Rio Salado has long been recognized for its innovative approach to student engagement and success. Serving more than 40,000 students, predominantly working adults, Rio Salado offers extensive online learning, dozens of collaborative workforce development partnerships, accelerated formats and frequent start dates (every Monday).
“Our mission is to astonish our customers,” said Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Jennifer Freed, “and learning analytics is one way we are doing that. We want to bolster student success by supporting it proactively and transforming the learning experience.” Rio Salado is working to meet this goal with customized high quality learning design, use of analytics, personalized service and organizational responsiveness.
“Our ultimate goal is to anticipate our students’ needs before they have them, so scaling our work in predictive analytics is a natural fit for us,” said Freed, who previously served as teaching faculty at Rio Salado.
Early Analytics Work
Rio Salado began its work with an initial set of predictive models constructed in 2009 to drive an early intervention pilot for students at-risk of not receiving a grade of C or better in their course. Models were constructed in 15 courses across six discipline areas with data evaluated for the 8th
class day. The intent of the models was to estimate probabilities of course success that could be translated to at-risk warning levels.
The following year, a new approach was developed to provide a continuous evaluation of student at-risk levels beyond the eighth day, with once a week reporting. Today this work has evolved to the RioPACE program. “By comparing student behavior to historical data – that of students who were successful in their courses – we are able to help students build for the best performance,” said Freed. “We looked at 24 factors that could be predictive including course activity, demographic and socioeconomic status, etc., then narrowed it down to three key factors that were actionable in helping determine a student’s satisfactory progress and pace in a course.” Today, RioPACE runs inside the RioLearn LMS, and students are introduced to the model via this video
RioPACE is currently being used by 11 high enrollment courses in a pilot that focuses on multiple interventions from the faculty to determine which interventions are the most effective and engaging for students. With 114 sections and 25 students per section, the pilot is being tested with 2,800 students. Work for the project is being supported by a Wave 3B Next Generation Learning Grant.
“As part of the grant we’re expanding our services to provide a more holistic view to students and faculty of the student’s academic experience,” said Dr. Kishia Brock, Vice President of Student Affairs and Advancement. “We’ve built a student completion portal called RioCompass that will have PACE scores populated so advisors can see how a student is keeping pace across all of their courses.”
The college has also implemented a peer mentor program called the Student Success Helpdesk as part of the Wave IIIb Next Generation Learning Grant. “We contacted Phi Kappa Theta (Honor Society) students last summer who provide extra outreach to our online students,” said Brock. The peers do not tutor, and cannot see grades, but can see PACE rankings to see if the students are progressing satisfactorily across all of their courses. “The peers have all successfully completed at least two terms, and provide a friend and support to new entry students,” explained Brock. “They call the students and if they see risk, they can engage the student to see if it’s something in their work or personal life, if they don’t understand the content, or what may be causing the problem, before it’s too late.” As is the case with any grant project, Brock is concerned about long term sustainability once the five year grant has expired. “What’s so exciting about this peer model,” she said, “is we can sustain this by incorporating this into our existing work-study model for successful students who are earning while learning as college work study employees. The peers come to the administration building and take and make calls sitting beside the academic advisors, and are closely integrated into the advising culture.”
With 48 ‘semesters’ a year, Rio Salado has addressed the access issue and now is even more purposefully focused on student success and the completion agenda, Brock said. “When you’re looking at how to scale a high touch, personalized learning model, analytics and peer coaching are a viable choice.”
Other grant-funded work includes piloting an online readiness assessment Smarter Measure. “Unlike some assessments that tend to be shallow, this one dives deep,” said Freed. “It measures everything from technological expertise to critical thinking as well as important non-cognitive measures like resilience or “grit.” Responses and advice can be customized for that student, including embedding links to appropriate resources on the campus in the counseling center, admissions, financial aid and more. All students that are part of the grant population will take the assessment. “We want to leverage that data collection as well as support interventions addressing the non-cognitive factors,” said Freed.”
Making Analytics the Backbone of the College
“We want to make analytics part of the backbone of the college, more than just for addressing retention issues,” she said. “What appeals to us about the partnership with Civitas Learning is the ability to scale this work with real-time data. We have one full-time analyst – who is doing an amazing job – but that makes it tough to scale these interventions to thousands or tens of thousands of students. We want to move beyond the pilot classroom and grow this. We see this as a way to leverage what we’ve done and expand our work to take in the whole student experience. We don’t want to just look at ways to allow and support our current students to persist toward graduation, we want to be known as the college that anticipated and supported their needs from beginning to end, based on data.”