UT Austin's public policy school gets online learning right
(TEXAS) — As schools across the country rethink online education, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin has already discovered new strategies to engage students through its Summer Stretch online learning program for incoming students. Summer Stretch, which took place June to early August, fostered community, stymied "summer melt" — when some students get detoured from college between acceptance and the first day of classes — and prepared students for their upcoming experience at the school. Summer melt affects up to 40 percent of students and disproportionately impacts low-income students.
One hundred and seventy incoming students participated in Summer Stretch, where faculty researchers and practitioners discussed core concepts on issues of immigration, national security, social policy, energy, public management and more.
"This framework can generate a new set of educational strategies amid a new era of online education," said Angela Evans, dean of the LBJ School. "Summer Stretch kept the students engaged during the summer, connected them to the LBJ School, improved readiness for the rigors of our masters and Ph.D. programs and made incoming students active in community building."
Summer melt in 2019 was at 8.9 percent. Ahead of the fall 2020 semester, the LBJ School was able to increase the class size by 5.4 percent and keep summer melt stable at 9.17 percent.
Students have said:
- "The discussions have been so interesting and varied and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to explore more of what is available to us in the community at the LBJ School," said Alex Rose, an incoming public affairs student from Los Angeles. "It's such fertile ground. And in these moments of feeling a bit disconnected from each other, it's wonderful to be welcomed into the community in this way."
- "I want to thank the LBJ staff and faculty for this Summer Stretch program," said Pablo Pejlatowicz, an incoming public affairs student from Argentina and a university lecturer who also moved to teaching online. "Foremost, this program provides an insight into the faculty and staff personality, and overall, the Summer Stretch is a great way to anticipate the academic offerings of LBJ. These sessions helped me to choose some of the courses or projects that I might not have looked into before."
The Summer Stretch program also included online orientation, summer career programming like workshops on resume, cover letter and portfolio checklists, student-led programming like a "Welcome to Austin" panel, and a town hall on COVID-19 updates.
Students also attended the school's LBJ In the Arena series, which launched days after the university closed in March 2020. The live, virtual series featured faculty in conversation with experts at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. The series will continue into the fall and explore contemporary policy issues.
Summer Stretch concluded with a Pandemic Simulation developed in consultation with staff from NASPAA and the Center for Gaming and Simulation at the University of Virginia's Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
Summer Stretch was developed through a faculty and admissions staff partnership.