Gateways to Completion: Improving Student Learning with Data and Faculty-driven Solutions

The world of analytics and data is an important part of the education landscape. However, most faculty have not felt its reach. That is likely to change in the near future.

Analytics in education is used to analyze data in order to improve educational success (see Sheila MacNeil, Lorna M. Campbell, and Martin Hawksey, “Analytics for Education,” for an introduction to analytics). As more attention is paid to higher education and its costs, politicians, policy makers, and the public will continue to demand greater success in the classroom through measuring unsatisfactory drop and failure rates.

The fear of course is that faculty positions will be tied to pass rates and that might lead to job losses or a reduction of rigor in order to maintain employment. As a result faculty usually cringe at the mention of data concerning their pass rates even if they are assured by administrators that their data will not be used against them.

The John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education’s Gateways to Completion (G2C) is attempting to alleviate this conundrum by having faculty develop solutions for their course redesigns in conversation with their deans and other administrators. As councilor on the AHA Teaching Division (TD), I was asked to attend the Annual Gateway Course Experience Conference last year, and I also attended the conference this year from April 11-14. I interacted with history faculty from the G2C one-day conference on Saturday and then with faculty, analysts, and administrators from different parts of the United States from April 12-14 concerning their use of analytics and course redesign.

Because analytics and data are becoming important within academia, and introductory history survey courses tend to have high drop and failure rates, the AHA felt it was important for someone from the TD to keep abreast of what is occurring in order to better inform our members of these changes. In particular the AHA seeks to support faculty-driven solutions concerning attrition rates, instead of accepting top-down solutions. A faculty-driven philosophy is what also led to the development of the Tuning Project, and the AHA is working with the G2C program to help provide discipline expertise as well as support its faculty-driven efforts.

Our first joint presentation occurred at the 2015 AHA annual meeting with Enhancing Undergraduate Student Success. With 30 faculty in attendance, the panelists provided data related to their history survey courses and discussed their early redesign efforts. One of the interesting takeaways from that presentation is that those in attendance were familiar with the issue of retention, and wanted to know more about the nuts and bolts of course redesign. Currently the TD is working with G2C and others to provide sessions on how to use data in developing course redesign.

As the year moves forward the TD will continue to explore how analytics and data are affecting the teaching of history and the profession. We would like to hear from our members or nonmembers concerning their own experiences or concerns related to this topic so that we can better fulfill the TD’s role in advocating for the maintaining of rigor in the teaching of history and ensuring that solutions related to student success are faculty driven.

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The author, Trinidad Gonzales, is a history instructor at South Texas College. His articles have appeared in the books War along the Border: The Mexican Revolution and Tejano Communities, and Hybrid Identities. His current book project is Imperial Ethnicities: Mexicanos, México Texanos, México Americanos, and the Politics of Rights and Citizenship. It examines processes of United States colonization of Mexicans in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Gonzales is a councilor of the American Historical Association’s Teaching Division (2014-2017) and is the former coordinator of the Mexican American studies degree at South Texas College.

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