Ithaca College officials launched a student-facing student success dashboard in February, with data related to each student’s academic life, activities, interests and support network at the institution.
With the dashboard, faculty members, advisers and staff are empowered with data to streamline a student’s academic progression and make interactions more efficient and effective, as well as identify gaps in the student experience. “What we’re trying to do is maximize all these wonderful people’s ability to be the wonderful people they are, and the information just helps them to do that,” says Benjamin Costello, executive director of constituent engagement strategy at Ithaca.
The inspiration: In 2017, Elizabeth Bleicher, dean of student success and retention at Ithaca, collaborated with a colleague to determine the most efficient way to improve retention and student outcomes.
“We discovered that we were a data-rich and information-poor campus,” Bleicher says. “The data was all over campus, and people weren’t sharing it.”
The data silos negatively impacted the student experience, she explains, because students in search of help had to re-explain their situations to various members at the university, instead of having a documented central information location.
“At a certain point, a student stops knocking on doors, and we wanted to take that burden off the student,” Bleicher says.
Advisers, professors, support service staff and other stakeholders also had difficulty locating or identifying relevant student information in the various systems.
In their brainstorming, Ithaca staff prioritized student privacy and a more permanent record of interactions to reduce anxieties around information sharing and create synergy in the various departments.
The development: To develop the student success dashboard, staff solicited feedback from stakeholders through surveys, interviews and focus groups.
“We were looking at who the end users would be and saying, ‘What do you need?’” Bleicher says.
After about six months of design work, faculty and staff piloted the system starting in April 2022, Costello says. The dashboard is an independent site, separate from other administrative systems, to improve ease of access for users.
Having a student customer relations manager, Technolutions, made the process easier to wrangle data on campus and sync it to a centralized place, Costello says.
The dashboard: Ithaca’s Student Success Dashboard is student-specific, as opposed to aggregate institutional data related to student success like retention or persistence rates over time.
The dashboard provides a range of demographic information about a student:
- program and major
- identification number
- admit type and term
- transfer status
- expected graduation
- primary adviser
The system can also create flags when the student has a hold, standing or academic concern.
Three graphs provide insight into the student’s academic performance. GPA is demonstrated as a line graph, highlighting both the term GPA and cumulative GPA. A student’s registered credits and credits earned are also charted each semester.
The dashboard also provides a grid view of student’s courses for the current and upcoming semesters, showing the course title, number and credit hours, a pop-up course description, the student’s status, midterm and final grades, and a link to email the professor.
“Through those [stakeholder] interviews, we heard a lot of information like, ‘I’d love to know what courses they’re taking easily, but if I want to know who the instructor is for their section, I have to click two different times away,’” Costello says. “That doesn’t seem like a crazy thing to ask for.”
The soul of the dashboard, Costello says, is the success network section. A student’s success network highlights every person who is responsible for or works alongside a student at the institution—such as their academic adviser, program director, employment supervisor, academic services coordinator, mentor, coach or private teacher. “We need to be able to say, ‘If this student is studying abroad, this is their person who’s negotiating that for them this semester’; they need to be on the dashboard,” Costello says.
Other data might include leave of absence requests, financial aid awards with GPA requirements, documented interactions within the success network or residence life staff, housing placement, athletics and student organization participation, and interests, as applicable.
Not all data are visible to every employee of the institution, Costello explains. The provost’s office, for example, has a higher visibility level into student information compared to a staff member with no direct connection to the student.
To mitigate privacy concerns, the student-view version allows students to filter by view to understand which members of the college can see which dimensions of their data.
Students can also opt to hide some data from their dashboard, like first-generation status, their student organization affiliation and their interests, because that information can be identity-related and personal to the student, Costello says.
A student can also add to their success network if there’s someone else at the college who has contributed to their network whom they’d like to give data visibility to.
The implementation: In creating the dashboard, staff encountered a challenge in making the dashboard reflective of the present term, not the historical view of the student, because most academic data are stored by semester, Costello says.
The biggest challenge in the dashboard development was creating a culture shift on campus around data.
Students hold concerns around their information privacy, and staff are hesitant to use new technology simply for its novelty, Bleicher explains.
“We really had to help our colleagues see how this enhances their relationships,” she adds.
The execution: The dashboard launched for students to view on Feb. 23, with a review period for them to adjust data visibility as desired. A few days later, faculty and staff members gained access.
So far, the response has been positive, Bleicher says. In advising appointments, staff have faster and easier access to student information, increasing time spent engaging with the student and decreasing administrative actions.
“Before every meeting I have with a student, I pull it up,” says Jacqueline Winslow, executive director of student success and retention. “I find it incredibly useful to know what kinds of questions to ask the student, so that way I’m not wasting their time, and as we’re dialoguing, I know exactly how I can best support them.”
Staff members in regulation-heavy departments, like the office of case management, are benefiting from the use of the dashboard, too.
“We are making it possible for them not only to be in compliance with national standards of accreditation, but also to do the research and background so when they are approaching the student who is in need, they have a more 360 [degree] view,” Bleicher says.
The dashboard places student success at the forefront of interactions, and data are more accessible to all stakeholders, Winslow says.
“It’s titled, ‘The Student Success Dashboard,’ right?” Winslow says. “That’s what it’s about—it’s a constant reminder every time you click in what we care about.”
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