Evaluating academic skills support for International students: Individual appointment, non-credit workshop or for-credit success course

Sheilagh Grills1

1 Brandon University, 270-18th Street, Brandon, Manitoba, R7A 6A9, grillssh@brandonu.ca  

This session will report on the outcomes for first-year international students receiving learning skills assistance through appointments, group workshops or a Success Course.  Transition programming aims to increase student retention by providing services on the basis of individual as well as situational characteristics.  Evidence based practice in international education services includes an examination of the impact of the mode of delivery of academic support. This longitudinal study will report on the academic performance and persistence rates for traditional and international students using learning skills services at a primarily undergraduate Canadian institution during the intake years 2005-2011.

Academic support services are centred on student learning research and approaches to learning and studying (Biggs, 1987). Faculty expect students to be self-directed, yet first-year learners may not yet have been challenged nor experienced negative consequences for a lack of perseverance (Côté & Allahar, 2007). In some cases, students may need to “unlearn” previous surface approaches to learning (Baeten et al, 2010) that served them well in their home institutions.  Learning skills support can also help with the disparity between the target understandings of instructors and the actual understandings reached by students (Entwistle, McCune & Hounsell, 2002). In the current study, all three modes of delivery for academic support provide direct instruction for fundamental learning strategies with the goal of increased self-regulation of learning or metacognition (Boer, Donker & van der Werf, 2014). Conley (2010) lists academic behaviour or self-management as one of the four dimensions of readiness for tertiary education, while metacognitive knowledge requires students to transfer any newly learned strategies to other settings often through extensive practice (Hofer, Yu & Pintrich, 1998; Kenyon, 2016).

There are clear differences in the required institutional resources for the three models of academic support in this investigation.  Individual appointments or one-on-one sessions with a learning coach require greater staffing but resulted in higher overall retention rates, and higher credit hours attempted than group modes of delivery for traditional students (Grills, 2009). Non-credit workshops in ‘study skills’ tend to be relatively superficial treatments covering single issues, and student engagement in a non-credit setting may not be sufficient to motivate those who need to practice the skills discussed in a workshop.  While more expedient than individual appointments, workshops may not address the more intensive needs of international students.  Success Courses differ from other academic assistance in that they are a credit-bearing, long-term way to teach a variety of transferable learning strategies.  Learning framework or Success Courses have resulted in higher retention and academic performance for traditional students (Brock et al, 2007; Hodges, Dochen & Sellers, 2001) but may be viewed as cost-prohibitive or lacking academic rigour.  Additionally, the intensive nature of a semester length critical thinking course may be more than required for “accentuating” learners (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1979).  This paper will expand prior research to explore effective academic support for international students, and provide evidence based measures for developing and improving transitional support for a diverse student population.


Sheilagh Grills is a Learning Skills Specialist at Brandon University on the Canadian prairies, working to help students learn how to learn. Brandon University is a small, primarily undergraduate institution with an open-admissions policy for the general arts and science degree programs and a low international student tuition rate. The Academic Skills Centre offers a broad range of support services to assist students to become more efficient learners, equipped with greater confidence, motivation and skill.