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Increasing the Odds of Success


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Diana G. Oblinger is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

There is a great deal at stake today for higher education—for our students, our faculty, and our institutions. But we have a tool that can move us toward success. Analytics promises to help us better address the need for accountability, affordability, productivity, and student success. It offers insight and the possibility of better decision making. With the trends, predictions, patterns, and interventions revealed through analytics, we can increase our odds of success.

Increasing the odds of success is behind Arizona State University's adoption of analytics. ASU President Michael M. Crow explains: "Without analytics, we can't understand what's going on, we can't understand the complexity of what we're trying to do, and we can't measure our progress. We needed tools to help us make better decisions—about everything."

Analytics allows students to understand how their behaviors are linked to learning outcomes. We have data—lots of it—to use in analytics. We should be actively using that data to help our students. As Mark David Milliron advises in his "Open Letter to Students": "Rest assured that the local, state, and federal levels are all getting data about you . . . and using it for their purposes. … You have the right to push your college/university to use your data first to help you. Amazon uses your data to suggest books. Facebook uses your data to suggest friends. iTunes uses your data to suggest playlists. Guess what? Your college/university can and should use your data to suggest ways to better navigate your learning path, regulate your learning experiences, and access your learning resources and supports."

Analytics allows faculty to see patterns of success or disengagement in student populations, extrapolating to the future using predictive models. Data is input to tools that allow us to apply "descriptive, inferential, and predictive analyses to the massive number of individualized digital records at a transactional level," according to Ellen Wagner and Phil Ice in their article "Data Changes Everything." The authors add: "Although it would be inaccurate to suggest that educational experience is an amalgamation of transactions just waiting to be mined, analyzing student information to better understand learning and motivational patterns may, in fact, offer opportunities for reconsidering how to optimize educational experiences that promote and enable student success."

Analytics allows institution leaders to make better decisions about energy utilization, financial models, and staffing. In "Policy Dimensions of Analytics in Higher Education," Rodney J. Petersen observes: "There is an increasing recognition of the inherent value of data-informed decisions and the power of information technologies to create dashboards, infographics, or other snapshot views to keep governing boards, campus administrators, and faculty informed in a variety of areas—which in turn can help them spot early signs of trouble where intervention may be necessary." Petersen continues: "Data helps to unlock the mystery about college costs, learning outcomes, institutional effectiveness, and other performance indicators." We can improve the odds of success through analytics by paying attention to prerequisites such as sound data governance, policies, and procedures. Data access is an important—and difficult—policy issue to clarify. Who has access to the data and under what circumstances? Often-cited concerns, such as FERPA, are not necessarily roadblocks but can indeed be tricky.

Clearly an important tool, analytics remains underutilized. Crow points out: "Our institutions have unbelievable technological capability. We have unbelievable backbone. We have everything that should enable us to be the most analytical enterprise class in the world. We're not. We should be using analytics at all levels of the institution. . . . As a sector, U.S. higher education institutions are not taking advantage of one of our natural strengths: our technological capability and technological infrastructure. We should be highly analytical, on every possible level."

Few institutions will be able to cope with today's information demands or decision-making needs without analytics. Yet data and analytics are not enough by themselves. As Crow notes: "Analytics are not the end. They are the means to the end." Wagner and Ice agree: "People still need to make the decisions." Students, faculty, and institution leaders can use analytics to reach decisions that will increase their odds of success—making analytics a tool that we can no longer afford to ignore.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 47, no. 4 (July/August 2012)


Diana Oblinger

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger President and CEO of EDUCAUSE

Dr. Diana G. Oblinger is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. The current membership comprises over 2,300 colleges, universities and education organizations, including 250 corporations. Previously, Oblinger held positions in academia and business: Vice President for Information Resources and the Chief Information Officer for the University of North Carolina system, Executive Director of Higher Education for Microsoft, and IBM Director of the Institute for Academic Technology. She was on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia and at Michigan State University and served as the associate dean of academic programs at the University of Missouri.

Since becoming president of EDUCAUSE, Oblinger has become known for innovative product and services growth as well as international outreach. For example, Oblinger created the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), known for its leadership in teaching, learning and technology innovation as well as several signature products, such as the 7 Things You Should Know About series. She also initiated EDUCAUSE's first fully online events and its e-book series, including Educating the Net Generation and Learning Spaces.

In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation she led the creation of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a $30M program focused on improving college readiness and completion through information technologies. Partners include the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Hewlett Foundation.

Oblinger has served on a variety of boards such as the board of directors of ACT, the editorial board of Open Learning, the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, and the National Visiting Committee for NSF's National Science Digital Library project. She currently serves on the American Council on Education (ACE) board and works with other higher education associations as chair of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat. Dr. Oblinger has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Employment, Safety and Training and the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Technology.

Oblinger is a frequent keynote speaker as well as the co-author of the award-winning book What Business Wants from Higher Education. She is the editor or co-editor of seven books: The Learning Revolution, The Future Compatible Campus, Renewing Administration, E is for Everything, Best Practices in Student Services, Educating the Net Generation, and Learning Spaces. She also is the author or co-author of numerous monographs and articles on higher education and technology.

Dr. Oblinger has received outstanding teaching and research awards, was named Young Alumnus of the Year by Iowa State University and holds two honorary degrees. She is a graduate of Iowa State University (Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D.) and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi.


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