Teaching Non-Cognitive Skills via Technology

I attended a Re-Imagining the First Year webinar last week at UCF called Integrating Noncognitive Skills into the First Year Experience. Since I run first-year programs for STEM majors, I thought it would be an interesting spin on the transition pieces I teach in the Introduction to Research courses required by the scholarship program. I took a lot away from the webinar, mostly how to categorize a “non-cognitive skill” into sections of skills and interventions.


According to Dr. Ross Markle at ETS, non-cognitive skills can be categorized in 4 categories:

  • Academic Skills
  • Commitment
  • Self-Management
  • Social Support

To be frank, some of these categories lends itself more towards the retention efforts of a First Year Experience (FYE) program, as described by University of South Carolina UNV 101 – Course Learning Outcomes. Retention can be two-fold, and depending on the side you fall on, it will balance out with the other skill categories. The skill categories above, can then be broken into specific skills, or outcomes, you would like your students to learn and the types of interventions that work with the specific skills. The big catcher, though, is the psychosocial development of the student and whether or not the student is ready for the type of intervention you plan/have with them for the specific skill you would like them to learn. Have I lost you yet? Don’t worry! I made sure the source was shown below for your viewing pleasure!


This is why I believe my skills and knowledge base are perfect to break into this new realm of teaching “non-cognitive skills” using educational technology tools and principles. 

Specifically for the program I coordinate at UCF, I categorized the needed non-cognitive skills for the first-year, transfer, STEM students wanting to potentially continue onto graduate school after a bachelor’s degree. From the skill categories provided by ETS, I will be able to create a non-cognitive skill curriculum to align with the transition of the students and the coursework of the Introduction to Research courses.  This is all the in the works, and I hope to post about the actual plan to share with others later in the summer.

The plan is to then take the possible interventions and translate them into a technical or online capacity. I’m envisioning a website of multiple modules, activities, or reflections students can be directed towards and can explore freely when they experience the harder knocks of their transitions to a 4-year university. I hope to flesh topic areas, pathways and ask our peer mentors to help contribute to the knowledge base for our students to take advantage of while in their first year at UCF.

Until then, I will do some light reading with some of the resources I found today:

What else would you recommend me to look into? Please send sources my way!


  1. Hi Colleen,
    What an interesting endeavor! I certainly could have benefitted from some non-cognitive skills instruction or counseling throughout my early undergraduate years. I completed my undergraduate degree in elementary education in 8 years. For me, it was a maturity issue. I came from a household that pushed me vigorously to over-perform in high school. So when I began my freshman and sophomore years at a four year university (USF, actually), my motivation had completely waned and I was overwhelmed with the bounty of freedom in which I found myself. My opinion regarding non-cognitive skills instruction is that it is beneficial and can really help students cope with the demands of attending college. However, I also share the opinion that sometimes students need to walk away in order to readjust their priorities. I say that because during my struggles I forced myself to continue enrolling even though my heart and my head were not in my academics. I then found myself with a lot of debt and too many credits to finish my degree. I was very fortunate to have fought my way through paying out of pocket until my GPA was high enough to qualify for grants and scholarships from UCF. I tell you this personal anecdote because I am not sure what the official “goals” are for advising students for retention purposes, but I guess I believe that sometimes in order for a student to attain their degrees they need to walk away in order to find their way back. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

    • Colleen Smith

      Hi Mary, Thank you for your insight! I agree that retention is a difficult, and sometimes, a case-by-case basis. I think it really gets into the idea of higher education as a business vs. service. The service would be to advise students on their best interest (not their family’s) rather than advise the student in the school’s best interested (higher performance and retention percentages). How do you think you would have responded to an online financial literacy module if an advisor suggested it to you? Would that have given you a bigger picture to think about your finances in more of a long-term idea, rather than a semester-to-semester basis?

      My philosophy is to give students the knowledge/tools to apply to their own life, so that you give them the power to make decisions for themselves. Ideally, I would like to create online resources for students to take advantage of, similar to the financial literacy module I mentioned. Thanks for your comments, Mary. The authentic student voice is always welcomed when trying to innovate new ways to learn.

  2. Neshea Griffin

    Colleen, once again I am very impressed and inspired by your efforts and movement in support of first-year STEM majors at UCF. I think your plan to make interventions digitally accessible will be of great support to the students.
    It was great working with you, and learning from you this semester! I look forward to continuing to prepare K-5 teachers and students in areas of STEM education, in hopes that they will one day enter your program.
    Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Have a wonderful summer.


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