As I See It: #4 on Student Outcomes, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my fourth in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #4: Improving student outcomes through an institutional approach that strategically leverages technology

Student outcomes is defined as referring “to either (1) the desired learning objectives or standards that schools and teachers want students to achieve, or (2) the educational, societal, and life effects that result from students being educated. In the first case, student outcomes are the intended goals of a course, program, or learning experience; in the second case, student outcomes are the actual results that students either achieve or fail to achieve during their education or later on in life.“[http://edglossary.org/student-outcomes/]

In simpler terms, I tend to link student outcomes to the success of the whole student – in life, in practice, in work. How well do we throughout a student’s educational career prepare them for their life post-graduation? How exactly can an institutional approach using technology improve a student’s educational experience through life preparedness?

Technology is pervasive. It encompasses every moment in our lives whether we see it or not. The extent of impact ties directly in with adoption, adapting, embracing. For some, technology is viewed as a threat. It’s your job to educate these individuals on the benefits of technology and the impactful use of technology to help allay the fear. For others, technology is viewed as an irritant. Sure it’s always there, but rather than glare at it, find a way (or ways) to integrate technology in a useful way into your life and/or classroom. For most, I hope, technology is embraced as a wonderful facilitator for process improvement and time savings. Here are just a few examples on how to impact student outcomes through the use of technology:

  1. Increase communication/feedback between student and faculty. It is common for an LMS system to offer a variety of ways to enhance communication between the teacher and the taught. Masking personal contact numbers/information yet allowing text-like functionality empowers faculty to send messages and students to receive them via their preferred device(s). A learner’s engagement is tied directly to consistent feedback. “When appropriately timed, constructive and encouraging feedback supports student learning, can motivate students to do their best, and helps to instill an ethic of continuous improvement.” [http://concordiacollege.edu/files/resources/whatfacultycando.pdf] Find out what your LMS is capable of doing for you and use the tools provided. If you need help, contact your technology department.
  2. Increase student engagement on campus, especially during their first-year experience. Track the ‘first-year’ events and non-academic participation to ensure that engagement opportunities aren’t being missed or ignored. At Fairfield University, we’ve implemented OrgSync to most effectively track student participation in activities outside the classroom. Why? “Participating in high-impact activities such as learning communities early in college can launch students on a trajectory of achievement that benefits them both in college and beyond.” [https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/what-student-engagement-data-tell-us-about-college-readiness] Make sure that your campus activities are targeted and substantial, then track student participation and be aware of ‘early warning signs’ via non-participation. Can you tie this into a requirement? Even better.
  3. The path to graduation. From core curriculum through defining major and advising (and perchance major changing), a student needs to play a pivotal role in their educational path and feel like a participant every step of the way. A software like DegreeWorks provides faculty access to their advisee data, a student access to their current path and a variety of what-if scenarios – what if I want to change my major?, what if I take this course instead of that course?, what if I get a C in this class, how will that impact my GPA? DegreeWorks provides an attractive, web-based environment to plan a future. It can help a student avoid taking a class that might negatively impact their planned graduation date. It provides a real-time status on degree completion. It provides a 24/7 feedback environment for students as they make degree choices. 

Technology can be a scary word for some and the root is commonly fear and the unknown. The sooner you empower technology adoption and excitement on your campus, the sooner you can use technology to have a direct and positive impact on student outcomes.  

Always remember, if there is a process, there is a way to improve it via technology. Once you map out your campus processes in full, you can easily identify duplication of efforts and cumbersome lags that oftentimes inhibit student success. Try to ensure that as you consider technology as a solution, you are eliminating complexity in the process and not adding to it. Our students are golden eggs that should be coddled through graduation and beyond. Ensure that their experience is positive and their path seamless.

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