The Australian Catholic University (ACU) has turned its newly united data environment into a data lake to provide a single view of student development.
The data lake uses Microsoft’s Power BI and Azure data platform to support students who may need extra help or who are at risk of dropping out from the university entirely.
ACU found these insights by combining data streams from a number of sources including student management systems and customer relationship management (CRM) tools, the university’s chief information officer and IT director Niranjan Prabhu told iTnews.
ACU was one of five universities to pilot data lake development for a “360 degree view of students” with the Council of Australasian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT), Prabhu said.
He added that the university was keen to bring together different environments from across its nine campuses in Australia and Italy to cater to its growing cohort of over 35,000 students.
“We’re generating and capturing more data than ever before, on an increasingly varied set of data sources, providing us with the opportunity to understand [and] support student success through the student lifecycle,” Prabhu said.
“Effectively managing that lifecycle is the key to excellent learning outcomes and student success.”
Common risk factors include slipping grades, financial stress, and social or environmental factors.
ACU can now identify these patterns in the data along with engagement, participation and attendance data as early warning signs where extra support is needed, whether that be in the form of financial assistance, tutoring or pastoral support.
However, it’s a delicate balance to get that right while respecting students’ privacy, Prabhu said.
“We definitely need to strike a respectful and conscientious balance while achieving the best outcomes for both the student and the university.”
A new assistant
Part of the support plan involves the development of AVA - the ACU Virtual Assistant.
AVA is designed as a “level one service desk one-stop shop” to help the IT support team cope with a large volume of routine enquiries.
The chatbot is powered by Microsoft Azure and uses natural language processing capabilities and integrations with ServiceNow, Microsoft Learning Pathways, Who-bot (a prebuilt Teams bot), and ACU's COVID-19 FAQ to provide instant answers any time of the night or day.
It came in handy as the university transitioned to remote working due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“[The IT team] weren’t flooded with calls about COVID because of the bot,” Prabhu said, with no calls left waiting for extended periods thanks to AVA’s rapid responses.
“Furthermore, when interacting with our chatbot, if the staff member requires further assistance, there is the option to seek help via handover to a live chat or log a service ticket through ServiceNow.
“This means staff are fully supported no matter their issue.”
Additional capabilities such as voice activation are planned for the future to improve the user experience, especially for members of the ACU community living with a disability.
Importantly, the effort expended to develop a robust and unified data environment and remote operations during the pandemic will speed up work on future projects.
“The foundations are there to build on all the new digital footprints when initiating new projects, meaning faster turnaround [times] and more productive work,” Prabhu said.