As someone who oversees a unit focused on helping university students be successful, my experience with software is a little bit different than most others. Truthfully, I feel like we are behind other universities in terms of student success software. When I go to conferences, I am often envious of other institutions that have things like student life software, co-curricular records, and systems that track students who need extra support. In this post I am going to focus on one of those systems, called Starfish Early Alert. Although we do not currently have this software, it is on my wish list and I believe it would help the university increase retention. In terms of the categories listed by Amy, Krista, Luke, Elizabeth and Rochelle it probably fits best with assessment software.
Starfish Early Alert is a tool that lets instructors, advisors, and other support staff work together to best support students. It provides an easy way for instructors to notify staff members if students are experiencing academic difficulty, are having attendance issues, etc. Student Success staff can them follow up with the students to offer support and make referrals as needed. The software also allows for sharing of student files among the many people who support students. Finally, it allows for easy communication to groups of students in categories. Here is a short video that describes some of the features:
The Student Success Centre currently uses a much more old-fashioned method to identify at-risk students. We have a form and an email address that instructors can use to notify us about students who show evidence of being at-risk. We then add the students to our Access database and contact them using an email merge in Microsoft Word. We save our notes in Microsoft word, and email them to advisors or instructors as needed. While this system works, it is very clunky and time-consuming. In “Media will Never Influence Learning“, Clark suggested that if two technologies achieve the same goal, you should choose the less expensive. The main reason we use our clunky system is because software systems are quite expensive and we do not have that type of budget available. However, I think using something like Starfish could lead to much bigger benefits by involving more people in helping to support students.
The biggest benefit of Starfish Early Alert is that it would allow us to identify students who are potentially at risk much earlier than we currently do. Currently, only a fraction of the students who are placed on academic probation after their first semester are referred to the Student Success Centre or their faculty advisor, or are approached by anyone offering extra support. This system would allow us to intervene much earlier, and help student implement learning strategies, gain writing skills, and seek other supports in order to turn things around in order to improve their grades before it is too late.
In reality, the only way a system like this would work is if more instructors were on board. This may require a shift in philosophy for many of them. We know that some instructors have the “sink or swim” philosophy, and are not motivated to help students succeed. However, I believe that if a system were in place that made referring students very simple, more instructors would do so. I also believe that seeing positive results could help change instructors’ minds.
The proponents and adopters of Starfish would be the staff who currently work with students daily. This includes faculty and college advisors, and staff of centralized support units such as the Student Success Centre, Aboriginal Student Centre, and Centre for Student Accessibility. Several professors, deans, and instructors that we already work with would also adopt the system easily. Opponents, as mentioned earlier, would be the instructors who do not understand or agree with the need to provide students with extra support. Understandably, many instructors already feel overworked. They may have issue spending time flagging students, especially if they are teaching very large classes. However, I still think this system would be beneficial even if only one third of instructors used it.
The positive affects would be that we could identify struggling students and offer supports much earlier. Staff would also be able to share information about students much easier, so that we could create a support team for students. In addition, the communication module would make it much easier and quicker to send tailored messages to students. The negative effects might be that some students might be resistant to being contacted, and some faculty feel that it is an infringement on students’ privacy.
The overall advantage is that using a system like this could increase students’ persistence and retention rates.
I am interested to hear what the rest of the class thinks about Starfish Early Alert. Would it have helped anyone you know? Do you feel like early identification and intervention of at-risk students is the responsibility of the university? Can you think of any drawbacks that I didn’t mention?