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StanfordOnline: How You Say It Matters: A Toolkit for Improving Communications About Academic Standing

Do you want to help your students experiencing academic difficulty feel motivated, not crushed? Learn our approach to “psychologically attuned” communications about academic standing. Watch the course introductory video on YouTube.

How You Say It Matters: A Toolkit for Improving Communications About Academic Standing
3 weeks
1–2 hours per week
Progress at your own speed
Access to course at no cost

There is one session available:

After a course session ends, it will be archivedOpens in a new tab.
Starts Apr 12

About this course

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When students struggle academically, schools often try to help them. One of the ways in which they do this is to have an academic standing process, which often includes placing them on academic probation or a similar status. The challenge lies in how to inform students of this status in a way that helps students to feel motivated and supported, rather than crushed and ashamed.

Through years of research with students and administrators across the country and world, we have found that it is possible to write a probation notification letter in a way that is sensitive to the psychological experience of students. These “psychologically attuned” letters intentionally address the worries and concerns students often have when being placed on probation and can shift students’ psychological experience in a way that is less shame-inducing and makes them more likely to engage in productive behaviors, like seeking tutoring or talking with a professor.

We created this course to share this approach to writing psychologically attuned notification letters with college administrators. This course will walk you through the psychology and evidence behind this approach, how to write a psychologically attuned letter, how to get feedback on your letter from students and colleagues, and how to implement and evaluate your letter. Administrators who have used this Toolkit often go on to apply this approach to other communications and policies. If you are not a college administrator, you are still welcome to take this course and apply its insights to other communications.

This course has been created in collaboration with the College Transition Collaborative (CTC), a non-profit research center based at Stanford University. CTC bridges research and practice to help colleges create learning environments that foster equitable student engagement and success. Our work helps schools understand how their students experience moments of transition or difficulty, and how psychologically attuned practices–messages, policies, behaviors, and programs–can convey to all students they are valued, respected, and can excel.

At a glance

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English
  • Associated skills:Psychology, Student Engagement, Research, Communications, Writing

What you'll learn

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  • How students feel and what they think when they receive communications about academic standing--and how this differs from what administrators intend
  • How students’ negative reactions, like shame and stigma, can interfere with their academic progress
  • How to write “psychologically attuned” communications that lead students to feel less ashamed and more supported
  • How to collect feedback to better understand students’ experiences and their reactions to academic standing communications at your school
  • How to work with colleagues to refine, implement, and evaluate revised academic standing communications
  • How this could apply to other communications

Learner testimonials

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"I wasn't a huge fan of our original letter, but after working briefly with the toolkit, my eyes were opened to how negative of a letter we were sending. The toolkit was extremely useful for crafting a revised letter, for buy-in from Administration, and for changing other notifications. I am looking forward to seeing the impact of the modified letter."

"I appreciated the opportunity to dedicate the time to completely overhauling our probation communication. My hope is that setting a new tone will help students to continue toward their academic goals and see the probation process of less of an obstacle. All the materials in the Toolkit were compelling and expedited the revision process. The toolkit made my job easier -- both revising the letter and presenting the reasons why it will hopefully be effective to my colleagues."

"I think that understanding how our correspondence impacts students in academic difficulty is valuable. If changing the way we communicate with students enables them to respond quickly and feel that they are supported throughout the process, it is worthwhile."

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