Monthly Archives: October 2017


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:

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.






MUN Students

This week we are launching a new initiative aimed at improving the quality of student experience at Memorial. The program is called Student Success Collaborative (SSC), a title coined by a Washington-based group, the Education Advisory Board (EAB). Over 2000 post-secondary education institutions in the USA and Canada subscribe to the EAB, including, McGill, Alberta, UBC, and, yes, Memorial. EAB is a hugely rich resource of information about post-secondary trends, realities and challenges. Hundreds have signed up for their SSC program, which has a proven student success track record, although Memorial will be the first Canadian university to have done so. We’re excited about that alone.

Student success is a buzzword, yes, but try finding something to replace it. What’s important is that we now all understand it means the whole experience of learning, not just what happens (or doesn’t) in the classroom/offline course. How do we achieve it, though?

The SSC kick-off event was attended by about 100 people, maybe more—students, staff, administrators, and faculty who had been invited specifically to hear a lucid, inspiring presentation from the Washington folks who comprise our team of advisors. Following SSC best practices, we have already formed leadership teams to help guide the implementation of the program. A lot of people have come on board in the last six months or so since we first started talking about the project. It’s not been a secret: Senate and other working committees all across the university have been informed about it. But finally getting to see a full demo of the potential benefits of the SSC was both instructive and deeply satisfying. The project won’t work if people don’t recognize what value it has for Memorial, and so the more people who know about it and can commit to it the better. Everyone is and must be included.

The Student Success Collaborative will enhance the Memorial University student experience by empowering students to thrive and succeed through personalized supports and resources tailored to meet their needs. 

That’s our elevator pitch, so to speak. Sure, it’s bit of a mouthful, but it’s not that easy coming up with one. Anyhow, emphasis is on “personalized supports.” More specifically, we are building customized technologies—what SSC calls Guides, you call Apps—to communicate with our students, especially first-year, to ensure they know how to blaze a safe and navigable path to graduation. Where do they go for advice, academic or financial or both? What do they need to do to pass a course, confront mental health challenges, declare a major, switch their major, and so on? Those of us who haven’t been students for far too long can easily forget just how difficult it is to find support services, or even to find an advisor on campus. The SSC creates two technology platforms, not just the customized student mobile-phone platform Guide, but also a desktop platform for faculty and staff. The two-pronged approach will help intergrade information, and, importantly, help us integrate the work of the many people who advise and support students at Memorial.

Fact is, we are losing too many undergraduate students annually. Every university lives with its low or declining retention rates these days, but we don’t want to be “every university.” We want to ensure we are really committing ourselves to improving the student experience at Memorial. Why do so many students leave after first or second year? There are many reasons, we know: financial burdens, personal crisis, poor performance, alienation, boredom, illness, you name it. All of this should invite us to focus on how we can ensure students progress in their programs with all the supports they need to achieve their goals. Students who just don’t feel that university is the right fit for them will choose another path, and we understand that, wish them well. But for those who want to stay and can’t seem to get back on the right track we should be especially concerned, then attentive and finally as helpful as possible.

I have to say I am really looking forward to seeing these platforms developed and implemented, and ultimately being able to gauge whether we have found useful, healthy ways of satisfying our commitment to student success. The SSC promises to inspire engagement by the whole university. It will dig deep into how our students achieve their degrees and deliver a lot of useful data for all of us. Like it or not, we need that information to do a better job of it. As I said at the kick-off session, the SSC more or less answers a 21st century provost’s dreams.