Tracking progress in student development

Saudi Arabia’s Effat University aims to develop the future female leaders of the Kingdom, but tracking student achievements in its co-curricular program required innovative thinking

Tags: Effat Univeristy (www.effatuniversity.edu.sa)Ellucian (www.ellucian.com)Saudi Arabia
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Tracking progress in student development Dr Zeinab Abuelmaatti (left) and Moodi AlSaib, collect an award from Ellucian for their application to track student achievements in the Effat Ambassador's Program.
By  Mark Sutton Published  January 16, 2017

The nature of higher education is changing, as education establishments move their focus from pure academic subjects, to aligning programs with national development goals and the needs of the job market, and also to deliver more rounded programs of education, to give graduates a wider set of skills and abilities.

Effat University, the first private university for women in Saudi Arabia, has long been a supporter of this approach, by providing its graduates with a ‘co-curricular’ program, where academic subjects are taught alongside the Ambassador’s Program, a development program that aims to teach values and skills to enable graduates to become future leaders.

The Ambassador’s Program is based around the University’s core values, embodied in the word ‘IQRA’, (‘read’ in Arabic) which in turn represents Ibhath (lifelong learning and research); Qiyam (ethical and social values); Riyada (responsible and creative leadership); and At-tawasul (effective communication and outreach).

The program allows students to choose from a wide range of different courses throughout the academic year, with a total number of hours, and achievements of set levels in each stream, required for students to graduate the course.

Dr Zeinab Abuelmaatti, Dean of Admissions and Registration explained: “Effat Univeristy as an institution aims to develop the students holistically. The Ambassador Program is part of this mission, we want to give knowledge, and we also want to give something that builds the skills of the students and helps them to find a job and to benefit the country. The Ambassador’s Program has been developed over the years, based on a solid background of ‘IQRA’, and the four areas of skills and core values are mapped to the mission of the university — we want to graduate future leaders.”

One important aspect of the Effat Ambassador’s Program (EAP), is that achievements in the program also count towards the students overall final grades. Students earn value points in the EAP courses, which are distinct from their academic points, but participation is also factored into academic grades.

Moodi AlSaib, executive director, Management of Information and Educational Technology Services said:  “Student participation in the activities of EAP is part of the student’s grades, and therefore needs to be tracked accurately and in a timely manner. Students are also given a separate development transcript that can be used as reference in applying for jobs.”

The challenge for the University, was that with around 3,000 students, selecting from over 50 EAP activities each semester to reach a total of 99 hours of activities, tracking each student’s progress was a burden for faculty and administrators.

Initially, tracking of EAP progress was done manually, with each course teacher having to enter data into Microsoft Excel sheets. Some of the EAP courses could attract up to 1,000 participants each semester, and each faculty member was responsible for an average of five courses each, creating a considerable workload to track and record data and to consolidate the results. The manual process also introduced a risk of human error, but with EAP achievement counting towards five percent of academic final marks, accuracy was vital.

“The program was done in a very basic way, it was very hard to register all of these students and maintain the smooth workflow of the program. It was very hard to disseminate information to all faculty members, we used to send Excel files, and it was very tedious for faculty to go through these files,” Ms AlSaib said.

To manage the administration of its academic programs, the university relies on the Banner application, from higher education specialist Ellucian. Banner has been in use by Effat since 2004, Dr Abuelmaatti said, even though at the time with only some 37 students, deploying such an advanced application was a major investment for the university.

Through the university’s years of positive experience with Banner, the IT team decided to utilise the capabilities of the system to administer the EAP, alongside of the regular academic program. The development team looked at how forms in Banner could be applied first to automation of the value point system, and then progressed to automation of the whole system, so that both academic and EAP could be run simultaneously.

“It took us a whole semester to reach the perfect situation where we can have two different systems, running at the same time, with no conflict, or no interruptions,” Dr Abuelmaatti said. “Through Banner, we were able to develop the program, on the system, so the student is registered in her academic courses for the term, and at the same time, is registered in the Ambassador Program courses. At the end, she has two transcripts, a transcript for academic and transcript for the Ambassador Program.”

The university has also integrated Banner with a finger-print based time & attendance solution, which is used to verify participation in EAP activities. In future, the university is also looking into how it can use the Banner application to track student achievements once they graduate. Effat already has a career development department which tracks the progress of its graduates, and the plan is to see if this can be digitised.

“We have recorded our graduates from 2003 until today, and we are currently trying to explore how we can benefit from Banner in order to have this record on Banner rather than manually,” said Ms AlSaib.

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