Documentation:Guide to Teaching for New Faculty at UBC/Supporting Undergraduate Student Success

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Understanding, supporting, and helping our students succeed is at the core of the University educational mission. We need to strive to understand the diverse range of skills, attitude and experiences that your students may bring to the classroom and the learning experience. Responding well to this diversity takes care and attention on the part of the instructor. Meaningful instruction needs to begin with understanding the learners - who they are, where they are at, and where they hope to go.

Starting at UBC can be a disorienting experience for many new students. Sometimes for the first time, students have limited access to the teacher, and are separated from their traditional support network of family and friends. Many new students arrive at UBC with the expectation that they will not only succeed, but they will get an “A”. Many students struggle with this transition and are devastated by their first failures (the failure might just be “I didn’t get an A”).

1st Year Grade Expectation and Actual Performance

There can be a mismatch between expectation and reality. How students respond to setbacks varies, and a study by Mueller and Dweck (1998) may provide some useful answers. They examined two groups of students, one that had been praised for “being smart” and one that had been praised for being “hard workers” in high school. Interestingly, the “hard worker” cohort failed in a more productive way, and the “being smart” group failed in a more counter-productive way. The “hard worker” group perceived the failure as a feedback on the quality of their effort. The “being smart” group perceived the failure as passing judgment on their intelligence.

Following the failure, in subsequent tasks, the “hard worker” group continued to improve and the “being smart” group became unmotivated and performed more poorly. This might explain the difficulties some new students encounter after a lifetime of teachers and parents praising them for being special or smart. As instructors we can set the stage by discussing these difficulties and highlighting the value of hard work as the greatest predictor of success in university and life.

As a faculty member, you have tremendous influence on the learning experience of students. In your teaching role, in addition to engaging students in the curriculum of your discipline, you are an important source of advice and guidance to students.

Enriching Educational Opportunities

Students who participate in enriching educational opportunities, such as research with a faculty member, study abroad, or community service learning, report deeper learning and greater gains in personal learning and development. UBC has set a goal that all undergraduate students will have the opportunity to participate in two enriching educational opportunities before they graduate.

UBC “provides the opportunity for transformative student learning through outstanding teaching and research, enriched educational experiences and rewarding campus life…Together, faculty, staff and students share the responsibility for bringing learning to life” (Place and Promise: The UBC Plan, 2009).

You can help students to take advantage of these opportunities. Encouragement from a faculty member is one of the strongest influences in a student’s decision to participate.

NSSE annually collects information at hundreds of four-year colleges and universities about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for students learning and personal development.

We can see from the NSEE data that senior students will talk and ask question in class more often, although almost 50% report they only contribute “sometimes”. We see that the number of students actually completing drafts of assignments, drops in the senior years, and the number of students coming to class unprepared increases in senior year.


There are a few more senior students that will discuss grades with the course instructor and finally there is also a small increase in the number of senior students that will discuss career plans with faculty, although many will never discuss their career plans with their instructor.

Some scenarios that you may encounter as you support student learning:

You need information about how to direct your students to study help and resources

The sheer size of UBC can make it difficult for students to find academic resources and they often look to faculty members for help finding the right place to start. Learning Commons is UBC’s online hub of study and research support. You can access the Learning Commons at: learningcommons.ubc.ca. Through the Learning Commons, students can access interactive tutorials, study guides, academic coaching, tech tools, advising, and more. The Learning Commons pulls student success information together across disciplines and campus units into one integrated resource.

To make referrals easy, there are short blurbs on the Learning Commons that you can copy and add to your course syllabus and a PowerPoint slide that you can download to use at the beginning of a lecture. Some faculty members find it helpful to have these resources on hand when giving back a first midterm or essay, particularly for new students who may still be adjusting to university learning.

Additionally, IT Services operates a student IT Help Desk to assist students with IT issues. Whether needing a Campus Wide Login ID (CWL) or help with Blackboard Vista, a student’s first stop should be the IT Services Help Desk. More information is available at www.it.ubc.ca/contact/helpdesk.html.

You would like to hire a student to assist with your research

By the time they graduate, 21.5% of UBCV undergraduate students report that they have worked on a research project with a faculty member outside of course or program requirements (NSSE, 2008). Students who work on a research project with a faculty member make greater intellectual gains than their peers, in part because they are exposed to the complex thinking and problem solving approaches inherent in research.

If you want to hire a student to work with you on a research project, UBCV has several initiatives that can help. Work Study (domestic students) and Work Learn (International students) are wage subsidy programs, managed by Career Services, which cover a portion of a student employee’s wage ($9/hour in 2009-10). Career Services can also assist you with posting your position (paid or volunteer) and in accessing NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards and Canada Summer Jobs grants. Arts Undergraduate Research Awards (AURA) are available through the Dean of Arts office. Talk with your Department Head or Dean to find out if discipline specific initiatives exist in your area.

You have concerns about a student who may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed

In a 2008 study of UBCV students, 44% of undergraduates and 23% of graduates reported that stress contributed to academic difficulties (received an incomplete, dropped a course, or received a low grade in a class or on an exam/project). This was the top health and wellness-related reason for academic difficulty cited by both undergraduates and graduates and was significantly higher than the Canadian average (UBC NCHA 2008 data).

Faculty members are often in a position to identify students who are “at risk.” Recognizing the signs of emotional distress and responding with interest and concern in a timely manner may be critical factors in helping students resolve problems that are interfering with academic achievement.

There are two pathways to choose from once you have identified a student in distress: speaking directly with the student or referring the student to the appropriate resource or services. If you have a rapport with the student, speaking directly to the student may be the best option. Begin the conversation by expressing your concerns about specific behaviours you have observed.

If you do not really know the student, you may prefer to refer the student to Counseling Services or Student Health Services, which can be contacted at www.students.ubc.ca/counselling/ and www.students.ubc.ca/health/service.cfm respectively.

Your decision about which path to choose also may be influenced by:

  • Familiarity with student
  • Your level of experience
  • The nature or severity of the problem
  • Your ability to give time to the situation
  • A variety of other personal factors

As well as Counseling Services and Student Health Services, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) provides a wide range of student support and advocacy services. Visit their website at www.ams.ubc.ca.

You want to arrange for a group of students to travel for an international learning experience

Group Study Programs (GSP) are faculty-led international learning programs initiated by faculty members interested in taking students abroad as part of an existing UBC course. Essentially, Group Study Programs offer faculty members a chance to “move the classroom” to a location that expands students’ learning opportunities.

The Go Global International Learning Programs office oversees the development and implementation of GSPs at UBC. To learn more about developing a GSP, contact the Group Study Program Coordinator at www.students.ubc.ca/global/about-us/contact-us/