Final Four: Having “nun” of the old-school analytics

There may be two kinds of higher powers at work in this captivating March Madness tournament. Sister Jean has become the darling of the 2018 NCAA tournament for her powerful belief in offering better analysis to support her team’s coach, even as she occasionally breaks with data and turns to a different higher power.

As each of these teams are deep into statistical analysis to define their path to victory, let’s draw inspiration from Sister Jean and look at how asking better questions yields more actionable data that can strengthen team performance.

You could ask, “What is the average number of points Duncan Robinson gets in a game?” and the data would show that he averages 9.5 points a game. Or, “How many points does Ibi Watson score per game?” and the data would show that he averages 2.3 points per game.

Those answers tell you something, but it isn’t as informative as asking, “How many points does Robinson (or Watson) get per minute he is on the court?” It turns out that, this year, Robinson averages 25.9 minutes and Watson averages 5.6 minutes per 40-minute game. Translating these stats into a comparison reveals that Watson scores .4 points per minute, while Robinson scores .36 per minute in the game.

(Next page: How to ask the right questions to get the right data)


5 ways data humanizes the student experience

University leaders know data is critical to their success, and many institutions are leveraging data to humanize the student experience and improve student outcomes.

During SXSW EDU, Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governor’s University (WGU), and Marni Baker Stein, WGU’s provost and chief academic officer, outlined some of the ways WGU uses data to improve its performance at all levels.

WGU, which is competency-based and totally online, adheres to a student-centric model that tailors learning experiences to student needs, Pulsipher says, and it focuses on programs instead of individual courses. In those programs, competencies are aligned with workforce demands. The goal is to produce students who are equipped to excel in the workforce.

“We are data driven. We use data and technology to adapt the experience to every student’s needs,” he says. “When we do that, we increase the probability that any learner can succeed and achieve their degree.”

(Next page: 5 ways data improves teaching and learning)


How my university is disrupting higher education

If higher education is a ship, it has struck an iceberg. It’s taking on water rapidly, and while the situation is urgent, many people on board simply refuse to acknowledge what’s happening.

The lifeboats in this metaphor? Disruption.

That may sound a little dramatic, but it’s undeniable that many colleges and universities are stuck in 20th-century—or even 19th- century—models of higher education. In our 21st-century world, that’s no longer acceptable. Institutions are floundering, and if they don’t start to catch up, they are going to sink.

The need for disruption

Disruption in higher education needs to happen everywhere, from admissions processes to business practices and from the way we teach to the way we determine student outcomes.

At Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri, we’re examining every aspect of what’s “traditional” in higher education, right down to the core of the culture. Higher education should be fueled by the desire to deliver opportunities and build meaningful career prospects for a wide range of students. It should not be driven by a sense of elitism—by outdated notions of who deserves to participate, whether it’s who gets to attend or who’s in the room to make decisions about the future.

(Next page: See how Maryville is changing the way it delivers instruction, upgrades the student experience, and more)


How to use social media to boost your alumni network

We started doing the Instagram Takeover to showcase what life is like as a graduate of Northeastern University. Instagram Takeovers, which cultivate a stronger sense of community and connection through conversation, collaboration, and sharing ideas and stories, last for seven days—Monday to Sunday. During that time, we expect alumni to post as least one photo a day that gives our followers a look at their life. These photos do not need to be in the office: They can depict a city, hobbies, volunteer work … it’s up to them.

The idea for the Instagram Takeovers was sparked by a case study presentation made at the CASE Social Media and Community Conference in Chicago in 2016. On the last day, DePaul University shared how they would let students take over the university Instagram account for a week to share their experiences while studying abroad, working an internship, or just living on campus. As I walked out of the presentation, I started brainstorming ways to bring this behind-the-scenes concept to the alumni community. Internal support for the idea was so overwhelming that in May of 2016, I rebranded the @northeastern_alumni Instagram account to be solely alumni Instagram Takeovers. I haven’t personally posted a photo to our account in 660 days and counting.

Through this strategy, we are able to leverage passionate alumni to help us create valuable, personal content that we would not have otherwise been able to capture and share.

Here’s how we make it happen.

Step 1: Recruit wisely.
Alumni who facilitate Instagram Takeovers are carefully selected and vetted before given access to our account. Initially, we worked with alumni who were already connected to the Office of Alumni Relations as volunteers, previously featured speakers, or just friends of employees.

Over time, this pool started to grow organically. Now, we have several additional means of recruitment beyond direct outreach, including recommendations from alumni who previously facilitated takeovers as well as regular promotion of the opportunity in digital communications.

(Next page: How to do an Instagram Takeover on your campus)


Learn from a malware analyst and empower your colleagues about security

Information security has gotten a reputation as the “Department of No,” the place where new ideas go to die. This is especially problematic in a higher ed environment, where exploration is a central purpose. What if there were a way to protect our users, our systems, and our data without squelching innovation?

When your job requires “breaking the rules” of security

Security practitioners, on the whole, are very fond of lists of best practices that presume an ideal set of circumstances unlikely to be present in real-life university and college environments. There’s always that one machine that requires legacy software so that a specialized tool can be used, or the user who simply must be allowed to access things that make security folks want to scream in horror.

One of the most common pieces of security advice is “Don’t click on unsolicited or suspicious attachments.” But what if receiving unexpected files is actually a necessary part of what you do? Students as well as staff face this situation, and criminals are actively taking advantage of this necessity to spread their creations. Not to mention that expected files or links can still expose us to digital hazards such as macro virus infections or malvertisements.

Do what the malware analysts do

Rather than shut everyone down by fiat or throw up your hands in resignation, let us consider the example of malware analysts, whose job is to wade through a never-ending sea of files that are very likely to be harmful or malicious. And yet, malware analysts can do this safely.

While it might be an ego boost to say this is just because we’re such a professional and skillful bunch, the reality is that it’s also because we have tools in place that protect us from accidents and mistakes. It’s crucial to have understanding as well as effective layers of defense.

(Next page: How to keep your colleagues safe)


Big data–you’ve got it, now what?

The adoption of big data in higher education has been relatively slow due, in part, to privacy concerns. The sheer volume of information can also be overwhelming. Institutions may not know how to best harness and make sense of such large amounts of data.

But the big data trend is just beginning. A 2016 Forbes article stated that institutions are increasingly becoming aware of how useful and impactful big data can be for everything from assessment to accreditation. And, even more important, quality tools now exist to help institutions gather, store, and analyze this data so it can be used to improve student success.

Higher education leaders should be proactive about both recognizing the potential of harnessing big data and pursuing the right tools, programs, and people to manage it. Here are some things they should consider.

What is your end goal?
The term “big data” refers to “data sets, typically consisting of billions or trillions of records, that are so vast and complex that they require new and powerful computational resources to process,” according to So, what are these trillions of records and what should an institution do with them? First, figure out your end goal. Here are some examples of how big data can be used.

(Next page: Learn the right tools to harness the power of big data)


How technology can improve the student experience

Student attrition is a major issue for American colleges and universities. Studies show that more than one-third of undergraduates who enroll in college leave before completing their degree programs. Attrition among first-year students alone cost taxpayers more than $9 billion between 2003 and 2008, representing about 20 percent of education spending in this country.

These aren’t abstract statistics—they have tangible effects on nearly every institution. The average university, for instance, spends around $8,800 on each student who leaves college after one year, and that number can balloon to an average of $40,000 when the student withdraws after three or more years. And that’s not even counting the loss of a lifetime of donations that college graduates provide to their schools. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that there is a strong correlation between high attrition rates and poor financial health.

The user-experience problem

Attrition represents a significant source of waste at our educational institutions. That matters in today’s higher-education climate, in which less and less money comes from state sources and students are expected to pay more out of their own pockets. Colleges simply cannot afford high attrition rates.

So why do students leave? A small number of them discover in their first year that, for lack of a better phrase, they are simply not “cut out” for college. But that’s by no means the main cause of dropping out. In fact, academic distress often does not figure into attrition—only 10 percent of students who leave have GPAs below a C-level. By comparison, one report found that there are four reasons for departure that account for 84 percent of the attrition rate:

1. the college doesn’t care about its students
2. poor service and treatment
3. investment not worth it, and
4. difficulty with schedules.

In other words, logistical issues are far more likely than academics to lead a student to drop out. And most of these issues are completely preventable.

(Next page: How technology can help you fight student attrition)


4 smart strategies to make your cloud transition smooth

Despite tightened budgets and fewer resources, universities are under increased pressure to sustain enrollment, maintain a competitive edge in attracting students and staff, and subsequently meet growing student and staff expectations. According to a report by the University of New Hampshire, funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the U.S. is nearly $10 billion below recession levels. This challenge has left administration and campus leaders wondering how they’ll navigate this new era of higher education.

To overcome such obstacles, leading universities have turned to a unified cloud-based infrastructure that can deliver the data and insights needed to keep pace with the demands of students, faculty, researchers, and other institutional stakeholders. Like many other sectors, changes to the education landscape are driving the transition to the cloud and making digital transformation an absolute necessity for thriving, growing universities.

While many colleges recognize the need to upgrade legacy systems and processes, unanswered questions often put these initiatives into a holding pattern. How big is the project? What technologies should they be looking into? How much budget will this take? What are the first steps? What to do with legacy systems? Are these new technologies secure? And what will they need to think about once new technologies have been implemented?

Here are some strategies to help universities take that first leap towards the cloud and transition to modern-day campuses.

1. Get management to buy in early. When implementing a campus-wide cloud transition, it’s important for the cabinet-level leadership and other key stakeholders to fully understand and support the transition. However, getting management buy-in can be one of the toughest, yet most critical, steps in the digital transformation. To ensure the immediate and long-term success of the cloud transition, all university leaders must understand that operating in the cloud isn’t a “nice to have,” but a de-facto standard for a modern campus.

Clearly communicate the benefits of operating in cloud-based platforms to management so they recognize the existing challenges and issues the cloud can help address; are aware of the up-front costs and investments required, the resulting benefits, and specific KPIs the cloud can positively impact. With a good understanding of the transition, management will help foster the support needed to ensure the project runs smoothly and is ultimately successful.

(Next page: More strategies to ease your cloud transition)


3 ways to transform your campus to support BYOD collaboration

Learning in the digital age has become more mobile, social, and technologically rich. Many professors are spending less time lecturing and more time assigning collaborative group projects that rely on IT tools as connection points for students. This shift has big implications for classroom design. Higher education institutions are creating active learning classrooms with movable furniture and adaptable workspaces. Interactive touchscreens, large displays, and digital tools that allow interoperability between various devices are becoming common sights in university classrooms, lecture halls, and libraries.

Immersed in daily use of technology, today’s typical student brings a smartphone, tablet, or laptop into the classroom—along with high expectations that they’ll have access to tools that will help them learn, share, and communicate their work in real time.

To keep pace with this emerging landscape, higher education technology leaders should consider the best cost-effective ways to embrace bring your own device (BYOD) collaboration on their campuses.

Here are three ways college leaders can encourage digital collaboration by transforming traditional study rooms, classrooms, and lecture halls.

1. Huddle spaces.
Already embraced by businesses, huddle spaces are making their way onto campuses. The idea is to create a small space in which students or faculty can meet face-to-face and work together on a project with access to digital- collaboration tools. Typically, a huddle room features a large display that’s easy to connect to using a range of devices and platforms. The goal is to create an environment where participants can easily share and edit documents, presentations, images and more.

(Next page: More ways to support BYOD collaboration)


What’s next for higher ed?

Education as an industry has undeniably missed the change cycle. Today’s higher education system is based on foundations that were built centuries ago for a country fundamentally different from the one we live in today. Historically, higher education existed to train the clergymen in subjects that many today consider to be “intellectual nice-to-haves.” Over time, the shift in U.S. population demographics resulted in a need for specialized, almost vocational training programs; however, universities were not able to make that shift.

University tuition has become more expensive, the curricula less useful, and high-paying jobs less accessible for today’s college graduates.

In our lifetimes, we will see three major shifts in the U.S. higher education system:

1. The demise of many ineffective, traditional, four-year universities programs.
2. Increased accountability among traditional higher education survivors.
3. The rise of mainstream alternative education platforms (in person and online).

Public funding for higher education in the United States is gradually decreasing. Overall state funding for public colleges in the 2017 school year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level (after adjusting for inflation). As states sponsor less and less, these institutions are forced to find other ways to survive. More often than not, this means increasing tuition. However, increased tuition, thus far at least, has come without a higher quality of education and more successful career outcome metrics. Schools that cannot create positive return-on-investment (ROI) career outcomes for students will close.

(Next page: How will higher ed rebuild itself?)