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Expert on technology and student success to join the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies

With academic instruction largely migrating to a virtual format this fall, there is a greater opportunity than ever before to find ways to measure student engagement in their coursework. According to John Campbell, an expert in the use of data analytics to gauge student success, online instructors can look for certain warning signs for students who may be at risk.

John Campbell   

John Campbell

This fall, Campbell will join the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies as an associate professor in the Higher Education Administration Program. Throughout his 25-year career in information technology and higher education administration, Campbell’s research has focused on the use of analytics to identify college students who may be at risk for dropping out of school.

“Over the years, we have benefited from Dr. Campbell’s tenure in different leadership roles at WVU and as a courtesy faculty member in our Higher Education Administration Program. And now we are excited to welcome him to CEHS full-time,” said Melissa Luna, associate dean for research. “Dr. Campbell brings with him not only research expertise on college student success but also a wealth of experience and knowledge on the inner workings of higher education and administration. I am confident both will be assets as we work towards supporting our students and, more broadly, toward understanding factors that hinder and support student success in CEHS and beyond.”

Campbell’s work involves data mining to identify trends of students who may be at risk so that people can intervene and hopefully change how the student is progressing,

“A big portion of my work is about trying to provide students with what I call nudges in the right direction,” Campbell said.

Campbell has found that students who fall half a standard deviation below their peers in course engagement are likely at risk. Behaviors like not logging into a course’s learning management and not participating as frequently as their peers are some of the warning signs that students may be struggling.

“If you’re a faculty member, what you’re looking for is patterns of engagement among students that are lower than those of their peers,” Campbell said. “There’s basic data that you can pull from the online systems and run some simple statistics to figure that out.”

Campbell said that it’s important to examine data points that aren’t necessarily based on the time spent by students in online systems. While it takes some student effort to log into a system, it takes no effort to stay logged into the system.

Once faculty know which students aren’t engaging in a course, they can take action to point the students in the right direction. Interventions can be as simple as asking a student to attend office hours or referring them to various campus resources.

“Sometimes, the best intervention is to let the student know that you know,” Campbell said. “In some of the focus groups that we did with students in the past, they were just shocked that the faculty member noticed and cared.”

Since office hours are moving online for the foreseeable future, Campbell said that the jury is still out one whether or not students will feel more comfortable setting up meetings with their professors.

“For some students, doing a Zoom call on a phone will be a lot more comfortable than walking through an office door,” Campbell said. “In other cases, we might find it easier for students to duck the faculty member even more. That’s where some of the messages and how we reach out to students is going to be important.”

Prior to joining the CEHS faculty, Campbell served in various administrative roles at WVU, including as chief information officer and vice provost. His interest in marrying analytics and student success originated with his early work in the field of information technology and his desire to help students who don’t normally pursue higher education.

“Starting around 1999, learning management systems changed,” Campbell said. “They started to have databases behind them, which, believe it or not, they never had before. The information we knew about student learning was really starting to change at that point. The other piece of the puzzle is that I’m a first-generation college student, so I have a particular interest in identifying ways to help first-generation and non-traditional students achieve success.”

Now, Campbell will share his wisdom and experience with graduate students in CEHS’ Higher Education Administration Program through courses in higher education teaching, analytics and student success.

“I’ve enjoyed many opportunities to talk about my work and present it all over the world,” Campbell said. “I’m looking forward to this next stage in my career and joining the Higher Education Administration Program. I am also looking forward to collaborating with other faculty members in the college that have similar interests.”

The faculty of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies welcome the added knowledge and expertise that Campbell brings to the Higher Education Administration Program.  

“We are thrilled to have Dr. John Campbell join our faculty as an associate professor this fall,” said Nathan Sorber, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies. “Dr. Campbell brings a wealth of senior leadership experience in higher education administration to our department. In addition, he is a leading voice in student success and predictive analytics, who will advance knowledge and spur innovation in this emerging area of higher education research and practice.”