Keeping Your Students On Track to Successful Course Completion

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Weekly Tip: Keeping Your Students On Track to Successful Course Completion

This past summer AOI conducted a series of focus groups with faculty to identify strategies they are using to recognize and support students who seem to be destined for failure in their class.  In other words “Early Alert and Retention” practices were the focus. 

If we admit them, we have an ethical obligation to help them graduate.

—LeeAnn Hunter, WSU English Faculty

One of the more common practices is to monitor attendance. Using in-class assignments, pop quizzes, Student Response Systems, or a column in the Blackboard gradebook to track attendance were some of the examples provided.

For more on how Blackboard can be leveraged to provide early alert warnings regarding student performance visit our Blackboard Course Reports Teaching Tool Box.

Also new this year is Cougar Health Services’ Guide for faculty about helping students in distress.

Most focus group attendees suggested that the key to student success is simple: attend class and complete the assignments.  They pointed to several strategies they use to help students keep focused on these keys to success:

  • Grade early and often. Students need to know how they are doing well before the midterm.
  • Use the Blackboard gradebook so that students can see how they are doing.
    • Organize the gradebook so that the first thing students see is the weighted grade.
    • Replace blanks with 0 to get student’s attention.
  • About weeks 3-4 into the term send a personal email to students who are missing or failing assignments/not attending and invite them to come speak with you. (Time saving tip: create email templates for various messages to your students).
  • Submit actual midterm grades, not placeholders.
  • Learn and use your students’ names.

I think students respond to the fact that you noticed them and that’s really all it takes sometimes.

—Linda Cook, WSU Biology faculty

It is not uncommon for students to be dealing with factors outside of academics that are impacting their performance.  If you notice changes in appearance, behavior or performance, reach out and make a referral. 

Faculty can refer to the student’s advisor or the AWARE network. The AWARE network enables university staff to reach out to a student in distress and help connect them with support resources. Sometimes faculty wonder if they should submit a report, worrying that they are overreacting. The AWARE network can assess the situation – and they may have received other reports about the same struggling student. Your report can make the difference for a student.

For more information about helping a student in distress, see Cougar Health Services’ Guide.

Students will find helpful information on these sites:

Learn more from The Office of the Provost’s site for Early Academic Referrals.

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.