6 September 2023

Of Show-Cause and At-Risk: Causes of Academic Underperformance

By Communication Media

Every university uses a mechanism to identify academic underperformance in students. The primary objective is to provide needed study support to these students.

This guest post is by Dr Callie Lau.

However, students need to recognise that there is a need for them to adjust their learning approach. It is common to see students whose prior performances seemed promising but who then underperform in a semester during their studies. Some students can improve their performance in the subsequent semester by adapting to the new learning environment. Meanwhile, there are others who cannot or struggle to improve their performance. As a result, they find themselves spiralling downward in subsequent semesters. These students move from a ‘show-cause’ status to an ‘at-risk’. Often, students could have avoided such a distressing transition if they acted as soon as they noticed their performance falling below expectations. Specifically, this includes struggling to meet deadlines and being unable to understand the subject content a month after the semester’s commencement.

It is observed that show-cause and at-risk students are individuals who did not take immediate action. This may be because they believed they could manage the situation independently, or because they did not see the initial struggle as a problem. Nevertheless, the causes of academic underperformance are due to the following.

Misalignment of Field of Study and Interest

The issue of the lack of motivation is the major cause of underperformance among at-risk students. Misalignment problems are the result of pressure from home or peers. Consequently, students make choices that do not align with their future career paths. Or they sign up for a business degree when their interests are in other disciplines, for example, information technology.

Time management and Control Issues

The development of coursework is driven by educators who believe it is unfair to evaluate a student’s performance solely through a three-hour final examination. As a result, many academic institutions, including Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus (Swinburne Sarawak), have transitioned to using a combination of coursework and final exams as assessments. At Swinburne Sarawak, the final examination of most subjects carries approximately fifty per cent of the final grade while assignments and small tests contribute to the remaining fifty per cent.

This shift significantly emphasizes effective time management from the start of the semester. The failure to do so can lead to a student’s inability to manage coursework, meet assignment deadlines, and adequately prepare for final exams.

Help-Seeking Attitude

One prevailing issue is that instead of actively addressing their study challenges, many students tend to request for extension to their assignment deadline. While Swinburne provides comprehensive support to enhance students’ learning journey, the way students seek help can impact their academic experience. While students may seek assistance from Student Services for invaluable resources, they can also benefit from the guidance or service of their unit convenors, especially when facing subject-specific issues.

The last two factors contributing to underperformance may stem from students’ under-preparedness for the shift to higher education, which typically embraces a more student-centred approach compared to secondary education. Often students are encouraged to take ownership of their studies and adopt a proactive learning stance, adapting one’s learning style is a gradual process.

Recognition of Learning Style Changes

Therefore, students must acknowledge the need to adapt their learning styles. This includes recognizing that a successful transition requires being ready for change and seeking help when needed. This proactive approach is critical to ensuring their success in higher education, which although not easily altered overnight, can be progressively refined through sustained effort.

Dr Callie Lau lectures in economics at the School of Business, Faculty of Business, Design and Arts, Swinburne Sarawak.

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