2021 AAIR Forum – The AAIR Booster Shot We All Needed
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On 6 December, AAIR President Stuart Terry opened the 31st AAIR Annual Forum. As with last year, the event was held online, and while we all undoubtedly miss the face-to-face contact, the benefits of dipping in and out of multiple sessions is a benefit I’ve actually enjoyed over the last two years. Despite now working outside of the information and planning area in higher education, I still value the professional support and connections that AAIR offers via their professional development events, activities (including the recent AAIR e-Vent sessions), and networking opportunities.
As Stuart reminded us in his welcome:
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
The two opening presentations provided delegates with fresh, exclusive, and personal perspectives on the value of institutional research and analysis. The 2021 keynote presenter, Hayden Croft, detailed his work with New Zealand’s Silver Ferns netball team. Hayden is the Head of Sport, Exercise and Health at Otago Polytechnic, and is also the Academic Leader for the Performance Analysis postgraduate program. As Performance Analyst for the Silver Ferns Hayden provided a valuable insight into his role and being strategic about presenting information and identifying the best ‘tools’ to measure and present performance data. I suspect a little trans-Tasman rivalry doesn’t hurt as impetus for detailed and timely performance analysis.
In the following plenary session, Dr Stephanie Dykes, Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness at North Seattle College in the USA, detailed her own experiences as a transgender woman. She brought together data sources on the experiences of transgender and gender diverse students and colleagues from a wide variety of sources. Stephanie’s presentation was indeed timely and relevant, and included details on the multiple recommended non-discriminatory practices employed in various US states and institutions, with a particular focus on names, pronouns, and student identity. There is still some way to go, but ultimately, this information enables institutions to be better able to help their transgender students achieve their educational and career goals.
The parallel sessions over the two days covered a multitude of topics, and unsurprisingly none could avoid the impact of COVID-19 on the core business of compiling institutional data and how this informs planning and decision making (and you can’t help thinking about what 2022 will look like, can you?).
Greg Jakob and Kathie Rabel noted that now, more than ever, tertiary education needs to invest in data as an asset to extract insights and business intelligence to inform strategic and operational decision-making, and to monitor performance. They discussed the value of a business case for boosting the investment in BI as an asset management strategy rather than a cost of doing business, and their message was clear: remind our organisations of the cost of NOT having BI, draw on the combined experience of AAIR members, and emphasise the value-added cost of getting data together.
And what would an AAIR Forum be without Lisa Bolton’s (Social Research Centre) surveys and evaluation special interest group (SIG). This year Lisa discussed some of the main criticisms levelled against student feedback surveys, and prioritised ways in which these might be mitigated so that survey data can be used effectively to improve the student experience. Her spiel for this presentation got me in from the get-go (as did the quirky references to the Netflix series, ‘The Chair’):
As the moon turns, so too do those who believe that student feedback surveys are the work of the devil to be rooted out at all costs. What arguments can be made to combat the criticisms that seem to return year after year?
The load management and planning SIG also got the attention it deserves from Andrew Bradshaw (Macquarie University) and Eva Seidel (Flinders University), with delegates discussing intended approaches and the assumptions they are making in load planning for 2022, especially in relation to student progression. This interactive session pre-empted much discussion around what a change of government might mean for institutions and whether we should have more places, or ‘real and meaningful’ funding for these places.
The introduction of two special resolutions—to approve the inclusion of institutional membership as a new category of membership, and to approve the update of the rules to incorporate the inclusion of institutional membership as a new category of membership—will mean that AAIR can continue the excellent work it already does, underpinning the value of the Association.
Amongst the parallel sessions, we saw Hailey Bynon and Julia Petrou (La Trobe University) share the challenges their institution faced in developing a single evaluation mechanism, data preparation, and the reporting outcomes used to shape La Trobe’s student support programs. As we know, a fundamental requirement of the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) is for university providers to quality-assure all work-based learning activities. Hailey and Julia were able to detail their project to enable feedback through a formal survey mechanism.
Perhaps the most illuminating presentation was from Bekki Green, who dived head-first into the Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching (QILT) Student Experience Survey (SES), and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learner engagement – and no surprises here – universities with large cohorts of online students show poorer performance on learner engagement. Bekki is Learning Analytics Coordinator at CQUniversity, and she successfully unpacked the factor structure of the QILT SES focus areas, discussing predictors of learner engagement, and provided recommendations for the sector in interpreting and improving learner engagement scores. Incidentally, Bekki won the best presentation award for the 2021 AAIR Forum (and she’s a first-time presenter as well).
At the official close of the Forum, two awards were presented.
The Best Presentation award went to:
The Best New Presenter award went to:
The AAIR Annual Forum literally takes a village to happen each year. I’m always in awe of the phenomenal work that goes on behind the scenes to bring together these events. The Executive Committee members are indeed a dedicated and proactive bunch. And of course, shout-out to the sponsors: eXplorance, Altis Consulting, and the Social Research Centre.
Whatever the Forum looks like in 2022, I encourage you to be involved. The collection, analysis, and dissemination of institutional data have never been more important than it is now. If there is anything that 2020 and 2021 have shown us it’s that the only certainty is that change will persist. Raising the level of professional competence and practice within the field of tertiary education institutional research, planning and analysis is imperative – and thank you AAIR for your role in this.
Thanks for reading.
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