Strategies for academic success benefit students

Successful Starfish pilot being implemented across campus

Binghamton University has implemented Starfish across all schools as part of its strategy to help students succeed. Image Credit: Jonathan King.
Binghamton University has implemented Starfish across all schools as part of its strategy to help students succeed.
Binghamton University has implemented Starfish across all schools as part of its strategy to help students succeed. Photography: Jonathan King.

“We’ve got to pay more attention to student success,” said James Pitarresi, vice provost and head of the Center for Learning and Teaching. “We do an outstanding job of bringing bright students to campus who want to learn and it’s our job to help them down that path. What technological tools can make our job easier so people can work with students for them to be successful? It’s as simple as that.

“What really is important is that we have a holistic strategy for student success,” he said. “That includes leveraging technology where it makes sense but also having our best resource (people) interacting with students in a way that helps them be successful.”

Starfish — one part of Binghamton University’s strategy that is being implemented across the University this semester — was piloted successfully in several classes in spring 2019, and is already being used by the Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The software program allows students to schedule advising and tutoring appointments online, but also serves as an early alert communication tool for advisors, instructors and other offices to connect with students.

It’s a change from the homegrown system, according to Andrea MacArgel, director of instructional design services. “Before, the early alerts submitted by instructors were only sent by email to advisors and other support offices once a week,” she said. “With Starfish, instructors can go in anytime to flag or praise a student. Instructors can also respond to a mid-semester progress survey.”

Another change is the ease of use, MacArgel said. “Information will be fed to users automatically. In our homegrown system, students were only notified if an advisor or student support office member took action on alerts raised by instructors. Starfish is automatic and even allows students to raise a flag themselves.

“Starfish is about student success and getting information to the right people in a timely fashion,” she added.

“With Starfish, say we get some early alerts,” said Pitarresi. “What’s the best way to implement that? We can talk about note taking and organization, check up on a student’s success and encourage students to go to see their professors. The collegiate professors are on board with this and very proactive in reaching out to students.”

Other initiatives underway to support student academic success include a closer collaboration between a number of offices: academic advising, financial aid, career advising. One focus is between Harpur Academic Advising and the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development, said Pitarresi. And the University is also looking at some of the bottleneck programs that enroll hundreds of students to see how they might be more successful and reinventing the Discovery Program.

We’re looking at who the students are coming in and how we can best help them be successful, Pitarresi said. “For example, how do we take students who are mostly liberal arts and humanities and introduce them to coding? Things like that. It requires balancing a portfolio of courses to be employable.”

“So we’re looking for fresh ideas and a real collaborative attitude,” said Pitarresi. “It’s exciting to see a real shift in attitude with how do we help our students be successful.”

The University is also starting something new that is a judicious blend of a number of metrics, Pitarresi said. “We’re interested in switchers, the people who switched,” he said. “They bought our product and then they stopped buying our product. Perhaps student left for Cornell or for grades, or was accepted but didn’t enroll. In the switching is where we can discover what it is about Binghamton University and our programs that is attractive to students, where the gaps are and where we need to improve. What was the reason for the switch?”

If you pull back far enough and look at the big picture, Pitarresi said, Binghamton University wants all of our students to be successful but they have all kinds of challenges that run the spectrum and our services need to run the spectrum. “That’s what we do and I take seriously our mission as a public University that this is within our range,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not the right time for that student to be here. We can’t help everybody, but we can make an effort to understand where they’re coming from, where they want to go and what we can do to help them get there.”