Radford University’s road to demonstrating faculty influence on student success had a humble beginning—moving faculty annual reviews off of paper and into digital form. Now, Radford uses a faculty activity database to inform decisions and measure faculty’s impacts on a range of strategic priorities. In this case study, we’ll share Radford’s experience using faculty activity data to demonstrate the ways faculty contribute to student success.
About Radford University
Founded by the Virginia General Assembly in 1910 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, Radford University has grown from its original mission to educate women as teachers. Radford now offers undergraduate and master’s level education as well as three doctoral programs to a 10,000 strong, diverse student body. With approximately 500 full-time faculty, the university emphasizes teaching, learning and the process of learning in its commitment to the development of mature, responsible, well-educated citizens.
Prior to implementing its 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.”
When Radford adopted its FAR solution, the university implemented annual reviews and Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation reporting 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, Digital Measures by Watermark Senior Engagement Consultant. “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 the questions to answer allowed Wiech and Cosmato to define the dataset needed to produce reports that would answer questions and inform decisions for university administration. “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. “It’s important to think about what data you already have access to in other campus systems, and how to summarize, tabulate and use that data to reveal the big picture and tell a university-wide story.”
Radford and Student Success
A key plank in Radford’s strategic plan is student success. “Faculty activity is one of your key indicators if you’re moving the needle on student success predictors like undergraduate research, experiential learning, service learning and high-impact practices (HIPs),” Cosmato said. “We realized we could query this dataset to determine if the things we’re doing are 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 identified faculty activities that could serve as key performance indicators for supporting the classroom experience, including continued support of HIPs, adequate support for and celebration of faculty members devoted to student success, and student support provided in the classroom.
Fortunately, many related faculty activities were already being captured in the database for annual reviews, including:
- Innovation in the classroom
- Dissertation supervision
- Academic advising
By clarifying Radford’s questions and carefully describing the output needed, 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 made the transition from a tactical view to a strategic view easier to accomplish,” Wiech said.
Using data on innovative teaching practices and HIPs; data uploaded from student information systems on scheduled teaching; and additional supporting information from faculty, students’ outcomes could be directly traced back to best practices.
Simple quantitative analysis of faculty activity data allows Radford to focus on—and reward—programs that are performing well in service of strategic goals, and identify departments that needed help to improve. The data provides a high-level view of a unit or the university as a whole, and allows Radford to drill down to the class level.
Shifting From Tactical to Strategic and Back
With this high-level, institution-wide reporting available, it’s easier to find what’s working, Cosmato noted. “And it surfaces surprising things. 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.
Get the Most From Faculty Data
Faculty activity data is powerful, and when used in conjunction with other data on campus it provides a remarkably complete aggregate view of institutional effectiveness in a wide range of areas, including student success. “We have a tightly regulated roles and responsibilities system. Using data to evaluate faculty is only possible for those with the right roles in the university and within the database. People can also request data on a one-time basis via a documented approval chain, so we have a good record of how we’re better using our data and the interesting questions being asked,” Cosmato said. “This speaks to buy-in on the value of this data across the university.”
“Faculty could tell their individual stories on a paper annual report, but now that their activities are in a central database, Radford can take a larger view,” Wiech noted. “The university can surface the stories of effectiveness for departments, colleges and the whole campus. And it can evaluate the impact of faculty’s practices on strategic targets such as student success.”
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