UMBC partners with Blackboard, VitalSource on research to support student success

UMBC’s Division of Information Technology has made headlines for innovative research collaborations aimed at boosting student success through analyzing how students utilize digital resources. Recently, UMBC researchers have continued this work with education technology companies Blackboard and VitalSource, the university’s learning management system and e-textbook providers. The goal of this research partnership is to better understand connections between how students use course tools and their class performance, and to use that knowledge to support student learning and success.

Leading this work for UMBC are CIO and Vice President of IT Jack Suess ‘81, mathematics, M.S. ‘95, operations analysis; Associate Vice President of Instructional Technology John Fritz Ph.D. ‘16, language, literacy, and culture; and Robert Carpenter, deputy CIO and associate provost for analytics. An early pilot study focused on anonymized data reflecting the performance of nearly 1,000 undergraduates in seven sections of five UMBC courses across a range of disciplines in Fall 2017. Success was defined as earning a C or higher final grade.

Among other things, the UMBC, Blackboard and VitalSource researchers found that by combining data from a wide range of sources, they were able to develop a model that was 70-98 percent accurate in predicting, by week four in the semester, which students would go on to earn a C or higher final grade. Their findings were shared in a Blackboard blog post and then reported by Campus Technology this past summer.

Providing help in time

“This project is important because it focuses on early interventionoffering help in time for a student to improve their trajectory,” explains Fritz. Ideally, he notes, that extra level of support could kick in by week four of the semester. “We want to reach out to and support students earlier in a term,” he says, “when a change in their awareness and behavior could make a difference in outcomes.”

John Fritz.

Although the study did not test specific interventions, the researchers believe they have found actionable, concrete evidence that could make a difference in student achievement, to help boost grades and decrease the number of students who need to repeat a course. They are now working to replicate the study, refine the model, and explore relevant interventions, which Carpenter has been developing in complementary analytics studies using Blackboard.

Data-driven collaborations

“UMBC has a long history of innovation as a data-driven institution,” says Suess, who is chair of the board for IMS Global, which defines and supports the standards for the Caliper framework that was used in the study. In addition to resulting in interesting findings, this study “was a solid analytics infrastructure proof-of-concept,” he notes.

The research partners also reflect that this project highlights how so many different units across the university play essential roles in supporting student success. The UMBC bookstore’s Course Materials Initiative, for example, has worked to encourage faculty to use e-textbooks, giving students a more affordable, accessible textbook option and making this type of analytics-based research study possible.

“Our progress using analytics to design interventions for student success wouldn’t be possible without the strong partnerships we’ve developed with faculty and departments,” said Carpenter. “It’s a team effort.”

Additional information about how DoIT uses analytics at UMBC can be found on the DoIT Analytics website.


Banner image: John Fritz. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.