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Strayer U Pilot Shows Student Success with Predictive Analytics

A university that has been testing out the use of an analytics infrastructure to improve student outcomes and retention has reported positive results, including improvements in attendance, course drop rates and course success.

Strayer University, a for-profit institution with about 43,000 on-campus and online students in its fall 2015 enrollment, has been working with analytics software from Civitas Learning, including Student Insights Platform and Inspire for Faculty. The first is an online program that integrates and analyzes data from multiple sources and applies predictive analytics to provide users with information about student behavior and engagement. The second helps instructors pinpoint those students who are doing well and those who are struggling in order to target outreach and interactions.

The institution's goals were to identify the most promising initiatives for increasing student-faculty engagement, improving behavioral mindsets and closing a gap that existed between the success rates of courses taught traditionally and those taught online — an important consideration in a university where four in five students choose to take some or all courses online

As part of its data operations, Strayer generates unique snapshots of the progress students make each day, measures the time spent in online learning activity compared to classmates, captures the number and type of posts within student forums as well as the times of day that students log into their study portals. The outcome is a portrait of a student's study practices, communication preferences and best potential sources for support and motivation.

In a pilot involving Inspire for Faculty, the participants personalized outreach through targeted and carefully timed messages intended to "catch" students before they went off course. Here's where the upbeat results came into play: In an 11-week experiment, compared to a control group, the students most at risk experienced a 5 percent increase in attendance, an 8 percent decrease in course drop rate, a 12 percent improvement in course success and a 17 percent decrease in the overall number of students considered at-risk.

"Historically, online faculty have had very limited insight into whether their outreach to students led to incremental or substantial benefits — or none at all. With sophisticated analytics and faculty dashboards, we can support much higher levels of faculty interaction to engage students and replicate an experience that is more like an on-ground course," said Joe Schaefer, the chief technology and innovation officer for the company that runs the university, in a prepared statement. "This analytics layer allows us to deliver encouraging messages at the moments when students need support, measure what's working and change course as needed."

He noted that the effort to "move online faculty interactions to the same level of human interaction as on-ground faculty have" can help to humanize and change the culture of the school's online teaching and learning. In fact, according to a brief about the university's analytics work, Strayer recently began approaching development of its courses with an "online-in-mind first" perspective.

As one user of Inspire for Faculty noted, just the use of a heat map feature in the program helps him predict by week 4 how well any given student will probably do in his course. Michael Curran, an instructor at Strayer, said he uses the heat map to identify at-risk and higher achieving students and to tailor the messages he sends them.

"I've compiled the data at the end of each of my terms using the heat map, and I know now that if I can get students to be a green or blue dot by week 4, they will succeed in the course more than 90 percent of the time," Curran explained. "When I log in each day, I go straight to my dashboard, look at the data in front of me, make my plan for the day and begin making my videos. I have reward and challenge messages for blue dots, different motivational messages for green dots and so on."

Curran also publishes a weekly "leader board" showing which students are green and blue. "I have students message me a lot in the first couple of weeks of each term and they want to know what color dot they are. I let them know on day 2 that they do not want to be red dots," he said.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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