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Students First: Using Analytics to Get Big Results

By Jody Robbins


Imagine an academic counselor available to students 24/7, always having student needs in mind and quick to give a “nudge” when needed.

DeVry University has partnered with Civitas Learning Space to provide that to students in the form of Inspire, a tool that uses academic analytics to “nudge” students who might be starting to falter, and works to keep them engaged with useful communications pertaining to their academic success.

“The Civitas analytics show us engagement. We’re able to create heat maps and can nudge students based on their engagement, to kind of keep them going,” says Dr. Lynn Burks, national dean at DeVry University and the Keller Graduate School of Management. “Different students have higher or lower levels of engagement, but everybody may benefit from some nudging and we’re seeing the results in terms of student success. When your heart and soul are engaged, your mind is engaged.”

In addition to offering Inspire as a service to students, DeVry has also created an entire student care team of advisors who take a holistic look at how students participate in their education. This helps determine adjustments that could make a long-term difference in future success. They partner with faculty to help them engage with students using Inspire and other methods.

Optimal Learning, Optimal Results

Educators, engineers and technologists are working to improve the way students learn online and how they interact with the academic community. This can be especially important early on in the education process, says Dr. Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

“It’s important for students to understand their academic progression from the start, to help them ascertain their long-range plan,” Gardner says. “They need to know how to leverage the skills they’ve learned into a career path, and understand what commitments they have to make to move forward.

“A two-year degree in computer science or technical skills is a good start, but you can get stuck, so it’s about trying to open students’ minds to multiple pathways. That takes conversation and building a narrative, and it’s important to start those narrative conversations earlier so that this isn’t just a reminder system.

“As educators, we have to look at how students are doing on a macro level. Nudges have to be followed by conversations and questions like: Where will your education take you? What do you want to do? It may help to have someone there to do that and find out what they really want to do and make sure they’re on the right path.”

The Learning Experience, Updated

Our society is at a point with technology where learning, even remote learning, is social. A student on a ship in the middle of the ocean can still plug in and participate fully in the educational experience.

“You have certain students with low and high levels of engagement, but sometimes people need nudging, and we’re seeing success there in terms of student success. Positive nudging that helps you achieve,” Burks says. “My role is to develop a community of faculty who embrace technology. There are programs to tap into passion and engage them, and we’re doing that.”

At the same time, those players are collaborating to use data resources and a communications framework to assist students with their educational plans, both in a long-term planning sense and also in nudging them on short-term and immediate objectives.

“We’re looking at a broad range of software applications to do a variety of things, like monitoring what kind of combinations students are taking and how they’re doing in those classes,” Gardner says. “If they’re having issues and we can find that out, we can structure class-taking and enrollment patterns so that students can be successful and graduate on time.”

Gardner has been studying the transition from college to the workplace for more than 20 years. His areas of research include the transition from college to work, early socialization and career progression in the workplace, workforce readiness and other areas related to college student studies.

“Technology gives us opportunities to expand awareness and can enrich the learning environment for students,” Gardner says. “You have to be intentional about nudging them to make decisions and then you’ve got to create an innovative practice environment where they feel safe experimenting with the execution of the narrative they’ve built with help from faculty and advisors.”