Where to start? These are the basic technologies to improve retention

Here are a few examples of technology-based tactics that can keep students in college and help them graduate.

1. Access via mobile devices: For many students, smartphones may be their only personal tool for accessing the web, exchanging emails, performing calculations and more. Other students may use smartphones along with laptops and/or tablets, depending on whether they are reading, taking notes, studying or writing reports. By using such devices to connect to web-based services, students can optimize their productivity; work at times and locations that are most convenient to them; and more successfully balance school, work and other aspects of their busy lives. Mobile devices are also an important tool for engagement, allowing students to perform and document studies in the field; collaborate with other students, professors and researchers in virtually any location; and more.

2. Online learning and blended learning: Because online classes enable self-paced learning and assessment, they have become an important tool for remediation, course-credit recovery, gifted-student programs and regular coursework. Besides being able to personalize learning to individual needs, online classes make learning accessible to geographically distant students and those who must schedule learning around other work-life responsibilities. While online learning has many merits, researchers are finding that blended learning models have more potential than online-only classes to improve student outcomes and reduce attrition. These models typically combine online coursework with in-person interaction, real-time class discussions and other web-based learning.

3. Monitoring, assessment and early alert systems: By integrating information from a variety of sources (e.g., digital grade books, student information systems, learning management systems and financial aid records), higher education institutions can receive deeper insight into students’ academic and financial standing, evaluate risk factors and develop appropriate interventions.

4. Student portals: Effective student portals provide students with a clear, objective picture of their entire academic life. Students can track progress in meeting degree requirements, review grades and academic standing, connect with special programs and more. Portals can also help students be more proactive about financial issues by providing a central location for tracking tuition payments, scholarships, grants, loans and work-study.

5. E-portfolios: These web-based environments allow students to publish content that demonstrates their skills, achievements, academic performance and work experience. Besides helping students see the relevance of their work and prepare for future job searches, an e-portfolio may also be an early indicator of how a student is doing in a particular course or program. According to results from a project at the University of Notre Dame, e-portfolio engagement was an accurate indicator of student success in a course.

6. Video teleconferencing (VTC): VTC is an important tool for improving engagement among online learners, their peers and faculty, counteracting the isolation that students may feel when taking courses online, and making life easier for students who otherwise would spend time and money traveling to a physical location. Using VTC, institutions can also improve retention by offering courses and programs targeted to specific populations (e.g., gifted and at-risk students), bringing in researchers and other professionals for special lectures, offering research opportunities, and enabling collaboration among universities.

Web-facing services and applications present promising, cost-effective opportunities for colleges and universities to achieve their educational and institutional goals. Instead of operating in crisis mode to curb dropout rates, institutions can use web-based services to improve learning in a way that naturally supports students staying in school and completing coursework. By increasing engagement, personalizing learning and giving students more control over their academic lives, these services not only address student retention issues, but also create a learning environment that helps colleges and universities recruit new students and faculty.

Tom Ruff is the vice president for public sector at Akamai Technologies, a global leader in Content Delivery Network services.