The big problem: student persistence.

Only 59% of students who begin studying at four year colleges and universities graduate within 6 years, and only 30% of students who begin a two year program complete it within three years.  These numbers have not changed appreciably in the last 50 years, although focus in higher education (and reimbursement mechanisms at the state level) has shifted towards proving the value of education through improving outcomes, such as graduation rates and placement in the workforce.  

During initial generative research that I led, we found a host of reasons that make persistence difficult; navigation of difficult to understand course sequences, understanding and receiving financial aid, budgeting and time management, lack of self-awareness about actual strengths or interests, as well as a lack of timely guidance and support among others. From additional generative research that I led, we found that academic advisors are often left in the dark - they do not have access to this information except generally through SIS data (academic holds, financial holds) and from what they can learn during very periodic, 1-on-1 meetings with their students.  The market agrees - only 1 in 5 institutions believe they provide an "ideal" advising solution at their institutions.

Core Product Pillars.

Based on research and synthesis, I generated the core principles that would influence the direction of the product:

Identify and prioritize students who need my help.
Advisors often carry case loads of a few hundred or more students, and staying informed about the progress (or regression) of students is difficult in the absence of real time student performance and sentiment data.
 
Understand the nuances of my students’ needs and experiences.
Advisors lack insight into key details about their students, including their passions and priorities.
 
Augment my reach.
Advisors want ways to scale their efforts so they can improve the situations of more students, faster.  Advisors are often concerned that their emails land on deaf ears.

Measure my impact and inform my approach.
Advisors and administrators want to know what works in terms of intervention, so that they can do more of it, as well as provide data back to other administrators to prove the value of their work.

Design Roadmap.

Through a staging process and with the insights of product management leadership, I created a design staging document that covers the full product evolution. We are incorporating client feedback and to existing versions and user testing as we build.

Pitching the Product.

I took on the product management process of building the business case and investment case for the implementation of this product; we did not initially have secure resourcing for this effort, which is common with innovation projects. With the support of a product manager (critique of iterations), I was able to put together a strategy deck that was ultimately pitched to C-level executives and utilized to support the investment case. To make this case, I researched the total addressable market; the total reachable market; reviewed the competition; and ultimately made the case for what would make this product both saleable short term (MVP) and truly differentiated long term.Please see the strategy presentation here.

Example Wireframe Flows and Visual Designs.

An advisor views a student's profile.

An advisor flags a student for follow-up.

An advisor batch emails a group of students based on program and sentiment data.

An advisor adds a note for future reference to a student account.

An advisor views trends related to her students.

Product Testing

Periodically, we've engaged in cognitive walkthroughs with advisors to ensure that our future, conceptual product designs will produce the greatest value to the user. I have been focused on trying to recruit individual users for think-aloud testing for a fully fledged prototype towards the end of May. We have clients utilizing going live with first versions of the Predict product, and I look forward to gathering their thoughts and reflections on the current state of the product, too.

To learn more about the product, please visit the Blackboard website here.