There is more than one way to measure student success. Retention, progress, academic achievement – all vital measurements that are the goal of every educational institute.

Analytics is now an academic hot topic and the hope is that by studying the learning data, in real time, universities can impact student success.  Universities have always needed to monitor student activities; reporting the numbers of admissions, the applications accepted and how many students achieve their academic qualifications.  However, larger classes, an increased diversity amongst the students, distance learning and more part-time students have added complexity to the monitoring process.

Many faculty, who up until now have relied on their own systems to monitor their students, and use their own insight to alert them when a student is falling behind, are now struggling to cope with the more diverse student body. Evaluations performed at the end of the semester, module or course will highlight areas of concern but many universities see that having the data at their fingertips in real time gives them an early warning of any teaching or learning issues – and enough time to do something about it.

If the data is potentially there, why aren’t all universities embracing analytics? Many educational leaders are worried that their data is incomplete.  Unless they’ve been capturing data for a reasonable amount of time they feel that the mismatch of information would make it impossible to analyse meaningfully.  They’re right – but they’re looking at the problem the wrong way.

What they need to do is start not by looking at what data they actually have and instead think about what information they need to know and what data could be collected in order to find that out.  What is the information they need in order to detect any problems?

Data analysis is a science but university support staff don’t have to become data scientists.  Assistance from data specialists can help universities generate predictive models but their primary goal will be to implement a data gathering and reporting system that can provide educators with access to the answers they will need to find out any issues and make vital changes.

Only a minority of universities have initiated a plan that can deliver the scale, scope or frequency to make the results of any report worthwhile.  But we see that changing.  Eventually, data analytics will become the backbone of university administration and learning development.  Without good student retention, it’s hard for universities to attract good teaching staff, future students, necessary partnerships or funding for research projects.  With proper data analytics in place, more and more higher education institutions will be able to get to grips with effective student monitoring and, in turn, allow them to improve the student and teacher experience and success rates.

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