Information as Transformation: Telling the Story of Educational Excellence

Information as Transformation: Telling the Story of Educational Excellence, Part 2

Information as transformation: Digital Measures CEO and founder Matt Bartel explored this powerful idea in conversation with James Anderson, Chancellor, Fayetteville State University (FSU), and Laurens Smith, Interim Provost, Utah State University (USU), at the recent American Council on Education (ACE) annual meeting in Washington, D.C. From educational excellence to institutional transformation, data and reporting are key. Earlier in the conversation, the panel discussed how the commitment to data-driven reporting and decision making came to each campus. Here, the conversation continues, touching on faculty engagement with faculty activity reporting and some exciting new initiatives, including collaborations inspired by reporting outcomes.

Faculty Embrace Metrics

When asked how faculty have responded to data-driven decision making, Anderson shared that one of the early concerns came from the arts and liberal arts disciplines, because they felt hard sciences had an easier way to quantify their activities. FSU had departments create their own rubrics, based on activities relevant to their respective disciplines, so they would each be evaluated on standards that measured success in their own fields.

“We tried to achieve a cultural shift—and you know how easy that can be,” Smith joked. There wasn’t much pushback on the theory behind having an electronic, easily accessible database of faculty productivity as USU rolled out Activity Insight. And USU eased the transition for faculty with dedicated resources to help with data entry, and by taking advantage of Activity Insight’s direct data imports, as well as data integrations with sources including Crossref and PubMed.

At USU, the greatest advantage of faculty activity reporting is that it fosters honesty and clarity. “It tells an honest story about what’s happening in your unit,” Smith said. “How many of us have had a department head come in and share stories about how great things are going to justify more funding or more faculty? Now, we hit a button and see the data. It’s a level playing field, and we can make much more informed decisions.”

Anderson agreed, noting that the most difficult evaluation point can be a department chair or dean. Before Activity Insight, those evaluations were done in a subjective way, Anderson reported. “State schools have to be transparent. Departments should look across at each other and know why one department gets more money than others,” he said. “Now, every department can look at its performance against other departments. There’s equity and clarity. And fewer decisions are appealed because people are satisfied with these decisions—they know where the data came from.”

New Directions

At USU, Digital Measures is helping to build a vision for graduate student enrollment, grant funding and other areas. “We’re able to take a snapshot at a most basic level or college level so we can see who’s stepping up, who’s increasing productivity,” Smith said.

At FSU, the incentives built into evaluations have spurred collaboration across disciplines. For example, new collaborations around forensic studies have emerged at FSU, exciting young faculty to collaborate in forensic accounting, forensic biology and other areas. “Many who were satisfied with just being in the classroom are now stepping up and competing for dollars they wouldn’t have before,” Anderson said.

Thanks to all who braved the weather and attended this ACE session. We would love to continue the conversation with you.

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