Whether it’s the introduction of digital tools, the use of analytics to drive decision-making or the creation of individualized learning paths, higher education is constantly changing. One institution that’s embraced those developments and used them to create innovations is Purdue University Global, a public, nonprofit institution dedicated to delivering personalized online education to adults who have work or life experience beyond the classroom.
We talked with Tim Werth, vice president of administrative services and chief information officer at Purdue University Global, to better understand how technology is helping Purdue Global make data-driven decisions for their adult learners.
What is the student journey at Purdue Global, and what does it look like?
Everybody has a different definition of the student journey. For me, it encompasses the answers to several questions:
- What experiences—work, military, etc.—did this student have prior to joining Purdue Global?
- How do they hope to build on that in their time at Purdue Global?
- How do they do what they do?
- Whom do they do it with?
- What changes for the student after they leave Purdue Global?
- What have they done over a lifetime of learning?
At Purdue Global, we serve adult learners who have a journey that begins long before they enrolled and extends to long after a course or degree is completed. Helping our students be successful depends on our ability to understand and appreciate their lifelong journey. We recognize that a student journey is not just the time spent at Purdue Global but also should include the entirety of the student’s lifelong learning cycle. Our vision for technology is to maximize how we accumulate and use the student journey data to deliver programs and support our students to make them more successful, not only in the classroom but, more importantly, in life.
You bring up lifelong learning, which is a big focus in higher education. How do you see this fitting in with the use of data and the student journey?
When PG thinks of lifelong learning, we think about the marriage of skills, education, employment and life goals. What can the next course, credential or degree provide for adult learners to move the needle toward attaining the goals they have for themselves and their families? Wouldn’t it be great for a student to see a geographically relevant picture of employment and wage enhancement opportunities that exist based on their current skills or that they could obtain from the additional skills embedded in the next credential or degree? Attaching skills to courses and then to external data, in a pragmatic and individualized manner, requires us to review which technologies we use and with whom we partner.
We are excited to use enabling technology to enhance this experience by better informing students of their opportunities, our student learning profile, and competency and skills management to positively impact our students. The opportunities to impact them are endless.
How do data and analytics fit in with Purdue Global specifically?
Everyone likes to think they are on the cutting edge in terms of data and analytics, but that is wishful thinking for many of us. We at Purdue Global believe there is no ceiling to the analytics and information available. Rather, it is our challenge to incrementally implement technology to harness and use this data. We are actively engaging with partners to build and deploy applications with artificial intelligence and machine learning to unlock the student journey. This is an exciting time in higher education because of the possibilities that lie before us.
How does the use of data and analytics for Purdue help predict trouble spots and set students up for success?
A robust, living and expanding data set for the student journey creates endless predictive opportunities. A small example is that we can today identify the relationships between transfer credits awarded and student success in later coursework on a course-by-course basis. But can we do it at scale and dynamically across the entire portfolio of courses and student body? This is where AI and ML technology enable the scale necessary to drive student success activities. This is just one example of how big data allows institutions like Purdue Global to understand, predict and implement activities to enhance student success at scale.
Strategic partnerships and systems like Brightspace are at the core of our vision. We build on these core systems to enhance our data sets. We use the tools within Brightspace and the advanced data sets made available to drive analytics both inside and outside our learning management system. The data at our disposal is vast. Our challenge is to harness that data for decision-making purposes.
Any advice you would give to other higher education institutions grappling with data and EdTech in teaching and learning?
I like being part of an institution like Purdue Global, where we drive incremental improvements along a continuum to achieve our strategic vision. Incremental improvements increase institutional credibility, and success breeds success. My advice is to be bold in vision while being pragmatic all along the way. Often institutions pursue perfection or tackle a problem set that is too large, which undermines the ability to deliver. In the technology world, I want to always have my colleagues say, “They delivered what was promised.” That’s the best feedback I can ever receive.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Learn More at The Future of Education: Reimagined
How can institutions adapt to changing student needs to support enrollment and retention while budgets continue to shrink? And how can accessible data be turned into actionable data that supports faculty and students?
Join Phil Hill, EdTech consultant; Timothy Werth, vice president of administrative services and CIO at Purdue University Global; and Amelia Manning, chief operating officer at Southern New Hampshire University, for a powerful and interactive discussion on trends and modalities, data and analytics, and strategies to help you better prepare for the future of education.
Zeina Abouchacra is the EDU Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. She has worked in the higher education sector in various communications positions as well as a researcher and a teaching assistant. Specifically, teaching undergraduate-level communication university courses. Zeina is currently working towards completing her Master of Arts Communication degree at the University of Ottawa.
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