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Scaling the School of Education Virtual Study Hall

May 25, 2023

Since the School of Education Teachers College launched virtual study halls in the fall of 2021, the college has seen tremendous growth in the number of hours study hall is available, the number of faculty participating as mentors and coaches, the number of students attending and giving positive reviews, and now a statistically significant increase in overall student retention for those attending more than three sessions. Access the original story here about the program for background details.

Study Hall Open 85 Hours a Week

Originally piloted in small groups a few hours a week, the faculty-facilitated web-based forum is now available to students seven days a week for more than 85 hours throughout the week, ensuring any student can find a slot to fit their schedule should they decide to participate.

Students can drop in at any of the open hours whenever they want via a web link provided by their faculty mentor.

There they will find a surprisingly quiet place to study among peers. Cameras are on and students’ faces fill the screen, but the ‘room’ is quiet, though the chat will have activity.

Most common posts are students stating their goals for what they are working on in study hall, and then circling back to share accomplishments which elicits supportive posts from fellow students.

Providing Structure and Peer Modeling

Study hall provides busy students with a quiet place to do their work where family and coworkers can see they are busy (people on screen) and where the students can see other students also studying. Hundreds of student comments attest to this simple value in their hectic lives. For example, one student found the ‘body double’ aspect helpful for focus, saying, “I really enjoyed the focus that comes from joining the study hall. I felt accountable for my attention. I have been diagnosed with ADHD and have difficulty focusing and staying on task. I felt that because I knew the camera was on and I was surrounded by like-minded people, I needed to focus and get work done.”

It also provides the structure some students need in the flexible online modality, as noted by this student, “'I love study halls. If I never joined study halls, I would've lost focus, and working on my classes wouldn't be as fun. When I’m studying alone, I’m always looking at the time but in study hall, I’m way more motivated and focused. I enjoyed being in the same space as others studying.”

Building Persistence and Retention

In addition, there is an important systemic payoff as evidenced by quantitative data surfaced by WGU’s Advanced Analytics team. “The team conducted a comparative analysis with initial results showing a statistically significant difference in the six-month drop rate between study hall attendees compared to their non-attendee student counterparts,” said Heather Roche, Sr. Manager, Program Mentoring. Roche helped lead the development of the project and has been instrumental in its successful scaling. “The analysis reviewed students of the same program, same term number, and same momentum indicator and then compared retention outcomes from students who attended study hall three or more times in the 6-month term to matched students who did not attend study hall,” said Roche.

“The results are as follows for those students attending study hall three or more times:  Undergrad students in special education teacher preparation programs showed a 3-percentage point decrease in the 6-month drop rate. Undergraduate Elementary Education pathway students showed a 6-percentage point decrease in the 6-month drop rate, and students in the Master of Arts in Teaching for Elementary Education or Special Education pathway showed a 4-percentage point decrease in the 6-month drop rate,” said Roche.

Commitment, Connection, and Accountability

As of March 2023, the study hall has hosted more than 22,000 student sessions attended by approximately 4,000 unique students.

While 1400 of those students have attended 2-10 sessions, more than 370 students have attended 11-50 sessions, and 60 students have come to study hall as many as 50-240 times," said Roche. 

“Study hall provides accountability, motivation, connection, commitment, structure, and a sense of belonging," said Roche.

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