There are two primary uses for data in a university’s administration. The first is to provide a baseline for what resources are being used by students and university constituents. The second is to provide insight into how initiatives and tools are improving the university as a whole.
The value of baseline digital resources such as a web site can be demonstrated by showing that it is providing continuous service. We can look at the different kinds of web usage to see what areas of the web site we might want to improve. For example we may see increasing web traffic coming from mobile devices and so we decide to add more web site optimization for mobile devices.
Less straightforward is the use of data to see if digital resources are helping meet the strategic goals of a university. For example the university may decide to implement a new smartphone app for incoming freshmen. The goal of this app is to help incoming students efficiently complete tasks such as submitting financial aid information, attending an orientation, signing their housing agreement and etc. A new smartphone app might look better and seem more coordinated than what was used before, but how do we know if the new app is doing an improved job at onboarding students and how do we know if students find it any more appealing?
Answering these types of questions requires more effort and skill than tallying what kinds of browsers or devices are using our web site. To gauge success on this level we have to think about what are the goals with providing a new tool and what data needs to be tracked in order to decide whether we are meeting our goals.
Collecting data related to how we are quantifying success and analyzing it provides a chance to demonstrate that a digital resource is helping meet the goals of the university. It also helps us to course correct a project if we run into unexpected results.
As the cost and effort to create digital resources designed to improve student experience decreases and as universities leverage these decreased costs to provide innovative services, more rigorous data analysis will be a critical factor in validating success.