Built-In Analytics

As children, our parents encouraged us to play board games at times when we weren't able to be outside, instead of watching too much television. Now as a parent, I make sure to set aside time each week to also encourage game play with my children. It brings enjoyment to an evening and helps them settle down after an active day, and it helps instill accountability to a set of rules (while also forcing them to get along for the good of the game). Whether it's a game of Rummy or a round of Scrabble, my oldest child keeps score on a piece of paper torn from a notepad. We then keep score over the course of a few games until we run out of page.

I've always enjoyed games, and the landscape for online play is ubiquitous and expanding. While I personally don't keep many games on my smart phone (as a way to reduce distraction), I do have two weaknesses: Words with Friends and The New York Times Crossword. I play Words with two of my younger brothers almost daily, and I try to fit in a crossword over a cup of coffee each morning.

There is something different about today's digital games that I hadn't noticed until last week, though: games are now including data as a natural extension of game play, allowing a player to review and digest past performances, which acts as a means for improvement and another point of engagement. The concept of badges (or awards for meeting a goal) have been around for some time, and as an incentive, it's a compelling notion to promote greater adoption. This ultimately results in more time in the game. But when I discovered that I could look back through my statistics and review specific data points, such as the percentage of a type of word that I played, or the average time it took me to complete a puzzle, I was very surprised.   

At the same time, I was immediately reminded that Higher Education still has a ways to go. My primary question was, "Why isn't data baked into everything we do within higher education and then used to make decisions daily?" Institutions have been making progress, collecting and leveraging a number of specific data points (i.e. IPEDS), and those practices are subsequently starting to have an impact on certain pillars within each institution, such as in Admissions or Financial Aid offices. The push towards greater student success and learning outcomes acts as another primary driver for data collection. But as that data consist of metrics that are only available in hindsight (often times after a semester ends or in year over year trends), why is there not a greater catalyst to require data collection at a more granular level throughout the course of a semester? For example, campus card systems capture every interaction, and so there is an opportunity to identify patterns in student behavior that may be cause for concern before a student retreats into isolation or withdraws from an institution. Learning management systems track engagement patterns in online courses, allowing instructors to monitor patterns and engage if a student begins to fall behind with course work.

But when it comes the daily insight that is possible with sound financial data and resulting practices, the distribution of relevant budget information remains a laggard. Outside the Business Office, it's not too common to find others looking at their spending patterns or adjusting their operations in response to the climate of the institution. Higher education needs to build analytics into its fiscal practices in order to help secure its financial future.