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The Analytics Revolution in Higher Education: Big Data, Organizational Learning, and Student Success

reviewed by Carrie Klein & Jaime Lester - March 29, 2019

coverTitle: The Analytics Revolution in Higher Education: Big Data, Organizational Learning, and Student Success
Author(s): Jonathan S. Gagliardi, Amelia Parnell, & Julia Carpenter-Hubin (Eds.)
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620365774, Pages: 252, Year: 2018
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In their new edited book, The Analytics Revolution in Higher Education: Big Data, Organizational Learning, and Student Success, Gagliardi, Parnell, and Carpenter-Hubin offer an important contribution to the rapidly growing repository of literature on the use of data analytics in higher education. Specifically, their book focuses on the changing role of higher education institutional research (IR) offices in response to the burgeoning analytics landscape. This unique perspective, which is a major strength of the book, allows readers to understand how the explosion of analytics data has acted as a catalyst for change within the structures and practices of higher education organizations. The influences of a changing data ecosystem are explored by a strong group of contributing authors, with topics including IR, policy, strategy, instructional technology, and data custodian practitioners. Pulling from organizational experiences with analytics, these authors communicate the ways in which the analytics revolution is changing the work of IR offices and the structures of higher education.

The theme of change and how to respond to it is foregrounded by Gagliardi in the introductory chapter and woven throughout the book. Among the items discussed are the need for innovative and resourced structures and practices, informed and empowered organizational actors, and collaborative and flexible teams. Gagliardi’s chapter is followed by Chapters Two through Four, which provide a foundation from which to understand these themes by focusing on the scope and function of IR work. In Chapter Two, Cohen-Vogel focuses on the University of North Carolina’s Student Data Mart as an example of how IR’s role is changing; while IR offices have historically acted as state and federal compliance and reporting mechanisms, they are now becoming sources of “value-added” information, working to “improve student outcomes and operational efficiency” (p. 20). In Chapter Three, Carpenter-Hubin and Sullivan focus on the changing organizational structures, functions, and priorities that have shaped IR offices, noting that for analytics to be relevant to IR work, they must be accurate, clear, informative, relevant, complete, and timely (p. 38). Parnell’s work in Chapter Four is centered on the connection between analytics and student success, specifically as it relates to IR of student affairs.

Having provided the necessary foundation for understanding the role of IR offices, the book moves on to consider how organizational structures, including IR offices, need to be reconsidered to more effectively respond to the changing data ecosystem. Chapters Five argues that the increased presence of analytics requires greater connection between IR and information technology offices. Using the University of Georgia as an example, Chester states that the benefit an IT-IR nexus is the creation of ongoing collaborative efforts that align data governance and organizational priorities to support organizational change. Chester also argues that for this nexus to be successful, there needs to be a “strong, shared understanding of the context behind the data” (p. 59). This notion of a shared understanding is explored more fully in Chapter Six by Baldasare, who uses her experiences at the University of Arizona to show how integrating IR offices with business intelligence teams has helped create more consistent narratives from the data across stakeholder groups. Importantly, this chapter focuses on some of the challenges and opportunities associated with change management and with using third party vendors to deploy analytics technologies.

While Chapters Five and Six focus primarily on leveraging structures to improve data use, Chapters Seven through Nine focus on the stakeholders needed to leverage that change. Chapter Seven, by Bond-Huie, uses the University of Texas System’s seekUT tool to illustrate the ways in which in-house analytics tools can leverage data for improved outcomes for students, their families, and higher education organizations. This chapter offers helpful checklists for considering how to approach the implementation of new analytics-based technologies by focusing on organizational collaboration, culture, and communication within and among stakeholders.

In Chapter Eight, Bell provides an overview of the University System of Georgia’s (USG) evolving use of data, noting an increasing focus on accountability and performance. Bell notes that collaboration across stakeholder groups, including leadership and researchers, is vital not only to ensure relevant and contextualized data and data visualizations for various groups, but also to become aware of the varied resources and investment in analytics across organizational groups. Stakeholder engagement within and across organizations is explored more fully in Chapter Nine by Cardoza and Gold. This chapter focuses on the California State System’s use of analytics data in the creation of a student dashboard. The chapter’s strength lies in providing a roadmap for influencing organizational culture and behaviors; namely, establishing definitions and frameworks for student success, encouraging leadership and faculty buy-in, using open and transparent systems, and creating easily understandable and relevant data visualizations.

The final chapters of the book focus specifically on how analytics require new ways of thinking about data and its use. In Chapter Ten, Huesman and Gillard provide a framework for considering these changes, using the University of Minnesota’s enterprise data management and reporting strategy (EDMR) as an example. They argue that the EDMR allows organizations to “leverage information assets, share results, and disseminate best practices” (p. 145), all of which can lead to cultural change. In Chapter Eleven, Lane focuses on analytics-informed information and knowledge of interest to policymakers. Via the State University of New York IR offices’ investigation into student transfer, Lane explicates the complexities, contexts, surprises, outcomes, and concerns of analytics use, including privacy, security, integrity, and surveillance issues as well as the growing use of predictive data.

Predictive data is explored more fully in Chapter Twelve, wherein Schwartz, Phillippe, Kowalski, and Polec discuss the Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) system’s use of analytics. Explaining the history and development of analytics, the authors encapsulate the overarching theme of this book; namely, that this technology is “more about the people and processes than about the tools...the right data models and tools can facilitate insights, but in order to take action, a contextual understanding of the institution and an empowered and data savvy team are necessary” (p. 184). The book concludes with a second chapter by Gagliardi, who underscores this argument and reiterates the overarching themes and practices necessary for IR professionals or other campus leaders looking to establish successful analytics programs on their campuses.

The strength of this book lies in its recognition that the introduction of analytics to higher education, like any other innovation, is deeply tied to processes of organizational change. The focus on the structural, cultural, and behavioral components of organizations using analytics data, especially IR offices and policy stakeholders, are a welcome and needed addition to the literature on analytics use in higher education. The expertise of the authors, who have learned via analytics-driven change processes in their own organizations strengthen the recommendations they offer in each of the chapters. Truly, this edited text is more about organizational change and change management than analytics, specifically. This results in a text that, while useful in providing an entrée to organizational change and to analytics use in higher education, does not go far enough to interrogate the specific structures, assumptions, and consequences of analytics use and organizational change.

Missing from this text is a deep dive into the literature on both organizational change and analytics use. Moreover, there is little consideration of faculty, who play a major role in engaging in learning analytics tools. We argue that beyond the privacy considerations briefly mentioned in this text, higher education organizations need to reconsider their conceptions and assumptions about analytics data, themselves, and the policies and relationships that govern those data. More insight into analytics vendor products and relationships, insight into organizational versus individual (e.g., student) needs and interests, and into the organizational policies and practices specific to data governance and use would be a welcome addition to this text. That being said, the book’s authors offer useful advice from real-world experiences about ways in which campus leaders, IR professionals, and other higher education stakeholders can work to address the structures, practices, and cultures of their organizations to integrate analytics data use into the fabric of their organizations.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 29, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22733, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 11:10:38 AM

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About the Author
  • Carrie Klein
    George Mason University
    E-mail Author
    CARRIE KLEIN is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University. Her research interests include higher education, organizational theory, learning analytics, STEM pedagogy reform, and STEM equity and faculty agency.
  • Jaime Lester
    George Mason University
    E-mail Author
    JAIME LESTER is the Interim Director and Professor in the Higher Education Program at George Mason University. She holds a PhD and MEd in higher education from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. Dr. Lester also holds a dual BA from the University of Michigan in English and Women’s studies. She has received numerous awards for her research and teaching to include the Barbara Townsend Emerging Scholar Award from the Council for the Study of Community Colleges in 2009 and the Mason Excellence in Teaching Award in 2013. She was also the Mason state council rising star nominee in 2011. Dr. Lester is the Editor of Community College Review and serves on the Editorial Board of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education.
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