Case Study 2 – Confidence, resilience and retention: Change at the unit level


Dr Denise Brookes from Queensland University of Technology began implementing changes to her first-year Exercise Science unit to enhance students’ experience and resilience.

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Key features of this case

  • increase students’ self-efficacy and engagement in the learning process
  • ‘exit’ strategy after each class
  • assessment of knowledge and skills rather than the person


  • Exercise Science
  • Queensland University of Technology
  • First year unit with 84 students
  • Completed course in later 2017, began implementing changes in semester one 2018, case study recorded in June 2018

Providing a purpose for learning in lectures (ProPuLL)

Many students attend lectures and tutorials unprepared. To remedy this, students were required to provide a short written or verbal response, called “an exit ticket”, at the end of each session. The aim was to increase students’ accountability and engagement in each session. The pilot study was designed to examine the efficacy of students’ active involvement in choosing their own learning highlight for each session, thus encouraging them to: (i) reflect on what they had learned (ii) articulate what or how they had thought about new information (iii) teach them to think critically, and (iv) provide the educator with an informal measure of students’ understanding of the session.

Drivers for participation in the staff development program

Dr Brookes joined the ATN Staff Program because she was concerned about how to help students of the 21st Century engage in learning—something that she had observed was a struggle for some. Being new to teaching Dr Brookes recognised the need to shift from the traditional teaching approach she had been exposed to as a student to one that engaged the technology-based learner.

Strategies adopted to enhance student resilience

Dr Brookes designed a small project for first year students who were often passive in their approach to learning:

Initially students demonstrated their accountability after the lecture with the use of an ‘exit’ strategy. This strategy involved a brief discussion of why the students were there and what they had learned—the highlight(s)—at the end of each class. Students were required to provide just a short phrase to express what it was they got out of the lecture. This strategy  worked well. However, many students copied what others said so they were not taking ownership of their own learning. The approach was then extended by asking students to reflect on what had facilitated their learning; be it the practical activities, or a word or a picture that helped them understand and remember the information covered.

The students were also set small tasks outside of class to extend their learning such as observing the way people walk (this was a human movement unit), or when looking at an article to notice how the story resonated with their views of health and well-being. By having students reflect on the highlights of what they had learned and how this related to the real world, students appeared to more readily see the link between their learning and their future practice. In other words, they appeared to gain an appreciation of the content covered in the unit.

Dr Brookes then shifted her approach from just having an exit strategy to one that required more individual reflection:

A focus on employability was introduced in some lectures to encourage students to think about what they could do after completing the course. Triggers relating to employability were included:

Other strategies employed were to:

  1. make it explicit to students that what was being assessed was not them as a person but what they knew and how they could utilise the information,
  2. include more personal examples from practice (real client experiences) and sharing personal stories of challenges faced in the workplace so students understood the reality of being challenged when working with clients. These examples were offered to demonstrate that understanding the purpose behind the curricula was crucial in order for students to learn, develop skills and grow.
  3. slow down the pace of delivery of information to allow students more time to take it  in and then open the room for discussion or undertake a practical activity that required them to demonstrate what they had learned.

Impact of the strategies implemented to date

Dr Brookes noted that in previous written assessments students who did not get the results they expected were often very self-critical not just of their performance but also of themselves as people:

Slowing down the pace of information provision and allowing students more visual and tactile stimulation through practical activities led to the students becoming more confident about talking, asking questions and being open when they had made an error (‘we’re all learning, we’re all doing things differently or correcting our technique’) and recognising that the trial and error process was part of their development. Students were also more at ease answering questions spontaneously and approaching Dr Brookes with questions in class or via email. Student also began to discuss their dreams and expectations of where they wanted to go professionally (e.g. exercise science, exercise physiology or sport science) and some acknowledged that while they had previously wanted to do physiotherapy stated that they would remain in their current course as they had obtained a more expansive view of what they could do once they graduated. Furthermore, students described feeling not only more linked to their future profession but also to each other as a group with a shared purpose.

Dr Brookes reported overall improvement in student positive outlook:

Figure 1: process of improving awareness of accountability and responsibility of learning