Three Big Stories

happy graduate

Love getting on campus! And it’s a special treat when it’s your old stomping ground! Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of joining in engaging conversations at Arizona State University convened by the Education Writer’s Association. The event was held in the Memorial Union at ASU, where I spent far too much time drinking coffee and studying late into the night while working toward my bachelors and masters in the late 80s and early 90s. Long story short, the Union has changed a LOT.

I was part of a panel titled “Analyze This!” –  exploring the issues surrounding the strategic use of data to help students learn well and finish strong. I was joined on the panel by the always thoughtful and thorough, Brenda Leong, from the Future of Privacy Forum, and the ever engaging and refreshingly direct, Fred Corey, ASU’s Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Side note – take the time to check out Dr. Corey’s wonderful turn in this parody piece encouraging students to take advantage of Faculty Office Hours (FOH).

ewa logoOur rowdy panel had a great conversation all around. My frame to set up my contribution to the dialogue was built around three story themes that are important when looking at the use of student data:

  1. The art and science of data work in education – taking the time to unpack the advances in data science, design thinking, behavioral analytics, and choice architecture that are coming together in education. There’s a lot of learning from other fields going on, and some really interesting work emerging in higher education.
  2. The student’s ability to benefit – so much is written about how institutions use student’s data, but unfortunately the field of higher education is trapped in a reporting death spiral. We’re so busy doing autopsy work in the form of compliance reports, we can’t save patients in the ER, let alone use data to help focus on thriving and wellness. The institutions we’re working with at Civitas Learning are trying to change this orientation and focus much more energy on getting data to the front lines in compelling apps, short texts, or even in personal conversations. Most of all, we need to focus on making sure we can answer this simple question that students ask: “Can you use my data to help me?”
  3. The “Do No Harm” to “Make the Most” continuum – at minimum, we need to protect student data and ensure that these data are not used to segregate, track, or dream kill. Our go-to move in higher education cannot be to use data science in a way where simplistic triggers mean we immediately try to convince a striving, low-income, diverse student to abandon a STEM degree—or keep them out of college altogether in a self-serving strategy to game our completion rates. We need to make sure at minimum, our data science and design thinking work should do no harm. Rather, we should raise our sites and look toward strategies that help students make the most of their time with us. Not only should they complete their credentials, but meet some of the best contacts, participate in interesting internships, attend enriching co-curricular events, and connect with key alumni members. Make no mistake, we need to help struggling students through our strategic use of data. However, that is the low bar. At our best, we are using our data-fueled student success platforms to help students make the most of their learning journeys.

Fred and Brenda both made the powerful point that the data we are discussing are actually pieces and parts of student stories. Stories about struggle and success, told in these bits and bytes. If we can take the time to pull these student stories together responsibly and effectively, and learn together about how to use them to help students not just survive, but thrive, we’ll be making the most of our work as well.

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