Six Strategies to Encourage Faculty to Use a Student Success Technology

NWTC LogoNortheast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) is one of the 16 technical and community colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System. More than 41,500 students attend NWTC’s multiple campuses and regional centers in the Green Bay, WI area. The college offers more than 100 associate degrees and over 80 certificates, as well as transfer agreements with more than 40 other institutions.

NWTC is an Achieving the Dream Leader College—a national designation awarded to community colleges that commit to improving student success and closing achievement gaps. The Aspen Institute ranks NWTC in the top 12 percent of U.S. two-year colleges for promoting student success, retention and graduation.

John Grant, Dean of Student Development, describes Starfish as an instrumental piece of the “persistence puzzle” at NWTC. And, faculty buy-in is not “nice to have,” it is essential. Grant explains, “For us, the most crucial perspective is the faculty perspective. The classroom is where the students are, and that is where we measure their progress.”

Here, Grant speaks to six strategies that can encourage faculty to use student success technology.

Strategy 1: Involve Faculty from the Start

NWTC has, by design, included faculty on the Starfish team. Faculty sit on the steering committee, and train their peer faculty. NWTC also chose tools that are easy for faculty to integrate into their regular classroom management tasks.

“Our old referral process was really manual,” Grant says. “We got Starfish in 2013, and the progress surveys helped faculty to give feedback about their students right away. Just with that, it became a lot easier to get faculty to participate.”

Strategy 2: Commit to Transparency

In order to really get faculty on board, the team at NWTC realized they needed to share information differently. Today, NWTC faculty have open access to data about all students, not just those in their course sections. The only exception is for counseling or disability services.

“We made the decision very intentionally, as a whole institution, about the way we were going to work and live every day, and that decision is that we support transparency across the institution,” says Grant. “Sure, we had concerns, but quite honestly, we would rather commit to developing students from a larger perspective, with some exceptions to that, rather than build to the exceptions. We accept the responsibility that comes with that.”

Strategy 3: Build Student Success into Faculty Development

“Instead of having step increases for pay, the college designed a four-step progression structure for faculty based on expertise, knowledge, and high impact practices,” says Grant. “Utilization of Starfish is a step in that structure.”

Strategy 4: Don’t Wait for Perfection

While implementing a technology like Starfish, Grant acknowledges that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. “It’s a blessing and a curse that when you start digging in, you identify lots of ways to continue to use your data, to build out your services. You need to figure out what’s realistic and aligned with your goals for next twelve months.”

But he encourages campuses not to be paralyzed by the many decisions that need to be made. “We implemented really fast. We applied for a grant in March, and had Starfish turned on by August. The beauty of the Starfish system is that even though we weren’t completely ready to roll, and even though we didn’t have all the workflows figured out, it was already better than where we had been.”

Strategy 5: Ask Students What They Want

Like most institutions, NWTC launched their early alert workflows expecting a variety of student success teams to help catch and resolve faculty-raised flags. But after about a year, they surveyed the students and asked, “Who do you want to talk to, after you get a flag from faculty member?” Eighty percent of the students said they wanted to work directly with the faculty member who raised that flag. “While it was a lift for faculty to not only raise but also close flags, we were able to get them on board because we could show them that the students wanted it that way,” says Grant.

Strategy 6: Accentuate the Positive.

NWTC faculty raise twice as many Kudos as flags. Grant explains, “Faculty have told us that students do better if they send a Kudo for overcoming a struggle, instead of a flag with a warning about a struggle. We believe in the power of positive reinforcement.”

You can hear more from John Grant about faculty engagement strategies and ways to improve student outcomes, by downloading our Student Success Spotlight webinar here.

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is a co-winner of the 2017 Hobsons Education Advances Award for Student Success.