Student Retention: Support for All Project at North Glasgow College

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded Support for All project at North Glasgow College has been trying to improve access to learner support, both on and off-campus. This project is based at an FE (Further Education) College, which tends to face different issues fro those faced by HE (Higher Education) colleagues.


The project team team has tried to formalise the thought processes and relationships regarding provision of support and identified a number of challenges, including:

  • developments in the real-world can get ahead of institutional strategy; e.g. there are issues around allowing the College to use Facebook
  • the lack of strategy around the introduction of new technologies, such as iPads
  • changes in personnel can affect any improvements being made.


The project team established several new approaches to improve access to student support, including:

  • a structured and auditable “pipeline of support” through which learners can move; the ten steps in this process can be used as a checklist for performance evaluation of the support offered
  • a Blackboard mobile app was implemented, alongside access to iPads, in order to extend access to support. This not only gives students access to learning content but also allows the learner to submit medical self-certification forms electronically
  • these improvements should lead to increased student confidence, performance and retention.


When tackling improvements at a time when resources are scarce, it can be helpful to:

  • give staff responsible for delivering a service the chance to take ownership of any activities leading to process improvement
  • encourage staff to complete bite-sized activities so that they are not taken away from day-to-day operations, as this may reduce resentment to any new methods of working
  • make small improvements, even if resources are scarce. For example, whilst social media services, such as Facebook, were seen as positive ways to interact with support services by students, staff resources weren’t available at the College to manage this. The project team addressed this issue by designing postcards with QR codes, so that students can get immediate access via their smartphone to the support team’s e-mail.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

MOOCs and Carrots

Photo of a bunch of carrots

I’ve just started a free online Coursera course on HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). This is my first time taking an online course and I thought I’d share some of my observations on both the course and on using a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

The HCI course is being run by Stanford University and consists of a number of short video lectures, peer-evaluated assignments and online quizzed. There is a student forum, free access to software to help with the course, and lots of text and videos to support the general interaction with the course.

The first thing that struck me about the HCI course itself was how much it will complement my existing work as an e-learning technologist in the accessibility field, as well as there being similarities with the service design approach, which has been part of my Relationship Management work. In fact, there are quite a number of e-learning technologists on the course.

The second thing that really stood out was the wide variety of the types of people from around the world taking the course. Apart from the obvious – students taking this course as a complement to their main study and people in employment upgrading or complementing their existing skills – there are mothers with young children, housebound people, people with disabilities, people who don’t live anywhere near an educational institution that offers such a course, unemployed people, etc. These are very much non-traditional students who would be unable to attend a class in a traditional setting. Perhaps the rise in MOOCs won’t necessarily threaten the current university sector but will complement it by attracting those on the fringes of mainstream education?

There are some differences between attending an educational institution as a real student and as a virtual student. Perhaps the biggest one might be the social and collaborative aspect. If one is motivated to attend class for social reasons (e.g. seeing a different group of people, doing something outside of the normal day-to-day routine, etc), then one may be more likely to continue. However, no-one is going to notice if one hasn’t attended a virtual class! Perhaps one way to encourage attendance in online classes to offer a carrot. In the case of the HCI class, students who successfully complete the course will be awarded a “statement of accomplishment” signed by the tutor and there are grade penalties if you miss assignments or don’t take part in peer evaluation. Not all classes offer this, so it will be interesting to know whether offering a sort of certificate really makes a difference to drop-out rates. If I manage to make it to the end, I’ll let you know!

Carrots photo by vierdrie.

Student Retention: Learner Analytics at Loughborough University

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded Pedestal for Progression project at Loughborough University has focussed on bringing together information from their in-house Co-Tutor dashboard and other systems to help tutors be pro-active in their response to “at risk” students.


The project team found that having access to the data is not enough, there needs to be a balance between automated and human interventions, for example:

  • educational data mining is complex and will be unsuccessful if used solely to identify “at risk” students without human intervention processes being designed
  • incorporating more student-centred approaches into the development of exisiting systems (such as VLEs, student data systems, attendance recording systems etc) can be challenging
  • changes in processes and the introduction of new software systems can be seen as threatening to staff.


The project team looked at both staff and student needs by:

  • using service design techniques to help identify learner needs, such as flexibility of study, planning of deadlines for coursework, and employability, for example
  • providing more and better quality learner information to help a tutor be more active in identifying and supporting “at risk” students; for example teaching sessions where attendance is taken electronically are designated as being “critical” or not, so e-mails are sent only to students missing “critical” sessions
  • developing a standardised process for managing placements across three departments in order to reduce student anxiety around the process.


The relationships that students have with staff are vital to the enhancement of the student experience, but the relationships that staff have within in the organisation are also important. For example:

  • provide staff with access to learner data to help them identify any human interventions that need to be made
  • use the student voice to influence improvements
  • sincere management buy-in is critical, otherwise an institution’s organisational structure will remain a barrier no matter what improvements are suggested.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Spiders, Shepherds, and The Monkees: Supporting the RM Programme

Photo of spiderweb with waterdroplets“Hello. My name’s Sharon and I’ve been supporting the JISC funded RM (Relationship Management) Programme.” I haven’t just stepped into Programme Supporters Anonymous, but as I’ve been looking back over my time supporting the Programme, I just thought I’d share some of my reflections.

I’ve been supporting the RM Programme since 2009, when Phase 1 started. Phase 2 has just finished and apart from the synthesis work and a couple of bits and bobs, the support aspect has pretty much finished. This has given me the time to look back and reflect on the Programme from a Programme Support angle.

So what does Programme Support entail? Without going into all the gory details, for me, it has been all about building relationships, getting to know the project work and the project teams. It’s been about encouraging the teams, sharing in their highs and lows. It’s been about providing advice and guidance – or at least pointing people to where they can find it. It’s been about acting as a neutral interface between the funders (JISC Programme Managers, who have also been very supportive) and the project teams. And to quote The Monkees, it’s been about “knowing when to keep and when to share”.

Now that the current phase of the Programme has come to an end, I will miss my contact with the project teams. This phase of the Programme has had an extra layer of interaction in the form of five hard-working and very useful Critical Friends, and to some extent I did feel that I missed out on hearing about some of the key moments in the projects’ story – a bit like only seeing a child every couple of months and suddenly realising how much they’ve grown. However, I tried to make up for this by having regular telephone calls with the projects and keeping the communication channels open. I hope they found them useful and they certainly helped me try and build up a mental picture of the Programme as a whole. In some respects, I’ve felt a bit like a spider at the centre of a web, periodically pinging all the strands, making sure everyone’s OK, and weaving together a picture of RM in HE and FE. I’ve also felt like a shepherd, gently herding everyone down to the summer pastures (their final case studies and deliverables for JISC).

Perhaps I am looking back on my time with the project teams with rose-tinted glasses, particularly now that I’m involved in writing up the overall Programme outputs. Perhaps too, the project teams may have wanted something different in terms of support (I’ll know when I’ve collated their evaluation comments); but for me, the RM Programme has been all about the management of relationships and the delight in seeing the projects grow and progress.

PS: The Monkees song is “Shades of Gray” (but that’s a whole other story).

Spider web photo by andrewatla.

Alumni Engagement: Using PDP at University of Kent

Photo of graduates wearing mortar boards and gownsPDP (Personal Development Planning) is generally done whilst a student is still studying. The EAT-PDP (Engaging Alumni Through Personal Development Planning) project at the University Kent looked at the benefits of extending access to their PDP software (Mahara) to alumni.


The aim of the project was to extend access to Myfolio (based on the Mahara software) to alumni for at least a year. It also developed a Student Catalogue which will help prospective employers search the University’s alumni (with their permission). Some of the challenges include:

  • the difficulty in ascertaining the impact on data storage and server usage; for example although not all students are active on MyFolio, and only 25% of users are in their final year, uptake may increase as users start to see the benefits
  • data protection issues
  • providing access to a University branded platform once a student has graduated could damage the institution’s reputation, i.e. it is harder to sanction alumni than current students.


The University wanted to offer practical assistance to the ongoing development of its graduates, particularly those who wanted to continue to record and reflect on their acheivements. Providing access to a PDP service after a student has graduated can:

  • help the institution’s reputation by improving the employability of graduates
  • provide alumni with a competitive edge in a difficult employment market
  • extend the relationship between the institution and the alumni to mutual benefit, e.g. by helping a graduate find employment, who could then mentor current students.


Prior to the EAT-PDP project, alumni were offered little formal guidance. However, when allowing alumni to use an instititutional platform:

  • give the user full control and ownership, e.g. by providing the ability to privately record self-reflection or publicly publishing profiles for potential employers to view
  • put procedures in place around the data archiving and deletion, especially if it’s no longer possible to contact the creator of the data
  • ensure that terms and conditions of service take alumni into account, especially if access to data is only available for a short time after graduation.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Alumni Engagement: Forming an Alumni Community at the University of Hertfordshire

Photo of graduates wearing mortar boards and gownsThe Alumni Link project at the University of Hertfordshire has been connecting alumni and students using online and offline activities. This can help generate employment opportunities, skills development, relationship building and mentoring.


Alumni engagement has been viewed traditionally as an additional service once a student has graduated. In order to progress to a service that was more integrated with the student lifecycle, the following challenges needed to be addressed by the project:

  • building collaborative relationships with a range of different stakeholders, such as alumni, career development and business engagement services
  • growing an online community using LinkedIn, which generally has low uptake amongst students and recent graduates (also see the post on Brunel University’s Alumni Engagement project)
  • creating a framework for continuing to support and grow an alumni community that is sustainable.


Alumni services are now taking on a more strategic role in the University and the subject-specific communities are starting to grow and take shape. For example:

  • there have been changes in policy, such as opening the University’s alumni group to final year students
  • engagement in the University’s LinkedIn groups has increased between 84% and 193%, depending on the group
  • Business School alumni have formed a committee for collaborating with staff and running alumni activities.


Being an active member of an alumni community can benefit students (such as mentoring, etc), alumni (e.g. building professional relationships, etc) and the institution (in terms of reputational benefits). Therefore:

  • a strategy should be developed for engaging alumni via online and offline activities that is co-ordinated; if departments set up independent alumni groups, this fragments the institution’s offering and reputation, should they be abandoned or lack support
  • it is important to consider that different types of alumni have different needs, for example recent graduates are more interested in finding employment, whilst retired alumni are more interested in events being run by the University
  • the institution needs to actively be involved in building alumni communities (e.g. by employing an Alumni Engagement Officer).

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Alumni Engagement: Alumni Volunteering at University of Glasgow

Photo of graduates wearing mortar boards and gownsThe University of Glasgow’s SAVE (Sustainable Alumni Volunteer Engagement) Project has focussed on putting into place an alumni volunteering management infrastructure using existing systems that is both sustainable and engaging.


The initial perception in the institution was that alumni volunteering opportunities weren’t adequately defined or managed. For example,

  • there was no consistent link between students and alumni
  • the process of volunteer engagement needed to be clearer and easier to follow
  • expressions of interest in volunteering weren’t recorded in a way that could be queried or reported.


The SAVE project has helped improve the institution’s level of service by:

  • extending the range of alumni volunteering activities; for example by encouraging alumni to create online Alumni Profiles describing their time at the University, as well as asking them to act as eMentors to current students via LinkedIn
  • building clearer, formalised procedures for managing volunteering and establishing a coherent management structure to ensure sustainability
  • improving co-operation and co-ordination between University services; for example as a result of student feedback, the Careers Service now markets itself more efficiently to students.


The profile of alumni volunteering has been raised as a result of the SAVE project and many lessons have been learnt, such as:

  • the service design approach should be adopted from the beginning to ensure that any service improvements are user-centred
  • an alumni community should be grown gradually by identifying small target groups to ensure sustainability and build meaningful relationships
  • it’s important to manage expectations regarding alumni volunteering, i.e. not all alumni will be suitable for every opportunity; however all enthusiastic alumni should be encouraged.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Disenchanted with the world? Try RM for that warm and glowing feeling

Daisy with multi-coloured petals and dewdropsBar a few loose ends, the JISC funded RM (Relationship Management) Programme has now come to an end for the all the project teams involved. We’re just in the process of pulling all the project case studies together and will be producing a Compendium of Best Practice in RM over the next few months, which will showcase some of the key successes of the Programme.

I’ve been supporting the RM Programme since 2009 and feel privileged to be allowed to follow the ups and downs of all the projects involved. Although I’ve been acting as a neutral interface between JISC and the funded projects, to some extent I have been wearing a semi-JISC hat, yet all the project teams have been willing to share their “warts and all” experiences, sometimes privately, sometimes publicly. It’s not always easy to build up a relationship where project teams feel comfortable doing that. Projects have told me things that they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable telling their funders (although Myles Danson and Simon Whittemore, the JISC RM Programme Managers are lovely to work with) and this has allowed me to build up a good mental picture of RM across the whole Programme.

I have to say that I have great admiration for all the project teams involved. They’ve worked extremely hard to really try and make a difference to the students and customers in their institutions, and that hard work has paid off. I wish them all success as they continue to improve all aspects of relationship management in their institutions.

Team of people sitting together Aside from improving the customer experience (student or business), for me one of the key successes across the whole of the RM Programme has been that people are now talking to each other: staff talking to students about what they need, staff talking to staff in other departments, and people sharing their experiences with people in other institutions. Relationships have been built. Communication channels have been opened. This is really what relationship management is all about. It’s about breaking down barriers, understanding another person’s point of view, sharing experiences (good and bad) and coming together to try and make things work a bit better for everyone.

Now that the Programme has ended, I will miss following the project work as many of the teams continue their efforts beyond the funding period, as well as missing contact with the individuals involved. From a personal point of view, it’s been a joy and pleasure working with the RM projects, getting to know the people in the project teams, following project successes and failures and seeing everyone safely through to the end. It’s this warm and fuzzy feeling that makes it all worth it. It’s what building relationships (and relationship management) is all about.

Using Data to Improve Student Retention: More Questions than Answers?

The “Issues around Using Data to Improve Student Retention” session at the JISC CETIS Conference 2012 examined some of the issues around using data to predict students at risk of failure and provide some examples of possible solutions to ensure that the institution does not fail such students.

The session was divided into five mini-sessions run by some of the JISC Relationship Management Programme projects. Here is an overview of some of the solutions being trialled by the projects and the challenges they face.

Loughborough University’s Pedestal for Progression project is using Co-Tutor to collect attendance data. Student attendance at lectures and personal tutor meetings is recorded, so it’s possible to see at a glance whether a student is turning up or if they dislike Monday mornings. The system gives automatic flags and provides a personal tutor with a red, amber or green visual of attendance (traffic lighting). As a result of introducing registers, attendance has gone up from 65.54% in 2004/5 to 70.26% in 2010/11.

Roehampton University’s fulCRM project is being run in parallel with attendance data recording within the Psychology Department. Fingerprint readers have been installed in all lecture theatres to record student attendance. Although there have been debates by staff about the “big brother” aspects of this approach, it would appear that students aree less worried as many are already used to doing this in school and in any case, fingerprint attendance seems to make students think that it (and they) really count and that someone is taking an interest in them. As the Department is fairly small, data was being kept on an Excel spreadsheet and a traffic light system used. The fulCRM project is now in the process of pulling automated data feeds from the attendance monitoring system into a student performance module.

Using a traffic light system, 18 students were identified as “red” just after the first semester (mostly male or part-time students with personal problems, or who had to travel long distances, etc) so extra support was put in for these students. In 2010, 8.3% of at risk students terminated and 19.8% didn’t have enough credits to go to Year 2. In 2011, since the traffic lighting system was put in place, this was reduced to 5.2% of at risk students terminating and 9.34% without enough credits to go on to Year 2. Of the 19 students with red flags, 16 have now gone on to Year 2 following retakes and extra support (only 3 actually left). In the past, a lot of students would have just drifted off course.

During the course of their project, the Southampton Student Dashboard at the University of Southampton project team has met with resistance from data owners, service providers, ethics authorities and faculty administrators, who cite a number of reasons why various types of data (from photos to student grades) can’t be used. They currently have a simple dashboard that shows picture of tutees, directory info, whether coursework has been handed in, and attendance. This particularly helps staff who need to let the Borders Agency know that foreign students have been seen and have attended classes. However, most information isn’t available in the rest of the University because of data protection, which is seen as protecting staff from doing any work or taking any risks.

The University of Derby’s SETL (Student Engagement Traffic Lighting) project is also using a traffic lighting approach and has been looking at some of the softer areas off engagement analytics. The team has produced a dartboard diagram showing the primary (e.g. attendance monitoring), secondary (e.g. sickness) and tertiary (e.g. student complaints) indicators of risk. They have also produced a “Withdrawal Calendar” to ascertain whether there are any key dates for withdrawal – there are. At Derby, a Progress Board meets twice a year to decide whether students are meeting the academic requirements and can progress on their course. These key times when students are likely to withdraw.

The ESCAPES (Enhancing Student Centred Administration for Placement ExperienceS) project at the University of Nottingham is exploring how an ePortfolio can enhance student engagement whilst students are on placement. Previous project work has already shown that both students on placement and staff found that ePortfolio tools, such as Mahara, have helped them to keep in touch with each other. Students have also valued the feedback aspect as it helps them to feel more motivated.

Some of the challenges, questions, and issues that have arisen during these projects can be grouped into the following areas:


  • Using the relationship management systems, such as Co-Tutor, may result in a bigger workload for staff, which may then manifest as a lack of engagement with the system.
  • There may not be any integration with other systems, such as e-mail, so staff have to copy and paste any e-mail from students into the system, or it may be difficult to exchange data between systems.
  • Not all data may be captured electronically but may still be paper-based.
  • It can be expensive to roll out pilot data monitoring solutions across the whole institution.

Human Aspects

  • Where interactions are recorded, such as personal tutor meetings, staff may feel that they have less freedom about where that interaction takes place, i.e. it may now have to take place in the tutor’s office rather than a neutral space such as a café.
  • Institutions need to make it clear to students that such systems are there to help them.
  • Should students be forced to attend classes?
  • The behaviour of departments who hold such data can be difficult. Data owners may be distributed. People hold their data very close to their chests and don’t want to share. Perhaps the most difficult bit is managing the soft human interface.

Data Privacy/Ethics

  • Who should be allowed to see staff data?
  • Who monitors the monitors?
  • Can use of data in this way be seen as “Big Brotherish”?
  • How quickly should staff intervene if a student is “red-flagged”?
  • Is it ethical to pre-load a system with at-risk demographics, e.g. part-time, male students?
  • What directory information should be available to everyone on a university intranet? Should photos be included (it can be useful for staff to add a name to a face)? What information shouldn’t be included?
  • Should grade history be confidential?
  • Students already share their data informally on Facebook, so why should the institution get involved?
  • Is it OK to use student data for research?
  • Who are the stakeholders involved in holding the data? What about contracts with work based learning students?
  • Sensitive handling of data and how it’s being collected is necessary.
  • Who should access what data? Should whoever needs the data be able to access it? What is legitimate? Data access needs to be considered before any opt-in box is checked. Explicit permission is needed from the student. Should anyone have access to depersonalised data as long as it’s properly depersonalised?
  • What about control of access for student? Student might be overwhelmed with information if everyone has access to the student’s data.
  • What about access by parents or other interested parties?
  • What is the “right data” to collect and analyse? For example, a student might have patchy attendance but may interact very well with the tutor and have a good assessment. Whoever acts on the data provided needs to know the student well.
  • What are the softer engagement analytics? What aspects of the student lifecycle can be harnessed? How do we capture this soft data? It needs to be about the social life as well as the academic life.
  • How early do we need the data and what would those data sources be? The data might come too late, i.e. the predisposing factors may already be in place before the student starts.

The session brought a lot of issues to light, along with some real privacy/ethical concerns, but it also highlighted that even a small change (such as keeping a register) can make a difference to student retention. However, we need to remember that students are not just collections of bits and bytes to be analysed and examined for trends. We are human with all the foibles, idiosyncrasies and circumstances that make us unique.

Come and join us!

Paper cut-outs of people in a circle

Are you interested in improving your BCE CRM (Business and Community Engagement Customer Relationship Management) processes to help increase revenue streams? Do you want to find out about SLRM (Student Lifecycle Relationship Management) and putting the student at the heart of the process?

If so, come and join our RM in HE/FE Community of Practice discussion list, which is open to anyone who wants like to share their experiences of improving their relationship management in the tertiary education sector. We’d love you to ask questions, comment, suggest resources etc, or just follow the conversation.

We’ll be sharing our findings from the current JISC Relationship Management Programme, which is looking at three different areas:

  • Good Practice in CRM – delivering a comprehensive online handbook of good practice in CRM processes for HE and FE.
  • Student progression, retention and non-completion – using service desing to improve the quality of the student experience.
  • Alumni engagement – using web technologies to support mutally beneficial alumni engagement.

We have a range of resources available at both the JISC CETIS RMSAS (Relationship Management Support, Analysis and Synthesis) project website and at the Just Enough RM (Relationship Management (a dynamic resource to try and help anyone starting out on the RM path). We also have documents on using Service Design in HE and FE and an overview to RM in HE and FE to get you started.

So what are you waiting for? Come and join the RM in HE and FE Community – we’d love to see you there!