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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Student Retention in Higher Ed: Portals, Apps, and Connected Campus

Way back in 2002, as the IT Vice President for Field Technology and Customer Facing Systems at a large financial services company, I was responsible for acquiring enterprise portal technology. It was a critical time for our business unit. Our parent/holding company had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy – at the time the 3rd largest filing in US history (Howe, 2011) behind such infamous names as Enron and Worldcom – and had decided to pin their hopes of survival on the promise of technology.
Portal technology, it was held, would make our business unit “easy to do business with” for the independent agents, agencies, and producers distributing our financial services products to the consumer. We would leapfrog our competition, creating a 1-stop, consistent experience for our constituents, providing them with valuable tools, resources, and the motivation to continue partnering with a struggling company.
An evaluation and selection process unfolded, comparing various portal technologies, including Epicentric, Plumtree and the eventual choice ATG (later acquired by Oracle). ATG’s portal framework included a key differentiator: the ability to configure business rules by user, dubbed ‘scenario personalization’.  After an aggressive development and implementation project the outcome produced the value anticipated. 
Chalk one up for technology. The parent company emerged from bankruptcy the following year and is still doing business today. Our efforts, at least tangentially, helped the company survive and led to multiple opportunities to showcase our success and present our case study on the value of a portal. 

The more things change the more they remain the same

Now, over a decade later, I am still involved in discussions daily regarding portal-like solutions and the need to be a difference-maker through technology. Across higher education the race is on to address student engagement, student retention and to renew the focus on the student experience. The recent annual Educause conference was home to many conversations about improving the “user experience” and the need to redesign campus portals. Likewise, “student engagement” has earned distinction as the latest buzzword in higher Ed and is near ubiquitous in the marketing terminology of education technology vendors. In fact, “student engagement is now used to refer to so many different things that it is difficult to keep track of what people are talking about.” (Gibbs, 2014)

Student engagement in higher education 

For good reasons, schools are coming to understand that their student-facing technologies are scattered and disparate; that too many of their solutions are single-purpose; and that the digital experience of their students is too often an after-thought – inconsistent and fragmented. Concurrently, the criticality of student engagement has come to the forefront – as it, more and more, is understood to be the glue that links learning, persistence, and retention. The correlation of these factors continues to grow with studies emerging from schools, vendors, and research entities alike. Whether by design or happenstance, higher education is looking to technology to alter the fragile pattern of student engagement and retention.
Portal solutions still offer the promise of making access to resources easier – with single sign-on, aggregated content, and a unified ‘experience’. 
But it is the concern for the student experience that has also given rise to numerous “student engagement” apps. App creators certainly understand the need to connect with today’s “digital natives” where the smartphone is part of the student DNA. Schools of all shapes and types must meet the growing expectation that technology is ubiquitous and connection to school resources is anytime, anywhere. 
In looking across the landscape of portal solutions and engagement apps, several observations stand out:
  • The need for a unified, digital student experience is long overdue
  • The need for meaningful student engagement solutions is essential  
  • Higher education is necessarily receptive
  • No solution – whether independent portal provider, SIS portal extension, or engagement app – is dominating
Significant opportunity exists for the solution(s) that identifies and delivers the right combination of benefits to the student and school. 
Throughout my career as a technology leader, I have always been very cynical of a “solution looking for a problem”. Technology vendors are routinely guilty of this malaise. And in today’s higher education climate, where discretionary funds are limited, and where immense pressures are being applied to schools from regulatory efforts, accreditation bodies and local stakeholders – it is imperative that solution providers address a very real and specific problem while simultaneously offering demonstrable benefits. 
The challenge for portal providers is to quantify the value derived from a unified, digital student experience.  The challenge for student engagement apps is to help schools & students overcome app-fatigue and quantify the student retention improvements that result from their student-engagement claims. Engagement app marketing slogans demonstrate the challenge: ‘unify the experience’ --- ‘enrich the experience’ --- ‘create the ultimate experience’ --- ‘create a unique personalized experience’ --- ‘drive engagement to the next level’ --- even ‘revolutionize student engagement’. 
It’s lofty. But will it translate to improved retention?
Which brings me to the solution I am most intimately familiar with.

Connected Campus

Connected Campus is a student engagement and retention solution. It differentiates itself from the education marketplace in the following ways:

The Student Experience.

Yes, students have many resources available to them online. Pulling them all together in a consolidated framework is the domain of the portal industry. Students at schools without any portal or consolidated gateway to resources continue to be burdened by the confusion and disassociation. So, like a portal, Connected Campus removes this challenge by serving as the single digital interface to the school and its resources. But, unlike the tendency of portals, Connected Campus is aesthetically designed as a student-facing platform, maximizing student interest, with navigation simplicity, and – by creating a personalized experience based on the attributes of each unique student – distinguishes itself from similar others.

Private Online Community.

Schools offer many ways for students to connect socially – public social media networks, LMS chat rooms, campus events. Connected Campus, however, gives all students a unique opportunity to participate in dialogues on academic, administrative, and social topics. Inspired by Slack, with all the features of a robust chat engine, the Private Online Community lets students engage in topical discussions – in private, in small group conversations, or on a campus- or school-wide basis. Staff and faculty participate as well, enabling the student to have ready-access to human resources at the school. The opportunities created for peer and staff mentoring are powerful and unmatched, enabling students to thrive through the power of a digital social structure. Portals and Apps typically do not provide this kind of synchronous communication capability.

Academic Management.

Academic management is not traditionally a benefit of portals and engagement apps. When it is present, it tends to be in the form of a one-size-fits-all push of information. Academic management, however, is a critical ingredient for effective retention. Connected Campus supports the student in the management of academic and administrative tasks through its proactive Integrated Advising Services based on configurable business rules determined by the school. When at risk behavior is recognized, intervention tasks are assigned to the student; not to an over-burdened staff or faculty member. These intelligent nudges delivered by Connected Campus are personalized to each student, configured to match the unique needs of each school, and facilitate items that are academic, administrative, and enrichment in nature. Examples of advising nudges include: tasks to complete coursework, attend class, register for class, order books, make a tuition payment, complete the FASFA and other financial aid paperwork, reach out to a tutoring service, complete a questionnaire or survey, contribute to a discussion forum, prepare a resume, etc. Nudges are delivered through Connected Campus notifications, or via email and text. 

In Summary

Connected Campus provides a digital campus experience to all students – whether full time, part-time, commuter or online. It enables schools to address the full student life-cycle, from admission to graduation. It brings the utility of a portal (single sign-on, aggregated content, consistency), the distinction of an engagement app (mobile, appealing, intuitive, captivating) – while adding substantial and powerful capabilities in the form of a Private Online Community and proactive Integrated Advising Services.  
As such, we do not attempt to "insert verb here" student engagement. Instead, we focus on helping schools retain more students, thereby expanding workforce readiness while increasing institutional revenue.
The students, the school, and the stakeholders of the school will all benefit from the increased persistence and retention brought about by Connected Campus. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Strategic Plan from Lumina Foundation reinforces EdTech’s Connected Campus vision

Lumina Foundation recently released a new strategic plan advocating for a new Postsecondary learning system.  Education Technology Associates is proud to have both personal and local connections with Lumina Foundation – and have cited their Goal2025 on our website as a model vision for higher education. 

With the recent press release, Lumina has reinforced the need for the transformative changes required to ensure most Americans achieve a satisfactory outcome in postsecondary education.  In summary, the underlying objective is to move from a system centered on time and institution – to a system, instead, that is centered on students.

The Typical College Student
The Lumina strategic plan correlates to many of the values of EdTech Associates and our student engagement & retention solution, Connected Campus, starting with the vision of the typical college student.   “Typical” usually invokes visions of the 18-22year-old undergraduate, living in dorms or Greek housing, hanging out in the student union and taking classes in lecture halls.  But, consider these statistics:
  • 38% of undergraduates today are older than 25
  • 58% of undergraduates work while attending college
  • 26% of undergraduates are already raising a family
  • Nearly half of first-year students live at – or below – poverty level
  • Only 13% of today’s students study or live full time at a flagship 4-year campus

At the same time, college is more accessible than ever before.  Between 1996-2010, enrollment statistics increased across ethnic segments:  Hispanic (240%); Black (72%); white students (11%).

At EdTech Associates, we reflect on the challenges and circumstances of today’s student and build our product to support all students, but particularly those who:
  • struggle to manage commitments and stay on track academically
  • feel isolated and disconnected from the school and fellow students
  • don’t always know where to turn to for the help or resources they need when it is most pressing. 

Together, these issues often make degree completion impossible.

Lumina’s plan identifies similar themes, pointing out that financial pressures and ‘competing obligations’ create a far more difficult situation for today’s student – leading to a 38% drop-out rate of first-year students.

Students.  Schools.  Our economy.  Our global competitiveness.   We are all impacted by insufficient educational attainment.
The employment prospects and earnings potential of today’s students is greatly impaired when postsecondary education is incomplete. 

Lumina’s strategic plan points out that 65% of all jobs by 2020 will require postsecondary education; and further quantifies the average lost lifetime earnings per individual as equating to $1M when a bachelor’s degree is not attained. 

Our learning institutions are diminished by increased student attrition as well.  Revenue, credibility, recruiting, and operating efficiency are all impacted.  The Educational Policy Institute conducted a 2013 study of nearly 1700 colleges and universities and found that student attrition at those schools resulted in a revenue loss of $16.5 billion.  “Each student who walks out the door takes his or her tuition, fees, and other revenue the school might have been able to receive”; resulting in additional pressures on our schools involving regulatory scrutiny, stakeholder concerns and oversight recommendations.  Today, we are seeing a sea-change in both legislation and accreditation, driven by a renewed focus on the value of education and the expectations of the veracity of those charged with delivering it. 

Our economy and global competitiveness also suffer whenever a less-educated workforce exists.  Consider this from the Education section of the Whitehouse.Gov website:
In higher education, the U.S. has been outpaced internationally. In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year degree attainment among 25-34 year olds; today, the U.S. ranks 12th. We also suffer from a college attainment gap, as high school graduates from the wealthiest families in our nation are almost certain to continue on to higher education, while just over half of our high school graduates in the poorest quarter of families attend college. And while more than half of college students graduate within six years, the completion rate for low-income students is around 25 percent.”


Shifting Focus

"If we want outcomes for today's students to change, we must change the way higher Ed is delivered to provide all students the support they need to thrive." - Lumina Foundation

The Lumina strategic plan encourages innovation and changes to the way in which we engage students outside of the traditional classroom.  EdTech Associates is reimagining the digital campus experience, which has historically been full of disparate, disconnected and distracting choices.  With Connected Campus, we unify the delivery of school and staff resources into on beautifully designed, easy to navigate product that combines the best features of engagement and advising products into a single application.

This begins with the Private Online Community.  Inspired by Slack, Connected Campus creates vibrant interactions between students, faculty, and staff centered on common interests – both academic and social – while creating the organic groundwork for peer-mentoring in a digital landscape.  Connected Campus further enhances the experience by intelligently promoting and delivering personalized content to the individual student when it is required.  

Lumina's work points out that "...students need actionable, useful information to make smart decisions about postsecondary education."  Connected Campus delivers actionable, useful information directly to the student through its Integrated Advising Services both proactively and when 'at risk' behavior is recognized. These intelligent nudges delivered by Connected Campus are also personalized to each student, configured to match the unique academic rules of each school, and served up to facilitate academic, administrative, and enrichment items.  In addition to 'nudges' being delivered directly through the Connected Campus platform, students can opt in for both text and email notifications.

  #  #  #

Lumina Foundation continues to be a thought leader on the future vision of education.  We applaud their commitment to increase the proportion of American’s with degrees, certificates, and other high-quality credentials to 60% by 2025.

At EdTech Associates, we play a part in that vision by providing our Connected Campus solution to schools eager to positively impact student engagement and retention.

Through personalized student resources, a private online community and integrated advising services, Connected Campus is well-positioned to do just that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

City College partners with EdTech Associates to fortify student engagement, retention initiatives

October 25, 2016

City College of Fort Lauderdale announced today that they have partnered with Education Technology Associates to use their unique student-facing solution, Connected Campus, in the college’s ongoing efforts to serve the students of south and central Florida.

“It is our mission at City College to deliver an extraordinary educational experience.  To do so, we have to engage students in the most effective means possible”, said City College President Esther Fike Curry. “Connected Campus will bring a remarkable combination of engagement and advising capabilities, further enabling our mission.”

Connected Campus is a digital campus experience, combining engagement software and integrated advising services, while serving as the single student interface to the school and its resources. Cloud-hosted, it is both a desktop & mobile software-as-a-service solution and will be configured to match the characteristics of City College.  The rollout of Connected Campus has begun at the Altamonte Springs campus. 

“City College has a legacy of student success built on excellence and innovation”, said David Meek, President of EdTech Associates. “We are proud to partner with the college and have Connected Campus further facilitate that vision of student success”. 

About City College
City College is a private, non-profit college located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The mission of City College is to educate and train students in their chosen major for employment in specific career fields.  The College awards Diplomas, Associate of Science or Bachelor of Science degrees based on the student's successful completion of required coursework.  City College has five campus locations and also provides online education to meet the dynamic needs of today's college students. 

About Education Technology Associates
Education Technology Associates of Carmel, Indiana, was founded in 2015 on the principle that smart, student-facing technology can positively influence student behaviors and outcomes, resulting in higher student retention and degree completion.  Their solution, Connected Campus, is uniquely focused on the student experience, as both an engagement and retention platform that combines engagement software and integrated advising services, while acting as the single student interface to the school and its resources.  Connected Campus helps schools retain more students, thereby increasing institutional revenue and creating a skilled workforce.

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Media Contact for Education Technology Associates
Mark Chyba
P:  317.983.1382

Monday, October 17, 2016

Private Online Communities: Why Your Students, Staff, and Faculty Will Thank You

As more and more Students opt for the flexibility afforded via alternative schedules, night & part-time enrollment, and through commuting and online courses, there are fewer opportunities to meet and interact with peers face to face.  Yet, we know that satisfaction is highest when Students feel a sense of belonging and identify as part of a community. 

Most institutions utilize public social networks and have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. These social networks provide dual value. First, they combat concerns of Student isolation by promoting interactions between Students, Staff, and Faculty that might not otherwise happen. Second, these networks are a public-facing representation of the culture and identity of the school.  By providing a face and voice to the public, social networks have become deeply rooted in an institution’s branding and marketing strategy.  
In light of the existence of low-cost or free public social networks, does it make sense for an institution to additionally adopt a Private Online Community?

The answer is: YES!

There are many advantages a Private Online Community has over public networks. Here are just a few.

Advantage #1: Distraction free environment

In public social networks, content is delivered primarily through the personal wall or timeline of the participant. The aggregation of content from varied sources results in a timeline whose content spans personal and professional interests. Family photos, updates from friends, sponsored content, news items and advertisements are interspersed with professional and academic updates and conversations.
While Students can use a public social network – even via a group or hashtag thread – for school collaboration, idea-sharing, and peer-mentoring, a social media timeline will be both ineffective and inefficient.

Unlike public social networks, Private Online Communities allow for content to be organized by themes or topics and stay distraction-free.  Because they are private, they are free of sponsored content and advertisements, unwanted notifications, and the general temptation that is ever-present during time spent on a public social media site. This allows the Student to avoid being drawn into less fruitful activities like looking at friends’ photos or watching funny videos. The time spent in a private, topic-based forum is concentrated on content that is focused on the social or support needs of the Student. The result is that while many Students will spend less time on private networks than they will public ones, their time is far more meaningful and productive. 

A Private Online Community can be a huge relief to Students, Staff, and Faculty users. One of the most common struggles reported by non-traditional Students today is time management. Balancing school with family, work, and other commitments necessitates the Student being extremely efficient with the time they can dedicate to their education.

Advantage #2 Connect to topics, not people

Private Online Communities organize conversations around topics. This structure allows Students, Staff, and Faculty to selectively participate in the discussions they deem to be most interesting and/or valuable. It also eliminates the pre-requisite of friending or following someone, which is a hallmark trait in the most popular public networks.

The Private Online Community provides immediate fulfillment to the Student by connecting them to peers, Staff or Faculty that are relevant to their current needs. As dialogue unfolds around a subject, Students will naturally identify as part of a broader community.

Advantage #3: Segmented messaging

Because users of Private Online Communities self-organize themselves into topic-based conversations aligned to their personal interests, it becomes very easy to target messaging based on a topic, ensuring that shared content is relevant to the group and to each individual member.
In Connected Campus from Education Technology Associates, each topic-based conversation is housed in a channel.  As such, institutions establish a channel for each of their programs of study, each of their student services areas (think Career Services or Financial Aid), each geographical location, etc.  This kind of structural organization supports sharing information with only the Students where the information is relevant. If there is a news article or TED Talk that is valuable for Business majors to review, the Business Majors Channel allows the faculty member(s) to promote the content only to Business Students. If there is a trending news topic surrounding Medical Coding, this can be discussed in the Channel established for Medical Coding Students.

By concentrating discussion topics or announcements to the appropriate Channels, community members avoid the distraction that comes from conversational threads that are not relevant nor interesting.  Not only does this make the Private Online Community less distracting (Advantage #1) but it also results in more efficient use of time on social media.

Advantage #4: Automated membership

While the social media platform(s) of the school are readily accessible, there is no guarantee that all Students, Staff, and Faculty will choose to join/follow or pay attention.  And as new Students come onto campus, they must be informed and encouraged to join the public network.

Private Online Communities can benefit from integrations with existing systems to manage membership. In the case of the Connected Campus Courtyard, integration with the Student Information System (SIS) at the institution ensures that all new Students, Staff, and Faculty are connected to the community and available for private messaging. Upon account creation, Connected Campus capitalizes on the information known about the user to pre-join them to Channels that are relevant to their academic experience. This setup includes channels that are both student-specific and school-wide in order to optimize the interactions with the Student.

Advantage #5: Own your data

As individuals post to social networks they leave a trail of data.  The effort required and built-in complexity of capturing and analyzing data from a public social network quickly becomes untenable. With a Private Online Community, however, the data created by Students, Staff, and Faculty is readily available for analysis. Institutions can realize the significant benefit of gaining a better understanding of the mood of student populations and the engagement level of the individual.
Sentiment analysis tools can be applied to uncover attitudes in order to determine the emotion and outlook of the community.  With the segmented groups that topic-based channels create, the sky is the limit for the data-inclined.  There is an opportunity to measure and evaluate numerous indicators to determine where Students are finding the most positive and satisfying experiences. 

Beyond aggregated sentiment data, social metrics – frequency of posts, trends in usage, and topics – are also valuable in understanding the engagement level and focal areas of the Student.

Trending: #Private Online Communities

With so many advantages, it's understandable why institutions want to offer Private Online Communities to their Students, Staff, and Faculty. Engagement strategies that align with current systems and the needs of students are vital toward attaining institutional retention goals.  Institutions are redefining new ways of communication and collaboration to improve student outcomes.  These strategies lead colleges and universities toward multi-purpose, student-focused solutions, while also helping in the preservation of institutional revenue.

Connected Campus, as an example solution, includes an ideal Private Online Community.  Unlike alternative solutions, such as those found in today's leading LMS platforms, Connected Campus supports dialogue around academic and non-academic topics and is open across all Students, Staff and Faculty.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Our Year in Review at Education Technology Associates

Join us in celebrating our first full year of delivering technology to higher education.  We have had a phenomenal year, exceeding all of our expectations.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How To Improve Student Outcomes By Adopting Nudges

Education Technology Associates Product Manager, Mel Roberts, was recently published on which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning industry. 

The article focuses on the application of Richard Thaler's "Nudge Theory" to student retention and academic success. 

Find out how nudging has been proven to positively influence behavior and how Connected Campus uses nudges to improve student outcomes. 

Read the article here.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Connected Campus from EdTech Associates earns high praise as Pitch Finalist at Innovation Showcase

Indianapolis, Ind., May 19, 2016 – “The Venture Club of Indiana announced today the launch of the 8th Annual Innovation Showcase. Started in 2009, the Innovation Showcase has become the largest venture conference in Indiana, with over 100 exhibiting companies and almost 1000 attendees each year, thanks to collaborative partners around the State.

This year’s conference will be held on July 14, 2016 at the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway, Ind. More than 1,500 innovators, entrepreneurs and investors are expected to attend the event, where high-potential startups and scaleups will exhibit and pitch to investors.”

As noted in the press release above, “Innovation” was in the spotlight during July in our home state of Indiana. As such, we knew this would be an extraordinary opportunity to 'showcase' Connected Campus - our unique and innovative student engagement & retention solution for Higher Ed.

However…. Companies do not just get to show up and present.

In fact, over 130 companies applied for the opportunity to be involved in this year’s event. Due to that volume of interest, a prerequisite filtering process became necessary in the form of a preliminary pitch competition on June 24 at the Barnes & Thornburgh law firm in downtown Indianapolis. Only 77 companies would be invited to advance to the July 14 exhibit hall -- and only 21 of those would be asked to present their solution on stage to the Indiana tech community.


Yes!!  Education Technology Associates was selected as one of only 21 companies to both exhibit and present at the July 14 Innovation Showcase.

The presentation – for this particular event and audience – would take the form of a timed “pitch”. We would have 5-minutes to present to an audience that exceeded 150 innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, and community members.

So, after several weeks of preparation… refining our message… streamlining our pitch… rehearsing in a variety of distracting settings… and timing ourselves, we knew we were ready to deliver. Our “10 minutes of fame” (5-minute presentation, 5-minute Q&A) seemed to go by in an instant.

The Innovation Showcase experience was very rewarding. A day filled with energy and potential was bolstered even further by Indiana’s announcement to invest $1B in innovation & entrepreneurship during the event.

For our part, we met new people, made important connections, shared the story of our company and product, and extended our local presence as a dynamic and growing company. Equally important, we renewed our energy and optimism around the value and significance of our solution, Connected Campus, for Higher Ed – a solution designed to improve the national persistence to degree rates (which remain below 50% for many types of institutions) by supporting today’s “post-traditional” students (now estimated as high as 85% of today’s 18 million undergraduates). 

We appreciate the efforts of the Venture Club of Indiana, Elevate Ventures, Sharon Brown events, the Dallara IndyCar Factory, and everyone involved in this year’s Innovation Showcase. We look forward to returning in 2017.

In the meantime, we continue on with our mission of fueling and facilitating Innovation in Higher Education, meeting the diverse needs of our students and schools.