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Lights, Camera, Nudge!

A solar eclipse
Lights, Camera, Nudge!

As I research more about engineering learning, technology, and action research, I have noticed how easily I can get lost in what I'm doing. I forget I have other responsibilities and even forget to meet my basic needs.

It's not like this is the first time this has happened. It's easy to get so focused on one thing that other things kind of fade into the peripheral. What I find myself needing is a nudge. I set alarms, ask people to remind me of things more often, yet still discover daily that something else has slipped through.

While I was researching action research related to student retention, I came across an article by Brown et al. (2022). The authors created and tested a process of delivering reminders in an effort to improve student engagement. They discovered that sending nudges to students who hadn't accessed some resources was effective as long as the nudges were not too frequent, were not too wordy, and were supportive and positive.

Linden (2022) found, through a series of 14 action research iterations, that quickly identifying students who are not engaging in their course and sending proactive emails to remind them of expectations and deadlines proved successful.

Imagine that! Students who show signs they may be distracted by other things in life engage more when they are given a reminder.

The discussion of nudges that cross over into nags led me to another article. In that article, Brömmelhaus (2023) examined how a student's life partner influences their intent to dropout of college. The author hypothesized that having a partner with high idealistic and realistic aspirations would lower a student's intent to dropout. The idea was that the student's extrinsic motivation would surely increase with a partner with high aspirations. While it was true for realistic aspirations, it wasn't for idealistic aspirations. The unsupported idealistic aspirations of partners actually added pressure to the student.

Being a student involves a lot of pressure, from the expectations of partners, family, and employers, to doubts about one's skills or abilities and countless other factors. When it comes to online education, there's also the added pressure of learning various technology tools.

A common tactic many colleges use to help students get acclimated to school, its tools, and the available resources is hosting a new student orientation. This may be a face-to-face event, a virtual event, or even an asynchronous micro-course. Stoebe and Grebing (2020) found that an in-depth orientation helped reduce withdrawals and improve performance.

This research is only scratching the surface of the topics of student retention improvement through action research. But it illustrates something I'm realizing is one of the exciting and frustrating parts of research. We all have beliefs about why things are how they are. We see patterns in the limited context we have. And when someone tests and confirms a belief, it can be frustrating that someone spent time and usually resources to confirm something that seemed so obvious to us.

But the exciting part of research is when we're wrong. When everything in our collective wisdom suggests one thing, but then science reveals something else, it feels like another layer of the Universe is revealed. Most of the time, when I'm reading through these articles, I'm not finding those moments. Most of the time, I'm reading confirmation of the beliefs I'd already formed from living a life of varied experiences and people.

But every now and then I find those surprises that nudge me on to keep digging, keep testing, and keep learning.



Brömmelhaus, A. (2023). Partnership and higher education: Do a partner’s educational aspirations influence a student’s dropout intention? SAGE Open, 13(2), 215824402311796.

Brown, A., Lawrence, J., Basson, M., Axelsen, M., Redmond, P., Turner, J., Maloney, S., & Galligan, L. (2022). The creation of a nudging protocol to support online student engagement in higher education. Active Learning in Higher Education, 24(3), 257–271.

Linden, K. (2022). Improving Student Retention by Providing Targeted Support to University Students Who Do Not Submit an Early Assessment Item. A Practice Report. Student Success, 13(1), 67–73.

Stoebe, A. (2020). The Effect of New Student Orientations on the Retention of Online Students. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 23(2).

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