New England automates student support

The University of New England (UNE) has launched an “automated wellness engine” in an effort to improve engagement with students.

The engine, designed by UNE and built by Altis Consulting in conjunction with the university’s ‘Early Alert’ program, provides early identification of students who may be struggling or experiencing difficulty engaging with their program of study. Once identified, the university can refer students to appropriate support services.

The new application uses the university's data warehouse to extract student-related information from eight separate systems, analysing the data against 34 triggers which are potential indicators of student problems or potential disengagement from their studies. Some data is self-reported - for example happiness ratings generated by emoticons embedded in UNE's “MyUNE” portal - while other data relates to students interactions with the university and their teachers, use of facilities, and their responsiveness to deadlines.

UNE assistant director student services, Rhonda Leece, said the idea of engagement was something the university had always taken seriously and with more students going into the online environment, the institution saw the need to evolve that experience.

“With Early Alert we are fundamentally renewing our commitment to students,” she said in a statement. “It's a systems-driven strategy delivering personal connections that make distance education students feel part of the University.”

The engine was developed by Altis throughout 2010 with extensive trials of the system carried throughout the year. The trial indicated unit attrition rates for students involved in the trial significantly decreased, falling 7.5 per cent during the semester.

The engine’s daily reports identified the highest risk students then used that information to generate automatic email offers of support via UNE's RightNow student relationship management system. AWE also generates trend reports for the wider university body, identifying information such including reasons for discontinuation of studies, or overall student happiness within individual schools or courses.

The uni claims all information remains confidential and students can participate if they choose.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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