Crafting Email ‘Nudges’ to Boost Student Success

Classroom-based “nudges,” or interventions that encourage but do not mandate certain behavior, can often help boost students’ performance in a course, according to feedback from teachers and recent studies. For example, Zoë Cohen, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, saw that a large number of students failed the first exam in her “Physiology of the Immune System” course. Instead of getting an adviser to send the students an email, Cohen crafted a non-judgmental, personalized message that she sent to each student. More than half of those students responded thanking Cohen for her email and taking responsibility for their performance, according to a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Cohen also saw a jump in those students’ test scores from the beginning to the end of the semester.

Recent study results yield similar findings. In one study, researchers sent out a revised, supportive letter from the university to students notifying them of academic probation. Students who got the new letter felt more determined to improve their academic standing. A higher number of those students also went on to remove themselves from academic probation, according to study results discussed in the Chronicle story.