Big data helps schools redesign registration with students in mind

'Old way' of course scheduling resulted in issues for many students

Data analysis enables colleges and universities to redesign their course offerings in a way that cuts time to graduation and uses space more efficiently, Pamela Mills-Senn reports for University Business.  

Typical course scheduling practices are derived from the days of paper-based processes. Now that most of those tasks are completed online, data analysis tools can help administrators find patterns and flexibility within schedules.

For example, more schools are changing the days classes are offered, delivery methods, class lengths, and even term lengths based on findings from data analysis.

At New Mexico State University, for example, the school used to base course offerings on faculty decisions. "As such, the institution was basically operating in the blind when it came to course scheduling," Mills-Senn writes.

And as a result, some students were forced to wait extra semesters to get into a required course.

"This old way of handing course scheduling was negatively impacting a lot of students," says Hector Sanchez, an assistant registrar at the university. "And it stood to negatively impact the university's overall graduation rate."

Then, three years ago, a new analytics tool in the registrar's office helped administrators determine which courses needed to be offered more often—and which needed to be taught less.

Similarly, a shift to online, self-paced programs at schools such as Hodges University has helped students complete their degrees faster. Hodges also offers two eight-week mini-semesters as an alternative to the usual 15-week semester. The two halves of the alternate schedule amount to the same amount of credits.

Expert insight: Why compressed mini-semesters accelerate completion

And at Volunteer State Community College, administrators noticed Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes filled up more slowly than Tuesday, Thursday offerings. A subsequent student survey revealed students preferred leaving their Fridays free to deal with family and work obligations.

"With the support of faculty, we moved to the four-day schedule this fall with great success. It was all about offering the opportunity for our learners to fit college classes into their otherwise busy lives," says Tim Amyx, Volunteer State's director of admissions and college registrar.

Achieving faculty buy-in

But faculty members are not always eager to implement the changes, especially when it means giving up control of when and where they teach their courses.

At Hodges, faculty had to adjust to being "on call" and able to jump around in the curriculum, because the online students all worked at different paces.

"Self-paced learning is a different approach to education. It's been challenging to get people to think outside of the traditional education box and get them thinking about providing education in a different way," says Al Ball, dean of Hodges' Fisher School of Technology.

However, in-person conversations and training sessions helped build faculty support (Mills-Senn, University Business, accessed 2/24).


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