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CIO50 2021 #25: Eion Hall, University of Waikato

  • Name Eion Hall
  • Title Chief Information Officer
  • Company University of Waikato
  • Commenced role March 2016
  • Reporting Line Chief Operating Officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 80 staff, six direct reports
  • University of Waikato CIO Eion Hall says the Information Technology Services team, which he leads, draws inspiration from the University’s motto Ko te Tangata, for the people. A great example of this is the Ōritetanga project, that was born out of a wider initiative to create radical and innovative change to profoundly improve student participation, pass rates, graduation rates, and close the parity gaps for Māori and Pacific learners.

    In late 2019 and early 2020, a cross-organisational project group undertook extensive engagement with faculty, subject matter experts, senior management, family members, community and Iwi to better understand the student voice throughout the University journey, and identify pain points, areas of success and areas of failure.

    Over six months a machine learning model prototype was developed that enabled analysis and understanding of how, why and when attrition occurred which then enabled the University to take proactive action to improve student outcomes.   

    This machine learning stack was developed using open-source framework and languages, decoupled from any vendor source systems, against a Common Data (canonical) Model based on CAUDIT data conventions. It assembled 15 years of historical demographical data and correlated this with an output measure to enable teams to build a base ‘risk score’ by trending prior student outcomes. The model was further enhanced to include students' daily campus interactions and triggers were identified that directly related to student retention.

    Dashboard reporting displayed students breaching one or more triggers, enabling intervention measures to be activated, with the facility for counsellors to add intervention method(s) and notes, all of which was in keeping with the Tertiary Education Commission’s Data Analytics Ethics Policy that ensures the use of all student data is carried out ethically and in accordance with the relevant legal requirements.

    The University recognised that to significantly impact the success of all students, particularly the achievement gaps for Māori and Pacific learners, a whole of systems change-approach was required which included building institutional capability and services to facilitate the educational success and fulfilment of students, and leveraging systems and processes to effectively use data in a scalable and adaptable way.

    The results of the Ōritetanga project have enabled the University to drive new systems, processes and organisational capability to better facilitate the educational success of all learners. 

    The improvements in data modelling practices gained through the development of this prototype can now be applied to other business applications to directly assist University stakeholders to access the richness of information and data that is held, and to unlock information for decision-making, solving complex challenges and generating innovative ideas (a key outcome of the University’s ICT Strategy).

    Data insights enable the University to transform the design of programmes of study and support services to better enable student success. The Ōritetanga project was a prototype project supported by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). The University was awarded the 2020 CAUDIT Improving Student Success Award for the Ōritetanga project.

    IT team’s response to COVID-19

    Technology has been at the forefront of enabling businesses to operate successfully in this Covid-era and this has been no different at the University. Hall says his team’s response included the following:

    ·      Establishing new technology channels to enable teaching into China when our students at partner universities went into lockdown.

    ·      Setting up new technology solutions to enable remote learning access for on-campus computer lab software.

    ·      Expanding desktop support services from six to 30 staff overnight to remotely support staff and students transition to work and learn from home.

    ·      Provisioning hardware and internet connectivity to students in need.

    ·      Scaling existing infrastructure to meet remote working demands.

    ·      Rolling out new software and training sessions for online collaboration tools.

    ·      A university contact tracing QR system which tracked staff and students movements by building, room and seat.

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