Large audience listens

Building tomorrow’s education with a human (and digital) touch

Campus Conversation focuses on reinventing student experience

March 13, 2019

What do progressive pharmacies, precision medicine and doctors’ virtual house calls have to do with student success? A lot, if you work for the University of Colorado Denver.

Reimagining the future and the way students are served was the theme of the March 5 Campus Conversation, moderated by Vice Provost Linda Bowman, PhD, and fueled by video clips, audience interaction and the senior vice chancellor for Student Access and Achievement’s own wit.

This March 5 talk – “The Unparalleled Student Experience: Coming Together for Student Success” – attracted a large turnout, nearly filling Room 2600 of the Student Commons Building.

Audience member listens
Participants of the March 5 Campus Conversation in the Student Commons Building Room 2600 were challenged with reimagining the way university employees serve and communicate with students.

Anticipating and exceeding student expectations

Bowman acknowledged Chancellor Dorothy Horrell’s call to the CU Denver community to reimagine – “from recruitment to graduation and every human and virtual touchpoint in between” – ways to enhance student success.

“To me, that means we are anticipating student expectations and exceeding them,” Bowman said, using TV commercial videos of forward-thinking health-related companies as analogies.

So, how can middle-of-the-night virtual doctor visits and personalized pill deliveries translate to homework troubles or tuition bills? Bowman called on the audience to ponder those questions and more.

Linda Bowman smiles
Linda Bowman, vice provost and senior vice chancellor for Student Access and Achievement, decked in Mardi Gras beads, opened this month’s Campus Conversation with a joke, setting the stage for an interactive event.

Leveraging technology and assets for student success

“We have so many assets,” Bowman said, pointing to the university’s dedicated employees as one example. “Just the fact that you are all here, that you care about what you do, is reflective of that,” she said.

“Think about how we could really use those (assets and technology) in furthering our connections to work for our students.”

Highlighting her team’s 12 current “key initiatives” (Fig. 1), Bowman emphasized that it will take embracing change by everyone at CU Denver to realize the goal.

Key initiatives chart
Fig. 1

Why should employees navigate for students?

As an example of the importance of employee roles, Bowman used a pre-submitted question (one of nearly 20 entered online) asking why faculty and staff should dedicate themselves to helping students navigate through school.

“I see people as having mental calories. What do we want our students to expend those mental calories on?” Bowman asked. “I want them to expend them on learning.”

By navigating the system for students, and by streamlining and making its resources more accessible, we are allowing the university’s No. 1 clients to do what they came to CU Denver to do, Bowman said.

Woman speaks in audience
Audience interaction was a focal point of this month’s talk on “The Unparalleled Student Experience: Coming Together for Student Success.”

The importance of data in integrating change

Data-informed decision-making and predictive analytics also play a role in enhancing student experience and learning, Bowman said. That includes the university’s work with EAB, a consulting firm that uses research and technology to help address educational challenges.

“There was a rumor that with EAB, students have a chip on their ID, and we are tracking their every move,” Bowman said, addressing another pre-submitted question. While that “does sound a little like my creepy computer,” she said, drawing a laugh, that’s not the focus.

EAB analyzes population health and ways to solve the needs of groups of students, she said.

“It isn’t so much about looking at students individually. That comes from those personal connections that our people are making,” Bowman said. “It’s about having those data behind the things that we offer and the things that we pull together for our support system that is so important.”

Woman speaks out
An audience member responds to one of many questions from moderator and Vice Provost Linda Bowman.

Making ‘precision education’ a CU Denver norm

Comparing precision medicine (which uses varied data for individualizing patient care) to the university’s vision, Bowman asked the audience how it relates to what they do:

  • “We have to understand that all of our students come from different backgrounds. That’s really important to take into account when we are giving advice,” one person said.
  • “It’s understanding the motivations of the students and what their goals are to help them navigate the environment to reach their goals,” another person said.

Noting that she cannot name them all, Bowman mentioned a number of projects on campus focused on personalizing the student experience (from chatbots and websites to an ambitious email audit).

“This unparalleled student experience work really is being guided by you. It’s inspired by the things that you do,” she said. “Now we’ve got to amass all of that and connect it together.”

Three initiatives highlighted:

Angie VanDijk speaks
Angie VanDijk, director of the Academic Success and Advising Center, shares her team’s project focused on helping students find a major before accruing too many credits.

Angie VanDijk: Success Advising

VanDijk, director of the Academic Success and Advising Center (ASAC) – a name on the verge of changing with the center’s evolving focus – said a primary goal for her team is reducing the number of students with high credit counts and undeclared majors.

Working with schools and colleges across campus, ASAC will use holistic, well-timed support from start to graduation for students, helping them make timely decisions and understand financial literacy and the investment they are making in their future, VanDijk said.


Richard Allen: APLU Student Experience Project (SEP)

Allen, PhD, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and psychology professor, said a research-practice partnership through the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU) will focus on creating a greater sense of belonging among students.

The project includes six institutions and aims to address psychological barriers to create a more equitable learning environment, Allen said.


Margaret Wood: ACUE Course in Effective Teaching Practice

A 25-module online course is being offered that teaches faculty how to use research-based techniques that can help students succeed, said Wood, PhD, director of the Center for Faculty Development. “We know student learning, motivations and course pass rates are positively impacted.”

Now recruiting for the next course, Wood encouraged faculty members to sign up, especially those teaching high-enrollment gateway courses that can be particularly tough for first-year students.

“We know if students fail one class in their first year, it really reduces the likelihood that they will  return,” she said. “We hope this class can add up to a really big change.”

Margaret Wood speaks
Margaret Wood, director of the Center for Faculty Development, talks about a training course for faculty, who are at the heart of student success, she said.