Radford University’s road to uncovering the role of faculty influence on student success began by shifting annual faculty reviews from a paper system to a digital format.
Today, Radford's faculty activity database helps administrative users make informed decisions and measure how faculty contribute to student success as well as other strategic priorities. Let's dive into how they did it.
About Radford University
Founded by the Virginia General Assembly in 1910 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, Radford University has grown well beyond its original mission to educate women as teachers.
Today, the university serves more than 7,700 students with a diverse array of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs. Radford's approximately 500 full-time faculty emphasizes the importance of education to the development of mature, responsible, well-rounded citizens.
Prior to implementing the digital database, Radford tracked faculty activities on paper.
“We collected the paper annual reports, pulled the staples out and ran them through a PDF scanner, and those scans went into the big digital archive of electronic files. But it wasn’t a usable form of data,” said Charley Cosmato, Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning at Radford. “Somebody would have to go through and read line by line.”
Adopting a faculty activity reporting (FAR) solution enabled Radford to implement annual reviews and Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation reporting. The university then pivoted to considering how faculty activity data could answer larger institutional questions, including faculty's impact on student success.
Think Bigger: What Information Do You Need?
“To provide reporting that’s strategically relevant to the university, you need the 30,000-foot view,” said Andrew Wiech, Senior Engagement Consultant for Faculty Success (formerly Digital Measures. “It’s important to ask, ‘What would allow you to make your decisions more confidently or answer your questions more accurately? If we put this information in front of you, what should it look like?’”
Identifying which questions to answer allowed Wiech and Cosmato to define what data they needed to produce reports that would answer those questions and inform administrative decisions.
Wiech noted that it's important for institutions to consider how they can use their existing data to reveal the big picture and tell a university-wide story.
“The question isn’t, ‘What can my data tell me?’ But, ‘What do I need to know?’ Don’t let the data wag the dog,” Wiech explained.
Radford and Student Success
Student success is a key component in Radford's strategic plan, and FAR is essential for understanding how students are doing. According to Cosmato, faculty activity is a key indicator of student success predictors such as experiential learning, service learning, and high-impact practices (HIPs).
Upon implementation of their digital FAR solution, the project team realized they could query the faculty activity dataset to determine whether their initiatives were truly making a difference.
With input from many campus stakeholders, Radford determined that to increase retention and graduation rates, the university should:
- Remove barriers
- Support the classroom experience
- Ensure effective, efficient advising
- Engage in clear, unified communications
- Address the unique needs of each group of students
The university then identified a list of faculty activities that could serve as key performance indicators for improving the classroom experience, such as:
- Providing continued support for HIPs.
- Supporting and celebrating faculty members devoted to student success.
- Facilitating in-classroom student support.
Fortunately, the database was already capturing many related faculty activities for annual reviews, including:
- Innovation in the classroom
- Dissertation supervision
- Academic advising
By clarifying Radford’s questions and carefully describing the needed output, Wiech and Cosmato were able to adjust data content and structure to ensure the information faculty entered could be used to answer those questions.
“This [capability] made the transition from a tactical view to a strategic view easier to accomplish,” Wiech said.
Using data from the following sources, users could directly trace student outcomes back to best practices, such as:
- Innovative teaching practices
- HIPs such as internships and capstone projects
- Student information systems on scheduled teaching
- Additional supporting information from faculty
Simple quantitative analysis of faculty activity data allowed Radford to focus on — and reward — programs that were performing well in service of strategic goals. It also identified departments that needed help improving and determined the best ways to go about making those improvements.
The data provided a high-level view of a unit or the university as a whole, enabling Radford to drill down to the class level.
Shifting From Tactical to Strategic and Back
Cosmato explained that with such high-level, institution-wide reporting available, administrators have an easier time determining what's working. And these evaluations can provide some surprising insights.
“You’d expect to see a lot of service learning opportunities in the social work department, but why was there so much happening in the English department?” he said. “What makes it surprisingly valuable in one place may also apply elsewhere. The Provost can come to you and say, ‘You have some rockstar performers. Let’s get them to share what they know.’”
Radford now plans to use faculty activity data to identify programs excelling in innovations in the classroom, summarized by college, department, or individual.
The Impact of Faculty Activity Data
Faculty activity data is powerful, especially when used in conjunction with other campus data. This combination provides a comprehensive view of institutional effectiveness in various areas, including student success.
Cosmato explained that Radford's tightly regulated roles and responsibilities system helps provide a strong record of how the university uses its data as well as the questions administrators are asking. While only individuals with the right roles in the university and within the database can use data to evaluate faculty, people can request data on a one-time basis through Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua), which provides a documented approval chain.
“This speaks to buy-in on the value of this data across the university,” Cosmato said.
Wiech noted that the system's centralized database enabled Radford to take a more comprehensive view of the institution.
“The university can surface the stories of effectiveness for departments, colleges, and the whole campus," Wiech said. "And it can evaluate the impact of faculty’s practices on strategic targets such as student success.”
Get the Most From Faculty Data With Faculty Success From Watermark
Based on Radford's achievements, it's clear how faculty influence student success. That's why we created Faculty Success — to help higher education institutions simplify faculty data collection and analysis and improve student outcomes.
Faculty Success pulls faculty activity data from various sources to create a holistic view of your entire institution. Seamless integration with the rest of the Watermark suite provides easy data access for rapid reporting on demand, so you can get the insights you need when you need them. Automated web profile updates ensure prospective students, academic peers, and other visitors get the most current picture of your faculty.
Request a free demo today to see how Faculty Success can power valuable insights for your institution. We'll answer any questions you have and provide helpful recommendations for managing implementation, getting faculty buy-in, and more.