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Great Conference…Now What?

Great Conference…Now What?

If you work in Higher Education, it is fairly plausible you have attended a conference (or considered doing so) in the past few weeks. It seems that “conference season” generally happens between the months of September and November. While there are a few outliers in April and others, a vast majority of sessions happen in this time period.

If your anything like me, conferences can be a bit overwhelming. An endless amount of ideas, and practices are shared. Some you hear and think “yes, we could absolutely mimic that on our campus!” Others seem a far cry of what is plausible considering the resources available. So much information can often paralyze us with indecision. Where do I start? How can I even try this?

When arriving to the conference and hearing the different ideas and fellow campus success stories, we get excited about where our team can go with retention, graduation and student success. Stories of how campuses have created and fostered growth, persistence and graduation rates are encouraging. We are re-charged and refocused, heading back to our perspective campuses ready to tackle the next student crisis with a renewed sense of purpose! The weeks that follow conferences are also met with the same road blocks, lack of budgets and students who just don’t seem to share our passion for their success.

I received great direction from a former Vice President of Student Services I once worked for. She simply said, at the end of each day and the conference in general, write down all your thoughts and everything you have learned. Make a list of 10 actionable items, reviewing the list a few times and narrowing that same list down to three initiatives. Once those three items have been identified, bring those items to me (or a supervisor) and we can develop a plan together in an effort to implement those on campus. This was huge. This did 2 things. Provided a plan of attack for the influx of information and prevented me from getting so overwhelmed and simply doing nothing at all!

This process is also true for the students that we serve. Its exciting to talk about graduation and career plans with students. They get excited too, thinking of all the possibilities ahead of them! However, this is quickly followed by all the work that goes into obtaining a degree or certification and that can be overwhelming.

Similar to the coaching my former Vice President gave to me, it’s critical we acknowledge our students go through this same process. Intrusively advising them through the work that is ahead and how to effectively plan and succeed is critical to their persistence. College and all that encompasses the process is exciting, yet overwhelming. However, if a student has a success coach, academic adviser or faculty member who is able to assist them in breaking down the process into manageable milestones, graduation will inherently follow. Accomplishing a test, class, term and year is a huge success in itself for many of our students. Let’s celebrate and appreciate those milestones and prevent them from feeling the overwhelming thought of the journey ahead.

Now I’m worried about the DRAIN, not the DRIP

Now I’m worried about the DRAIN, not the DRIP

References to “data rich, information poor” (DRIP) syndrome are ubiquitous; a quick Google search returns articles addressing DRIP in numerous disciplines including education, health care, and water quality management. Organizations suffering from DRIP find themselves awash in data—quantifiable facts and statistics—but lacking information—knowledge obtained through analysis of these data.

Universities and colleges are avoiding DRIP by employing data management procedures that result in consumable, aggregated information. These activities may be the responsibility of an internal office, contracted to an external group, or, as I have found useful, assigned to a mix of both internal and external data professionals.

Following the distillation of relevant information through data analytics, institutions must avoid the next hurdle: “data rich, abundant information, non-action” (DRAIN) syndrome. DRAIN occurs when information lies dormant. This syndrome may be the result of a lack of institutional resources to take on a new project, the inability to navigate institutional silos to prompt action, or poor cross-divisional communication channels for sharing information.

A signal that DRAIN is present is the utterance of the phrase “OK, so what?” or “Interesting” after a quick scan of a report. For example, insights about the success factors for student sub-populations are bundled into reports, shared across departments, viewed with mild curiosity, and then filed away without prompting action.

DRAIN is akin to and sometimes accompanied by “paralysis by analysis.” In this situation, the constant quest for the “perfect data point” stymies any project built on the available information. “If we only knew . . .” has halted action and constricted development of relevant programs many times over.

The best remedy for DRAIN is to prepare a plan to leverage information derived from large data sets. The following steps will assist in developing these types of procedures, and discussion on each step will be addressed in future blog posts on DRAIN.

  1. Determine if the information is actionable
  2. Decide how to employ the information
  3. Pilot programs or outreach
  4. Measure the effectiveness of the program
  5. Revise, expand, or retire the program

 

 

 

About the Author:

Nathan Miller, Ph.D. is the Senior Director for Student Success at Columbia College in Columbia, MO. In this role he is responsible for the design, implementation of student success programming for a diverse and geographically disparate student population.