Analytics without action helps no one

Moving from data to insight is higher ed's next challenge

Experts speaking at this month's Campus Tech 2016 Technology Trend Panel discussed the state of analytics in higher education and how analytical tools can play a more important role on campus, Amy Burroughs reports for EdTech

Exploring new territory

Adam Newman, founder and managing partner of Tyton Partners, began the discussion by noting that analytics is distinct from prior trends in higher education, partly because analytics is a nebulous concept—it may refer to a number of applications designed for learners, institutions, or making predictions.

Furthermore, analytics involves various components, such as data aggregation and cleansing; models, algorithms and interpretation; and visualization and presentation. With so many different elements at hand, Newman explained, practitioners have yet to make the leap from analysis to intervention.

Bridge the gap from analytics to insight

"The thing that higher education does not need is the concept of 'analysis paralysis,'" Newman said. "What we really need is analytics driving a set of actions that will drive outcomes."

"Realizing the transformational promise of analytics is as much about the people using them as the analytics themselves," Jamie Studwell, an associate director for EAB's Student Success Collaborative (SSC), told the EAB Daily Briefing.

"As an industry, we have come a long way on getting analytics in place," she explained. "Now, our SSC members are focusing on action—creating the right analytics to support specific workflows and empowering decision-makers on campus to interpret those analytics and take action off of them." 

When analytics pays off: How MTSU retained 400 additional students and increased net revenue by $1.5 million

Bringing learner and institutional analytics together

Before becoming the CEO of HelioCampus, Darren Catalano was vice president of analytics at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). HelioCampus, which originated at UMUC, helped the university consolidate its data for better analysis.

"We really focused on combining admissions, enrollment, course completion, student success and financial data together in a single platform so that we could answer critical questions across the student life cycle and understand the impact to the university," Catalano said.

James Caras, chief product officer at Macmillan Learning, discussed his work with learner analytics, including tools that measure and identify relationships between students' engagement and performance. He said that while educators are still working to strike a balance between using analytics and encouraging students to be independent thinkers, there are great opportunities for instructors to take advantage of analytical tools.  

"They can make curriculum choices, course redesigns and real-time instructional modifications on the fly in their courses to respond to the needs of their students," Caras said.

Discovering new forms of campus engagement

Developing and sharing common data standards will bridge the gap between learner and institutional analytics, Caras argued. He encouraged each institution's leaders to focus on their own highest-priority issues, which are unique to each campus.

But no matter how institutions choose to apply analytics, Catalano said, it's important to understand the meaning behind the data. He stressed the need to focus on descriptive analytics that help higher education leaders make crucial decisions. 

Studwell also encouraged institutions to think about next steps.

"It doesn't end with analytics," she told the EAB Daily Briefing. "To really promote action, we need to connect analytics to workflow and interaction technology. The idea is to build bridges between the insights that analytics can help create and the work that people are doing with students on a daily basis," (Burroughs, EdTech, 8/4).  

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