Demonstrating Faculty Influence on Student Success

Demonstrating Faculty Influence on Student Success With Radford University

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Radford University’s road to demonstrating faculty influence on student success had a humble beginning—moving faculty annual reviews off of paper and into digital form. Charley Cosmato, Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Radford, and Andrew Wiech, Digital Measures Senior Engagement Consultant, shared the university’s evolution at the recent American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) conference. Their presentation focused on both digitizing faculty reviews and using faculty activity data to measure faculty’s impacts on a range of strategic priorities, including student success and retention. In this post, we’ll share Radford’s experience using faculty activity data to demonstrate the ways faculty contribute to student success; in part 2, we’ll share Radford’s journey from paper-based faculty annual reporting to fully utilizing the capabilities of faculty activity reporting software.

What Information Do You Need?

After two years of gathering campus-wide faculty activity data for annual reporting, it was time for Radford to step back and think about larger institutional needs. “If you’re going to provide reporting that’s strategically relevant, you need the 30,000-foot view,” Wiech said. “I asked, ‘What could we tell or show you that would allow you to make your decisions more confidently or answer your questions more accurately? If we put this information in front of you, what should it look like?’”

Identifying the questions to answer allowed Wiech and Cosmato to define the dataset needed to produce reports that would answer questions and inform decisions for university administration. “The question isn’t, What can my data tell me? But, What do I need to know?” Wiech explained. “Don’t let the data wag the dog.”

“An important part of my job is encouraging clients to think about what data they already have access to, and how to summarize, tabulate and use that data to reveal the big picture and tell a university-wide story,” Wiech said.

Radford and Student Success

A key plank in Radford’s strategic plan is student success. “Faculty activity is one of your key indicators if you’re moving the needle on student success predictors like undergraduate research, experiential learning, service learning and high-impact practices,” Cosmato said. “We realized we could query this dataset to determine if the things we’re doing are making a difference.”

With input from many campus stakeholders, Radford determined that to increase retention and graduation rates, the university should:

  • remove barriers
  • support the classroom experience
  • ensure effective, efficient advising
  • engage in clear, unified communications
  • address the unique needs of each group of students

They identified faculty activities that could serve as key performance indicators for supporting the classroom experience, including continued support of high impact practices (HIPs), adequate support for and celebration of faculty members devoted to student success, and student support provided in the classroom.

Fortunately, many related faculty activities were already being captured for annual reviews, including:

  • Innovation in the classroom
  • Publications
  • Performances
  • Presentations
  • Dissertation supervision
  • Adacemic advising
  • Grants

Wiech noted that by clarifying Radford’s questions and carefully describing the output needed, he and Cosmato were able to adjust data content and structure to ensure the information faculty entered could be used to answer those questions. “This made the transition from a tactical view to a strategic view easier to accomplish,” Wiech said.

Using data on innovative teaching practice and HIPs; data uploaded from student information systems on scheduled teaching; and additional supporting information from faculty, students’ outcomes could be directly traced back to best practices.

“Faculty could tell their individual stories of impact and effectiveness, but now that it’s in a central database, Radford can take a larger view,” Wiech noted. “The university can tell the stories of effectiveness for departments, colleges and the whole campus.”

Using simple quantitative analysis of faculty activity data allows Radford to focus on—and reward—programs that are performing well in service of strategic goals, and identify departments that needed help to improve. The data they gather can provide a high-level view of a unit or the university as a whole, and allows Radford to drill down to the class level.

Shifting From Tactical to Strategic and Back

With this high-level, institution-wide reporting available, it’s easier to find what’s working, Cosmato noted. “And it surfaces surprising things. You’d expect to see a lot of service learning opportunities in the Social Work department, but why was there so much happening in the English department?” he said. “What makes it surprisingly valuable in one place may also apply elsewhere. The Provost can come to you and say, you have some rockstar performers, let’s get them to share what they know.”

Radford now plans to use faculty activity data to identify programs excelling in innovations in the classroom, summarized by college, department or individual. In addition, Radford is using Activity Insight to reveal what makes it unique as an institution. “We’re mining the data for stories of the many positive things that are happening, building our ‘brag book’ of impacts,” Cosmato said.

Get the Most From Faculty Data

Faculty activity data is powerful, and when used in conjunction with other data on campus it provides a remarkably complete aggregate view of institutional effectiveness in a wide range of areas, including student success. “We have a tightly regulated roles and responsibilities system. Using data to evaluate faculty is only possible for those with the right roles in the university and within Activity Insight. Outside of that, people can request data on a one-time basis via a documented approval chain, so we have a good record of how we’re better using our data and interesting questions being asked,” Cosmato said. “This speaks to buy-in on the value of this data across the university.”