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There’s no such thing as the “average” Ashford student

Day 2 of the Ashford Teaching and Learning Conference kicked off with an excellent session led by Dr. Karen Ivy. Her talk about “The Danger of a Single Story” connected me back to Dr. Jeff Borden’s opening keynote on Day 1. In Dr. Borden’s session, he led an activity about “averages” in education. He asked those in the room to stand up as a list of “averages” for men and women were displayed. For example, the average man is between 5’9 and 5’11 tall. As each “average” was revealed, attendees were asked to sit down if they were not within the average range. After only a few questions, most of the room had already sat down and no one was left standing by the 5th question. The point of the activity was that there is no such thing as an “average” student and we need to use data in order to develop learning experiences for individual learners. I was re-connected back to Dr. Borden’s wise words during Dr. Ivy’s presentation as the group discussed stereotypes and the danger of making assumptions about students based on certain characteristics.

At Ashford, we tend to often speak about the “average” student and rely too much on the law of averages when describing our students and developing student success interventions. For example, we are told that the average Ashford student is an African American female, aged 35, who resides in the south. The averages dig deeper into socioeconomic status, number of children, marital status, etc. My assumption is that if we had 100 Ashford students in the room and went through the many “averages” we assume about them, no one would be left standing at the end as there is no such thing as the “average” student.

Drs. Borden and Ivy reminded me that we must look at the individual learner and do more to understand them and meet their actual needs versus trying to cater to an unrealistic idea of an average student. The more we know about our students as people, the better we can design interventions to support them. Civitas has enabled me to do this in the classroom and I do my best to not fall into the trap of a single story when using the system. When a student is flagged in Civitas, I go back into the classroom to get the real “story” of the student. I look back at my communications with them, their introduction post, and the gradebook in order to piece together a story and develop outreach that will help that actual student versus my conception of what the “average” student needs. By utilizing data at the individual student level, we can further personalize our outreach to students and meet them where their need is. There’s no such thing as the “average” Ashford student!

Dr. Jeff Hall

Associate Dean, Division of General Education

Ashford University

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