The study was conducted in introductory economics courses offered at three University of Toronto campuses: UofT at St. George (UTSG, downtown), UofT at Mississauga (UTM, suburban, commuter campus), and UofT at Scarborough (UTSC, semi-urban neighborhood of Toronto, commuter campus) between 2014 and 2018.
The sample included five cohorts (2014-2018) of students taking a first-year economics course at any of the three UofT campuses. Within campus and year, students were randomized to one of several interventions or to the comparison condition. This review focuses on three of the six interventions studied: (1) online and one-way text coaching; (2) online and two-way text coaching; and (3) online and face-to-face coaching. The randomized sample size for the entire study was 24,772 students. A total of 10,809 students are included in the analyses reported in this review. The randomized samples corresponding to the contrasts reported in this review are as follows: (1) online and one-way text coaching, 2,709 students; (2) online and two-way text coaching, 2,575 students; and (3) online and face-to-face coaching, 90 students. The comparison sample across all contrasts in years in which one of the three interventions was implemented and yielded impact estimates (2014-2017) was 5,435 students. The authors did not report data on race or ethnicity, but 31.4% of the sample in this review were first-generation college students, 52% were female, and students were 20.3 years old on average.
This review examines the effects of three interventions. Three other interventions (goal setting, mindset, and online coaching only) are included in the study but are not part of this review.
Online coaching plus one-way text coaching: Students in this group participated in an online module (about 60 minutes) that included goal-setting, mindset, and college study skills such as strategies for effective studying, seeking help, motivation, patience, and reaching out for help. Over the course of the study, two versions of online coaching were implemented. Both had the objective of helping students be more successful in college. In the first version implemented in 2015, students completed a writing exercise requiring them to think about their futures in terms of professional and personal aspirations as well as their academic expectations for the current year. In the second version implemented in 2016-17, students set goals and engaged in ‘mindset’ activities that attempted to help students develop a more positive perspective on their academic endeavors. Students in this group then had the opportunity to receive follow-up coaching via text message or email throughout the rest of the academic year. The messages this group received were designed to not elicit a response. Themes of the messages were academic and study preparation, university resource information, and motivation/encouragement.
Online coaching plus two-way text coaching: This intervention was similar to the one-way text coaching intervention (online module followed by text messaging) with the main difference being that the text messages were more personalized (they were sent by upper-year undergraduate coaches) and encouraged responses, questions, and progress check-ins. Coaches were expected to communicate at least weekly with their students as well as follow up on issues specific to individuals’ needs.
Online and face-to-face coaching: Students in this group completed the online module and were offered personal coaches who met with them weekly for 30 minutes to an hour as well as via Skype, email, or text between meetings. The coaches offered guidance across a variety of topics including major selection, campus employment opportunities, specific coursework questions, and students’ anxieties and general emotional well-being.
Not all interventions were implemented on all campuses in all years. In 2015-16, one-way text coaching and face-to-face coaching were implemented on all campuses. In 2016-17, one-way text coaching and face-to-face coaching were implemented at the UTM campus and two-way text coaching was implemented on the UTSG campus. In 2017-18, two-way text coaching was implemented on the UTSG and UTM campuses.
The comparison group received a set of questions that required about 45-60 minutes to complete. The questions were personality tests and questions about risk tolerance and time preferences. The authors then emailed students a brief report describing the results of their personality test and how to interpret them.