Monday, March 2, 2015

Dr. Faulkner: Monitoring Students

Among the recent sports pages of The Tennessean was an article about monitoring Vanderbilt football players during training.  The new strength coach introduced a technology called Catapult Sports.  It consists of a GPS device smaller than a deck of cards that is inserted in to shoulder pads.  The device records more than 400 variables per second for each player and then sends the data via Bluetooth or satellite to a laptop.  Coaches can get instant access to information on the performance of each athlete.

The same day in the USA Today Sports section, there was an article about the data being collected on each player at the NFL scouting combine.  In addition to 40 yard times and Wonderlic scores, they collected medical history, psychological profiles, functional movement patterns, and nutritional tracking on prospective players.  Each team is looking for an edge in selecting the best persons for their teams. 

The week before these articles, I heard Cleveland State President Emeritus, Dr. Carl Hite talk about how the future of higher education will involve more closely monitoring students.  The analogy was how the health care industry has seen dramatic improvement in patient outcomes by more frequent, and in some cases continuous, monitoring of vital signs.  Education can also see gains in our outcomes by increasing our monitoring of student progress and well-being.

And then the day after these newspaper articles, at a TBR sponsored Academic Completion Academy, a team from VSCC heard about and discussed how we intervene to keep students on track in their Guided Pathway to Success (GPS.)  The key to keeping students on track is . . . . wait for it . . . . monitoring.

In education our monitoring of student success has been mainly quizzes, tests, and graded assignments.  But let’s be honest.  How many graded assignments are given in a semester?  Four?  Six?  How much assessment is summative and how much is formative?  If the first graded assignment is not given and returned until 5 weeks into the semester, then how much monitoring is really going on?  Unfortunately we don’t have a cognitive Catapult device.  And we haven’t perfected the Vulcan mind melt.

To be fair, we are making progress in monitoring students and using the information to affect change.  During the Fall 2014 semester, faculty submitted 1367  First Alerts.  We will assess the effectiveness of First Alerts to determine if it results in positive student outcomes.

But we can and must do more to detect students in trouble and students that are straying off course.  Some may reply that we are, “baby sitting students” or “doing too much hand holding.”  My response is that I would not be where I am today if it were not for influential persons that sat with me and held my hand at critical junctures in my life. 

So during the next months, we will engage in an exploration and dialogue about how we monitor and intervene with students.  This fits right in with what I have been saying for more than two years.  Student Success is Job One!

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner

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