In the nineteenth century, the term dashboard literally described the board mounted in front of a driver to prevent muck and mud being “dashed” up on him by the horses drawing his carriage forward. At some point in the twentieth century the term was carried over to the instrument or control panel of automobiles and it has stayed there ever since. The first car dashboards were relatively simply, indicating the fuel level and oil pressure. Today’s dashboards are much busier. In addition to the fundamental gauges they now come complete with warning lights, seat belt alerts, sophisticated temperature controls, and lots of other stuff I scarcely pay attention to. Sometimes I just want to check how much gas I’ve got in the tank but my eyes are diverted to other flashy indicators providing information I really don’t care about in that moment. Still, I’m glad the dashboard has all that stuff going on, should I have to figure something out or be alerted to some imminent danger.
In the twenty-first century, the term dashboard has carried over into yet another sphere of activity: information technology. We are still talking about a kind of control panel that organizes information, and so the term remains relevant. As with the car dashboard, the information dashboard offers a lot of information at a glance. I am kind of tickled that the provost’s office now has one of these, and you can find it here: https://www.mun.ca/vpacademic/dashboard/
As you can see, the information gathered for your viewing pleasure is organized into three categories: student success and enrolment, inclusiveness and diversity, and academic complement. All the information will be updated regularly, of course. What’s really neat about the dashboard is that it is interactive. Just hover over one of the lines on the graphs or the data points and even more information, specific and useful, is revealed.
Mark Twain famously popularized the phrase “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Sure, we get that, but post-secondary education is increasingly challenged to explain how our activities are aligned with our strategic directions. A dashboard is one way of telling a story about who we are, what we are doing, and whether we are going in the right direction. It should not be that much of a surprise, for instance, that the “student success and enrolment” panel indicates a trend to decreasing undergraduate enrollment over the last five years. But the real numbers are right there in front of you to give evidence of that impression. We have become more diverse and international but we are not attracting as many Newfoundland students as we might be. That information should be guiding our conversations about where we are going for the next few years, especially in tough budgeting times.
I am especially grateful to the MarComm team for helping develop the dashboard. It’s the beginning of what I hope to be an even more elaborate but accessible picture of who we are and what we do. Right now I believe we are driving a high-performing Toyota but eventually we aim to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari. I welcome feedback about what other sets of data you would like to see on the control panel.