4 technologies your CIO should embrace to assist student support professionals

by Brian Co, VP of Product and Platform Development, InsideTrack 

The role of the chief information officer in higher education is changing. Since 2013, implementing technologies and analytics to support student success initiatives has become a primary responsibility (EDUCAUSE 2016). This emerging trend reflects not only the increased focus on student outcomes across colleges and universities, but also CIOs’ shift in focus from simply managing campus technology systems to driving strategic business and technology innovation (Noonan 2016).

One of the key challenges your CIO faces in supporting your institution's use of student support technology is ensuring that the solutions they deploy address the needs of the modern student.

Today’s student body is becoming increasingly diverse geographically, demographically, and in terms of students’ schedules. Growth in online learning has resulted in institutions needing to support students located around the country and around the globe. Decades of progress toward improved access to higher education are bringing in students from a broader range of backgrounds, including many first-generation and low-income collegegoers. More working adults are returning to college, and even traditional-aged students are more likely to be working full-time, driving the need for service availability outside normal business hours.

In short, the modern student population requires modernized support. They need support that is available from anywhere at any time, tailored to their unique situations.

Similarly, today’s student support professionals require the tools to mass-personalize support in a cost-effective and scalable way. They must also develop technological and digital literacy — not just knowing how to use the technology, but also understanding best practices, such as when and how to effectively engage students via different channels of communication.

How can your CIO support this transformation and implement the right technologies and analytics to help improve student outcomes at your institution? Here are four key areas to focus on:

Multichannel communication capabilities are crucial to effective student support; email and face-to-face meetings are no longer enough. By adding video conferencing, text messaging or SMS, messaging through apps, and the ability to track student preferences regarding timing and modality of communication, your CIO can give support professionals at your school the tools they need to engage students on their own terms.

These tools are critical for reaching students who communicate with their friends primarily through apps such as Kik and Snapchat every day. However, simply employing alternate channels is not enough: Your support teams need to understand how timing, content, and modality work together to maximize effectiveness. They also need unified communication management, such as the ability to communicate with students via voice, text, or multimedia from a single phone number, for example, with every communication being logged in a single student record.

Evidence indicates that incorporating multichannel communications significantly enhances student engagement. In a study of student success coaches working with 6,683 students, InsideTrack determined that coaches using SMS — as opposed to just phone calls and email — achieved far greater levels of student engagement (Wheelan 2016). And engagement is a metric that correlates directly with student success.

Analytics and alerts is another area where your CIO can support student success. CIOs have a unique view of the student information available across student information systems, learning management systems, customer relationship management systems, and others. Your CIO can help determine how to consolidate that information by working with colleagues in student services, institutional research, and other areas to map it to critical stages of the student life cycle, create predictive models, and alert support professionals to students who may need assistance.

But deploying an alert system isn’t enough. Particularly at institutions where significant portions of the student population face multiple risk factors, deploying a system that just generates risk flags can be the equivalent of installing a smoke detector in a fireplace. It’s essential that analytics and predictive modeling also be used to determine which responses produce the best results in various situations. This way, student support staff can be armed not only with proactive notification that a student needs help, but also with a proposed approach for effectively addressing that need.

Georgia State University has been widely recognized for its use of predictive analytics to drive student success (Edelman 2016). One particularly successful application involved mapping out, on the basis of the requirements for majors, which courses students should take next. Then, academic advisors proactively reached out to students who registered for the wrong courses to help switch them over so that they wouldn’t waste time and money on unnecessary credits.

Digital content is another critical element of innovative student support that aligns well with students’ evolving preferences for accessing information. Your CIO can help find the right tools and training that will make it easy for support staff to connect students to short instructional videos, interactive checklists, and essential documents and forms that give students instant access to the information they need.

Not only do many students appreciate the self-service access, but providing it can also free up support professionals’ time by automating the collection and dissemination of routine information.

Digital content can be coupled with analytics and alerts to automatically deliver the right content to students, even before they know they need it. Your CIO can also use analytics to assess which forms of content generate maximum engagement and result in students taking the desired actions.

Consider Golden Gate University in California, where applicants receive automated messages providing access to interactive web and mobile modules that guide them through the admissions process and help prepare them for a strong start (InsideTrack 2015). The modules not only address transactional issues — such as how to complete financial aid applications and register for classes — but also give guidance on what it takes to be a successful online student.

Dashboards and apps are the final pieces of the student support puzzle. They provide the windows into the system for support professionals and students alike.

Good dashboards empower support staff to see at a glance how students are doing, manage their rosters, and control communications. If you can work with your CIO and IT staff to make this information easily accessible, it facilitates proactively supporting students, identifying trends, and moving forward on issues that may require administrative discussion and eventual policy changes.

Meanwhile, well-designed web and mobile apps give students the ability to easily connect with their advisors, coaches, and counselors from anywhere. They also provide convenient access to critical information. Of course, your CIO maybe reluctant to embrace these technologies for fear of overloading or confusing student users.

Higher education CIOs are rightfully wary of introducing too many apps. There’s limited value in having separate apps for everything from the cafeteria menu to class schedules. However, because apps truly help boost student engagement, institutions such as Northeastern University in Boston are finding ways to integrate multiple functions into a single app (Wheelan 2015).

In order to effectively support today’s diverse, busy, distributed student body, we need student support professionals, technology, and data analytics working together. Your CIO is perfectly positioned to take the lead in this effort. By putting the right technologies and analytics models in place and assisting support professionals in putting them to the best possible use, CIOs can do their parts to ensure that more students persist and complete their programs.



Edelman, Gilad. “The Sixteen Most Innovative People in Higher Education.” Washington Monthly. September 2016. Accessed October 21, 2016. http://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober-2016/the-sixteen-most-innovative-people-in-higher-education/.

EDUCAUSE. “Top 10 IT Issues: 2000–2016.” January 11, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.educause.edu/visuals/it-issues/trends/index.html

InsideTrack. “InsideTrack Adds Mobile App to Coaching Platform and EdTech Veteran to Engineering Team.” February 3, 2015. Accessed October 7, 2016. http://www.insidetrack.com/2015/02/03/insidetrack-adds-mobile-app-coaching-platform-edtech-veteran-engineering-team/.

Noonan, Aletha. “How the CIO’s Role Has Changed in Higher Ed.” EdTech Magazine. March 1, 2016. Accessed October 21, 2016. http://www.edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2016/03/how-cio-s-role-has-changed-higher-ed.

Wheelan, Pete. “Education Technology: Is It All Hype with No Return?” EdSurge News. January 25, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-01-25-education-technology-is-it-all-hype-with-no-return.

Wheelan, Pete. “Want to Prevent College Dropouts? Look Outside of the Classroom.” EdSurge News. December 19, 2015. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-12-19-want-to-prevent-college-dropouts-look-outside-of-the-classroom.