University recognised for ‘game-changing’ learner success innovation

05 Oct 2020

The University of Waikato has outshone Australian universities to receive a 2020 CAUDIT Award.

The University’s ‘Tertiary Success for Everyone - Ōritetanga’ project was one of five finalists in the Improving Student Success category, and announced as the winner in a virtual ceremony earlier this week.

The CAUDIT Awards recognise, celebrate and promote the achievements and innovation of IT staff applying digital solutions to transform the student and staff experience in higher learning institutions across Australasia. The University of Waikato is the only New Zealand university recognised in this year’s awards.

The Ōritetanga project is co-funded by the University of Waikato and the Tertiary Education Commission, which has partnered with a range of tertiary education organisations to test its learner success framework and develop best practice guidelines.

The project aims to improve learner outcomes by using data modelling to identify challenges to student success, and target interventions to remove barriers.

Robbie McGregor, Associate Director of Data and Applications in the University’s ITS division, says utilising data to develop and implement multiple solutions is an evidence-based approach to institutional improvement, and is borrowed from a model developed by Georgia State University.

“The team worked with a cross-section of University stakeholders to source data through the student voice, machine learning insights and student interactions with learning management systems.”

He says this extensive level of engagement across the University took around six months to analyse, enabled in part by a new machine learning capability used to identify at-risk learners.

“This was an entirely new capability within the University’s ITS team: mining 15 years of historical data, combining this with dynamic interaction data, and then correlating this with an output measure of student engagement in order to determine success.”

The machine learning model is constantly being retrained on new data, which in turn increases the accuracy of its classifications.

Data-driven interventions mean the University has also been able to identify achievement gaps from an equity perspective, recognising that to significantly impact the success of all students, including Māori and Pacific learners, change needs to occur across the whole institution.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Professor Robyn Longhurst says as a result of the dedication of ITS staff working on the project, the resulting outcomes exceed expectations.

“This has the potential to be a game-changer in improving New Zealand tertiary student participation, pass rates and closing the gaps for Māori and Pacific learners.”

Robbie McGregor adds the University’s success in the CAUDIT Awards against the Australian entries is a significant achievement for a New Zealand university.

“Their entries were all amazing too. It was really exciting for us to undertake this project and utilise our IT skills and expertise to directly benefit at-risk learners, so to be recognised for our work is really a bonus.”

Professor Longhurst applauds the ITS team’s passion for and commitment to facilitating student success.

“This team has done so much more than just deliver on time and on budget - they’ve continually demonstrated an ability to use initiative, be creative and keep improving the product.”

With the first phase of the project now complete, Ōritetanga Learner Success (staff only) is looking ahead to options for implementing its next phase, which will focus on building robust processes to support learners, especially those identified as being in need.

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