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Making an Impact with Data

The key to student success is an institutional culture steeped in data, from faculty and administrators all the way down to the students themselves.

Recently at the Educause Annual Conference in Philadelphia, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Veronica Diaz, the organization's director of online programs and associate director of the Educause Learning Initiative, about ways higher ed institutions are leveraging technology to impact student success. The questions were thought-provoking:

  • How are campus leaders reinventing or solidifying their institutional and change management culture to promote student success?
  • In thinking about the future of education, what are some common changes or areas of growth students seek from their college or university in the area of digital learning?
  • How can the universities of tomorrow act with a heightened "student-centered focus" to serve the technology needs and meet the expectations of college students?

Of course, there are a lot of ways to answer those questions. But there's one theme that I think pervades all three: data.

Colleges and universities today are fine-tuning their use of data for decision-making and finding creative ways to identify the factors that really impact student success. That's a process that goes deep into institutional culture: developing a mindset that's data-driven and committed to data governance. It requires things like letting go of siloes, integrating systems so everyone has access to consistent information, agreeing on a standard set of data definitions, and demystifying data reporting so that even non-technical users can tap into actionable data. All of those efforts help institutions better understand their students and develop strategies (both in and out of the classroom) to better serve their needs.

But data is not just for faculty and administrators: It should be accessible to students, too. Data can help students choose courses where they are most likely to succeed, benchmark their progress with peers and more. Why go through college in a vacuum when there is information available to help guide you?

It's a happy coincidence that one of the 2017 Campus Technology Impact Award winners we are featuring in our November/December issue is about just that: putting data into the hands of students to help them get through difficult courses. Purdue University's Pattern app takes a page from the "quantified self" movement, allowing students to track their time spent reading course materials, working on problems, attending help sessions, going to office hours, etc., and suggesting ways to achieve better results. Project lead Beth Holloway gets right to the heart of this use of data: "Sometimes we don't always think through the fact that the learning environment has two groups in it — instructors and students. They both need to be committed. If we are only feeding data back to administrators and instructors, then we are missing out on an opportunity to have students be agents of their own success."

How are you using technology to help students succeed? Let us know by submitting your project for the 2018 CT Impact Awards. Nominations are now open at

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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