Tools of the Past Need to be Different for the Future

I’ve always been fascinated by Moore’s law.1 The fact that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years while the cost is cut in half is absolutely incredible to think about. This concept of perpetual change, continuous evolution and improvement is amazing. While I’m sure the law doesn’t directly apply to changes in all facets of life, improvements are being made in the tools we use and how we operate on a regular basis.

In higher education, we can see the improvements in the tools and the systems we utilize. Decades ago, we didn’t even have computers. Then we began collecting data in Excel files and Access databases and evolved to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and Student Information Systems (SIS). There are probably countless other auxiliary applications and systems you use to collect data about your student populations.

But as we continue to grow and evolve, the tools we use to collect data about students and the ability to analyze and interpret the data to take action becomes more complex. This is why the tools of the past need to be different for the future of student success. 

The Future Tools for Student Success

Are you considering, implementing, and utilizing tools that enable you to:

  1. collect and store all relevant data about your students,
  2. engage, interact, and monitor the behavior of your students, and
  3. leverage advanced analytics to fully analyze and understand your students.

Let’s look at the tools in more detail:

1) Student Data Collection Tools

Many institutions have already implemented robust CRM and SIS systems. You need to have those foundational tools in place because they will help you collect and house the appropriate data to use future tools effectively. However, having the tools in place without having consistent and standardized processes and procedures on how your team can use them can still be problematic.

I can collect any data point about an individual student, but if I don’t capture similar data attributes about other students, I won’t know what that data can even tell me about my entire student population or how students compare to each other.

To eliminate the old mantra of “garbage in, garbage out,” you really need to put these types of foundational tools in place, but they need to be in the hands of the right people, and they need to be following consistent processes.

2) Engagement Tools

We can no longer rely on systems of record alone. We need to use applications that help us proactively engage and communicate with our students. Systems that allow you to poll or survey your students can be vital because they allow you to gather even more data about your students.

These tools can help you gain behavioral or motivational cues about your students. In addition, other applications such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) or student communication portals are critical because they allow faculty and administration to interact with students easily.

These systems enable you to schedule sessions, provide nudges and alerts, and ease the communication across the institution with each student. These types of engaging tools support an individualized approach, especially in a virtual world.

3) Advanced Analytics Tools

The previously mentioned systems allow you to collect and store student data and help you engage and learn even more about their behaviors and interactions. However, the wealth of data now at your disposal creates a new problem. There is too much data about every individual student for any human to comprehend and analyze easily.

New and innovative tools of the future really are the ones that allow you to analyze the interplay of every data attribute about your student. At a minimum, you can consider Business Intelligence (BI) tools as a starting point, but even those only help you aggregate and analyze trends.

Advanced analytics tools leverage machine learning to consume all the data you have about your students and provide meaningful and actionable predictions and prescriptions for each individual student.

Whether 100 data attributes or 1000 data attributes, advanced analytics can determine what is really driving individual outcomes, something we as humans don’t quite have the capacity for.

Read the first post in the series, Are Your Student Success Strategies Ready for the Next Decade?

The Virtuous Circle of Data for Student Success

I don’t want you to think of these tools as being a linear path for implementation, but rather, they all act together in a virtuous circle.

While you need to have the CRMs, SISs, and other systems of record in place as a foundation, consuming that data into an advanced analytics tool can help you identify insights and actions to take in a student engagement tool. Once those actions are taken, now you have new data to collect and store in your CRM or SIS, which informs an advanced analytics tool, and….well, you get the point.

The tools of the past need to be different for the future. I doubt Moore’s law will enable us to support and engage twice the number of students every couple of years, but with the right tools in place, we can absolutely build effectiveness that will enable efficiency. And hopefully, in a couple of years, the tools at our disposal will be even better!

Check back in August to read the third post in our series. The topic is how to define and develop an institutional team for a holistic student success strategy.

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Brandi Phillips, Executive Consultant, Student Success at RNL, co-authored the blog.