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Focusing on the Whole Student

Data generated from activities both inside and outside the classroom can be instrumental in understanding student success.

A couple of years ago, CT did a story on the role of Student Affairs departments in boosting student success — and how they use technology to help students feel more connected to the university. Non-academic organizations such as Campus Life, Housing and Athletics were using IT to give students a sense of community, a forum for communication and more, all under the premise that better-connected students do better academically.

The article quoted Leslie Dare, director of technology services for academic & student affairs at North Carolina State University: "Promoting the holistic development of our students is a critical contributor to retention and success. It's important for those of us working with technology to help others in student affairs — and in academics! — understand the impact of technology on our students' experience, both inside and outside the classroom."

Ever since, I've been fascinated by the idea that activities outside the classroom can have an impact on learning — and how technology can be used to exploit that link. So I am particularly interested in one of our 2015 Campus Technology Innovators award winners: a Ball State University project called Ball State Achievements. The institution's Student Affairs and Emerging Technologies departments partnered to create a mobile app that incentivizes students to form social networks, attend campus events, get involved in student organizations, make use of the career center and even maintain a healthy lifestyle — all things that are designed to engage students and connect them with campus resources.  

The beauty of doing all of this in a mobile app is the large volume of data that can be collected. Ball State administrators plan to measure students' participation in a wide range of activities, get a quantifiable, holistic view of student life and examine how it relates to retention. And they are taking time to gather that data — the institution has made a three-year commitment to the Ball State Achievements project, and hopes the effort will eventually pay some dividends through the state of Indiana's performance-based funding model for higher education.

"If we invest in the app, but increase retention by a certain percentage, then through our performance funding formula, our program could end up paying for itself. That is our goal," said Kay Bales, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. While it's too early yet for conclusive data, it will be very interesting to watch how the Ball State Achievements project develops over the next few years.

Ball State's focus on the whole student is familiar territory for Oral Roberts University, which issued Fitbit and Garmin Vivofit activity trackers to students this fall as part of its philosophy of educating the whole person — mind, body and spirit. We interviewed ORU CIO Mike Mathews for our November/December issue feature, "How Data From Your LMS Can Impact Student Success," who said "the Fitbit is a wearable piece of intelligence" that the university is feeding into its D2L data analytics system and using for data mining and reporting. Students' movement, heart rate and calorie burn patterns are tracked in the LMS as if they were weekly quiz grades.

A workout at the gym may not link directly to retention rates, but it certainly contributes to a student's overall quality of life — and, as Ball State and ORU are exploring, that probably has some part to play in academic success.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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