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How an App Can Help Students Find a Better Fit for Their Major

Posted by Dean Asher on 7/15/16 7:00 AM
Topics: ed tech, retention

It's no surprise that students don't always find the perfect fit for a program of study their first time out. Unfortunately for many students, they may respond to this problem by leaving to take time off or abandoning their studies all together — for their success and your school's retention rates, that's hardly an ideal way to handle things. In a partnership with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Blackboard is unveiling apps and tools intended to make it easier, less intimidating and more intuitive for your students to find alternatives and avoid dropping out.

Check out Campus Technology's story on Blackboard's upcoming web tools: Bb Planner, an app that lets students look into degrees and careers based on their interests; and Blackboard Advise, a web-based tool that helps advising staff better understand what students want and identify those at-risk by pulling and analyzing students' planner data.

Students can plan their futures with this new app

Helping Students Plan Their Futures

Planner eventually became a tool that students could pull up on their smartphones that would help guide them to potential careers based on expressed interests, tell them how to get there with the credits they already have and the courses they need to take, provide timely information about salaries and geographies of high demand, and display videos of people in those fields speaking about their careers. To obtain the job data, the company teamed up with Burning Glass Technologies for career information and Roadtrip Nation, an online resource that helps people figure out how to achieve their aspirations.

But the laundry list of student help doesn't end there. Eventually, Planner will simplify the complexity behind sorting out the scheduling of classes around work and family commitments, managing transfer credits and prerequisites, and shifting gears to pursue a new direction, with simple reporting that will tell the student where he or she is in terms of reusable credit hours. Those features will surface over the next year, according to Katie Blot, senior vice president at Blackboard.

"One thing we heard as an emerging phrase in the education space is 'starting with the end in mind,'" said Blot. "Some students are making major decisions kind of haphazardly or they're getting paralyzed by decisions. We really wanted to provide something that brought all this relevant data about what careers are available, that align to the passions and interests of the individual, but also help them start to narrow the number of options in a way that reduces anxiety. We're not prescribing anything, but narrowing down based on the feedback and inputs that they're giving."

In the beginning of their use with Planner, students will tell the app about areas of interest with quick swipes. At the other end, once the long-term plan is set, Blot added, Planner will enable the student to sign up for the next set of recommended courses with a tap.

Advisers Need Planning Visibility Too

Eventually, the advisers among the college's advisory team began asking how they'd be able to see the plans created by the students. "We really said we absolutely had to have a way for the staff to see what the student has created," recalled Lock. That kicked off the design of a feature called "staff view," which eventually evolved into the product called Blackboard Advise.

As Brook Bock, Blackboard's senior director for higher education industry strategy and new product incubation, described, Advise connects to data from Planner as well as from an institution's student information system to display "critical" information the adviser can use to guide the student. It answers questions, she said, about students' interests, the courses they've taken and what their current plan looks like. Having access to that information, she noted, "makes the conversation between adviser and student "much more informed and valuable."

Advise will also pull in predictive analytics using technology from Blackboard's Predict, to identify students who are specifically at risk. Having that built into Advise, Bock added, will help advisers "prioritize who they speak with based on the needs of students and also focus the conversation on what's most critical to that student."

— Dian Schaffhauser, Campus Technology
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