What is the Message Improvement Tool?

The Message Improvement Tool (Message IT) is a free tool for educators. It helps educators understand how messages (e.g., in syllabi, emails, lectures, posters) impact students of different groups. It is being developed through the Student Experience Project. It is still in beta, and we welcome your feedback!

How do educators’ messages affect learning and equity?

Even without meaning to, educators can make statements that discourage, demotivate, or alienate students. This makes students less likely to learn, persist, and succeed. Communication errors that harm student outcomes are particularly common and harmful when messages are transmitted across demographic divides to members of marginalized groups, including students of color and students who are financially stressed.

This common problem can be addressed when educators are intentional and systematic about the messages they send.

When instructors convey the importance of student learning and development (as opposed to intrinsic ability), students of color report being more motivated and demographic gaps in semester grades are cut by half (Canning et al., 2019).
When subtle messages in the physical space of a computer science course (e.g., posters, decor) conveyed to female students that they would not be stereotyped based on gender, they showed more interest in pursuing computer science as a major. (Chernayan et al., 2009).
When a college communicated to first-generation college students how their nontraditional backgrounds could be a source of both challenge and strength, first-generation college students became more likely to seek out college resources and earned higher GPAs (Stephens et al., 2014).
When colleges send out academic probation notifications that are attuned to students’ experiences and anticipated feelings, students report feeling less shame and greater likelihood of partaking in positive behaviours like seeking support from an advisor or tutoring (Brady, et al., 2019).

How It Works

Message IT helps educators understand how their students interpret messages in various artifacts (e.g., in syllabi, emails, letters, handouts, recordings, posters) so that educators can revise those artifacts in ways that enhance motivation, learning, and equity.

paper document with checkmark

1. Select an artifact

Decide what artifact you want to assess and improve. An artifact could be a syllabus, email, lecture slides, video, poster, web page, or an administrative letter—pretty much anything that a student might encounter.

open laptop

2. Configure Message IT

Sign into Message IT and follow the prompts to set up an “artifact.” You have the option to embed the artifact into the feedback survey or provide the artifact directly to students, e.g., by handing them a physical copy of a syllabus.

outline of three people in a group

3. Survey students

You’ll get a unique link that can be shared with students so they can complete a 5-minute, research-based survey.

charted data with magnifying glass

4. Review your report

Review a report that analyzes students’ reactions to your artifact and provides recommendations for improving your messages.

Advanced options:

  • Iterative improvement. If you want to refine your artifact and run a new analysis (to see if you improved it), you can create a new “artifact” with the new version and repeat the process.
  • A-B Testing. If you want to analyze multiple versions of an artifact, you can use the “collection” feature to compare your artifacts side by side and over time; contact copilot@perts.net for support using this feature.

About Message IT

Who can use Message IT?

Message IT is primarily designed for use by college instructors and administrators. However, it might be appropriate to other contexts as well, like high school. If you need support making implementation decisions, reach out to us at copilot@perts.net or set up a consultation at perts.net/officehours.

multi-story building with flag

Cost

Message IT is free thanks to support from the Raikes Foundation.

Raikes Foundation logo

Time

It takes less than 15 minutes from registration (by sending yourself a link below) to get through your personalized setup and start collecting feedback from students. You’ll receive a report the Monday after students complete a survey.

stopwatch showing 15 minutes elapsed

Sign up to get updates about future program launches

We are excited to hear from you! Please fill out the form below to learn how your college can get involved.

About PERTS

PERTS is a nonprofit institute. We believe that evidence-based strategies should benefit all students, not just the privileged few. To make research accessible to all, we empower educators everywhere to implement evidence-based strategies cost-effectively. We are so excited to bring you Message Improvement Tool and to make the latest research on social belonging strategies actionable to every college in the United States.

About the CTC

The College Transition Collaborative (CTC) brings together researchers and higher education leaders to create learning environments that produce more equitable post-secondary outcomes. Our work places the student experience at the center of student success initiatives, conveying to all students they are valued, respected, and can excel even in the face of difficulties and setbacks. We work with colleges and universities to ensure that, particularly during moments of challenge, students feel like they are able to persevere and that their school cares about their success.

Get Started