Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics

View of London from the QEII Conference Centre

This was the title of a presentation I gave at the recent Higher Education Conference and Exhibition on the 16th October 2019.

HE Conference
HE Conference

My presentation was entitled Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics and covered the following areas:

  • Tackling the student mental health challenge by utilising data to enhance student support mechanisms
  • Transforming learning experience and helping students learn more through personalisation and analytics
  • Utilising practical mechanisms for engaging with staff and students in order to make smarter procurements in tech

My talk was only 15 minutes so I had to cover a lot in quite a short time. I decided that I would expand upon my talk and include some links to the reports and research I mentioned.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Tackling the student mental health challenge by utilising data to enhance student support mechanisms

This is an important space for universities and it’s also a sensitive space. Universities know they need to reduce student stress.

We have seen a sharp rise in drop-outs, in 2015 26,000 students left higher education.

I talked a little about what we’ve done

We have published the following reports:

Jisc have also undertaken an early discovery phase on some aspects of work including suicide prevention/intervention and looking at the two recommendations that came out of the Horizons report. This was a short exploration of an idea carried out by a mixture of Jisc staff and experts from universities.

The two recommendations were:

  • A wellbeing data trust — can we use a data trust arrangement, like those being explored by the Open Data Institute, to enable a variety of organisations to share sensitive data related to student wellbeing? The data trust would need to be endorsed and trusted by students and focused on helping them rather than the organisations sharing the data
  • A wellbeing bundle — can we produce a bundle of quality-assured resources that universities and colleges can purchase quickly and easily to enhance their wellbeing offer? The bundle would need to include e-books, wellbeing apps and services related to wellbeing

Jisc aren’t working alone, they have been working closely with UUK, the NHS, the Office for Students as well as a number of universities.

One of the key considerations which I emphasised in my talk was the ethical considerations. Mental health and well-being

A recent blog post on the Jisc website expands on our work in this space.

There are some tricky issues – university students are adults and we need to respect their privacy and make sure we support them with sensitivity and care. However, that does not mean we should not talk about the value of data-informed approaches. We owe it to our students and young people to see what we can do to take the detective work out of mental health and wellbeing.

Anyone in the sector who has ideas about how technology could be harnessed to improve mental health and wellbeing support for students can join a dedicated mailing list by emailing:

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

The second part of my talk was on analytics.

Transforming learning experience and helping students learn more through personalisation and analytics

Work really started on leaning analytics ten years ago, data was being collected for a range of reasons and it was wondered if the data might provider other insights.

About that time I was working at Gloucestershire College and we had been working on an early learning analytics technology we called Stars and Stripes, which collected attendance and assessment data that could provide early insights into learner progress and outcomes. The key reason was to make earlier interventions to ensure those learners would succeed, so improving retention and achievement.

We know that universities have lots of systems, each collecting data, often in isolation. By bringing all that data together, you can start to look for patterns. This enables you to make data informed decisions, addressing strategic challenges and goals.

I mentioned how visualisations and dashboards can be used by staff to understand what the data is telling them, but noted the importance of data literacy in using such dashboards.

We often talk about personalisation, but I did question what we mean by personalisation? Making learner easier to meet the needs of specific learners. However what needs should be meet?

I often think of personalisation in terms of the context of when and where the learning is happening and with whom.

A video may be great for a learner on their own with great bandwidth and connectivity. But what about a learner who is travelling, who doesn’t want to use their own data contract to access that video, could we provide them with a downloadable e-book? What about a learner who is driving to university, could we provide them with a podcast instead of a video? What about activities? Large group, small group, individual?

I talked about some of the stats of the Jisc Learning Analytics Service.

  • 750 million  records  in the LDH
  • 24 HEIs  signed up for using the LA service  –  all at various stages
  • 7 FEIs signed up for piloting  LA  in 19/20
  • 40,000 + students have used the  Study Goal  App this month (at least once)
  • Almost 7000 staff have used  Data Explorer  Dashboard  this month  (at least once)

I then talked about impact of learning analytics on the student experience, it is important to think about the impact.

I also talked about the validity of what you discover through analytics. We need to ensure we understand the different between correlation and causation. Just because those who access the VLE (or the library) in the first few weeks of their course go on to achieve higher grades, doesn’t mean making all students use the VLE (or the library) in the first few weeks. If you do, don’t be surprised when the students’ grades don’t go up.

I emphasised the importance of the ethical aspects of analytics.

Jisc have published a code of practice for learning analytics.

Setting out the responsibilities of educational institutions to ensure that learning analytics is carried out responsibly, appropriately and effectively.

Analytics is more than just data about learning, adding in more datasets allows you to understand more about your organisation. I spoke of our work on well-being, but Jisc are also working on campus analytics, curriculum analytics and there are other considerations for the future as well.

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

I then went into my final section.

Utilising practical mechanisms for engaging with staff and students in order to make smarter procurements in tech

Do our staff have the necessary capabilities to utilise the systems we provide? How do you know?

It’s never just a matter of training, that can tell people how to use a system from a technical perspective, but if they are digitally capable then they can use the system in the best way to support their work.

Part of the challenge with capabilities is that people are not very good at judging their own capabilities. Generally they either think they’re better than they actually are, or they don’t think they are as good as they are.

I talked about Word styles in my talk and this blog post from 2016 explains why knowing how a person uses styles tells you a lot about their digital capabilities,

Word styles

I mentioned our Digital Insights reports that arise from asking your staff and students how they feel about technology.

Jisc’s insights surveys provide powerful data on how students and staff are using technology in learning and teaching. They are designed to help institutions to understand and improve the digital experience they offer and address the challenges they face.

Digital experience insights survey 2019: findings from students in UK further and higher education – the full report of the 2018-19 survey with data collected from 29,531 students studying at 50 different FE colleges, sixth form colleges and universities across the United Kingdom (published September 2019)

If you want to utilise data and analytics effectively, you need to know where you are starting from, and how to build capacity and capability in this space.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I finished off my presentation with some of the wider consideration universities needed to think about in relation to the use of data and analytics.

Using data and analytics for data informed decision making is a journey. It’s not a straight line journey, there are barriers and unseen dangers.

We need to start lay down the foundations that will enable a future that includes data informed decision making

However today often much of our data is in silos, which results in siloed decision making. Our data is often locked down in proprietary systems.

We need to play for the future, we need to break free of our traditional thinking about data. One way to start thinking differently, is for example, a data lake, a single store of data, one true picture of data.

My final point I think is probably the most important point of my presentation.

We mustn’t forget that digital is not about the data, nor the technology, digital is about the people.

Here are my slides on Slideshare.

As you can see they are all images (well except the title slide and the final contact slide). I like presenting with just images I think that slides full of text (and sometimes unreadable text) can sometimes distract from the message, rather than enhance it.

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