Classroom Strategies For Nudging Students Toward Success

  • Jeannie Brown Leonard George Mason University


Location: JC Room E

Research shows faculty can improve student success in their classrooms (and contribute to overall persistence and degree completion) by leveraging insights from behavioral economics and choice theory. Our students spend more time with faculty in classes than with any other university official, so faculty are critical partners in supporting the whole student effectively and efficiently. Why do undergraduate students fail? The answer to this question is complicated and multifaceted. This session will draw upon Mason faculty members' insights about the challenges students face succeeding in our classrooms and introduce empirically tested interventions that they can adopt to change student behaviors. A Nobel Prize winning behavioral economist, Richard Thayer, has written about promoting behaviors that are in peopleâs best interest without restricting choice. Thayer and Sunstein (2009) give compelling examples of how libertarian paternalism can work in many areas of contemporary life to guide (nudge) people into making decisions that serve themselves and society. Student success leaders are adopting the nudge as a foundation for improving student engagement in higher education, which in turn influences student learning, retention, persistence, and degree completion. "Instead of trying to increase studentsâ desire for the degree, interventions need to focus on changing the near-term behaviors that will help the student make progress toward the degree. Just as the person who wants to lose weight needs help eating right and exercising, college students can benefit from interventions that prompt them to engage in the specific actions that contribute to learning. Rather than focus on the motivation that caused them to set their goal, strategies should target the behaviors that lead to achieving the goal that they have already set" (Shireman & Price, 2015, p. 117). Examples of interventions include promoting time on task (e.g., creating assignments that requiring students to invest time and attention) and defining assignment points in a way that that makes the cost of not doing an assignment more salient. Each strategy is linked to the research in goal attainment, engagement, and mindset. This session will begin with background data on Mason's course failure rates, retention and degree completion data, and strategic goals for improving these metrics. Participants will engage in a guided brainstorming exercise to identify, from their perspectives, the issues that influence whether a student is successful in the classes they teach. Next, the session will explore what the literature says about student success behaviors and how behavioral economics and choice theory can guide interventions and strategies for improving success, including examples of how to use these principles in the classroom. Finally, either as large group or in several small groups, faculty participants will consider case studies that will inform the key takeaways: concrete strategies for improving student engagement, motivation, and participation (and, therefore, learning). Infographics and handouts will help remind faculty of how they might use what they have learned in their classroom. Faculty who are interested will be invited to participate in a study of the effectiveness of nudges for spring semester.

Author Biography

Jeannie Brown Leonard , George Mason University

Jeannie Brown Leonard is the Dean of Student Academic Affairs. This unit houses the UNIV curriculum, Project Peak, exploratory student academic advising, as well as academic affairs retention initiatives. With colleagues across campus, she coordinates the integration of the Navigate Mason platform into academic advising practice. Her research interests include student learning and cognitive development, retention, and student success.

11:20am-12:00pm Mini-Workshops, Panels, & Roundtables