The most satisfying part of my job is seeing progress in attacking “big problems” in education. It’s when we take on these bigger challenges that we arrive at breakthrough thinking and innovation that matters. Today we’ve shipped a new feature for our Learn platform that I think fits that bill—a new feature called “Retention Center.”

The big problem: inability to track student performance and take action before it’s too late. There’s been much ink spilled in the industry about big data and analytics, and we’ve developed an entire product line focused on mining data to create institution-wide perspective. But academic research has shown that one doesn’t need “big data” solutions to yield meaningful insight at the grass roots, course level. There’s insight in patterns of student behavior, and in relative performance through course progression that can be very valuable to both instructors and the institution.

There’s a clear tie between the institutional level goal of student retention and the astute instructor’s early awareness of behaviors or results that suggest underperformance. Our new Retention Center is offered to help gather every piece of information about this area we can, using the power of technology to create insight, perspective and opportunities for instructors to take immediate action. Our hope is that it can help bring insight to instructors so they can intervene earlier than they might otherwise be able to, and to help them prioritize their increasingly limited time.

Retention center Ray Blog
What does it do?

The Retention Center gives critical insight on learning and activity gaps to instructors, within the LMS, that helps them quickly diagnose students that are falling behind. Pre-configured and automatic so they don’t have to hunt for it. No set-up: it automatically calls out students that are at risk while instructors still have time and space to do something about it. With the feature instructors can see:

  • Who’s logging in: this is a simple but powerful predictor of student success. Instructors see how long it’s been since students have logged in to the course and how many have been away for five days or more. And not by fishing through student profiles or reports but in an automatic view complete with red flags where they’re needed.
  • Whether they’re engaged: which students have had low levels of course activity, at 20 percent or below the average in the last week.
  • Whose grades are suffering: which students are currently trending at 25 percent or more below the course average so they can target extra help to where it’s most needed – even when it isn’t asked for.
  • Who has missed deadlines: instructors might know this anecdotally or on a case-by-case basis, but now they can get a real-time view of all students that have missed one or more deadline.

Student retention is a big problem, and it’s being addressed at lots of levels with a variety of approaches. But few of them give instructors as much actionable data that can be used immediately. Few of them offer instructors so much specific insight on areas to engage without requiring heaps of time that they don’t have. That’s why we built this feature: to give instructors a leg up in tackling a tough education challenge right in their course.

If you’re interested, take a quick peek at our new feature in this video.



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  • Jason

    In what ways are the Blackboard Learn interface helping people easily design courses and learning activities that can actually use and react to this data?

    In my experience, this is never going to work if silly little things aren’t fixed like wrapping column headers, consistent placement of contextual menus, a more intuitive relationship structure for course items (i.e. discussion boards) and *links* to course items (i.e. a link to discussion board in a content area), and many, many more.

    These trivial things are so disruptive to good course design and instructor buy-in that folks will never be able to take advantage of a good idea like this.