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)

Pulsipher and Stein outlined a handful of ways data is changing the way WGU helps improve students’ experiences at all levels.

1. Make transparency king

WGU prioritizes data transparency across the institution. Data is pushed out to individuals who directly interact with students and make decisions about policy and at an individual level.

That lens offers clarity as the university leverages data to increase the personalized experience for students.

“We are transparent about everything going on in the student journey. If you can know, you should know,” says Pulsipher. “You should be able to know how a certain material is increasing student outcome. What profile learner is struggling with which particular facets of their program journey?”

2. Ask “why” and use the answers for improvement

Using performance metrics (is work accurate, fair, helpful, and quick?), university staff can identify areas where staff fall short and can improve.

Pinpointing how to invest in developing tools that enable faculty and staff better adapt to what a student is experiencing gives WGU better information about learner profiles. Pulsipher and Stein said their next focus is to enable faculty and staff on the front line to be more nimble as the university moves from reporting to real-time reaction to data.

3. Create tools to continue leveraging data

WGU is working on a Course Health Dashboard that examines course completion, how students use faculty resources, how students with different risk profiles experience the course and what their outcomes are, and explores how students engage with learning resources supporting the course. This helps staff look at fine-grain data about student profiles and the relationship between profiles, learner-resource engagement, access to faculty, and ultimately completion and outcomes of those courses.

“This is a very powerful tool for course instructors and program mentors as they understand the student experience inside this digital world, but also for our curriculum designers and assessment developers as they understand how to make these courses better and better over time,” Stein says.

WGU also is working on what it calls the Learner Care Dashboard that lets WGU get insights around the student journey through programs. The tool helps program mentors understand how students navigate the entire program as well as course sequence, scope, load, and pace as they move toward graduation goals. It also helps course instructors understand student progress through the course and manage their student cohort more effectively and efficiently. Stein says this helps instructors reach the students who need them most and ensure the students who master material quickly have the resources they need.

4. Take advantage of large-scale results

“As you’re using technology to power a student journey, you also create a very large-scale testing environment,” says Pulsipher. “We can analyze and isolate the impact of something we’re testing or trying to prove the effect on student outcomes because we’ve enabled that data-rich environment.”

5. Embrace and engineer change

“We are committed to change. We want data to prove out what change investments we’re making. All of that change we’re committed to ultimately impacts student success,” Pulsipher says. “You have to commit to change … and you have to be the agent of that change.”

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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