Student Success

EDUCAUSE’s Top 10 IT Issues and the Student Genome Project

Recently, EDUCAUSE released the Top 10 IT Issues (shown in figure below) which when viewed in similar themes, comprise “The Student Genome Project“:

  • Empowered Students: In the drive to improve student outcomes, institutional leaders are increasingly focused on individual students: their life circumstances and their entire academic journey. Leaders are relying on analytics and technology to make progress in retention, persistence, and other student outcomes.

  • Trusted Data: This is the foundational work of the Student Genome Project, where the “sequencing” is taking place. Institutional leaders are collecting, securing, integrating, organizing, standardizing, and safeguarding data and preparing the institution to use data meaningfully and ethically.

  • 21st-Century Business Strategies: Institutional leaders are addressing today’s funding challenges and preparing for tomorrow’s more competitive ecosystem. With technology embedded into teaching and learning, research, and business operations, it must be embedded into the overall institutional strategy and business model as well.


Retrieved from “Top 10 IT Issues, 2019: The Student Genome Project” at

Trusted Data and 21st-Century Business Strategies are key – and technology powers the solutions that are critical to success to achieve the vision and mission of higher education – that is, to zero in on “student success, persistence, and retention”.

By leveraging technology we can begin to “focus on the student as a person rather than a persona”. Ultimately it is about ensuring a high-quality and connected academic experience that makes a positive difference to students.

Empowering Students should be not be new to us as educations. “Student-centered” learning has been part of the vocabulary for most institutions for many years.

We have the ability to help accelerate student success by:

  • Working across the institution to “drive and achieve student success initiatives”.
  • Understanding and advancing the use of technology to “optimize the student experience”.
  • Implementing personalized learning whenever and wherever possible.
  • Creating individualized, predictive analytics that inform our work so that we can  target support for students “at risk” – during the semester, not after. Therefore data much be actionable.
  • Ensuring students are “not a number” rather that they are people with a variety of experiences, concerns, and needs. As reinforced in the EDUCAUSE article, “What helps one student succeed may not help another student succeed.”

“Student success is what higher education is all about.”

Applications such as Starfish Retention Solutions can provide unique opportunities in monitoring students and flagging potential behaviors that my need attention. Once a flag is raised, indicated a potential “at risk” situation, a human can intervene, offering a variety of support resources and services to help ensure that student’s success.

In eLearning at GVSU, we are on mission to “Supporting faculty pursuing innovation in teaching and learning…” and in turn, the technologies we support provide the opportunity for students to be empowered. After all, learning and achievement is a responsibility for institutions, but also a uniquely individual-based experience.

What about you? What are your takeaways from EDUCAUSE’s “Top 10 IT Issues and the Student Genome Project“?

Students Report Challenges to Success in Online Learning

onlineresearch.pngThe Revealing Institutional Strengths and Challenges report on student success is a  student survey focuses on problems faced in college.

The survey effectively pinpoints more than 80 specific areas where colleges can act to improve student success, such as academic advising, course registration, financial aid, online classes, and tutoring.

Based on the RISC survey, and placing student success and retention as priority, the following table provides key insights that underscore the importance of self-directed learning and instructor presence.


Because 53% of students indicate difficulty in learning material on their own, 38% keeping up with the course, 27% using course technology, and 12% difficulty in taking exams, it is important to ensure that students have completed an effective orientation. New students to online learning will benefit from an orientation both to the uniqueness of distance education, but also how their instructor has organized their course.

Online and Hybrid Student Orientation

At GVSU, an online and hybrid orientation is currently being developed (expected to be deployed in spring 2019) in Blackboard that is focused on the following objectives:

  • Determine your readiness for online learning.
  • Distinguish between online, hybrid, and traditional courses at GVSU.
  • List the expectations required for online and hybrid courses.
  • Describe tips, identify personal attributes and skills for success in learning online.
  • Identify the technology requirements and proficiencies for learning online.
  • Navigate Blackboard and practice using the tools.
  • Recognize and gain access to online student support and resources.

In addition, much of this content is also available on GVSU’s “Are you ready for Online Learning?” web site.

Instructor Presence and Student Engagement

Because 44% of students indicate lack of interaction with faculty, and 25% lack of interaction with other students, key is instructor presence and student engagement in an online course.

GVSU’s has established a variety of tips and good practice to help ensure online presence.

In “Good Practice Teaching Standards“, faculty’s online presence is demonstrated through frequent and timely faculty-student communication and contact.

  • Welcome announcements are used to engage students. (e.g., Announcements)
  • Regular, timely course engagement, faculty feedback, and communication with students is demonstrated. (e.g., Announcements, Email, Discussion Board, Live Chat)
  • Discussion board participation by faculty and students is integrated. (e.g., Discussion Board)
  • Faculty is available to students electronically and in person. (e.g., Online Office Hours, Discussion Board, Live Chat, Email)
  • A positive online climate and course tone is maintained. (e.g., Discussion Board, Announcements)

We’re here to Help!

Looking for more information or tips for preparing students and creating instructor presence in your course? See: “Tips and Best Practice Handouts” on the IDeL website and connect with the IDeL group of instructional designers, or reach out to the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team.

How to use Blackboard Analytics to Support your Students at GVSU

You have probably heard about “BIG DATA“. Here we make the case for the value of “small data” and provide 3 ways you can access data in your Blackboard course to improve student success.

Big data is about gathering large amounts of data to reveal insights through analysis. Small data, on the other hand, can provide just enough data in order that action can be taken based on the evaluation of information at hand.

In education, data can lead administrators and faculty to improve student success and retention through “learning analytics”.

“Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.”

– The Predictive Learning Analytics Revolution: Leveraging Learning Data for Student Success via EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

While Blackboard provides products such as “Blackboard Predict” to monitor students at risk and to connect advisors to students for early intervention, there are tools available in every course at GVSU enabling faculty to receive “early alerts” and to take action through small nudges given to students.

Blackboard Retention Center pictured on Laptop

The key benefit of accessing data and taking advantage of learning analytics is to take action based on the insights provided. Using the insights, faculty can provide communication nudges to students to encourage them to keep going, give them a kudos or thumbs up for a job well done, or offer advice to those that may need an extra level of learner support.

Here are 3 ways you can leverage data in your Blackboard course to improve student success and retention at GVSU:

#1 – Use the Blackboard Retention Center to discover and to monitor students “at risk”.

Found in every course, under the “Evaluation” menu in the “Course Management” panel, the Retention Center provides faculty with the ability to monitor students, and their levels of performance regarding:

  • missed deadlines – provides faculty with students who have missed an assignment due date
  • grade alerts – provides faculty with information about students who are performing 25% below the class average
  • activity alerts – provides faculty with a list of students whose activity is 20% below the course average
  • access alerts – provides faculty with the last course access of students

Further, the instructor themselves can receive assessment, interaction and collaboration insights through their own activities in the course.

Blackboard Retention Center Screen Capture Showing Students Currently at Risk

Blackboard Retention Center Screen

Blackboard Retention Center Screen Capture showing

Learn more about using the Retention Center to monitor students at risk.

#2 – Use the Performance Dashboard to become aware of students activity at-a-glance.

Found in every course, under the “Evaluation” menu in the “Course Management” panel, the Performance Dashboard provides faculty with the ability to monitor students, and their levels of performance regarding:

  • last course access – provides faculty with the last date the students have accessed the course
  • review status – provides faculty with which students have marked items as “reviewed”
  • adaptive release – provides faculty with a view as to how students are progressing through a course using adaptive release
  • discussion board posts – provides faculty with the students’ activity in the discussion board

Learn more about using the Performance Dashboard to monitor students.

#3 – Use Item Tracking for monitoring students as they interact with content.

Found in every course as faculty upload or create content, the ability to turn on “Statistics Tracking” provides a report as to which students have accessed the information. The report includes the user activity to date, day of the week and hour of the day.

Learn more about using the Statistics Reports to monitor students.

Supporting Student Success and Retention via eLearning at GVSU

commencement_fall2017-1943Student success is a strategic area of focus at GVSU. With the rising costs of higher education, and the value of employability after graduation, student retention plays a key role in our vision and mission. eLearning and Emerging Technologies supports student success through a variety of technologies and faculty support.

Blackboard Supports Student Retention

For faculty there are many opportunities to leverage Blackboard to help support student success. Here are some capabilities:

  • Gradebook and Assignment Tools – Provides faculty with the ability to post grades and timely assessment/assignment/journal feedback. Interactive rubrics provide students with assignment grading criteria.
  • Student Photo Roster – Faculty can more effectively and efficiently learn students’ names and personalize instruction.
  • Retention Center and Performance Dashboard – Enables faculty to monitor frequency of logins of students, participation in discussions, and grades. This includes last login/date access to the course.
  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – Real-time and live office hours for students unable to attend class or office hours. Helps build rapport and increases communication and instructor-student engagement.
  • Surveys – Used by faculty to gather information about the students’ experience in the course such as a mid-term “how is this course going” survey.
  • Announcements, Emails, and Discussion Board – Used to create an online learning community and open up communication.
  • Content – Benefits to students to provide easy access to course materials, even potentially before the class begins. Provides access to link students to open educational resources (OER) and no-cost or low cost resources.
  • Panopto – Ability to record and post lectures or instructional content and easily embed digital media into Blackboard.
  • Blackboard Ally – Helps faculty ensure accessibility of course materials while also supporting universal design for learning (UDL).

eLearning and Emerging Technologies Supports Student Retention

  • Consultations, Seminars and Drop-Ins – The eLearning team provides opportunities to work with faculty to build up their skills in best using technology effectively and efficiently. Including pedagogical support for flipped classroom design and other instructional models.
  • Foundations of Online/Hybrid Course Development – Providing support and training to faculty about how to best design and deliver an online/hybrid course.
  • FTLC Faculty Learning Communities – eLearning instructional designers help facilitate 3 faculty learning communities on topics such as student engagement, quality online courses, and more.
  • Blackboard Support –  Support is offered to faculty in collaboration with the IT HelpDesk.
  • Embedded Librarians – All liaison librarians have been certified through the Foundations course and they have been enrolled in over 200 Blackboard courses providing direct student support.
  • Digital Studio – Providing faculty with engaging multimedia and digital resources such as the Lightboard, and tools such as Panopto.
  • Technology Showcase – Enables faculty to evaluate emerging technologies that can be leveraged to transform teaching and learning.
  • GA’s – Graduate Assistants work to support faculty and students the team in responding to 1,800 faculty technical support needs related to Blackboard and other technologies.
  • Web Resources – eLearning offers a series of support pages to provide information to faculty regarding how best to leverage educational technologies.
  • Student Support – In addition to the IT HelpDesk, our GA’s and eLearning team provides tech support to students.  This includes some class visitations and student orientations.

New Initiatives Supporting Student Retention

  • OER – Open Education Resources Initiative is working to provide options for student textbook affordability.  OpenStax has been adopted by CHM115 and 116 saving nearly $150,000 for students in textbook fees.
  • Attendance and Learning Analytics – Research and evaluation of a new products and solutions such as Qwickly Attendance and Blackboard called Predict which provides student dashboards and predictors of success that can be used by advisors and faculty.
  • Accessibility and UDL – eLearning is implementing a new product from Blackboard called Ally which provides a dashboard view of the number of accessible courses and realtime auto-conversion of documents into accessible formats. In addition, Panopto is being implemented to support enterprise video. This solution enables faculty to auto-caption and edit their captions for digital video resources used in their classes.

Benchmarking & Research Supporting Student Retention

  • ECAR Study – GVSU participated in the 2015 Educause Center for Analysis and Research Student and Faculty Technology Survey.  These results have been shared and have been used in strategic planning and for seminar planning.
  • Blackboard Survey – Working with Susan Mendoza and John Grabrosek, eLearning worked with students from STA 319 in the development, deployment, and evaluation of results from a student and faculty survey around how we can improve and enhance the Blackboard environment.

Learn more and connect with the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team at Grand Valley State University

7 Small Things You Can Do To Have a BIG Impact on Student Learning

This post is brought to you by the Online Education Council, eLearning and Emerging Technologies, University Libraries, the Pew Faculty Teaching & Learning Center, and the Office of the Provost.

When teaching online and hybrid courses, there are a variety of key strategies that are proven to help students succeed. This blog post highlights 7 tips for success.


7 Small Things that you can do that have a BIG Impact on Student Learning

  1. Ensure students have the appropriate orientation and support to use the technology in your course.

    Be sure to welcome your students and orient them to your course. You can do this via email, announcements, or a brief video.
    Flipgrid can be an effective tool to use as an icebreaker for students to get to know one another and to feel like part of a learning community.

    To help students assess their preparation on the online/hybrid learning experience, you may wish to assign your students the online self-assessment. In an easy-to-find location, provide students direct links to resources such as the Blackboard student support, GVSU IT HelpDesk, and other relevant student support services.


  2. Publish your syllabus to your Blackboard site and open the course to students a week or two before the semester begins.

    Research indicates that students benefit when given time to prepare and assess the course expectations ahead of time, so any extra time you give students to assess their readiness for the course and get into the mindset for online or hybrid learning is useful.

    Upload your syllabus to the course before the semester begins and email students an invitation to peruse it. If you are someone who is still building your Blackboard site up to the last minute, consider emailing your syllabus directly to students and letting them know when the course site will be ready for them to explore.

  3. Focus on student success and retention with Blackboard tools.

    Maximize student retention by proactively contacting inactive students, students with missing deadlines, or poor performance. The Blackboard Grade Center shows the date of last course access for students. The Retention Center,  Performance Dashboard and Item Statistics provide faculty with information about student activity as well as the ability to monitor students at-risk. Use these tools to determine whether any students in your class are falling behind or neglecting to check Blackboard regularly. Intervene early on, so they get back on track quickly.


  4. Establish a simple course menu and use consistent formatting & organization.

    Review your course from the viewpoint of a student. Is information clearly labeled by its function and easy to find? In addition to using consistent formatting and terminology, consider adding features such as Blackboard assignment due dates, guideposts, assignment checklists, multiple representations of essential information (reading assignments listed in the syllabus as well as in a course calendar), and introductory text or audio overviews with each folder/module.
    Will it be crystal clear to students when assignments are due? Which readings are required or optional? How much time should students expect to spend on a quiz or project? Ensuring this information is easy to find and clearly stated will go a long way toward helping students stay on track.

  5. Provide timely feedback on student work.

    Students need (and want!) to know how they’re doing throughout the semester, so your timely feedback on assignments, discussions, and course activities is essential. And each time you provide feedback to students, you make your presence known–key to making students feel connected to your course and supported in their work.

    As you craft assignments, consider the frequency of and methods by which you’ll provide feedback to students’ work. Try audio recording feedback to students’ writing, or giving formative, brief feedback more frequently during an assignment to encourage students’ reflection and learning.

    Establish a goal of responding to students’ inquiries or activities on Blackboard within 24 hours Monday – Friday, or on Mondays for activities students may complete over the weekend.

  6. Create opportunities for students to develop mastery.

    Discussion threads are a popular component of Blackboard courses, but an online conversation is just one of many ways you can help students demonstrate knowledge or practice skills.
    Think beyond the discussion forum: given your course content, how might you build in multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge or mastery of a skill across a variety of activities? How will you reinforce skills or knowledge learned in one portion of the course in a future activity? What short assignments might you ask students to engage in and post for quick feedback?
  7. Increase accessibility of your course content with Blackboard Ally.

    Accessible content helps all students learn while supporting principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Learning materials that are more accessible, usable and readable provides students with high-quality alternative formats of content that work more effectively on mobile devices while providing students with choice. As content is uploaded into Blackboard by faculty, an indicator is displayed, providing an at-a-glance view of the level of accessibility of the file. Clicking an indicator provides additional information about how to improve the file with “green being the goal”.

Want More Info? Need Help? Try These Resources!

  • Consult with the instructional designers in IDeL for more online/hybrid course design tips and to learn how to increase your teaching, social, cognitive presence through the Community of Inquiry.
  • Access tips, tutorials, and information for effectively using Blackboard.
  • Review the one-stop Faculty Resources for Online Education.
  • Contact the Digital Studio for assistance in creating a welcome video or leveraging interactive media in your courses.
  • Review University Library resources for distance learning.