What’s New in Academic Analytics at EDUCAUSE? – The First Day of EDUCAUSE: Conversations on October 12.

Tuesday was kickoff day at EDUCAUSE, and we used the occasion to talk with a number of analytics leaders who have perspectives on new developments today and in the future.  Their full interviews will be posted and linked to our site, as will white papers, case studies, and applications briefs.  Keep following the posts over the next week as the full body of knowledge supporting these conversations is built.

Rob Curtin, Chief Applications Officer, US Education, Microsoft. Microsoft has played a pivotal role in the ferment in the world of analytics in higher education.  Several years ago, Microsoft coined the term, “BI for the Masses” and began emphasizing analytics applications that leveraged its basic tools.  Many vendors embedded Microsoft tools in their applications; because of lower costs for multiple users, this tended to drive down the cost of analytics in higher education, a trend that is continuing today.

Rob Curtin emphasizes this strategy and its implications.  Microsoft has embedded key analytics elements in its two premier offerings, SQL Server and Office, providing the capacity for this tandem to serve the analytics needs of customers who have already purchased these basic products.  This also embeds analytics capability in what Curtin refers to as the “Everyday DNA” of faculty, staff, administrators who use these products and the institution itself.  This is how users get accustomed to using analytics in their daily work and decision making.

Curtin sees his pattern continuing as learning management systems evolve over the next few years from LMS 1.0 to 3.0.  Again, many of the basic academic functions that are part of LMS are also include in the basic Microsoft tandem of SQL/Office, and can be available to the user along with the embedded analytics capabilities in them.  Over time, Curtin sees the academic user as becoming a savvier, accomplished user.  Deploying a sports metaphor, he sees academic users as moving from surveying box scores at the end of the game or season averages to real time “pitch counts” and focusing on analytics dealing with action as it is unfolding.

Mark Maxx, CEO, iStrategy Solutions. iStrategy’s primary offering is a pre-built analytic application that combines ETL, Data Warehouse, OLAP, and Business Intelligence in an optimized, pre-built combination.  iStrategy offers Student, Financials, Human Resources, Advancement, and NCATE Reporting as its modules.  It provides out-of-the-box integration to PeopleSoft, Datatel and SunGard.  The application provides self-service access to institutional information and dynamic changes in variables and dynamic drill downs to cohorts and individual data plus executive dashboard with key performance indicators.

iStrategy’s major advantages lie particularly with institutions that utilize one of the three major ERP vendors and can utilize the data mapping already in place.  For such clients, iStrategy can stand up its installation in 1-2 days, including the Data Warehouse build.  This is followed by a period of scrubbing and reining the pre-built data definitions and features, to reflect each institution’s differences.

Mark Maxx says that iStrategy’s biggest accomplishment this year has been the completion of the data mapping of all of its modules to the three major ERP vendors. This has taken five years. The major challenge now is learning management systems, so that clients can extract LMS data into the data warehouse to be analyzed in combination with ERP data.  iStrategy is moving forward to add LMS mapping to its portfolio.  Many of its current customers are anticipating this offering in their own efforts to extract academic data to the warehouse, using knowledge transferred by IStrategy.

According to Maxx, affordability is a key differentiator for iStrategy.  They are attractive to small institutions like the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), mid-sized institutions like University of Maryland Baltimore County, and large R1s like the University of Michigan, SUNY Stoneybrook, and the University System of Georgia.  Most of these institutions use iStrategy’s student module, but many use particular combinations of modules.  As is the case with many vendors, the larger institutions are taking multi-vendor strategies when it comes to analytics, utilizing iSS in conjunction with other vendor tools and applications.

Michael Psenka, President, eThority.  eThority provides analytics solutions for a range of industries: higher education, health care, human resources, manufacturing and retail.  They have been known for providing a “single-point of truth” for institutions striving to make sense of competing data sources.  Among their first successes were university medical centers attempting to manage and make sense of grants and contracts and project management in the complicated work of funded projects.  Last year at EDUCAUSE, eThority featured its efforts to create easily available predictive analytics that could be launched and customized by end users without specialized training or insight that characterize most existing analytics products.

eThority’s big news at EDUCAUSE was that it has taken its Codie-award winning solutions (analytics, dashboarding and reporting for Higher Education) and made them available under the sobriquet “DataTalent” through a so-called Zero Cost License.  They took this approach after a six-month analysis of the marketplace and collaboration with industry analysts to find an “over-the-top” strategy.  They concluded that in the consumer data market, users were deploying Google, Wikipedia, and others to achieve open and free access, so eThority took its platform and made it available at zero cost.  This is a 500 user license of eThority’s basic analytics offering, not a stripped down version; although there are premium services available as well.

By eThority’s reckoning 60% of their Zero Cost License customers will never pay a penny, utilizing the capability as it stands to fulfill their needs.  On the other hand, 40% will utilize a variety of means to extend into pay-for-use: premium product offerings, extensibility, predictive analytics and more.

eThority also buys into the notion of embedded analytics as key to successful emergence of higher education as a sophisticated analytics market.  They see predictive analytics needing to be embedded in processes and becoming a key tool in daily operational decisions.  Learning data will be set up as new information becomes available.  This is the higher education equivalent of health care’s “sentinel events,” which alert medical personnel that intervention is necessary.

eThority has always specialized in visualization.  They are excited about a new offering called the “Variance Map,” developed by Dr. Jim Young, their statistical and predictive analytics guru.  The variance maps enables users to understand the population dynamics of groups and compare individual performance with the population to spot variance and act on it.

eThority has a range of clients from small institutions to large research universities such as the University of Michigan.  eThority’s platform and ZCL can be used to augment existing environments and support data collaborations with other data sets and platforms.

Lou Pugliese, President, Moodlerooms. On its Website, Moodlerooms portrays itself as “Where Dell Cloud Services, Managed Open-Source and Software-as-a-Service Converge”
Moodlerooms is the largest managed service provider for Moodle.  It uses a wrap-around product called Joule to provide an enterprise solution offering for Moodle, including plug-in academics such as folio, analytics, content management, mobile and others, plus administrative applications that enable the platform to interface with administrative applications and services.

At EDUCAUSE, Moodlerooms has a large booth presence and is featuring Joule 2.0 a product that follows on top of Moodle 2.0 which has new features such as flex flash, gradebook and assessment, and social networking.  Joule 2.0 features a social network environment called Social Mix, Content Management, Data Repository capabilities, and a set of analytics that enable faculty to deal with performance.  These tools are useful to individual faculty who are looking at the performance of students in individual courses (not just achievement, but level of engagement, participation in social network environments and other embedded measurements) and administrators.  They are also adaptable to the needs of Provosts who can import historical data into the analytics engine and look at performance over time.

The Moodlerooms analytics include a basic analytics offering embedded in Moodle, plus a more advanced analytics capability, featuring strong visualization capabilities developed in partnership with eThority.  Both of these are free.

This is part of Moodlerooms strategy to accelerate the uptake of Open Source applications and to serve the 36 million educators using Moodle worldwide.  In Lou Pugliese’s view, the offering of assorted, high-value and free services associated with enterprise versions of open source applications is the next step in serving as an accelerant to its spread.

What does the future hold?  In Pugliese’s view, the capacity of LMS systems must be expanded, collecting the evidence in an institution about student progress and success, including financial aid, a gradebook that sits in the student ERP, predictive analytics, and others.  The future of embedded analytics in academic and administrative processes is very bright.  Access to the Moodlerooms White Paper will be made available,

Ellen Wagner, WCET. Ellen is Executive Director of WCET.  Ellen is working with WICHE to do a business reengineering of WCET.  This involves a deep-dive business analysis and look at what we have do to get smarter about what is necessary for success.

WCET is also involved in the Transparency by Design project which is highlighting the performance of institutions that are willing to expose their performance outcomes to the public.

Embedding analytics are key to these efforts.  In higher education at large, the sensibilities around large-scale data collection are evolving.  Faculty and administrators are becoming aware that these data exist and are coming to the realization that “perhaps we can use these in education, like businesses are doing.”  We are bringing to the education sector the insights from commercial applications.  We want to use this information to make better decisions.  Rather than conducting hypothesis-driven models of research, we are looking at pattern recognition.  This involves recognizing patterns in academic and administrative processes so you can respond autonomically.

Affordability is key.  University and colleges have no lack of data; in fact they are literally awash in it and much of it is hiding in plain sight.  We need new frameworks for using information.  Not that much of a stretch – we need to reframe the opportunity.  Sage Road is a consulting firm/project firm that is primarily interested in using traditional statistical methodologies, but using them in different ways.  Sage Roads Solutions offers a combination of three elements: 1) program evaluations, 2) data analysis and evaluation, 3) organizational development, and 4) technology implementation.  The program evaluations’ focus is less on “have I got solution for you” than finding out just what the “value propositions are in analytics – we know there is value there, we just have to find what it is.”