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Educause ’22: Using Institutional Data for Student Support

The Digital Footprints Project at West Virginia University shows the potential for institutional data about student engagement, performance and other metrics to enable early intervention strategies.

A digital concept image of different types of student data over a tablet.
Shutterstock/Blue Planet Studio
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions invested millions in identifying “at-risk” students in need of additional academic support. Now, universities are starting to take a closer look at institutional data relating to student performance to identify who’s not engaged on campus and intervene as early as possible, before midterm grades.

This is among the main goals of West Virginia University’s Digital Footprints Project, according to WVU professor John Campbell. Featured Nov. 3 as part of the virtual Educause Annual Conference, Campbell led a webinar session about the project and how to use IT to assist faculty and staff to formulate intervention strategies for struggling students.

Campbell, who has experience in IT himself, said IT staff can help to generate insights from student data that can help professors do their jobs more effectively, which would ultimately help retain students until graduation, bolstering both enrollment and graduation rates.
WVU professor John Campbell.
WVU professor John Campbell.
Courtesy: Educause
“I would say for many of us, the institutional challenge is about identifying at-risk students in time for students to change their behavior. … It’s not enough to know 10 or 12 weeks into a 15-week semester that the student is at risk when they don’t have time to change to become successful and remain at the institution,” he said. “We need to identify those students in time for them to change their outcomes, while utilizing the existing resources on campus. We are trying through institutional data to identify these students in week two, three or four.”

While West Virginia University has student leaders, tutors and other types of faculty to assist with intervention strategies, Campbell said using institutional data helps focus limited resources where and when they’re most needed. He said that without the guide of institutional data — for instance, data on digital course participation or transcript requests that could indicate interest in transferring elsewhere — identifying at-risk students can often feel like finding a “needle in a haystack.”

“Our efforts really are focused on finding patterns and trying to identify these disengaged students that are not taking full advantage of the things that we offer,” he said, noting that many students find it cumbersome to navigate the enrollment system and the 100-plus majors offered at WVU.

“The big challenge is, ‘How do we make the most effective use of the money we have spent for student success? How do we get the right students to the right service at the right time?’ [So] that in the end, they can make a difference.”

Moving forward, Campbell said, using institutional data for early intervention should become common practice at universities if they want to increase enrollment, combat learning loss and improve academic performance among some underserved populations after the shifts to remote learning.

“These digital footprints — these footprints of transcript requests and data that we all have at institutions — have become a very valuable component for (student performance) insight,” he said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.