Oct 01 2019

A Roadmap to Student Success — and the Technology That Can Get You There

Academic and university success are intertwined, and through communication, data analytics and personalized learning tools, institutions and students can win together.

From active-learning classrooms to data dashboards, universities are adopting multiple new technologies to ensure the greatest number of students can reach their potential. 

With so many options available, it can seem overwhelming when universities must decide where to invest resources to improve student success

A recent article from Deloitte Insights highlights “high-impact, low-cost” ideas for college leaders to use for academic achievement. 

Education technology exists to help administrators reach some of these goals. Specifically, these solutions emphasize improving communication between stakeholders, using uniform metrics to measure success and making culture shifts to focus on personalization. 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out how universities are using artificial intelligence to boost academic performance.

1. Open a Dialogue on How Students Can Best Succeed

One of the most important aspects of creating a culture of student success is listening to the students themselves. Without their input, administrators may spend time and resources on innovations that end up having minimal or no effect on academic performance.

As Pearson notes in its report “The Future Learners,” incoming freshmen in 2020 will represent the most diverse population in higher education, and Generation Z students will have high expectations for the services their campuses provide. 

Student segmentation is one approach universities can take to inform where they should be putting campus funds to best serve their students. Segmentation uses digital surveys and data analytics to put students into distinct categories of learning styles. As eCampus News reports, these are:

  • Traditional learners: These students accept conventional styles of teaching and view higher education as a way to prepare them for life after graduation. These students will benefit greatly from the hands-on opportunities of an active-learning classroom, or perhaps boot camps established through corporate partnerships
  • Hobby learners: Students in this category are much more likely to take the lead on their own education. They may be more likely to gravitate towards shorter, online credentialing opportunities, which let them try different styles of learning while still gaining skills they need for the workforce. 
  • Career learners: These students are in college for the love of learning. They thrive in an environment that combines academics with career services. Career learners are likely to be enthusiastic about using videoconferencing tools to speak with potential employers or about career badging, in which students can receive certifications or academic credits for the hours they have spent at internships developing certain skills.
  • Reluctant learners: As the name suggests, these students will not be enthusiastic about their learning experiences and are more likely to underachieve if not prompted to do otherwise. Universities can serve these students by offering online modules that give these students the flexibility to learn as they like, while also giving professors a way to stay in constant contact with students through online communication tools.
  • Skeptical learners: Skeptical learners appreciate college for the social experiences they will gain, while showing little to no passion for the academic side. Universities can serve these students by re-creating online learning environments to mimic face-to-face interactions, through either digital lecture tools or videoconferencing solutions.

Once universities understand the breakdown of their student populations into each of these categories, administrators can work with IT teams to create technology-based programs and campus services to benefit students on the greatest scale. 

2. Create a Shared Narrative to Track Progress

Similar to a physical map, a roadmap for academic success should have key landmarks to let stakeholders know how students are progressing along the way

At some universities, faculty and IT leaders are collaborating to use student data dashboards, which accumulate and analyze student data to give an accurate assessment on whether students are on track or need extra assistance. 

One recent trend in developing student success has been “nudging,” where universities track students’ performance and send messages offering positive reinforcement or support services for students who need it.

At the University of Washington Tacoma, the university reached out to a third party to develop a program that could help first-year students stay on track. The nudges were not always about academics; they could be messages about financial advice or about where free food was being given out on campus.

Using this system, UW Tacoma and other institutions with similar programs saw a 6 percent increase in degree completion.

In some cases, universities can even track the progress of students’ high school performance to get a head start on offering assistance when those students enter college. 

At Georgia State University, administrators have been entering academic performance data from high school classes considered to be essential markers for collegiate success into a predictive analytics database. Drawing on more than 800 different risk factors, the program can mark any red flags that might point to students needing more support when they kick off their college careers. 

The program has improved six-year graduation rates from 48 percent to 55 percent. While there is still work to be done, the numbers show tracking and monitoring student progress can help get struggling students across the finish line.

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how student data dashboards are helping academic advisors give their students the support they need.

3. Personalize Learning to Promote a Student-Centered Culture

Students are more likely to succeed when their universities show an investment in each student’s academic achievement, and personalized learning initiatives can be a great way to do so. More widely used in K–12 education, personalized learning has moved slowly entering the higher education space, and universities are trying to find ways to reassure their students that they care about academic success on a personal level. However, experts say institutions may be missing the mark.

“This has led to differentiated learning models in which students are presented materials based on assessments conducted prior to the class,” Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois Springfield, writes for Inside Higher Ed. “But that approach too often fails to adapt to progress during the semester and misses opportunities for exchanges and synergies among all learners. 

It is also most practical only when there are enough classes to support multiple sections at the differentiated levels or multiple groups within a single class.”

Innovations in artificial intelligence are helping to solve for this problem. For example, universities are beginning to experiment with Netflix-style academic video hubs to make it easier for students to personalize their learning to fit what they want to study. 

The applications are still relatively new, as AI as a curricular tool is still in its infancy. However, Schroeder maintains there are opportunities to use this technology to help students create a learning environment that works for them

By combining these three focus areas, universities can work with students to promote academic achievement on a personal level while maintaining financial success as institutions.

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