Targeting Interventions to Improve Student Outcomes in Higher Education

Jacqueline Wong

Specific educational problems, such as reducing achievement gaps between racial minority or underrepresented groups, supporting women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related career, helping first year college students as they deal with change from high school to university, can be addressed with interventions targeting these psychology-related issues. Harackiewicz and Priniski (2018) categorised a wide range of interventions into three main types: i) task value interventions that focus on how students perceive value in academic task, ii) framing interventions that focus on the way students frame academic challenges, and iii) personal values interventions that focus on students’ personal values. The three types of interventions differ in the focus area of students’ attention and reflection.

Task value interventions elicit the importance of the course content by having students write personal goals that highlight the relevance and utility value of the academic task or by completing writing exercises that encourage students to think of the value of the task themselves. Such interventions place an emphasis on how students perceive the value of the subject matter and connecting these perceptions to personal goals using a process of reflection. Therefore, task value interventions are most relevant to enhancing engagement and performance in specific courses. Framing interventions are used to positively influence students’ outlook by framing challenges as common and can be improved. Such interventions are aimed at helping students cope with difficulties and are most relevant for supporting adjustments during academic transitions and performance at a general level. Personal values intervention reinforces personal values rather than value of the academic task. The intervention promotes that idea that reinforcing a students’ sense of identity and self-worth protects them from identity and self-worth threats, so that they can direct their attention to coping with the challenges in college. Like framing interventions, personal values interventions are most relevant for academic transitions and performance at a general level. 

A detailed review of the studies according to the three types of interventions was conducted by Harackiewicz and Priniski (2018). The authors concluded that the studies reviewed used these interventions to target a range of educational problems. Furthermore, strong empirical support was provided for each type of interventions, suggesting that these interventions are effective in improving student outcomes in higher education. However, the studies have targeted different problems with measures that were not comparable. The generalizability of the findings was limited since there were very few studies that directly replicated previous studies. Therefore, understanding how, when, and for whom these interventions work is a continuous and important journey for researchers in the field of such targeted interventions. 

Harackiewicz, J. M., & Priniski, S. J. (2018). Improving student outcomes in higher education: The science of targeted intervention. Annual review of psychology69, 409-435.

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