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Thrive Priority Support Network offers assistance to students struggling with transition from high school to university 

By Kristy Koehler, September 19 2019—

The University of Calgary’s Thrive Priority Support Network is an early-identification system designed to assist students who are having academic difficulty. Thrive aims to connect these students with the right resources to help them succeed. 

A D2L algorithm picks up on students who have a large differential between grades that they came into university with, and grades currently being achieved.

Susan Barker, vice-provost student experience, says the system relies on professors using D2L and the online grade book.

“It’s okay to be C student and to continue on as a C student,” she says. “What we’re doing is looking at somebody in the transition from high school to university who is clearly not performing at the level at which they were in high school. Something is going on — maybe they’re struggling with the transition, maybe there’s homesickness, maybe they’re partying — it could be a whole host of reasons.”

Barker says students who are flagged by the system are sent three e-mails offering assistance around the mid-point in the semester.

“Twenty-one per cent take up the offer of help,” says Barker. “When they take up the offer of help, they get one-to-one support with an academic development specialist. That person will triage to other supports after having an open and frank conversation. Sometimes its a referral to a mental health professional or to workshops on procrastination, on planning or on time management.”

Because the algorithm detects uncharacteristic declines in performance, Barker says that the Thrive Network’s ability to pick up on someone who might be in crisis has been helpful in the past in getting students the help they need.

Barker says she isn’t concerned that only twenty-one per cent of students respond to the offer of help, as often, the e-mail that they aren’t doing as well as they should be is a wake-up call in itself.

“Sometimes that email is sufficient to say, ‘Oh my gosh — I’ve got to get back on track,’ and it enables them to pick things up before finals at the end of term,” she says. “Sometimes just the message that the university cares about what you’re doing, is noticing what you’re doing and is offering help is enough.”

The algorithm is performed on first years. They are looking at ways to expand the program, but for now, it is designed to assist those in transition from high school to university.

“These are very complicated situations,” says Barker. “Why do people struggle in that first-year transition? Sometimes it’s just hat freedom — and that freedom brings with it many privileges and opportunities but for some its a bit of a challenge in terms of that self-management of their studies.”

For those who do take up the offer of help, Barker says the long-term success rates are very good, perhaps pointing to the fact that those students who are responding ar

More international students than domestic students respond to the offer of help, and more females than males take up the offer. Barker attributes some of this to the nuanced culture of help-seeking, as well as the stakes being higher for international students. 

“If you get kicked out of university, you might lose your study permit and have to go back home,” she says. 

Her ultimate message is that the university cares and that there are support systems in place for a reason — to ensure that students succeed.

“The last thing we want to is to let them carry on without any support,” she says.

The Thrive Priority Support Network is confidential — it doesn’t go on your transcript or general student record. 

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