What’s all this talk about big data?

Maybe it hasn’t popped up on your radar yet, but it seems like everywhere one turns these days there’s another perfectly coiffed Nostradamus-impersonator lauding the inevitable big data revolution that’s just around the corner for higher education.

In case you’re wondering what I think about big data and all of the hubbub about it, I’ve shared a link to something I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education recently that they titled, “Big Data, Scant Evidence.” If you can’t access the it from where you are reading this post but really want to read the piece, send me a note and I’ll try to get an unlocked copy to you. My article is part of a larger supplement published last week about the big data trend in higher education. You might find some of the other articles interesting, although it’s hard to read some of this stuff and not think, “Isn’t this what we’ve been doing at Augustana for a while now?” Well . . . yes. Except that we aren’t necessarily a big enough place to produce big data. So what do we call our data? Diminutive? Pocket-sized? Lean?

Whatever you want to call it, we seem to be pretty good at improving based upon solid information.

Make it a good day,


A Shameless Plea

First or all, I owe you all a hearty heap of thanks for your patience this spring. For a couple of reasons, some of which can be chalked up to coincidence and some of which can be blamed squarely on me, we are participating in more than the usual number of surveys this spring.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about the awesome data that we will have at the end of this term and how much it will likely inform the ways that we keep trying to improve our campus. But you’ve heard all that from me before, and by now you either believe me or you don’t.

Nonetheless . . .

We really need your help in getting first year students to respond to our End of the First Year survey. It’s especially important because we’ve been paying close attention to the experience of various subgroups of students (i.e., African-American students, Hispanic students, first-generation students, students coming from particularly low income families, etc.) that have historically not succeeded at the same rates as more affluent white students. In order to have the most robust data from these students, we need to do everything in our power to encourage participation.

And this leads me to my shameless plea.

Please, please, please: if you interact with first year students or have the wherewithal to communicate with first year students, would you please take 30 seconds to make a personal plea on behalf of the college and encourage them to complete the first year survey? All first year students received an email earlier today inviting them to take the survey. I’ll send a link to anyone who would like so that they can include it on their course’s Moodle site or web page.

Thanks very much. It really does make a difference.

Make it a good day,


And it’s down to three . . .

Good morning everyone!

It’s not every week that you get to see three pretty smart people talk about the way that they might approach a leadership role as provost at Augustana College.  So if you can find a way to be there, I hope you’ll come to see each of the provost candidates present this week.

Each of them will be presenting at 11 AM and at 3 PM on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, respectively. They will each be giving the same presentation in the afternoon that they gave in the morning, so you can come to one or the other.

Your participation in this process matters for several reasons.

  1. The more feedback the better for the search committee after all three finalists have been to campus.
  2. The more questions asked of the candidates the more everyone in attendance gets a sense of each candidate’s approach to public communication.
  3. The more people in attendance at these presentations the more we communicate to each candidate our investment in our provost and the college.

So come on down to the Wilson Center as often as you can make it.

Make it a good day,


Improving our first-year advising: sometimes structure does matter

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve almost certainly seen some of my posts about the data we’ve collected to assess and guide our advising practices at Augustana College (here, here, and here). However, those posts only get at part of the story. Since all of those posts drew from senior survey data, we can be almost sure that those findings primarily reflect our students’ advising experiences in their major(s). But we also know that first-year advising matters a lot. Many would argue it matters at least as much as major advising. So I’d like to dive into some of the advising data from our first-year students and see if there’s anything that we can learn from it.

In this post I’d like to focus on two items that we know are important for a successful first-year experience. First-year students answered these questions late in their fall term.

  1. My first year adviser connected me with other campus offices, resources, or opportunities (offices like Student Activities, the Community Engagement Center, the Counseling Center) to help me succeed during my first year.
  2. My first-year adviser made me feel like I could succeed at Augustana.

The table below presents the average response scores to these items over the last four years. The response options were strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree. These responses were converted to a 1-5 scale where 1 equals strongly disagree.

Question 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
My first-year Adviser connected me with other campus offices, resources, or opportunities to help me succeed during my first year.    3.55    3.62    3.83    3.89
My first-year adviser made me feel like I could succeed at Augustana.    4.07    4.20    4.25    4.21

You can see that we’ve improved on both measures since 2013-14. I know that our first-year advising program has emphasized the importance of connecting students with the campus offices that can best help them, and it’s heartening to see that this effort may be producing results. With that said, it looks like we might still need to improve since our average score hasn’t quite surpassed “agree” yet. By contrast, in each of the last four years, on average our student’s “agree” that we have made them feel like they could succeed at Augustana.

Interestingly, while the improvement in referring students to other campus resources seems fairly consistent, the improvement in making students feel like they could succeed seems to have plateaued over the last couple of years. But digging a little deeper, there is a wrinkle in our 2016-17 data that both seems to explain this plateau and may further emphasize the value in moving to the first-year advising structure that the faculty has now approved to implement next year.

This year (i.e., during the fall of 2016), about a third of our first-year student advising groups were enrolled in an FYI-100 course instead of merely meeting informally with their adviser throughout the term. For the students who were enrolled in this class, the average response score to the statement “My first-year adviser made them feel like they could succeed at Augustana” was 4.34. For the students who were not enrolled in this class (about 2/3rds of the whole group), the average response score was 4.17.

Many long time advisers said that the FYI 100 format helped them develop stronger relationships with their advisee. These advisers indicated that the stronger relationships allowed them to engage in more substantive conversations that, in turn, helped the students think more deeply about the nature of their college experience and the ways in which they could make the most of it.

As wonderful as it is to hear that we seem to be making improvements in our advising practices, It is even more exciting to see data confirming these bold strides toward even better first-year advising.

Make it a good day,