Using your student information system as the basis for learning analytics

HardwareWhile VLE vendors would like their systems to be at the heart of an institution’s learning analytics efforts, vendors of student information systems (SISs) are now attempting to place their products in the analytics driving seat.  The SIS (also known as the student record system) is a vital product for any educational institution. It includes data such as prior educational qualifications, ethnicity and gender, the courses and modules in which students are enrolled, records of absence and assessment results.  More sophisticated SISs can contain many other aspects of the institution’s business.  All of them provide potentially helpful data for learning analytics so it’s no surprise that SIS vendors are developing products to help analyse this data – and integrate it with data from other sources such as the VLE.

In the UK, some of the biggest players in the higher education SIS market are Tribal and Ellucian.  Meanwhile in further education, use of the Compass Pro- suite of tools is widespread.  In this post I’ll be examining how the learning analytics offerings of these three vendors are shaping up.

Ellucian Student Retention Performance
Ellucian Student Success includes five “solutions” designed to integrate with Ellucian’s Banner Student SIS.  In an earlier post I’ve already described one of them: Course Signals. Another, Student Retention Performance, aims to help identify at-risk students, examine retention and degree completion rates, and analyse the effectiveness of retention strategies.  In a complex hierarchy of products, Student Success is one of three modules which comprise the Ellucian Enterprise CRM (Customer Relationship Management system).  We’ll ignore the rest of them just now and assume that your institution uses Banner Student as its SIS.

Ellucian is aiming Student Retention Performance at “Academics, advisors, institutional researchers, administrators and executives”.  It comprises scorecards, dashboards, reports and “analytic capabilities” aimed at improving student retention and success initiatives.

Scorecards provide a visual way of measuring progress towards institutional goals and objectives.   In one example that is given “Improve Academic Performance” is the institutional goal, with a measurable objective of “Increase Number of Undergraduate Students in Good Standing”.  Figures for the number of students in good standing are presented as a key performance indicator, together with a status indicator and a trend.  Further visualisations such as historical performance can also be generated.  There are various preconfigured scorecards and dashboards with suggested metrics, however it’s possible to create other customised metrics based on the data in Banner Student.

By some definitions this is higher level business intelligence or academic analytics rather than learning analytics but it’s possible to drill down to the performance of individual students too.  Such products don’t fit neatly into convenient categories for researchers attempting to map out the different types of analytics processes and tools that are emerging.

One thing is clear though: Student Retention Performance is not designed as an intervention tool; you’d need to use Course Signals if you want to automate and manage actions by staff.

Student Retention Performance uses IBM Cognos.  Data appears to be fed from Banner Student only – I cannot find any reference to integration with a VLE product as yet, which makes it somewhat limited.  It may be though that combining this tool with Course Signals, which does integrate data from other systems, would help.

Tribal Student Insight
Tribal is currently developing an analytics offering for their SITS:Vision SIS product with the University of Wolverhampton.  This is called Student Insight and aims to help predict student performance and at-risk students to enable interventions to be carried out, subsequent student activity tracked and – interestingly – the impact of interventions to be tracked.  Few analytics products so far offer this facility.

Tribal refers to library and VLE data being integrated together with demographic data and assessment results.  The product is intended to provide information to staff on issues the student might have such as preparation for higher education, engagement, “academic integration” and “social integration” – presumably producing metrics for each of these.  It will allow comparison with other students across cohorts too.

The company claims that their product can predict student success with an accuracy of 70% – some room for improvement there then still.  It’s found in its research with Wolverhampton that VLE usage is highly predictive of student success.  We already know that there is a correlation but it will be interesting to find out what aspects of VLE usage they are measuring – and whether the metric is based on more than a simple analysis of VLE click data from the log files.  Finally they state that social background and the distance students live from the campus is strongly correlated with their success when combined with other factors.  All of these metrics are combined into a single overall “Student Success Prediction” metric.

Compass ProMonitor
The final SIS-based product I’ll look at  here is widely used in further education and in some respects is ahead of the SIS-centric offerings being developed for higher education.  One of the products within the SIS range from Compass Computer Consultants Ltd is ProMonitor. This presents key details about the learner, enables teachers to record meetings and input comments, track them and follow them up, and it provides automated email notifications.  There are reports on assessments and ones which show student performance against the targets set for them.   Other data sources can be integrated and at risk students can be identified.

This has much in common with a customer relationship management system and facilitates the workflow around interventions as well as various visualisations.  It’s unclear how the at risk metric is calculated but a more sophisticated predictive analytics engine might help in this regard.

The SIS-centric analytics tools are still in their early stages of development, let alone being used in anger by many UK institutions.  The three I’ve profiled here all require you to be using that particular SIS so if you’re not, you’ll need to look at a VLE-centric analytics product or a business intelligence system.  In summary:

  • Student Retention Performance could be used alongside Course Signals if you’re a Banner Student institution to carry out some interesting analysis together with some automated interventions and workflow management.
  • Student Insight looks promising for Tribal SITS:Vision users but you’ll have to wait till it’s released to assess its full potential alongside other types of products.
  • Further education colleges are already using ProMonitor and beginning to understand how they can use it to monitor student engagement. But the system so far lacks some of the tools of emerging analytics solutions such as sophisticated predictive models.

I’ve suggested in an earlier post that VLE-centric analytics products are not currently winning the battle for market share in the UK.  Well nor it seems are the SIS-based ones at the moment, with the exception perhaps of ProMonitor in the further education sector.  That leaves us still to investigate to what extent the generic business intelligence tools such as Autonomy, Cognos, QlikView and Tableau are being successfully customised as learning analytics systems.

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