Founded in 1967, CQUniversity is an Australian public university with a campus presence in every mainland state. Recognised as Australia’s most inclusive university, it has the highest ratio of students from disadvantaged, mature age, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and first-in-family backgrounds.
CQUniversity has > 30,000 students from more than 70 countries plus 2,500 full-time staff. It delivers over 300 education and training offerings, from short courses and certificates, through to undergraduate, postgraduate and research degrees.
Higher Education has the power to shape people, with universities playing a pivotal role in setting students up for success in the rest of their lives.
With increasing attrition rates across the sector, CQUniversity (CQU) wanted to improve its student retention and conversely decrease its overall attrition rate (calculated up to a year later) by providing students with targeted support when it counts, during the term/semester. They wanted their students to succeed each term and increase the likelihood they would continue their studies towards graduation.
There are many different factors that contribute to a student’s academic success or failure at university. CQU was looking to create a learning analytics solution that would give them meaningful and actionable metrics as well as accurate predictions of academic grade outcomes. This enables the early intervention and support by staff students interact with every day; their teachers, course coordinators and student support teams.
CQU, already a leader in the learning analytics space, had a tool that leveraged its Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) to enable student intervention strategies during term.
The University wanted to build on the success of the first learning analytics tool and create an enterprise level solution that ingested a larger, more complex data set. The solution aimed to deliver a tool accessible by the student support team and academics designing and coordinating the strategy for student support and retention, while reducing the perceived data fences between areas in the institution. The tool would deliver a scaled enterprise learning analytics solution.
CQU’s project goals included:
Improving student retention rate.
Providing teaching and advising staff with comprehensive data about their cohorts to enable the facilitation of personalised early intervention strategies at scale.
A learning analytics tool to support staff in their roles, prioritising support to students who need it the most.
Student well-being is a priority for every learning institution. A student that is happy and feels supported is more likely to remain engaged and realise their ambitions.
The project was managed using Agile methodology to shorten the development cycle and continually evaluate the quality of work done.
Open source frameworks Laravel and React were utilised to deliver a solution that was easy to navigate, providing a positive user experience (UX) for users.
CQU Success – the software solution
CQU and Catalyst IT developed the learning analytics tool ‘CQU Success’.
At a high level the Enterprise learning analytics tool:
Provides real-time analytics about students, including demographic, historical academic progression and current academic engagement and performance in a ‘Cohort dashboard’.
Provides role-based access to learning analytics for Unit Coordinators, Course Coordinators and College Coordinators. The dedicated dashboards enable them to track and monitor their cohorts.
Enables the facilitation of personalised intervention strategies at scale, through direct communications with students.
Provides access to historical snapshots of cohort learning analytics data, to inform future unit design and delivery strategies.
Integration with existing systems
The Catalyst Development Team worked with CQU to integrate the solution with data from six different systems/data sources across the university’s digital infrastructure. These included the Student Management System, CRM, Learning Management System (LMS), Academic Information Management System (AIMS), continuous feedback data, business intelligence data, and predictive analytics data.
The CQU Success solution is cloud hosted on AWS, while the source data is hosted in the university’s on premise digital infrastructure.
The React solution enabled flexibility in the Agile development strategy, that supported the continual delivery of new features as the number of application use cases expanded and more data was included to meet changing user requirements. Some key capabilities included:
A web-based application with a dynamically updating user interface while avoiding cumbersome page reloads;
Re-usable UI components that improve consistency and provide a high quality user experience;
Reduced development time writing new features by re-using encapsulated code components;
A large library of graphing functionality to represent the statistical data in the most appropriate way.
The application offers multiple dashboards to track and monitor cohorts at a college, course, and unit level. Users are also able to focus on an individual student’s data and compare the engagement and progression for a current term across all enrolled units. Features include filtering, combining primary and secondary variables to maximise screen space and dual sorting to prioritise and sort data.
How up to date is the data?
As a data driven tool, it was critical that CQU Success included accurate data to enable users to make informed decisions about how to support students.
The solution moved through multiple evolutions of integration design and strategy to achieve this. The final solution leverages the benefits of the React application to deliver a seamless user interface and the data warehouse infrastructure at CQU to provide a sustainable data model. This blended approach aims to provide flexibility for future changes to institutional data sets without continued development overhead within the application itself.
Designing student intervention strategies at scale
The Catalyst Team developed inbuilt functionality that enables users to design personalised student intervention strategies at scale.
Using the filters on the cohort dashboard, users can focus on specific metrics about student engagement or other identifying demographic and academic data points to target ‘at risk’ students. The interface then enables an email function with mail-merge features to automatically populate personalised student data.
For example: where an academic identifies students predicted to fail their unit, who have not logged into Moodle for over a week and have poor academic progression rates, these students can be targeted and sent a personalised communication designed to provide initial support and initiate the conversation to create an ongoing support strategy. This is achieved with the touch of a few buttons.
CQU Success enables users to take a holistic view of a student’s engagement in their studies during the term. At the individual student level, users have access to the data about the engagement and progression in their other currently enrolled units.
This open access to data becomes critical in identifying student behaviour trends and if this is isolated to a specific unit or across all units. Holistic support strategies can then be designed for a student, in collaboration with student support teams.
Access to data
CQU Success enables role-based access to data, with dedicated unit, course, and college dashboards for different user roles. These dashboards provide users with access to aggregated data sets about the cohorts they have specific responsibility for.
Data security is critical, and ensuring responsible use of personally identifiable information (PII) is paramount. The application includes functionality to mask PII by activating the security shield button. This allows for interactive training strategies and screen sharing without risking disclosing PII.
The Catalyst Team worked closely with CQU to deliver the project to requirements. CQU Success is now a core business system, available to 2,500 users. The new learning analytics tool is a critical element in CQU’s student retention strategy.
CQUSuccess is a sector leading application. Whenever we demonstrate the capabilities CQUSuccess has, it quickly becomes obvious that most Higher Education institutions still lack the affordances of a platform, that breaks down data silos, and uses predictive analytics for real-time data decision making that can impact academic outcomes.
Pavle Jeric, Deputy Director Online Systems and Future Proofing @CQUniversity
The solution provides stakeholders with analytics as to what results are predicted to be. This means teaching staff now have visibility of students that are struggling, to enable the provision of proactive timely support and intervention.
The project, that initially focused on Higher Education, was expanded to include Vocational Education Training (VET) at the beginning of 2021. The Catalyst Development Team continues to work with CQU on the CQU Success solution, to improve and evolve its capabilities.