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Technological changes to how institutions analyse student data have paved the way for Higher Education Analytics

As a senior administrator in higher education over many years, the most enjoyable time of year for me and most of my colleagues was graduation. A joyous occasion where our full focus was on the achievements of our students; something we were delighted to be able to share with the students, their family and friends.

Over the years, I became increasingly aware of the students who, for many reasons, didn’t make it to graduation at all. The challenges they faced were such that they were unable to progress in their studies to the point where graduation was a real option for them. It was not unusual to ‘discover’ that students had dropped out long after they had actually left. In the most extreme cases, this could happen at a final board of examiners meeting where the opportunities for recovery were limited. At best, we might have realised something was ‘amiss’ somewhere in the institution. One of the many academic and student support elements within the institution might have ‘known’ something but the sharing of this information was usually problematic.

Too often I’ve heard the phrase “if only we’d known we could have …” when it was clear that it was too late to help. The reality was that the challenges these students had faced need not have resulted in their failure or, worse still, the end their journey through higher education altogether. The critical point here is that we usually did know ‘something’; but found out much too late in the day to be able to do something that would make a difference for the students.

Over the years, I began to gather and analyse student-related data to see if I could generate a holistic picture to help me to detect key ‘patterns’. Further analysis of these patterns could be used to identify and help students in need of our support through meaningful and appropriate interventions. This was the beginning of higher education analytics for student success. I know that like-minded colleagues in other institutions were doing exactly the same thing, but we all faced the same time challenge. Our dilemma was how to get the relevant information to the right people within a timeframe that enabled effective interventions to be delivered.

Blog - How Learning Analytics is changing Higher Education

It was not unusual for many weeks or even months to have elapsed before critical data ‘surfaced’. Enormous effort was expended in trying to find ways of identifying where the data was recorded, and sharing this with appropriate colleagues to enable the necessary support interventions. Obstacles to this included organisational structure (academic and professional support), processes (a lack of consistency in many cases) and systems (everything from sophisticated databases to handwritten notes).

The result was that the vast majority of staff time was spent searching for data that might ensure that these key interventions could be delivered effectively when they would be of most benefit to students. Whereas this was achieved in some cases, it was not the norm and the time delays inherent in the existing arrangements continued. Sadly, this meant that the available help and support for students was less effective than it could and should have been.

Much has changed since those days and, at the start of this third decade of the 21st century, the SEAtS Student Success Platform is a proven solution to transform higher education analytics. The SEAtS platform ensures that high-quality help and support is available to students and can be delivered in a timely and effective manner. From the real-time alerting of students ‘at risk’, through seamless case management to the use of cutting-edge learning analytics that use artificial intelligence, the intractable time dilemma is a thing of the past. The traditional resource usage conundrum has been turned on its head with the vast majority of time now being available to deliver targeted effective support rather than searching for someone who might need help.

Put simply, with SEAtS we now know which students need our support and it can be delivered when they need it most: now!

About the Author

Philip Henry is a former U.K. University Registrar and Secretary with almost 40 years’ experience in higher education in the UK and overseas. He was an active member of the UK’s AHUA, ARC and AUA (a founding Executive Committee member) and AACRAO and ARUCC in North America. He is still engaged in the sector as a passionate advocate of initiatives to support student success and has submitted articles to AACRAO’s College and University quarterly journal on this subject.