A Secure Academic Advising Solution

The primary goal in education is simple: optimal student outcomes. As educators, we should continuously strive to do everything we can to influence student success. In the didactic portion of health sciences education, success tends to be defined by board passage rates and how prepared students are for clinical rotations. An often overlooked element in striving for this success is academic advising - but it's critical. There always have been and always will be students who need a little extra help outside of class. Schools need to ensure they are supporting all students in their programs, especially those who would benefit from additional one-on-on time outside of the classroom. That seems simple enough, right?

Of course, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. Our job responsibilities don’t always allow us to focus on these primary goals because the institution has many other requirements to meet beyond just student scores. Which means we’re spending a bulk of our time on non-academic related issues. It’s all part of the job, but we all know it is more time-consuming than we would like. And while we must address these tasks, we still have to focus on student learning.

So, with days still only being 24 hours long and human cloning not yet perfected, how are faculty and academic advisors expected to successfully support students while completing all of that other work? 

It all begins with the right people having the right a timely fashion. Unfortunately, we know we can’t always depend on students to self-report when they’re struggling. They may feel like they don’t have the time or are embarrassed to admit when they aren’t grasping a concept. Many students who have made it to this level in their academic careers haven’t experienced academic struggles, so they may not know exactly how to handle this situation.So, we need to find a way to get that information to their advisors/faculty.

How to Get Student Grades to Faculty Advisors

During my years as academic support staff in health sciences education, it was often my job to get student performance information to faculty advisors. Seems like a pretty easy task, until you consider all of the rules that must be followed when dealing with student grades. This means I couldn’t just send scores for all students to all faculty and let them pick out their advisees. And it just takes too much time to send emails to all faculty advisors with password protected information on just their students. Sadly, I’ve lived this one. Mail merge? No thank you. Setting those documents and emails up appropriately is almost as time-intensive as sending individual messages to faculty. 

Oh, and remember - we have to get all this done as soon as possible. Health sciences curricula move fast and students are continuously having to prepare for the next lesson and/or assessment. To maximize the effectiveness of remediation, we need to address the learning issue while it is still relevant to students. 

It is also highly unlikely that all faculty advisors will log into the gradebook and find this information on their own.

[If you’re faculty, don’t stop reading! This isn’t one of those “bashing faculty’s lack of buy-in” articles.]

Faculty are busy, many of them may not actually have a login for wherever scores are kept, and they may not have been trained to locate what they need. Not to mention...we have to be careful with how we grant user rights in these ed tech systems to make sure we’re FERPA-compliant. It can be a precarious position. 

These past few paragraphs are a microcosm of how difficult it can be to stay focused on the goal of student success. We can spend so much of our time trying to troubleshoot issues that we lose sight of our actual goal.

Finding a Solution

Back to the task at hand - how do we get student performance information to faculty and advisors in a timely fashion? As someone who has spent my career in educational technology, I gravitate to ed tech programs that help solve these problems.

In this scenario, I needed something that was:

  1. Simple for faculty
  2. A secure program
  3. Able to provide information on specific students to specific faculty
  4. Allowing us to have constantly updated student information

Every now and again, you hit the jackpot and realize that one of the ed tech programs you already use solves a critical issue. For this particular issue, that’s exactly what happened. DaVinci’s Leo (our curriculum management platform that we already used for mapping, our clerkship lottery, and as an LMS) checked all the boxes. Their Academic Portrait was exactly the solution we needed to get faculty timely, secure information on student performance. 

Let’s look at that list of “must-haves” again:

  1. Simple for faculty - After faculty log-in, it only took them only three clicks to get to the academic information for a specific student. Three. Clicks. That’s about as easy it gets when training faculty how to access robust student information.
  2. A secure program - Yep!
  3. Information on specific students for faculty - Check! We can set our faculty and academic advisors up to only see the students that are assigned to them as advisees. Take that, FERPA requirements.😎
  4. Constantly updated information - With a single click, your gradebook updates students scores in the Academic Portrait for all the right faculty advisors to view.

Using Leo to meet these objectives meant that we were in a better position as a program to reach our goals for student success. We could get the information we needed to the right people at the right time, giving our faculty a chance to have a meaningful influence on student achievement. As institutions, we owe it to our students to put them in the best position to be successful. Instead of waiting for students to self-report and only talking with them after they fail a big exam, we could address learning issues as they were happening. With Leo, our faculty knew more about student performance and could therefore do more to influence improving their outcomes.