Integrating and Reporting in Institutional Research – Dallas Baptist University
Is there an efficient option for cumbersome reports?
At Dallas Baptist University, the situation was complex: scattered data requiring intensive labor to clean & integrate, multiple data systems with their own formatting and list of limits, and a heavy reliance on manual work and outdated macros in Excel. The process of preparing and presenting data requires a considerable amount of expertise and time, but the Director of Institutional Research holds a number of other positions in the university and is understandably quite busy. What options are available for those providing support, but without extensive programming experience?
“It took over 3.5 hours to prepare a report in the old system. It took 30 minutes in Construct. This represents a 568% improvement.”
This was Chela Miller’s situation when she began working at DBU as an analyst. The University owned a few software applications to approach the daunting data tasks, but they imposed hurdles of their own. As Mrs. Miller said of these other data tools, “I became familiar with them, but they were seldom used. Each time I had to become reacquainted with the programs.” On a deadline, these kinds of tedious challenges are exacerbated. The bulk of her work toward final reports otherwise took place in Access and Excel. Unfortunately, a crucial piece of the reporting system –a ten year old, well-worn Excel macro used for transforming data- was impaired by a recent Microsoft Office update. The solution to the cumbersome process was found when Mrs. Miller began using Rapid Insight’s Construct.
In less than one year we came full circle with student evaluations
The first big test of Construct came as Student Evaluations of faculty rolled in. At DBU, each student fills out a faculty evaluation for every one of their courses, all of which are in turn aggregated by class and mapped to a professor. Beyond the sheer scope, the project was further complicated by course cross-listings – that is, classes which may fall under both “Social Science” and “Psychology”, for example. The same class may have multiple course numbers which need to be resolved before analysis can take place. This isn’t an easy task in a world without Construct. Having to map the course listings manually took an average of three and a half hours, and, as Mrs. Miller points out, “There is much room for human error when things are done manually.” Employing Construct’s ‘Subfield’ function, used to easily separate the contents of a column using a specified text character, the duration of the course-listing task was reduced to an errorless 35 minutes.
The format of the reports was another issue. The analysis of student evaluations has been occurring regularly at DBU for some time, and administrators are accustomed to seeing the results presented in a specific way. The incredible flexibility of Construct offered a solution to the conundrum “how do we overhaul the process but maintain the product?” With a little help from the tech support gurus at Rapid Insight, Mrs. Miller was able to precisely recreate the layout of the old Student Evaluation reports using Construct, radically simplifying the updating of the data at the same time.
I’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences with the tech support at Rapid Insight
The Construct interface uses graphic objects to represent different things that can be done to data, all of which can be dragged around, reordered, and interconnected on a whim. Developing reports, regular data cleansing routines, and other procedures is therefore exceedingly intuitive, and given the extensive capabilities of the program, probably could not be any easier. In addition, the documentation is straightforward and easy to navigate. However, there are some moments when the user just can’t figure out how to accomplish a specific task. This is where the support of the Rapid Insight team comes in, remarkable in its availability and approach.
Tech support from Rapid Insight is as much about education as it is technical solutions. “…The techs aren’t doing it for you, but are explaining the tool,” says Mrs. Miller, while discussing her experiences with the analysts she worked with at Rapid Insight. Though possessing a degree in mathematics and the critical adroitness it entails, Mrs. Miller was without any computer programming training. When it came to actually developing the replica Student Evaluation reports, it took a bit of programmatic finesse to accomplish the task with perfection. The analysts walked through some more complex aspects of Construct, and specifically the ways in which certain elements would hold hands with a rather sophisticated Excel macro, also to be developed. The result was a template that could be used not just with the Student Evaluations report, but also myriad other reporting scenarios. The time saved in the Evaluations report could suddenly be reclaimed from other reports, as well.
So much easier than anything you have right now
At Dallas Baptist University, a select group of university leaders gather to report improvements made regarding institutional effectiveness. Mrs. Miller’s success was celebrated. “It took over three and a half hours to prepare a report in the old system. It took thirty minutes in Construct. This represents a 586% improvement.” For anyone, quantitative analyst or not, the results are impressive. “Just to get everything to the office printer took two hours; now it takes ten minutes.” Improvement of this magnitude is uncommon, and usually the end goal requires some modification to accommodate the new system. Construct is an exception to these rules. Mrs. Miller reported, “This is so much easier than the systems most of us have now. I think the whole university should consider it.”
I know enough about Construct to get it to do anything I need
In the time since polishing the Student Evaluation system, Mrs. Miller has been busy renovating and creating other reports with the Construct software, twenty-five to thirty of them in just a few months. The data and goals are broad: survey tracking, service learning assessment, internal degree program enhancements, and more. Old processes have been corrected, new reports and data developed, and all can be changed as necessary- “The software is completely flexible,” praises Mrs. Miller. On top of this, the success of new Construct-based systems translates into reports that change less frequently, leading to an improved understanding between all those who use the reports to evaluate performance and make decisions.
Recently Mrs. Miller also created a series of reports for the University Provost. The needs were practically identical to reports made with an old system in 2008, making the comparison easy: “Seeing the difference was incredible.” The use of Rapid Insight Construct at Dallas Baptist University has saved countless hours of work, and produced impressive, powerful results. The systems are reusable and highly extensible, all with the utmost ease. Chela says of her improved work with Construct, “I’m not working so hard, I’m just working smarter.”
About Dallas Baptist University
The purpose of Dallas Baptist University is to provide Christ-centered quality higher education in the arts, sciences, and professional studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to traditional age and adult students in order to produce servant leaders who have the ability to integrate faith and learning through their respective callings.
For more information about Dallas Baptist University, please visit their website at: http://www.dbu.edu/