As higher education institutions increasingly seek the data needed to support student success and demonstrate institutional effectiveness, they have turned to purpose-built software focused on particular areas, such as assessment or curriculum management. Each of these software systems answers a specific set of questions, or operationalizes specific processes, and many do those things well. But there are unanticipated consequences to using these point solutions.
First, campus data becomes siloed within each piece of software, making it difficult to gain big-picture insights. Second, asking faculty, administrators and other campus stakeholders to use an ever-growing number of disparate systems can lead to steep learning curves, and incur the cost of “task switching”—shifting attention from one context to another. Finally, faculty and administrators are left to cobble together data from multiple systems for analysis, requiring help from IT or data professionals—all of which is resource intensive.
As a result, institutions are finding it increasingly difficult to bring together their data from different software for reporting and analysis. A unified system is essential to inform decision making and drive changes that improve student outcomes.
How institutions experience data silos
A June 2018 report noted that 61 percent of institutions had “some form of analytics-driven initiative in place.” As data technology has become embedded into every area of campus, institutions have struggled to overcome obstacles to using the data they collect in multiple systems.
Consider the current experience of a college dean who continues to carry a teaching load, coordinates her department’s reporting and serves on several cross-departmental committees. She is responsible for inputting her teaching, research and service into a reporting database, analyzing course evaluations, coordinating assessment and participating in curriculum and faculty review processes.
These tasks occur in separate systems with distinct workflows and notification systems. When she wants to compare data across systems—for example if she wants to consider course evaluation results when conducting faculty reviews, or better understand how assessment results impact curriculum changes—she must manually export data for combined analysis, or copy and paste reports from one system into another. As a result, she spends hours managing each process and extracting the data she needs to make critical decisions each semester, while juggling the demands of teaching, mentorship and administration.
Administrators at Georgia Institute of Technology recently published on the critical importance of interoperability: “As professionals in the broader academic technology space, we feel platform fatigue due to the many technology players and their offerings. Secretly (or openly), we wish for a day of platform convergence. ... We reiterate and remind the importance of interoperability to our technology providers and ask them to prioritize this over adding new features and functionalities to their platforms.”
The authors emphasize the need for convergence to streamline user experience, ease data extraction, ingestion and analysis, and simplify support services.
Fortunately, a new software category is emerging, the educational intelligence system (EIS), which promises to bring campus data together for greater insights.
Defining educational intelligence
What is an educational intelligence system? You’re familiar with learning management systems and student information systems, each help to manage processes and provide essential insight into a specific area of your institution.
In 2015, Eduventures defined educational intelligence as “leveraging data at multiple points across the student lifecycle to make intelligent decisions to positively impact student outcomes.” An educational intelligence system will provide the most complete view of your institution and how your work contributes to student outcomes, bringing together the full range of data from your LMS, SIS and HR system, as well as from software addressing specific areas, such as assessment and course evaluation.
With such a common-sense purpose, why isn’t EIS already common?
It’s hard to remember, but LMS software emerged in 1990, evolving from point solutions for gradebooks, file sharing and message boards; SIS came into common use a decade later. Together, they have paved the way for EIS, which captures a much wider swath of data in support of broader goals than those served by LMS and SIS, including improving student success and increasing institutional effectiveness. Though in its early stages, EIS is gaining traction, and there’s a clear path toward realizing the concept as articulated by Eduventures.
By bringing together data from planning processes, assessment, faculty activity reporting, curriculum and catalog management, course evaluation and more, EIS will help to eliminate redundancy and provide a unified source of data that institutions can use to inform decision making and improve learning outcomes, as in this example from Southern Connecticut State University, which connected previously siloed data to identify necessary changes to campus structures to better support student success. Institutions looking to gain the advantages of an EIS should begin planning their transition from point solutions today.
Moving your institution toward educational intelligence
Centralizing and integrating campus data is no small undertaking, but pivotal early steps are underway in higher ed technology. To ensure that your campus can achieve what’s possible with educational intelligence, inventory the systems already in use on your campus, then identify key areas of convergence among software solutions, such as data integration and reporting, and a more seamless user experience.
The University of Denver recently integrated course evaluation and faculty activity reporting solutions. "We now have the ability to centralize and integrate our course evaluation, faculty activity reporting, accreditation tracking and data collection processes” said Linda Kosten, Senior Associate Provost, Academic Administration. “[We now have] better abilities to leverage our data across processes so that we can make informed decisions that will improve both student and institutional outcomes."
In addition, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Offices of Academic Assessment and Institutional Research now inform assessment of learning outcomes with course evaluation data. Feedback on courses and instructors flows to instructors for the courses they teach and to administration for courses they oversee, and indirect measures of assessment are gathered for each program outcome tied to a course. Student responses are tied back to assessment and captured in a single database to inform a range of institutional processes including program review, faculty review and accreditation reporting.
These “point-to-point” integrations are leading the way to educational intelligence platforms, where multiple solutions share a common data structure that allows for deeper inquiry.
Similarly, improved user experiences are now emerging. Unified sign-in and navigation reduce task switching for users and are paving the way for a future of streamlined interfaces where moving between tasks feels seamless, just as it does in the Google suite. Key benefits include increasing faculty and student participation and engagement.
Let’s return to our college dean. Imagine that she logs into a unified system that streamlines workflows and surfaces meaningful insights so she sees a dashboard with summary information relevant to her role, including snapshots of the students she advises, progress reports and tasks for the committees she serves on, key statistics about her program and progress toward her own professional goals. Instead of spending time navigating disparate software systems or aligning data and reports, she’s able to find the insights she needs to be an effective leader all in one place. That is the value of an integrated EIS platform.
The vision for educational intelligence
A fully realized educational intelligence system will empower institutions to gain insight into questions such as, “Are our students demonstrating the learning outcomes that we articulate in our course catalog for degree programs and general education?” or “How are our academic departments performing on the tenets of our institutional mission?” or “Can we demonstrate faculty’s influence on student success in the classroom and on retention?”
By putting better data, richer detail and deeper insights into the hands of administrators, faculty and students, institutions gain a more comprehensive picture of effectiveness and a stronger foundation to inform decisions—enabling them to drive more meaningful improvements across all levels of the institution.
Chief Executive Officer
Kevin Michielsen has served as the Chief Executive Officer for Watermark since 2016. He was instrumental in bringing together the three leading providers of assessment, ePortfolio, and accreditation management solutions for colleges and universities in 2017 – Taskstream, Tk20 and LiveText – as well as Digital Measures, EvaluationKIT and SmartCatalog in 2018. Now united under Watermark, the company is the largest provider of planning and outcomes assessment, ePortfolio, faculty activity reporting, course evaluation and institutional surveys, as well as curriculum and catalog management software for higher education. Watermark serves more than 1,700 colleges and universities worldwide.