Simpson College’s Student-Centered Course Inactivity Report Intervention Model: Retaining At-Risk Students in Online Learning and Beyond
Knowing that a student is struggling is one thing; actually being able to reach out and help that student is another. As educators, we all want to see our students not only engaged but thriving. So how can you efficiently and effectively identify and help at-risk learners? What does successful student retention outreach look like when your courses are all online?
Simpson College faced this challenge when the pandemic hit, leading the College to move to fully online instruction. Founded in 1860, Simpson College is a private liberal arts college in Indianola, Iowa that serves the diverse communities of the Midwest with approximately 1,250 full-time and 300 part-time students. Simpson College prides itself on educational excellence through commitment to its core values of discovery, access, citizenship, belonging, justice, and integrity.
Lynne Jensen is the Director of Information Technology Services at Simpson College. Her background includes positions in data, business, and systems analysis at Simpson College and positions at Principal Financial Group, CitiMortgage, and Principal Residential Mortgage. A passionate educator, Lynne has also taught middle and high school math and computer science. We were so excited when she agreed to give a presentation at IntelliCon 2021 on Simpson College’s experience identifying student retention risks using IntelliBoard reports.
Simpson College’s Rapid Pivot to All Remote Learning
Like many schools worldwide, Simpson College moved to fully online courses for the remainder of the semester when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Luckily, Simpson College already offered some online courses and was relatively well-positioned to make the pivot successfully.
“Everyone had a little panic, I think, when that had to happen, but we had some good things going for us here at Simpson College. We already had an online program… and with that, we had made some good technology choices that had us in a good spot to go to fully online with our prior face-to-face classes.”
Simpson College already had the Moodle learning management system (LMS) fully implemented and a Zoom contract. Its online program also meant they had staff and faculty familiar with handling challenges around online learning.
“We also had a very tech-savvy instructional designer… We had experienced faculty who knew how to teach online courses, so that was a benefit. And we had IntelliBoard!”
Even with all this in place, an unexpected rapid pivot to 100% remote instruction left Lynne and her colleagues with plenty of concerns.
The pandemic hit during spring break, which the college then lengthened by another week. While the students took an extended vacation, Lynne and her team facilitated the transition to fully online learning by harnessing the knowledge of Simpson’s Academic Software Support Peer Mentor Team, which organized a faculty course on virtual learning with a series of department-specific sessions and additional faculty support hours. As a result, even though most of the faculty had never taught an online course, Simpson College was able to move 238 courses, taught by a combination of 90 full-time and 50 part-time faculty, onto Moodle.
Simpson College quickly realized it had to develop an effective, efficient way to measure student engagement. This was not simple because most of the newly online courses were asynchronous, making defining and reporting engagement more difficult. Simpson College also wanted to make sure students were supported by as many of the college’s resources as they needed to succeed in this unprecedented semester; the team knew it had to securely collect student engagement data, as well as additional data relevant to each at-risk student’s retention, all in one place and promptly get it out to faculty and staff who could help.
Simpson College was up to the challenge.
Course Inactivity Reports to the Rescue
A good starting point for tracking student engagement was finding out if students were signing in to their courses.
“We found the Course Inactivity Report, which is a report that IntelliBoard offers to all of us. It pulls data from our learning management system (…); we already had the integration built between IntelliBoard and Moodle, and this report would show us any students who were not logged in to a course in the past seven days.”
Lynne and her colleagues used IntelliBoard to see which students were engaged both on the individual and course-wide level. To get this information in the hands of the people that needed it, Simpson College utilized IntelliBoard’s report scheduling feature.
“We decided to (…) [schedule] the report biweekly, using the IntelliBoard CEND [Conditional Event Notification Dashboard] feature… and that would then email it to a couple of parties that we have on campus.”
Using the IntelliBoard CEND feature meant that if students weren’t active in their course, they were automatically included in a biweekly report that went out to faculty and staff that could offer help, particularly the college’s Students of Concern Committee.
IntelliBoard + Simpson College: Making Student Retention Centered Outreach More Actionable
Measuring student engagement with Course Inactivity Reports was an excellent first step. Still, Simpson College recognized that simply knowing whether students were logging into their courses was not enough if they wanted to reach out and help the students who might be struggling.
“We started using [Course Inactivity Reports], and it was good, but we realized we needed more information. In addition to just knowing that this student in this course isn’t engaged, we wanted to know who is the student’s advisor? Who is their athletic coach? We wanted some demographic information about them, like what state are they in? Different things that would help us provide the best support for that student.”
Extracting and compiling all that data with the information in the Course Inactivity Reports took a lot of time and effort from Lynne’s then colleague, Instructional Designer Manda Gibson, who became Simpson College’s IntelliBoard point person.
“Manda was taking this report from IntelliBoard, and then data from our student information system (…), and she was merging two spreadsheets of information using vlookup and getting all fancy with Excel, but it was very time consuming to be doing that. So she actually reached out to IntelliBoard and asked them if there was something that they could do… We already knew on campus here that we had other integrations of systems where we were using SFTP [Secure File Transfer Protocol] to send data to our operational data store where we pull our SQL reports.”
At IntelliBoard, we’re passionate about delivering better, more engaging actionable data, so we were more than happy to help.
“Manda then reached out to IntelliBoard with this idea, and their engineers embraced it; apparently, they hadn’t been asked for it before. It took them a little bit of time, but they worked on it and found a way to set SFTP as an option for any reports in IntelliBoard. So instead of emailing that report to certain people, we could SFTP it so the data would merge in our operational data store. And then I was able to create SQL reports that would go to the right parties.”
Now that this data could be easily compiled and reported, staff and faculty could receive Course Inactivity Reports that showed which students weren’t engaged and crucial information about these at-risk students that made the Course Inactivity Reports more student-centered and actionable.
“The benefit was that we could integrate any data we needed, (…) we knew we wanted Moodle activity, advisor data, coaches, and demographic information all pulled together from different systems. It became much easier to merge and add more data fields as needed once we did the Intelliboard data integration. We were able to set up the automated reports and send them to our Dean of Retention and to our advisor in the C&G program [Continuing & Graduate program].”
These crucial faculty members, as well as Simpson College’s Students of Concern Committee, could then identify at-risk learners and create a plan of outreach and support.
The Results: 38 At-Risk Students Retained
With IntelliBoard’s CEND and SFTP reports, recognizing at-risk students and ways to help them became a lot easier for the Committee and the rest of the college. The impact was huge. Simpson College estimates that the outreach they were able to do due to its student-centered Course Inactivity Report intervention model helped retain at least 38 students who would not have otherwise finished the semester successfully. And that’s just the students who might have dropped out. Many others had their educational experience improved because they were identified early and able to get the help they needed to thrive during a tumultuous semester. That means a lot to Simpson College, and it means a lot to us.
Lasting Influence of the Student-centered Course Inactivity Report Intervention Model
Simpson College is mainly back to in-person learning now, but they still use their student-centered Course Inactivity Report model they developed during the early days of the pandemic for those courses that are still online. Now that more faculty have adopted Moodle for their in-person courses, Lynne and her colleagues are exploring how to potentially use this model for face-to-face classes as well.
(Manda Gibson was so impressed she came to work for us.)
Thank you so much, Lynne, for your wonderfully informative presentation. We look forward to seeing what you and Simpson College do next and supporting you by getting the right data compiled and reported to the right people every step of the way.