Facilitating academic performance in college: understanding the role of clear and organized instruction

Abstract

Extensive research on college impact has identified a range of practices that enhance students’ academic outcomes. One practice—clear and organized instruction—has received increasing attention in recent research. While a number of studies have shown that clear and organized instruction is related to a range of postsecondary outcomes, researchers have not considered the mechanisms that link this educational practice to student outcomes. In this study, we draw on the constructivist theory of learning to identify potential mechanisms that may explain the relationship between clear and organized instruction and academic performance. Results from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, including an analytical sample of 7116 students attending 38 four-year institutions in the USA, indicate that three mechanisms examined—faculty interest in teaching and student development, academic motivation, and academic engagement—explain almost two-thirds of the relationship between clear and organized instruction and first-year GPA. When students experience greater exposure to clear and organized instruction, they perceive their faculty as being more invested in their learning and development, and they report being more academically motivated and engaged in their studies. Moreover, students who enter college less academically prepared benefit more from exposure to clear and organized instruction.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    National data obtained from ACT: http://forms.act.org/newsroom/act-national-and-state-scores/. It is important to note that some of the students who took the test (and especially those who did not do well) may not enter four-year institutions.

  2. 2.

    Although mean and median for GPA are close (mean = 3.2 and median = 3.3), the measure is not normally distributed. Given the long left tail, there is no easy transformation and several plausible transformations (e.g., reflecting GPA and then either taking a square root or natural log) still failed normality tests. Instead of transforming the variable, we estimate robust standard errors, which are recommended when the dependent variable is skewed.

  3. 3.

    An alterative model specification would be to use HLM. Only 11 % of the variance in the intercept-only model is observed across institutions, and the results do not substantively differ when using HLM as opposed to the cluster command specification. In addition, HLM is not recommended when the ratio of independent variables to the number of level-2 units is low.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the Spencer Foundation for the support of this project.

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Correspondence to Josipa Roksa.

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Roksa, J., Trolian, T.L., Blaich, C. et al. Facilitating academic performance in college: understanding the role of clear and organized instruction. High Educ 74, 283–300 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-016-0048-2

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Keywords

  • Good practices in undergraduate education
  • Clear and organized instruction
  • Academic performance
  • Academic motivation
  • Academic engagement