- This guest blog has been kindly written for HEPI by Dr Rachel Maxwell, Community Manager at Solutionpath.
- Rachel was formerly Head of Learning and Teaching Development: Policy and Practice at the University of Northampton and can be contacted at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachel-maxwell-phd-pfhea-40917561/ and @DrRachLTB).
In his recently published specification for education and wellbeing analytics, Professor Edward Peck, the UK Government’s higher education student support champion and Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University (NTU), highlighted the opportunity provided to universities by the increasingly sophisticated use of student analytics.
There is much to learn from student engagement data
Solutionpath has been providing our student engagement analytics platform, StREAM, to UK clients for over 10 years, starting with our pathfinder university NTU in 2013. Since then, over 25 other universities have engaged with us to make better use of the data that exists within their multiple educational technology systems, to improve how they support student success and attainment.
Whether cloaked in language around retention or continuation, or – as we are seeing more – focusing on student success and wellbeing, it is clear there is much to learn from the data on how students are participating in their studies.
From niche to mainstream
Consideration of the ‘use and effectiveness of learner analytics in tracking and monitoring progress and development’ was one of the criteria for assessment of the learning environment in the government’s specification for the first round of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). For the latest round of TEF submissions, this focus had changed to ‘relevant findings from learner analytics, for example about students’ active engagement with learning’.
In formally detailing a core specification for engagement and wellbeing analytics, Edward Peck has sought to put the need for universities to use ‘evidence-informed interventions that have the greatest positive impact on student success’ right at the heart of strategic and policy agendas.
Generating evidence-informed answers to ‘what works?’
Given the changing nature of the learning landscape, not merely as part of the post-COVID recovery and the desire to learn the lessons of the pivot to online learning through retaining what worked for staff and students, but also with ongoing work around digital transformation, developing a strategic approach and direction about how universities use their data is an important policy consideration. The strategic and planned use of student engagement data can definitely help when it comes to providing an evidence-informed answer to the question ‘what works?’ when helping students achieve successful outcomes from their university studies.
We know that ‘what works?’ is a complex matter, influenced by myriad factors. On one hand, there are considerations about how individuals choose to engage with their learning: the post-pandemic learning legacy, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on their need to work and the time available to attend in-person teaching sessions, increased caring responsibilities and increasing anxiety and mental wellbeing needs are all factors that play out differently for each student. On the other hand, there are differences in how universities structure and provide academic and pastoral support to their students, the physical and human support resource available, all shaped and informed by the institutional policy environment within which support systems exist. Making sense of the interplay between all these factors is difficult, but effective use of data and analytics can definitely help.
Accurate and efficient identification of support needs
Research with our clients shows students who are disengaging with their studies can be identified early – sometimes after as little as two weeks at university, based on their level of interaction with core digital learning systems. Moreover, maximising the ‘window of opportunity’ within which a need can be identified and supportive action initiated is critical to addressing and mitigating against factors that might otherwise cause a student to disengage. What the data cannot explain is ‘why’ a student is disengaging.
The human touch
In Peck’s original specification, he concludes that, within all these discussions about the effective use of student engagement data, ‘humans are key’. He explains further:
when data and analytics are put at the heart of how student support is run, it can focus specialist human support time where it is needed most and allow evidenced demonstration that important-but-finite human support services are appropriately resourced and optimally addressing their goals.
In short, from a student perspective, it is the human face that is often so influential in addressing the factors that are impacting academic engagement. Building supportive relationships are key to student belonging, to students feeling like someone cares, to knowing that there is someone at the university who is on their side, supporting their success, helping them to overcome any challenges.
Join the debate
Ed Foster, Head of Student Engagement and Analytics at NTU will be speaking at Kortext Live in London on 25 April 2023 to explain how student data can be used to drive answers to some of the big challenges facing universities – student retention, wellbeing, progression – through considering where you start and what success looks like. Ed will be on a panel alongside representatives of Middlesex University and the University of Sussex to discuss the power of student data and their visions for the future from a university library, broader leadership, EdTech and student perspective.
If these considerations are on your agenda too, come along to the free Kortext Live event in London on Tuesday 25 April, where we will be discussing these issues and more.