If knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon suggested, its supporting partner would undoubtedly be information. The kind of information that, in today’s world, can connect complex reams of disparate and often isolated data, and can help support better decision making and better outcomes. This is the promise of data analytics and, with its ability to capture behavioral information and provide the ability to manage and act on that data, it’s becoming of increasing interest to the world of education. With proven value in the fields of finance, research and in a thousand online applications, what might a marriage of analysis and academia look like? And what are the opportunities for colleges and universities to use data to secure better outcomes for students and further empower faculty?
Someone who understands many of these questions posed is Manoj Kutty, Vice President and Managing Director of Sales & Client Service for Barnes & Noble Education LoudCloud. “Before we begin any process with a client, we’re going to want to recognize what that school is trying to achieve with this better understanding of data,” he says. With its LoudSight Analytics solution, LoudCloud is able to provide clients with real-time predictive and performance based models to identify at-risk students from the first day of class, all integrated with the school’s existing applications.
Representing a key part of the total support solution Barnes & Noble College is offering to its campus partners, LoudCloud’s addition to the Barnes & Noble Education family is well-timed, considering the mounting pressures schools continue to face to increase enrollment and retention and ensure improved student outcomes. In his introduction to a recent webinar, “How Analytics Can Drive Student Success,” hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kutty underscored the point. He quoted the Center for National Education Statistics in their findings that of the full-time students who enrolled in 2008 seeking a four-year bachelor’s degree, only 60 percent completed their programs, and at some schools, the success rate was as low as 36 percent.
Could better student outcomes be achieved through a better understanding of available data? During the webinar, panelist and LoudCloud client, Joe Mildenhall, CIO at Grand Canyon University, thought so. “For Grand Canyon, like most institutions, the primary driver was increasing our focus around just how do we help students to be successful and provide them with the support they need,” he said.
Mildenhall pointed out that the required information is already available, with schools gathering increasing amounts of often siloed data from everything from student information systems, the LMS, and even data from the school’s housing systems. “But the real power comes from combining that information. Pulling it together into an analytics platform is where we really start to develop the power to study, understand and take actions for our students,” he added.
While Kutty admits that many schools are in the early stages of thinking about how they might adopt an analytics solution, the advantages were measurable. He suggests a “crawl, walk, jog, run” approach when it comes to understanding the analytics lifecycle. “Crawling” is just that—moving slowly toward just pulling all relevant data together, according to Kutty. “Walking,” he says, is your first opportunity to see if your reporting capabilities deliver the insights that will guide your school to success. And, finally, he adds, once you’re able to “jog,” that means you’re able to better predict—ensuring that your “run” phase empowers you to take the actions needed to effectively impact student outcomes.
The panel of speakers at The Chronicle of Higher Education webinar explained that strong data-based learning analytics solutions had enabled faculty and administrators to proactively identify, understand, and act on student behavior and performance, empowering at-risk students at the right time, to achieve greater success. “Using fairly rudimentary data points gave us the opportunity to intervene with students we believe might be highly at risk, as early as the first two weeks of their program,” stated David Vaillencourt, Chief Academic Officer at the College of Medical Professions. He claimed that kind of early support for online programs helped boost successful matriculation by 5 percent, and in one program by 10 percent.
There are, of course, challenges. Many schools face an uphill climb in trying to integrate disconnected systems and pull the data into a comprehensive real-time view of the student that could then be used to produce meaningful analytics. There are also other concerns, such as the mining of data, particularly on student completion rates, in an ethical manner. “We do that in a respectful way,” explained Dave Johnson, PhD, Director of Research and Analytics at Colorado State University. “We’re in close contact with our IRB board on data security, and we’re keenly interested in the ethics of data. We want to look out for our students and make sure they have the right concerns about privacy, coupled with providing speaking events with students and faculty to discuss those issues,” he said.
While analytics are proving to be a successful way to help colleges and universities seek new ways to measure and improve student outcomes, a better understanding of data might also yield some surprising results in another area. “We should be splitting up that term—academic and learning analytics,” said CSU’s Johnson, “Academic analytics help with things like first-year persistence rates, graduation rates, even the success of certain programs,” he says. “Learning analytics can help us determine what’s happening in the course and just how our students are learning. Whether or not they’re taking away that key knowledge and those key skills that are not only going to help them with their majors, but whatever they’re going to choose as their professional career.”