just reading and rereading their textbooks. In STEPUP, students learn how to adapt to their individual learning style. This could mean discussing questions with a study group, creating concept maps, going for a walk and recalling lecture points out loud, or writing down in their own words what they learned in a class.

Nineteen teachers were hired to teach the inaugural set of courses, including grad students and part-time faculty. Each teacher was given a manual for one of four modules; related to one of the four faculties, though Humanities and Social Sciences were combined with Fine Arts. The core elements were the same, but teachers applied the study strategies to discipline-specific content, often using material provided by students from their other courses.

The teachers communicated regularly with each other during the term, sharing tips and strategies. Many have expressed interest in repeating the experience.
The Provost’s Office has plans to follow up and determine STEPUP’s impact on the academic careers of those who participated.


Concordia University