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Making the Most of Advising and Planning Technologies

By Melinda Mechur Karp

Data-based tools and technology resources for improving student outcomes show promise, but only if faculty, staff and other stakeholders use them effectively.

There is a growing consensus across the country that college students need more support to reach their academic and career goals. Integrated Planning and Advising Service technologies (IPAS) — with their capacity to leverage big data and create more coherence and coordination among services — are increasingly viewed by colleges as an efficient means to address this challenge.

IPAS tools allow students to develop clearer pathways through college, and enable faculty and advisers to monitor and reach out to individual students who get off track. They hold the promise of improving student retention rates, persistence and completion. But ongoing research into IPAS implementation and use indicates that most colleges have not spent sufficient time envisioning what they hope to achieve with the technology, and how exactly they hope to achieve it.

It’s important to remember that technology by itself is not a silver bullet. Rather it is a tool that can be used to achieve larger aims. In the case of IPAS, the larger aim is a more effective and efficient system of college advising. Colleges hoping to benefit from IPAS must broaden their focus from mere implementation — getting the technology deployed and available for use — to the more challenging work of adoption — the process of getting faculty and staff to incorporate the technology into their day-to-day work. Successful adoption requires colleges to develop a shared understanding of broader reform goals, the role of technology in achieving those goals, and the structures and work processes that must change to best leverage IPAS and other technologies in the context of institutional change.

What it looks like

Let’s imagine for a second that your college decided that it needs a more personalized advising system. Perhaps it concluded that an IPAS case management system — which allows faculty and advisers to record and access all student-faculty or student-adviser interactions in a single electronic case file — was the right tool to help achieve its goal.

The next step is for stakeholders to think through what other changes must occur to ensure the best use of the technology. For instance, student advisers might need to change their process for meeting with students, dedicating additional time up front to reviewing academic data and other reports prior to any face-to-face interactions.

Where academic pathways are concerned, IPAS tools can be used to help students understand how changes to their academic pathway could affect their time to completion. College advisers could use IPAS to minimize credit loss, introducing students to alternate majors that accept the most credits.

Such deliberate articulation of how IPAS can be used to help colleges achieve larger goals is rare, at least at the colleges that we’ve studied; instead, the focus tends to be on the nuts and bolts of getting IPAS systems off the ground. While the technical aspects of reform are important, colleges must push harder to do the hard work of adoption.

To aid colleges in these efforts, the Community College Research Center (CCRC), part of Teachers College at Columbia University in New York, recently released a new self-assessment tool that colleges can use to gauge their readiness for technology adoption. This tool is based on the CCRC readiness framework released in May, which delineates four areas of readiness to address when considering an IPAS system: technological, organizational, project, and motivational.

The tool encourages stakeholders within every area of the college to discuss their expectations for the technology. Such conversations drive consensus about the problem being addressed, and the approach to solving it. Our research suggests that without a shared vision, IPAS adoption is unlikely to result in transformational change. College leaders, faculty, and advisers must together articulate what they hope to achieve through the technology and how — so that they can work together to bring those goals to fruition.

What tools does your college use to improve advising and create clearer academic pathways for students? Tell us in the Comments.

Melinda Mechur Karp

is assistant director for staff and institutional development at Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.

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