Adoption Leads to Outcomes at American Public University System


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This story highlights current work at American Public University System (APUS) to improve student engagement and success. Associate Provost of Academic Effectiveness and Student Success, Dr. Gwen Hall, explores how working groups got to know their students’ risks and rewards with Illume®, and then performed more than 100,000 student outreaches in one semester with Inspire for Faculty. Read on to learn how they were able to see a measurable lift in successful course completion as an initial cohort of more than 1,000 faculty embrace a new way of engaging their students.

HLC Persistence Academy Research

“Our current projects in analytics have recently been expanded through a partnership with the Higher Learning Commission Academy for Student Persistence and Completion in 2014,” said Dr. Hall. “That involved working with HLC data mentors from the Academy to identify various populations of our students to better understand risks to persistence. We wanted to see what the data were saying about why they persist or not, so we started gathering information.” The working group was able to see distinctions that could define their more than 90,000 online students (largely military and those affiliated with the military) into six distinct sub-populations. APUS had been working with Illume®, and brought it into the project. Illume provides synthesized data from across an institution that tells the whole story of what’s working, for whom, in ways that are clear and actionable.

Getting to Actionable Insights

Working with Civitas Learning’s strategic partnership team, they explored filters and powerful predictors in Illume’s dashboards for each segment. “We knew what our six segments of students were,” said Hall, “but we were surprised to see the data in terms of cross-over points or distinct differences. It was eye-opening to see the real-life differences, appreciate those differences, and then use the Student List feature to know who was in each group.“

Using Illume’s powerful predictors they could see that each group had different risk and reward factors to consider in outreach as well as different predictions for likelihood to persist. This made clear the need to tailor outreach differently for each group.

Unveiling Insights for Each Student Population
  • NCT Civilian: No credits transferred college students are mostly influenced by academic predictors, and they have a lower than average persistence rate.
  • NCT Military-Affiliated: This segment is mostly influenced by academic, behavioral and demographic predictors, and they have a much higher than average persistence rate.
  • NCT Active Military: This segment is mostly influenced by academic, behavioral and demographic predictors, and they have lower than average persistence rates.
  • Transfer Civilian: Transfer civilian students are mostly influenced by academic predictors, especially GPA, and have higher than typical persistence rates.
  • Transfer Military Affiliated: These students are mostly influenced by behavioral and academic powerful predictors, and have higher than average persistence rates.
  • Transfer Active Military: This segment is mostly influenced by academic and behavioral predictors, and has a higher persistence prediction than NCT Military.

By understanding these distinctions the working group will be crafting persistence strategies for each student segment. The next step is building engagement strategies and deeper understanding of their students to heighten persistence and hone outreach. Student Lists in Illume provides a way to prepare for distinctly different and appropriate outreach.

The University then deployed Inspire for Faculty in Fall of 2015 as part of its engagement strategy.

Deploying the App

APUS worked with Civitas Learning to deploy the Inspire for Faculty application to faculty members in order to improve student engagement and success in their courses.  Starting in August 2015, APUS targeted select courses for the Inspire pilot.  Month over month, APUS hand selected additional courses to include in the pilot.

Faculty Voices

“This is my first time using the Inspire program.  I really love it so far!  I sent out a message to all my students who were in the “average” and above sections in engagement who increased their time in the classroom this second week of class.  I was surprised at the responses:  they ranged from “I’ve never been good at school, and this helped me think I could do this, “to  “This was a pick me up…first weeks are stressful getting used to all this,” and “thank you for noticing my enthusiasm.”  I loved that it took me all of 5 minutes to send a personalized message to about half of my current students.

In case others want to use something similar to encourage their students, here is the message I sent:

I noticed that you increased your time spent in the classroom this week reading, working on your forum, and engaging with your classmates. Kudos to you! It is that kind of persistence and dedication that will help you be successful in this class and also in the rest of your life. I wanted you to know that I noticed your diligence and that I really appreciate your hard work. It always makes the course more dynamic and fun for me to teach with students like you. Keep up the great work!  

I am planning to send something similar the 4th and 6th week of class as well.  I know it was designed to catch the students who may slip through the cracks, and I used it for that as well.  However, sometimes focusing a little attention on those who are doing things right can make a big difference as well.”

inspireBuilding Adoption to Get to Outcomes

To build awareness and adoption of Inspire, Dr. Hall integrated a module into the faculty portal. “I was answering a lot of questions from faculty hearing about the roll-out. We decided to build an Inspire for Faculty Resource Center and link to it on the front of the FACULTY CONNECT portal all faculty use. By putting it front and center I knew they’d see it, dive in and learn about the benefits, and explore our training,” said Hall.

Along the way, APUS provided robust training for faculty.  APUS worked with Civitas Learning to develop a webinar training program that walked faculty through Inspire’s features and functionality and best practices around student outreach.

Measurable Gains in Successful Course Completion

In February 2016, Civitas Learning performed an Inspire for Faculty impact analysis for APUS that showed an overall lift of 2.5 percentage points in successful course completion across 69 courses.

APUS continued to provide Inspire for Faculty to additional faculty and across more courses.  This included the addition of Graduate level courses.  In August 2016, Civitas Learning performed additional Inspire analysis and measured a 7.2 percentage points lift in successful course completion for those graduate courses.

To date, APUS faculty have sent over 100,000 student nudges from within the Inspire application, using the information surfaced to them in the application to send targeted, meaningful outreach. In addition, APUS has trained and supported many of their faculty in the use of the application through the webinar training series along with the other resources in the Inspire Resource Center of the Faculty Connect portal.

Faculty Voices

“I just wanted to share some anecdotal evidence supporting the success of the Inspire program. I’ve only started utilizing the program in the past week or so, and it is already having a positive impact not only on getting my students re-engaged in the course but in my ability to connect with my students and to monitor their progress. Honestly, at first I thought to myself “oh no here’s another university initiative to take me away from my students.” Now that I am exploring its utility, I am so glad we have it. Inspire is easy to use, and I can see instantly how many students are engaged (this used to take quite a bit of time going through the course.) It only took about 10 minutes to click on the student avatars and send them an e-mail, and the response has been better than I anticipated. Inspire does enable me to have a better sense of my students’ progress and it does get them re-engaged.”

A Look at the Inspire for Faculty Resource Center
faculty connect 2 APUS

This Resource Center at American Public University System is a powerful example of how the university is providing guidance on best practices for using Inspire for Faculty to build adoption and get to meaningful outcomes that improve student learning.

Dr. Hall uses the center to provide welcome messages, app demo and suggestions, share sample emails and faculty feedback and provide webinar training. She is currently training more than 300 faculty per month. “We have more than 2,000 total faculty reaching over 90,000 students. Some will only have one class this term with Inspire and others will have more.”

The Resource Center gives every faculty member a lens into the work APUS is doing, and allows them to build a community of practice. Hall provides news and updates through the center.

Faculty Voices

“Not sure who made the decision to add Inspire, but it is, in my opinion, the best retention/student satisfaction tool that I have seen in my ten-years at APUS. 

I am always a little skeptical of new tools until I try them out. I generally like to evaluate things based on a long-term history of data before I make a comment or decision. However, in this case, I really have no doubt in saying that this tool will undoubtedly make a difference in the overall retention and student continuance rates at APUS.

I have started to use it in the last month and I did not even realize that there were a few students that I had not personally connected with (until the tool told me). The tool told me this information and I was able to identify those students and reach out to them and simply say “How is everything?”….. “Do you need extra time?” ……”Can we work out something for your late work?”

In the past, I had to take more time to identify each student and it was not as efficient as this new tool. In my opinion, I have prevented a few drops already and built a better relationship with at-risk students that might have needed it.

I am not big on sending e-mails to praise people with the effort of getting something for myself. I just do not work like that. However, I do believe that this tool will make a big difference if faculty use it. That will be the key. If they use it and then use the function to send e-mail outreach, we will see an improvement with retention. I am using it and can see the benefits for quality and quantitative number improvement.”


Dr. Gwen Hall

Dr. Gwen Hall is Associate Provost of Academic Effectiveness and Student Success at American Public University System (APUS). Prior to this she served as the Academic Operations Officer and before that as Dean, School of Security and Global Studies. As Dean, she had responsibility for the intelligence studies and national security programs, international relations, Middle East studies, political science and public administration. Dr. Hall has been with APUS since 2005.

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