Data Literacy Institute research aids in student success


Courtesy of Oakland University

Oakland University is selected to take part in a nationwide initiative to increase data literacy on campus.

Dean Vaglia, Staff Reporter

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and Association for Institutional Research (AIR) have selected Oakland University as one of 12 universities to take part in a nationwide initiative to further student success goals by increasing data literacy on campus. 

Facilitated through the APLU’s Powered by Publics initiative, OU and other universities will have 20 staff and faculty members trained by the AIR’s Data Literacy Institute on how to read and analyze data.  

“The goal of Powered by Publics is to help increase student success, graduation [and] retention [rates] across the U.S.,” said Anne Hitt, associate provost and a liaison to the APLU. 

The Data Literacy Institute’s work is divided into two parts. First, 20 faculty and staff members will be selected and put through a 60-hour training program specifically tailored to the needs of the university by the AIR. After the training is complete, they will be tasked with using data collected by the OU Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) to work on a project designed to further the university’s goal of student success.

When it comes to student success, OU measures it in a few different ways.

“[OU] has data,” Hitt said. “We have grades, we have attendance records, we have transcripts. We have success rates in courses … Sometimes we know if a student has been active in, say, student government. We can say, ‘You did these extracurricular things, and that seems to correspond to student success.’”

All of this data is in the hands of the OIRA, which already analyzes it on a regular basis. With the opportunity given by the application part of the Powered by Publics initiative, OIRA Director and APLU Liaison Song Yan believes the data will be read in a different way than before.

“We are really excited about this,” Yan said. “I think from an institutional research point, we are more excited about how we are going to get a whole cross-campus, different office units being involved in [data analysis]. Oakland University has been using data for making decisions, and we have been pretty good at this, but I think this is another way for us to improve our use of data to make decisions.”

The Data Literacy Institute classes will begin around the fall 2020 semester and should be completed in time to begin the application project around the winter 2021 semester. While the exact goal of the project and what data will be used in it are currently unclear, some ideas about what it might be include reforming gateway courses or researching the effectiveness of certain programs, such as internships or courses.

“Until we analyze the data and we really look at it carefully and we balance it with other things … we do not know what the answers are,” Hitt said. “[The project is about] figuring out what data we can access and what it tells us in support of student success.”