In the Classroom Multi Ethnic Students Listening to a LecturerMany colleges and universities are focused on using data and analytics to help students succeed. But what does that look like in practice?

The answer is different depending on the schools. One thing they have in common, though, is that they rely on data that shows them which classes students are struggling in the most. Here are a few ways institutions of higher education have found success intervening on behalf of students who need help.

Giving students explicit guidelines for success

Kennesaw State University offers an introductory-level online class that was resulting in high dropout and failure rates. Administrators determined students were coming to KSU without the self-management skills necessary to do well in an online environment. The school zeroed in on certain indicators that could tell them a student might be set up for failure: whether they completed a certain assignment, for example, or even bought a textbook or logged in to a course by a certain point in the semester.

The school set up checkpoints to help guide students with their work. Not only were they given an assignment, but the students were also told how success on that assignment could predict their success in the course overall. Likewise, they were shown how turning the assignment in late or without the necessary effort could impact their overall grade. The change resulted in a 48% drop in dropout and failure rates over the first two years in which it was instituted.

Immediate classroom feedback

Florida’s Hillsborough Community College identified a problem with students in its algebra courses. The courses are prerequisites for Hillsborough’s other STEM offerings, and while enrollment in those programs was increasing, the algebra performance was decreasing.

A grant allowed the school to redesign a number of its math courses, incorporating new software and active learning environments that provide feedback not just in the moment for instructors in the classroom, but also that they could share with their colleagues to improve the classes overall. In-class embedded quizzes allowed instructors to make sure students were taking good notes during lectures and provided immediate feedback about whether or not students understood a concept. Pass rates for some of the introductory classes skyrocketed, and Hillsborough is working on expanding the use of some of its new tools to other courses.

Digitized learning materials

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the course that was flagged for improvement was Anatomy and Physiology, an introductory course that half of its enrolled 1,200 students each year were failing. The school’s assistant professor of educational psychology knew data analytics could help flag which students were in danger of failing the course. To allow instructors to help, he began gathering the necessary information by digitizing learning materials.

A prediction model was created that looked at what students were clicking on, and based on the work they were (or weren’t) doing, what their likely outcome would be in the class. Students who were in danger of not doing well were e-mailed a reminder before a test that the test was coming, and the e-mail included study materials as well as tips for success based on the practices of students who were performing well. UNLV found that about a third of students who received interventions performed better than expected in the course.

Schools are constantly working on ways to improve communication and help put students on a path to success before they are in over their head and unable to get back on track. Those interventions could be the difference between a student staying at a school or moving somewhere else to continue their education.

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John Sucich

John has more than a decade of experience in education as a teacher, board member, and communicator. He also spent several years in sports journalism. John graduated from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism and from Lesley University with a master's degree in elementary education.
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