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Student Support: A Multidisciplinary approach

When entering Higher Education, students present with a wide range of needs no different in scope and depth than that of the general population. If we are to take a student-centric and wholistic approach to the wellbeing of students as they progress through their studies, we need to be aware of how these various needs and desires are likely to interact with current HEI systems and policies.

In the Healthcare arena, the formation and operation of multidisciplinary teams has long been considered best practice in many areas due to their ability to provide a complete strategy of care no matter the circumstances or required supports. In the area of Higher Education, institutions have begun to mirror this strategy in terms of providing additional supports which would traditionally have been considered to be over and above the requirement of formal teaching and assessment services. Examples of best practice can be seen in many institutions who now provide a wide range of student wellbeing services in addition to pure academic support.

While it is encouraging to see Student Support departments in many HEIs pursuing a strategy of wholistic student support it is frustrating to see the disparity in the available IT support structure to facilitate these efforts.

To enable effective support to take place, the needs of students and requirements of the teams who coordinate and deliver their supports, must be taken into consideration when planning institution wide data management systems.

In most institutions Student Support staff are forced to log onto numerous IT systems to access student data. Often the systems used by student support administrators are not in fact systems at all, but rather a conglomeration of organically developed spreadsheets, databases and documents spread over several machines and maintained by individuals out of necessity to enable them to perform their specific job role.

Data collected and maintained in such systems tends not to link to the master student record nor does it aggregate to institution wide analytics or case management systems. The result is a piecemeal approach to student data which ultimately is to the student’s detriment.

An inability to access a consistent data set and lack of interoperability of internal systems can often lead to a systemic inability to proactively and effectively identify potential student support issues in a timely manner.  The result is often an issue escalating into a crisis and the subsequent withdrawal of a student from their studies due to lack of support.

These situations should, in the main, be addressable and preventable through the appropriate use of currently available technologies. With SaaS and PaaS cloud based models of provision having proven themselves as viable alternatives to in-house IT solutions in private industry, it is perhaps now time for HEIs to consider adopting a similar approach to the provision of IT services to their staff and students.

Author: Michael Humphreys CEO

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