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How Can You Encourage Students to Use Help Resources?

chalkboard held by 4 hands on top and bottom that reads tutoring in the center surrounded by the words achievement, learning, education, studying, planning, and training
As you prepare your materials for spring term, consider how you incorporate student resources and what language you use to encourage help-seeking behavior with your students. Taking steps to support awareness of available student resources is especially useful in the remote teaching format. The FCLT’s surveys on students’ use of Canvas made it clear that professors are the first resource students look to for guidance. This means that professors have a real opportunity to increase student help-seeking behavior now and as a skill for the future.
Obviously step one is simply letting students know that services and resources exist. We have many resources for you to inform students about, such as the Mountie Student Hub. You can add it to your course resources by adopting the Mountie Hub page from the Canvas Commons.  Just knowing about resources (especially when it is a list of many) does not mean students who might benefit will identify the best service to help them and use it in a timely way to affect their success. That’s where you come in!
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Helping professors help students find help!

We have worked together with Dianne Rowley, Department Chair of Mt. SAC’s Learning Assistance program to provide templates that faculty can use to support students. These can be found in the Canvas Faculty Center in the Supporting Students section. Here’s a link to the page on Student-Friendly Support. The document, “Best Practices to Normalize Help-Seeking Behavior in Students” lists 17 tips that professors can use to support students. Let me highlight just a few:
  • “Best Practice 1: Have students work collaboratively to create a Mt. SAC academic support services resource page that lives in your Canvas course via Google Doc, Padlet, or Canvas discussion board.” 
    • This is essentially a mixture of gamifying and creating active learning around student resources. We know that students learn best when they are active rather than passive in the learning environment, and we can apply this principle not only to course content but to identifying resources. See more helpful gamified and active learning suggestions in the student-friendly support document. 
  • “Best Practice 2: Assign students to interact with a librarian and/or tutor before submitting an assignment. Have students reflect on the interactions via discussion board.”
    • Creating an initial interaction with a librarian, tutor, or another service reduces one barrier–that of first contact. Once the student has used a service once, there are fewer barriers to using a service again. See additional suggestion on how to embed tutoring or library services directly in your classes in the student-friendly support document.
  • “Best Practice 7: Embed links to academic support services (example: MARC, Writing Center, Library, and ASAC) in your Canvas courses and on your syllabi.” 
    • It is easy to embed links in Canvas, and placing those links right in the assignment instructions or weekly content overview, or in other targeted locations can increase students’ likelihood of using them. Providing self-help or low-interaction resources (such as Canvas chat, Writing Center or Net Tutor asynchronous help options) may lower barriers as well by lowering anxiety about the interaction. It also helps target a specific resource where it is the best resource choice for that item, which lowers barriers to use by reducing the amount of cognitive work it takes to identify the right option.
    • Syllabus statements can be added in Canvas using the templates provided on the Resource to Support Students page. If you use Cidi Labs, adding syllabus statements has never been easier! From the Canvas Syllabus menu item, click edit and add blocks of templated syllabus language about help resources (which are editable) and institutional policy blocks (not editable) on AP information relevant to students.
  • “Best Practice 14: Share research from academic support centers. For example, the ASAC has infographics showing the benefits of tutoring. If possible, integrate academic support center research into course content.”
    • this practice is one example for how to not just incentivize use, but begin to reframe for students any misconceptions they may have about using available services. When students begin to understand help-seeking as a positive behavior of successful individuals and see how that translates to desirable qualities in many aspects of life, they may overcome the barriers of stigma around using such services. This may be the most important barrier of all to overcome, especially for students from underrepresented groups.
chalk board with a line of white light bulb drawings and one yellow light bulb with a college graduate holding up a diploma lighting up the yellow lightbulb

General Principles to Promote Help-Seeking

Plenty of academic scholarship has tried to figure out some of the answers to how to encourage greater help-seeking behavior. Beyond raising awareness, here are a few general principles to keep in mind that can motivate more help-seeking behavior from students:
  • Reduce Barriers: there are many ways to lower the search for resources. The Mountie Student Hub was created as a way to reduce barriers to finding resources by placing targeted links and information directly into Canvas and auto-enrolling all active students.
  • Be Specific: Instead of pointing students to general resources or making general references, encourage students to identify areas where they think their academic skills are strong and where they need work. Get them to commit to using a specific resource; better yet, get them to commit to a specific day and time they will use that resource. When plans are specific instead of general or abstract, students are more likely to follow through.
  • Support a Culture of Help-Seeking with Your Words and Stories. Every classroom has a meta-conversation going on that sets the tone for that learning environment. A meta-conversation is simply the dialogue that takes place between professor and students about the culture of that classroom–what is valued? what does success look like? what behaviors are encouraged? how strict are the rules? You can use your direction to encourage help-seeking as a positive behavior and a sign of a successful student. Talk about resource seeking as a form of persistence and of being resourceful… and reinforce resourcefulness as a desirable skill to carry forward. This can help to dispel the stigma and deficit-based framing in which using services such as tutoring or library assistance is only something underperforming or struggling students do. Share stories of your own use of resources, counterbalance the myth that success must be created solo, and share research that shows how using resources improves results.
  • Make It Count: whether in work or in school, values that are only spoken about but not given time and energy to be done are likely to be skipped over. When the professor does more than just provide a list of resources but reinforces them by placing value on their use, students are more likely to also place value and use their time to help seek. Work their use into assignments, incentivize them, or find other ways to make them count.
  • Reinforce Benefits another way to reframe help-seeking is to make sure you mention it not just at the start but at the finish. Call out the benefit gained from the use of resources and applaud the  when students use those resources to improve. Avoid comments that diminish credit for students who improved because they used resources; instead make comments that credit them when they do so.
As we begin spring term, it is an excellent time to acquaint students with the many online resources that are available to support their success as students. The way you incentivize and motivate students to think about resources, approach learning, and seek help will not only help them in your course, but will help them to form habits that can serve them well beyond the classroom.
Have some other tips and suggestions for how you encourage students to engage in help-seeking behavior? We’d love to hear them! Please comment with your questions and tips below! 
Make sure you check out our other posts at FCLT News Bytes!

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