Research seminar: Detecting uncertainty to improve retention

In a series: Educational Research Seminars 2015-16
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Drs Lalage Sanders and Carolyn Mair present their research around early measures to boost student retention


Educational research seminar 14 April 2016

Detecting uncertainty to improve retention

Dr Lalage Sanders, Head of Department of Applied Psychology, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and
Dr Carolyn Mair, Reader in Psychology, London College of Fashion

Research into the progress of Foundation Year students identified psychometric factors that are apparently predictive of non-completion of the course. (Sanders, Daly & Regan 2012). This study extended this research to ascertain whether these psychometric tests are also diagnostic for direct entry undergraduates. This prospective study collected survey data from new undergraduates at the start of the autumn term. Participants were recruited across 29 programme areas in two contrasting universities. New undergraduates were invited to complete a survey in the autumn term of their first year that comprised the Academic Behavioural Confidence (ABC) scale and the Performance Expectation Ladder (PEL). Both these instruments tap into student expectations about their behaviour and achievements on their programme of study. These data were compared with examining board outcomes the following summer. Two of the four subscales of the ABC appear to act as indicators of the risk of non-completion: Attendance and Studying. Data from the PEL indicated that those who were not going to complete expected poor marks than did their successful peers. Preliminary analysis suggests this finding is robust across courses. We propose that these psychometric measures could be used to identify those at risk of withdrawal, making it possible to target support appropriately to reduce attrition and thereby improve retention.

Dr Lalage Sanders is a Chartered Psychologist, a Chartered Scientist and an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is a reader in Pedagogical Psychology and is Head of the Department of Applied Psychology in Cardiff Metropolitan University. Her research interests lie in understanding and enhancing the experience of students in Higher Education, specifically focussing on their engagement and their wellbeing. As well as her research publications Lalage is the author the British Psychology Society Blackwell Press book Discovering Research Methods in Psychology; a student’s guide. Prior to becoming Head of Department Lalage’s career was focussed on promoting quality enhancement for research degree students and she spent several years as Chair of the University’s Research Degree Committee. Prior to this she was programme director for the universities undergraduate psychology degree, during her tenure the numbers increased from 30 to 90 per annum. Before entering teaching, Lalage was a Research Fellow in the Department of Anaesthetics at the University of Wales College of Medicine.

Dr Carolyn Mair is a Chartered Psychologist and Chartered Scientist and Reader in Psychology at London College of Fashion (LCF), University of the Arts London (UAL). Her research interests lie in the application of psychology to increase knowledge, improve performance and enhance well-being. Carolyn developed the world’s first Masters courses to apply psychology to fashion at LCF. The courses are MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion (accredited by the British Psychological Society) and MA Psychology for Fashion Professionals. Carolyn is a founder member of the ArtBrain in Action Community of Practice at University of the Arts London and leader of the Well-being Research Hub at LCF. Carolyn has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, MSc in Psychological Research Methods and BSc in Applied Psychology and Computing. Prior to becoming an academic, Carolyn worked as a visual merchandiser, graphic designer, dress maker and portrait artist.

Interested in the issue of student retention? Check out the Higher Education Academy’s Retention and Success theme.