Data Analytics Team Enables Success Coaches to Support Students in Need

Success coach helps a student

By Andrew Schneider

UTO Humble Heroes: Paul Alvarado & Mike Sharkey of the Action Lab at EdPlus

The coronavirus pandemic forced students and instructors across the country into an abrupt transition to remote learning, immediately replacing in-person facetime with screen time. And while ASU’s focus on innovation and technology has made the transition for Sun Devils smoother than most, it hasn’t been without its obstacles. Anticipating these issues, Educational Data Analyst Paul Alvarado of the Action Lab at EdPlus was able to design and implement “dashboards” for members of the Success Courses administrative team to identify students in need.

The mission of the partnership between UTO and EdPlus is to use technology to enhance students’ educational experience. The Action Lab is a research team at EdPlus that collects and interprets data to help serve that mission.

Mike Sharkey, UTO’s Data Curator at EdPLus,runs the data analytics team that supports the Action Lab research. He explained that the idea for the dashboards came about after ASU changed its Learning Management System (LMS)last year.

“When we switched from Blackboard to Canvas, we were able to get more detailed classroom data because of the way Canvas makes its data available,” said Sharkey. With the richness of data available to his team, the next step was to figure out how to organize and interpret that data meaningfully in order to help students.

As students attend class within Canvas, the data analytics team collects high level activity data and transforms it into three simple metrics: logins, clicks and activity minutes. Using this information, Alvarado built dashboards for Success Coaches to visualize the data as significant indicators of how a student is doing in that class.

So if a student’s grade takes a downward turn, for example, a coach can look at the student’s dashboard to find out a potential root cause. The coach might find, looking at the dashboard, that the student’s click rate or logins are low when compared to the rest of the class. With this knowledge, a Success Coach can reach out to the student to try and figure out the reason for the low participation.

So far, Success Coaches and students alike have found the dashboards and ensuing outreach enormously helpful.

Alvarado related a story in which he was able to sit with a Success Coach and listen in to a call. A student had dropped a course, indicating a lack of time to complete the work. With the help of the dashboard, a coach had noticed that the student had in fact been active in class well over the class average. After getting in touch with the student to find out what had happened, the coach learned the student had spent so much more time with the course materials because he was struggling with some of the content. When the coach informed the student of tutoring resources available to him, the two were able to come up with a plan that let the student remain enrolled in the class.  

Alvarado also pointed to coaches—with the help of the dashboards he built—who identified roughly 150 students who were not active at all on Canvas following the full, pandemic-induced transition to remote learning. All of the students were contacted so that additional information could be obtained about their individual circumstances, and many were able to stay in school because of the resources the coaches provided.

“The Coach Dashboard project has been one of the most fulfilling projects that I have been a part of with ASU,” said Alvarado.

For him, the most important question his office asks each new group of dashboard users is whether the tool helps them to be a better coach. “The answer,” he says, “is always an overwhelming yes.”

Upon learning they’d been nominated as Humble Heroes, both Sharkey and Alvarado were quick to heap praise and credit on the other. What’s clear, though, is that both share a passion for using data and technology to broaden educational access and inclusivity, even if those who benefit most from their work may not be aware of it. The UTO—and, in fact, higher education as an industry—could not exist without that work and dedication, so congratulations and thank you for all you do!

UTO is full of unsung heroes -- Problem-Solvers, Jumper-Inners, Quiet Leaders, Cheerleaders and Champions, Agile and Flexible Doers and Attitude Winners. These team members embody the best of UTO in their everyday work. UTO Humble Heroes is a series featuring the people who make UTO run -- their stories, in their own words. These exceptional team members solve problems, provide support, and help students, staff, and faculty at ASU. While everyone is connected digitally, the idea is to share the journey of what our teams and colleagues accomplish.

Nominate a UTO Humble Hero.