April 24, 2018

VSU’s Miranda Huff And Anthony Scheffler Present Academic Research at USG Teaching And Learning Conference

Miranda Huff

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Miranda Huff and Dr. Anthony Scheffler were recently chosen to present research on academic mapping at the 2018 University System of Georgia Teaching and Learning Conference in Athens, Georgia.

Their presentation, titled “Collaborating with Students to Design Engaging Academic Maps,” detailed their efforts to create a more interesting and effective way to guide students through their college course requirements.

“An academic map is just a schedule of classes that tells you what you need to take each semester to graduate on time,” said Scheffler, associate vice president for academic affairs. “In that sense it’s not new at all, but it never has been very effective with students. They don’t tend to engage with it. They don’t tend to look at it except when they’re off track or when an advisor puts it in front of them.

“That can be dangerous because, on average, students graduate with about 136 academic credit hours when all they need is 120. That’s time they could’ve been spending in their career field instead of spending money or adding to their loan debt.

“What we’re trying to do — and what the USG is very interested in doing — is to make the academic map more engaging and more relevant for students so that they will actually use it and benefit from it.”

Huff, a communication sciences and disorders major from Dunwoody, Georgia, has worked with Scheffler as a student researcher for months to redesign and improve the traditional academic map.

“I’ve always known what I wanted to study, and I know how to navigate the registration system,” said Huff, who expects to graduate in Spring 2019. “But I’ve had a lot of friends ask me for help registering for classes, friends who are confused by or unsure of their required courses. That is what really got me interested in creating a better option.”

The research involved talking to dozens of VSU students from a variety of majors as well as juniors and seniors from Valdosta Early College Academy. Huff was instrumental in gathering data from the student focus groups and using the information to design an academic map that is tailored to students’ needs.

The upgraded academic map includes links to course descriptions; audio of professors explaining how a course is relevant to a specific degree program and career; videos of fellow students offering advice on how to do well in a certain course; and notifications that offer special recommendations and reminders to students.

“It gives them an opportunity to explore the degree and explore the courses and not just be told, ‘Take this and trust me; you’ll be fine,’” Scheffler said. “Hopefully the additions will lower the level of anxiety students have about certain courses or registering for classes in general.”

The upgraded academic map is still in the prototype phase, and Huff and Scheffler plan to keep refining and improving the digital tool. Scheffler has made the research available to VSU and other USG institutions and hopes that universities will eventually build the map into their websites. He also wants the academic map to one day be “game-ified” — making the map feel and look like a video game — in order to make it even more enjoyable and engaging for students.

“I enjoyed presenting the work we’ve accomplished so far, and I’m looking forward to continuing the effort to design a better academic map for students,” Huff said.

The annual USG Teaching and Learning Conference brings together faculty, staff, and students to share ideas and experiences related to best practices for promoting engaged student learning. Participants and presenters come from the University System of Georgia and from higher and postsecondary institutions and organizations across the United States.