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2006 Campus Technology Innovators: Student Information Systems

2006 Campus Technology Innovators

Innovator: University of North Texas Health Science Center



2006 CT Innovators: Texas

medical students ahead of the curve.

Challenge Met

As at most medical schools, the large class sizes and lecture environment at the University of North Texas Health Science Center meant little faculty-student interaction. Individual students at extreme ends of the performance curve easily attracted faculty and administrators’ attention, but the majority of students floated from matriculation to graduation anonymously.

Yet, at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (a component school of UNTHSC), administrators wanted a better way to track students, and protect them from academic— and financial—pitfalls. “The average indebtedness of a medical graduate is more than $110,000,” says Jerry Alexander, director of academic information services at UNTHSC. “When a student is assisted through a proactive approach and is able to successfully graduate, the large investment of the student, as well as the state of Texas, is protected. Our goal is ‘no medical student left behind.’”

Alexander and the Academic Information Services team stepped up to the plate to design and implement a comprehensive online student tracking system.They focused on bringing all reports into real-time, electronic delivery: As soon as a student exam is graded, that information is immediately available online, integrated into his complete academic record, with full drill-down capability— from pre-admission data through the most recent test grade. So much data now is available that a full counseling report for a fourth-year student can run over 15 pages.

To cut data interpretation time, visuals are a prominent report element. Scores are colorcoded to reflect deviations from the class or national mean, and deviations are presented in bar charts, using the same colors. “If I see a lot of yellow on the report, I know I have a student in jeopardy,” says Bruce Dubin, associate dean for medical education,“and if I see a lot of green, I’m dealing with an excellent student.” In addition, says Alexander, the color coding aids in developing and applying academic policies. “A student with two yellow bands on a grade report for a semester will automatically be referred for academic assistance— thus at the first sign of difficulty, students are being directed to our academic counselors for guidance.”

How They Did It

At the inception of the project, Alexander and his team looked for technologies that met five key criteria: 1) internet-based; 2) a strong underlying database; 3) integrated graphics capability; 4) a robust middleware component allowing native connections to multiple data sources; and 5) strong business intelligence features, including data visualization and rule-based color coding. “Information Builders’ WebFocus met all of our requirements,” says Alexander.

A major design driver was navigability, says Alexander—a program so intuitive, the entire user manual could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Also key: Color and graphics would complement or replace text wherever possible.

Next Steps

The Academic Information Services team continues to fine-tune the tracking system, looking for ways to create a more complete picture of each student. “We plan to expand the project’s scope to include more ‘soft’ qualitative information about students (such as their extracurricular activities, interests, and career goals) to complement the ‘hard’ quantitative information,” says Alexander.


“Have a broad vision of what you want to accomplish, but start small and then expand,” says Alexander. “For example, begin by migrating paper-based, in-process grade rosters to an electronic format. Then identify new audiences for data that was previously needed but not accessible.” He also points out that there can be a second, unanticipated audience for such a project: students themselves.“We were surprised at the level of support and enthusiasm for the project among students. As administrators began using the report, news of the project spread among students and they began to come in and request a counseling session.”

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