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Artificial Intelligence, Avatars, and Pathways: Eduventures 2018 Innovation Award Winners

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A rare thing happened when the award committee met this year to decide the winners of the 2018 Eduventures Innovation Awards. A normally quite opinionated group of analysts and higher education experts found themselves feeling indecisive. The rightful winners just weren’t jumping off the page as easily this time—rather, too many were jumping off the page. But why? A possible reason: we simply had more entries to review than in years past. And there were a lot of really good ones. Nearly all deserved a hard look. But that didn’t explain all of it. As we worked through each entry, we identified three distinct dimensions on which we could place each innovation:
  • Unique vs. more common
  • “Big ideas” vs. narrow-but-impactful ideas
  • Measurable outcomes vs. outcomes in progress
The question was, which of these dimensions should take precedence? Should we discount a “big idea” with more qualitative or incomplete outcomes to show for it? Should we elevate an innovation for highly measurable and clearly impactful results despite an initiative that seems smaller in scope? How much weight should we place on novelty? If innovation is ultimately about impact, is breadth of adoption just as important as originality? Interestingly, we noticed some convergence around certain themes. The use of predictive modeling to inform student intervention strategies and the adoption of more sophisticated recruitment marketing segmentation techniques were common this year—initiatives our own research has pointed to. Perhaps, a sign that last year’s innovation becomes this year’s best practice. In the end we did award extra points to those with more unique entries. We chose not to ding entries with outcomes in progress. Not all initiatives needed to be a “big idea” to make a big impact, but we agreed that the rarer and riskier “big ideas” among them should certainly be celebrated. The innovations of our six winners and two honorable mentions took many shapes and sizes, ranging from avatars, to artificial intelligence, to new-and-improved co-curricular transcripts. The winners are diverse and offer examples that institutions, our clients, and Wake-Up Call readers can relate to. A detailed list of each innovation is below. We applaud these schools and the many others who submitted an innovation for consideration this year for their accomplishments. Use the following links to jump to each section.   Adelphi University Georgia State University Anderson University National Louis University Walden University Elon University  
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2018 Eduventures Innovation Award Winners

Enrollment Management Strategy

Adelphi Logo
Personalizing the Enrollment Process
Background Like colleges and universities across the country, Adelphi University (Adelphi) is facing declining numbers of high school graduates and changing demographics. Last spring, this was further exacerbated by the sudden launch of the New York State Excelsior Scholarship, a financial aid program that makes New York universities tuition free for middle-income families. The impact of the Excelsior program was felt immediately at Adelphi. Within days, deposits went from 10% ahead of expectations to 5% behind.   Innovation Adelphi quickly developed a plan to communicate how it is different from large state schools and distinguish it from more than 100 private colleges and universities in New York. The university called this plan the Personalized Enrollment Initiative. The initiative worked like this:
  • When a student expresses interest, they hear immediately from the director of admissions who introduces them to their personal enrollment counselor, their guide throughout the admissions process.
  • Immediately following this initial outreach, prospective students are connected with an academic contact in their area of interest giving them the ability to ask questions about the curriculum.
  • Personal enrollment counselors then check in with prospective students on a regular basis, offering tips and strategies for completing the Adelphi application.
  • Once students are accepted, their personal enrollment counselors reach out with a congratulatory note, an offer to help personalize a campus visit, and information about academic programs. Students are reconnected with their academic contact.
  • Accepted students are also invited to an on-campus event attended by deans, department chairs, faculty members, administrators, and even the president’s bulldog, Georgia.
  • After students accept an offer of admission, their personal enrollment counselor connects them with a personal contact in the Office of Academic Services who guides them through the university’s advising system, academic planning, and registration.
  • After submitting their deposits, students are connected with representatives from the University’s Center for Student Involvement, who walk them through registration for an orientation program and the final steps toward enrollment.
  Outcomes Compared to last year, Adelphi received 9% more applications, and as of May 2, almost 8% more deposits. Attendance at on-campus tours and information sessions increased nearly 29%. Crowds at special events grew by almost 17%. The final result? The incoming Class of 2022 will be the second largest in Adelphi’s history. back to top Georgia State University
Using Artificial Intelligence to Decrease Summer Melt
Background One statistic troubled the admissions office at Georgia State University (Georgia State). As many as 20% of urban high school graduates who get admitted to college and confirm their intent to enroll never show up. To help these students, Georgia State identified common obstacles, including financial aid applications and documents, immunization records, placement exams, and class registration among others. The challenge was how best to communicate with these admits.   Innovation In order to address its summer melt problem among at-risk students, the university developed an artificial intelligence-enhanced chatbot. Pounce, as the bot is called, was designed to answer thousands of questions from incoming students 24/7 via text message. The goals were:
  • To communicate with incoming freshman in a personalized way.
  • To create a safe space for questions about the enrollment process.
  • To communicate with incoming freshman using their preferred method (text message).
The university started with a randomized trial in which half of the incoming freshman class were given access to Pounce and the other half were selected for the control group.   Outcomes In the first summer of implementation, Pounce delivered more than 200,000 answers to questions asked by incoming freshmen. The university reduced summer melt by 22%—an additional 324 students were present for the first day of class. The university also saw a 3.9% increase in enrollment. The students who texted with Pounce completed key enrollment steps at a higher rate than the control group, including:
  • 14.9% increase in loan counseling
  • 12.2% increase in loan acceptance
  • 16.9% decrease in FAFSA verification
  • 9.3% increase in on-time immunization submissions
  • 6.3% increase in on-time transcript submissions
Now the university uses Pounce to communicate with the entire accepted student population. back to top

Defining and Communicating Student Outcomes

anderson university
Faculty Design Institutes for Student Technology Integration
Background Over the past decade and more, most college and universities have invested in new learning technologies. Anderson University (Anderson) is no exception, evolving a mix of campus, blended, and fully online students. This spurred the need for a robust faculty development plan. The goal was to integrate effective teaching, learning, and technology practices across the institution.   Innovation Anderson developed a centralized faculty design institute aimed at both early adopters and the technology-resistant. Its goals were three-fold:
  • Engage faculty members in human-centered design (HCD) activities to enable faculty to explore innovations in pedagogy and technology and bring those into their individual course design processes.
  • Equip faculty to use an instructional design approach to identify when, where, and how to integrate those innovations and to develop courses using evidence-based approaches.
  • Empower faculty to work across disciplines, schools/colleges, and both online and physical campuses.
  Outcomes At least 70% of students noted that the purposeful integration of technology impacted them positively in four key areas:
  • Gaining access to more material, content, and resources (87%)
  • Enabling interaction with other students (70%)
  • Enabling interaction with their instructors (75%)
  • Increasing the range of content and skills they were knowledgeable of (73%)
An unexpected success: faculty members may start with a seemingly small idea and then take it to drastically re-thinking their teaching and learning experiences. One example is a science professor who wanted to initially create iPad flashcards and ended up changing the way the entire science department teaches. back to top national louis university
Transforming Instruction and Support to Increase Access and Success
Background Prior to 2015, Chicago-based National Louis University’s (NLU) undergraduates were predominantly adult transfer students, mostly evening or part-time, with an average age of 34. In late 2014, in response to recently published low college completion rates of low-income, under-represented minority, and first-generation Chicago high school students, NLU decided it was time to begin serving first-time freshmen right out of high school.   Innovation In Fall 2015, NLU launched the Pathways program, a new undergraduate bachelor’s degree targeting first-time freshmen. The most affordable in Illinois, Pathways offers a bachelor’s degree for $10,000 per year that is designed for first-generation, low-income, underrepresented students. Students qualifying for full federal and state financial aid can attend with zero out-of-pocket expense. A sample of its key features include:
  • Sequenced course pathways: designed for graduation in four years
  • Blended, flexible course schedule: with face-to-face attendance required two days per week and the balance completed online
  • Curriculum alignment: with the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile
  • Personalized instruction: through Acrobatiq’s adaptive learning courseware to serve as the online textbook and assist students who arrive below “college ready”
  • Flipped learning environment and small class sizes: with about 30 students per class
  • Success Coaches: assigned to each student
  • Instructional Teams of Coaches and Faculty: who review weekly student-level data to provide student interventions and program improvements
  • Targeted career readiness training: through required experiential courses (e.g. mock interviews and job shadows), and coursework focused on career readiness skills
  • Cohort Model: with 100-student cohorts to provide services and interventions at scale
  • Ramp Week: prior to classes starting, students are introduced to professors and courseware and receive coaching on skills like time management and asking for help
  Outcome Today, Pathways is in its third year of implementation and has grown from serving 85 students in year one with a team of seven people, to serving more than 810 with a team of 50 people. It is also serving its intended population of students historically underrepresented in college, including:
  • 90% low income
  • 93% African American and Hispanic
  • 82% first generation
Student retention for the first cohort of freshmen was 70%, which is strong relative to local and national benchmarks for this population of students. The third cohort of freshmen is on-track to meet or exceed this retention rate. back to top Walden University
Using Avatars for Online Classroom Simulations
Background Walden University (Walden) wanted to provide online students in teacher preparation programs with additional opportunities to practice their craft. Use of avatars as “practice” K-12 students, a technique developed at the University of Central Florida for campus students, had caught the attention of Walden leaders, but the school did not have the time nor the resources to move forward.   Innovation Months later, the team at Walden discovered a simulation vendor (Mursion) that was willing to design an avatar experience for online students, despite the fact that it had only provided its simulations in an on-the-ground lab previously. While the school could have bypassed the avatars altogether and simply provided a role-play/video chat experience, it chose the avatars to create a “safe” space for students to learn and create a more realistic classroom experience. Walden decided to pilot the experience in two sections of a behavior management course. Between the first and second pilots it made a number of changes to the simulations based on student feedback, including the creation of an introductory video by an adult avatar. Students simply signed up for a time slot to fit their asynchronous courses.   Outcomes The team at Walden collected data on the two simulation experiences. The percentage of students who responded that they thought the simulation experience was a “very worthwhile learning challenge” that engaged and improved their learning experience increased from 80% for the first pilot to 95% in the second. Additional findings include:
  • “Throughout the experience I was able to access the help that I needed to complete a task”: Increase in agreement from 73% in pilot one to 94% in pilot two.
  • “I believe that the use of Avatars for selected assignments and/or discussions throughout the program would greatly enhance my learning experience at Walden”: Increase in agreement from 64% in pilot one to 91% in pilot two.
Walden is now ready to offer the simulation experiences within other programs and courses. There has also been interest from university support areas such as human resources to apply simulations to staff training experiences. back to top

A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, and Student Success

A New Effort to Define and Report Student Outcomes
Background Success after graduation depends on a student’s ability to show an employer that the knowledge and skills he or she learned in college make him or her the best fit for the job. But before they get an interview, how do graduates show a complete picture of their college experience in a one- or two-page academic transcript? These were the dots Elon University (Elon) wanted to connect.   Innovation Since 1994 Elon has implemented a “co-curricular transcript.” Unlike a traditional transcript, a co-curricular transcript provides a more complete picture of the knowledge, skills, and accomplishments of each student, focusing on those learned through formative experiences. In the last three years that co-curricular transcript evolved into the Elon Experiences Transcript (EET) which is tightly tied to student data tracked in the university’s student information system (Colleague by Ellucian). Here is how it works: From the beginning of their time at Elon, students work closely with advisers and faculty members to develop their transcripts. Students are asked to think strategically about their career and life goals and how their college activities inside and outside the classroom can help them get there. The work students do in class projects and in volunteer or service experiences is measured in terms of professional competencies. Students can embed into the body of the transcript their published papers, projects, or presentation files (e.g., videos, images, or slides), and even the logos of the organizations where they worked or volunteered. When an employer reviews the co-curricular transcript of a recent graduate from Elon, she now sees an interactive digital document with a more comprehensive account of the skills learned through coursework, service, global education experiences, and focused interests. It gives the employer a clearer picture of what the applicant accomplished in her four years of college.   Outcomes One-year outcomes for the class of 2016 include:
  • 95% of graduates were employed, in graduate school, completing an internship, or voluntarily taking time off.
  • 93% of employed graduates had a position related to a career goal.
  • 92% of graduates had completed an internship during their time as a student.
A sample of other benefits include:
  • The collective student data can now be mined to help fine-tune academic and other programming, thereby balancing Elon’s commitment to the liberal arts with attention to specific skills employers are looking for.
The university can start to track alumni career trajectories, connect back to particular degree-paths, and drill down by demographic. back to top  

Honorable Mentions

Institution Category Nomination Title
Notre Dame University A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, and Student Success Redefining Data Science Education & Online Program Development
Western Governors University A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, and Student Success New Technology for Performance Assessment Delivery and Evaluation
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