Academic success courses at Ontario colleges: a qualitative analysis of syllabi
Parsons, Jesse A.
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Ontario Colleges expanded enrolment and reached into populations that traditionally did not attend post-secondary (Rae, 2005). The challenge has been to support students who were not prepared for college-level academic work (Habley, Bloom & Robbins, 2012). Lennon, Skolnik and Jones (2015) pointed out that colleges have been providing curriculum arguably of high school equivalency. First-semester academic success courses have been a curricular response to these challenges. Academic success courses are a combination of learning skills, involvement, metacognition, motivation, and self-regulated learning (Tebe, 2007; Burchard & Swerdzewski, 2009; Rasmussen, 2013; Hoops, Yu, Burridge & Wolters, 2015). There does not exist a set or taxonomy of skills and student development concepts described in academic success course outlines from across the Ontario colleges. To fill this gap, I qualitatively categorized skills and student development concepts described within academic success course outline documents from across Ontario. The first step was a comprehensive scan of college program websites to determine the programs that incorporated an academic success course. Fifty-nine course outline documents were acquired for a content analysis of course descriptions and learning outcomes. The categorization of skills and concepts was based on a synthesis of literature on academic success, academic competencies, and the demands of industry. 304 programs incorporated an academic success course. Academic success courses were used in all college credentials. Results suggested that courses are widely used, though less so in the advanced credentials. Some courses were structured generically and applied across a range of programs while other courses were offered within programs using discipline specific language (e.g., business, heath). A qualitative content analysis revealed dominant course themes of academic skills and personal development. Learning outcomes seldom expressed reading and writing skills. Learning outcomes seldom expressed connecting to the college environment or services. Learning outcomes seldom expressed aspects of resourcefulness or resiliency. Recommendations for curriculum designers to address gaps in learning outcomes are offered. Further research is suggested to clarify the nature and use of academic success courses at the Ontario colleges.