There are many factors that go into how an instructor uses data at the higher education level. It could simply be that faculty member’s comfort level with collecting and using data to inform decision-making. It could be the way information is gathered – whether it’s at the administrative level and even makes its way to the instructor. It could be that the data is gathered but never used to determine next steps.
Whatever the situation, it is a fact that not everyone is using data to make decisions that can benefit the students in their classrooms. Here are some ways instructors in higher education might be able to better use the data available to them – or even get that data in the first place – to improve student outcomes.
Feedback early and often
Many colleges and universities are good at data collection. The problem is usually how to use the overwhelming amount of data that a school has access to. But instructors can collect their own data and use it in a timelier manner than they might already be doing.
Often instructors don’t ask students for feedback until the end of a semester. That might help them prepare for the next semester or the next year, but it doesn’t help the students who are giving the feedback. If instructors conducted more timely surveys asking for more immediate feedback, they would be better able to gain insights that can help those students in the next weeks or months…or maybe even in the next class.
These surveys can be about the curriculum itself, or they could be more about how students are feeling in a class day-to-day or week-to-week. An important aspect of the survey experience is trust. If students trust that the instructor will be using the information they provide to help them, they are more likely to be more honest in their responses and give more valuable feedback to the instructor. On the other hand, if an instructor is asking questions that don’t show any results to the class providing the feedback, they are less likely to put the kind of thought into their answers that the surveys are designed to find out.
Use the information you have
Some of the data that has been collected for years might prove to be valuable in a way that instructors just might not have thought about before. Maybe an instructor has always collected information about a student’s obligations outside of the classroom. But collecting the data and acting on it are two different things.
It’s one thing to know that a student is the first in his or her family to attend college. It’s another to do more frequent check-ins with that student to make sure he or she is getting needed support because that person might not be receiving it from a family member who has not had the same experience. It’s one thing to know that a student is working an overnight shift to help support his or her family, and again, it’s another to shift due dates for the class assignments to make sure that student has the time needed to complete the work. There are a number of examples of colleges that have zeroed in on warning signs at which they can take action to make sure students are put in a position to find success.
Look to the K-12 model
There are often strategies used in elementary and high schools that don’t always take off in the world of higher ed. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. Many schools in K-12 have professional learning communities set up that examine student data and try to use the data to improve a student’s experience.
The use of a data team can take on many different forms – it can focus on curriculum or it can focus on an individual student. But the one thing all data teams have in common is making a data-driven decision about how to improve an aspect of learning, whether that’s the way the material is taught or what can be done to make sure the student is in the best possible situation to learn the material.
It doesn’t have to be a group of instructors who are all working with the same student. Colleges and universities with a successful technology implementation plan are already bringing together diverse teams from around campus with an interest in using data in better ways. Those same people might be able to look at the data in a different way than an instructor and make up a data team that can offer a perspective the instructor hadn’t considered.
An instructor doesn’t always need to be a data expert to use information to their advantage in the classroom. Sure, comfort level helps when it comes to working with data. But a willingness to do the work involved to take information and make sure it is helping students find a path to success is even more important. That’s when the data can make a difference.
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