Last summer, Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Policy and Management implemented a pilot version of an online platform that is meant to help incoming graduate students feel better prepared to participate in their programs when they arrive to start the semester.
The program came as a response to feedback received in January 2017 from many students, saying that they felt unprepared to start their graduate programs before they arrived on campus, according to an Inside Higher Ed article. David Weil, the dean of the Heller School, immediately commissioned Heller’s associate director of academic affairs and innovation, Marc Kiredjian, to begin creating an interactive platform for that summer that would help students feel more confident about starting their graduate studies.
According to the Inside Higher Ed article, the first version of the platform had three main components: a professional writing course, a suite of student resources (such as help with course registration, international student support and help with academic research and citations) and borrowed tutorials from Khan Academy on various topics. In future versions, the hope is that these tutorials will be made by the Heller School instead of borrowed.
In total, Heller spent approximately $15,000 to $20,000 establishing the platform, not including the time investments of faculty and staff, according to the article. The platform was presented to students as optional and free of charge and was only offered to students in three of Heller’s “globally oriented programs,” the article said.
It was generally successful, but the team plans to analyze student data and student focus groups to make improvements in future versions of the program. Over 100 students accessed the platform at some point throughout the summer, which exceeded original expectations, and across the board, students found the writing course to be the most valuable. A maximum of 25 students participated in the discussion board section, however, and some students only utilized the platform occasionally rather than throughout the summer. Funding was also limited, meaning staff and professional resources were limited.
Moving forward, Kiredjian hopes to expand the program to all six of Heller’s master’s programs, rather than the original three the pilot program was directed towards. Additionally, they hope to refine the program and make it more engaging and user-friendly.