UWS uses data analysis to track student performance

The University of Western Sydney (UWS) is using data analysis and visualisation software, Tableau, to track the performance of students who are at risk of failing their course subjects.

UWS is made up of nine schools spread across seven campuses including Bankstown, Blacktown, Campbelltown, Hawkesbury, Lithgow, Parramatta and Penrith. There are currently 42,000 students enrolled at UWS.

UWS director of performance and quality Neil Durrant said the software could be used to help students in need of support or guidance on how to succeed at university.

According Durrant, about two thirds of its students are the first in their family to go to university and 25 per cent of the student body is from a lower socio-economic background.

“We want to make sure that those people can come to us and succeed at university. We have a whole bunch of support/intervention programs to ensure that those students get the support to make it through.”

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  • UWS started using Tableau software 12 months ago to review course performance. The student data is collated into an integrated reporting platform.

    “What it [Tableau] allows us to do is elect a particular group of students such as mature age or first in their family to go to university. We can isolate that group's data into a dashboard and see how they are tracking compared to the average UWS student in terms of their academic outcomes," said Durrant.

    “If they are performing poorly, are there things we can do to intervene to ensure student success?”

    He added that the majority of students from low income backgrounds have a “real commitment” to finish their degree and enter the workforce.

    UWS also runs a first year student survey during the student's first month at university. This asks the students questions such as how their experience is going, the best aspects, worst aspects and what they need help with.

    “With that survey, it used to take weeks to turn it around and give the feedback out to the relevant parties. That meant we might have missed our opportunity to intervene. Using Tableau, we have been able to shorten the turnaround time down to one week. This means governance groups like our student experience committee can get quick access to those survey results,” he said.

    Market analysis

    Because UWS has seven campuses spread across Western Sydney, Durrant said it has to “think very carefully” about the courses it offers at different campus. This is so it can get enough student enrolments to make the course economically viable.

    Nine months ago, it started using Tableau for internal market analysis at its campuses to see which courses were performing better.

    “The outcome has been that particular courses we might have run on one campus could also be run at a second campus such as Parramatta,” he said.

    “We have been able to create a business case for offering courses at multiple locations.”

    For example, UWS is now offering its Bachelor of Psychology degree at the Bankstown and Penrith campuses because there is enough demand.

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