Saturday, May 8, 2010

A New Amenities Arms Race: Student Success

Donald M. Norris
President, Strategic Initiatives, Inc.

For the past two decades, American higher education has been engaged in a sort of “amenities arms race” of epic proportions. As institutions vied for the attention and favor of ever-more sophisticated student consumers, they have acquired a generation of shiny new academic and research facilities; plush athletic stadiums, practice fields, and wellness facilities; commodious residence halls, condominium-like student apartments, and student unions with every feature from rock climbing walls to bistros to juice and coffee bars.

The aftermath of the Great Recession has slowed the pipeline of campus construction projects and dimished future prospects. But it has given fresh impetus to the race to offer an amenity of enhanced importance: improved student success. Students are demanding better feedback on what they need to do to succeed and fulfill their learning objectives on time and within their budget. Shrewd and purposeful institutions have developed a range of analytics-based tools, practices, alerts, and interventions than enable them to develop policies that improve student performance and better advise and inform students. They are also acting decisively and in real time to alert and assist students whose performance deviates from the patterns that have characterized cohorts of previously successful students.

Consider the following examples of action analytics in practice in support of student success in courses:

Purdue University has been one of the pioneers in applying predictive modeling, longitudinal data and large-scale data sets to student success.
They have mined data from systems that support teaching and learning to provide customization, tutoring, or intervention within the learning environment – this is what they call “Actionable Intelligence.”

One of their most successful efforts has been the Signals program, featured in an MSNBC news clip. Using historical data, Purdue deployed predictive modeling to identify patterns of behavior and performance in introductory gateway courses that led to success and compared them to current student efforts. Students receive a red, yellow, or green indicator to show them where they stand. Starting as a pilot, this effort has scaled to 500 gateway course sections enrolling 11,000 students at a cost of $47 a student. John Campell demonstrated this application at the First Symposium on Action Analytics.

While technology is the enabler, the Purdue Team feels strongly that it is the capacity of the organization - people, skills, and processes - that makes the difference in a successful intervention system. This system has made tradeoffs between predictive perfection and scalability; it focuses on actions that are made possible by the analytics. Purdue has partnered with SunGard to develop a commercial version of Signals that is available to other institutions.

Capella University embeds analytics in every aspect – academic and administrative – of the student experience. Capella is a market-drive (for-profit) university that uses predictive modeling to increase application rates, enrollment, and course attendance; to improve academic performance and the learning experience; and to increase persistence. Capella’s leadership and faculty are dedicated reflective practitioners. They have studied student behavior and success and understand both the characteristics of online learners and the elements of successful online learning experiences for their students. Five factors differentiate the online learning experience as a platform for predictive modeling:

• Online learning generates a huge amount of data
• The data arrive in a cyclical manner,
• Capella has a long-term engagement with learners
• They can monitor learner behavior on different time scales
• Learners have more freedom in managing their time

For Capella’s online learners, the first week is everything; students who get off to a bad start seldom catch up. So Capella perpetually monitors students, uses predictive modeling to match them to past patterns, and sends tailored messages to students to get them on track and keep them there. Predictive modeling and artificial intelligence are key elements of the management of every student’s learning experience. Alex Ushveridze of Capella University demonstrated these modeling techniques at the First National Symposium on Action Analytics.

These analytic mindsets and approaches also affect learning outcomes. Capella’s offerings are based on competence. They utilize embedded templates, rubrics, and analytics to enable students to acquire competences and demonstrate them in ways that are understandable to employers. Jeff Grann and Kim Pearce demonstrated Capella’s approaches atCapella is sharing its ideas and practices through the Action Analytics in Education Partnership and the Action Analytics Community of Practice, seeking to advance transparency and accountability in higher education.

Many institutions have developed “home-grown” predictive modeling tools for recruitment, keeping students on track, and improving student success.
Most leading-edge community colleges have similar versions of these tools to manage and improve student success. Last year, Ken Moore from Sinclair Community College described his institution’s retention and student success practices and at this year’s National Symposium, Vernon Smith from Rio Salado Community College described his institution’s efforts to develop open source solutions to student classroom progress and success. There are many models to emulate and improve upon - and these approaches have a high return on investment, when done well.

Powerpoint presentations of the Purdue University and Capella capabilities can be found at the Public Forum for Action Analytics website. They will be featured in an upcoming Webinar, along with other cases, in a Webinar announced by John Hammang of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). The time and date for which will appear on the Public Forum for Action Analytics.

These developments were discussed on May 5-7 at the Second National Symposium on Action Analytics in St. Paul Minnesota. At this meeting, institutional leaders and practitioners, policy makers, and foundation representatives discussed how to deploy and leverage analytics that will provoke action to improve student access, affordability, and success and enable the rediscovery of financial sustainability.

The sense that emerged from this meeting was that the imperative for concerted, aggressive action to improve student success has grown dramatically given the current state of the economy and family finances. Students are demanding better feedback and support in improving their odds of success. Their demands are destined to grow and they are likely to vote with their feet – and their clicks – if they are unsatisfied. Learners can be counted on to ratchet up their demand that the current generation of intervention and advisement tools be enhanced and extended.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Launching the Action Analytics Community of Practice

Donald M. Norris

I’m on my way the Second National Symposium on Action Analytics, hosted in St. Paul Minnesota. This Symposium is part of a coordinated effort to support a national agenda on action analytics, undertaken by the Action Analytics in Education Partnership (AAEP). It has been my honor to have been involved with the AAEP from its conception in brainstorming sessions more that a year ago with Dr. Linda Baer, Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and Dr. Michael Offerman, currently Interim President of Capella University.

The Action Analytics in Education Partnership (AAEP) includes the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, a the nation’s fifth largest system of two-year colleges and state universities; Capella University, a 17-year-old proprietary university; The Shank Institute for Innovative Learning, a nonprofit think tank focusing on future technology and learning organization; and Strategic Initiatives, Inc., a for-profit developmental consulting firm that is known for its ground-breaking work in leveraging technology to transform practices and outcomes in higher education. Other partners are being sought to provide other perspectives.

The Partnership’s mission is to capture, share and implement best practices in analytics and predictive modeling and to encourage the breadth and depth of use of action analytics across higher education institutions as a tool to ultimately improve institutional performance and student success in postsecondary education within the context of financial sustainability at the institutional, state, and federal levels.

Intermediate success will be achieved when we have a viable Action Analytics Community of Practice with 1) well-defined issue domain, 2) vibrant community and subcommunities, an 3) clearly articulated practice principles and tools that attract a critical mass of practitioners, thought leaders, and policy makers and have achieved financial sustainability for the community. Longer-term success will be achieved as we influence the effective practice of action analytics and support the development of the capacities of individuals, institutions, policy makers, foundations, accreditors, and educational agencies to measure qand improve performance and reimagine learning to meet the needs of the post-Recession global economy.

AAEP has launched and seeks to sustain a national agenda on the use of action analytics and predictive modeling to improve performance of the postsecondary education system and support the successful completion of postsecondary degrees by U.S. students. The predictive modeling emphasis will support better data decision making among students and faculty. While data are important, the expanded capacity to determine best interventions for students given the data is the critical element in making a significant difference in student success. The goals of the initiative include: establishing a repository of best practices in improving student readiness, retention, and success and achieving financial sustainability; instituting a dynamic observatory of new competencies and skills needed to be proficient and effective professional in advancing student success through analytics; establishing a community of practice (CoP) among analytic practitioners and policy makers; and hosting the second and third annual National Action Analytics Symposium.

The First National Symposium identified a range of desired actions, including securing sustaining funding, launching the community of practice, and articulating a National Agenda. These have all been accomplished. The AAEP has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and we are launching the Action Analytics Community of Practice tomorrow at the National Symposium. The National Agenda is posted on the Public Forum for Action Analytics, a public community that serves as the “front porch” for ideas and materials developed by the Community of Practice.