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The Blue & Gray Press | July 20, 2019

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UMW reintroduces advising tool to faculty

UMW reintroduces advising tool to faculty
Flickr/Penn State

Penn State/Flickr

By ALISON THOET

The Starfish online advising tool has been reintroduced at the University of Mary Washington this fall in an effort to streamline academic advising for students.

Starfish is a tool that performs as both an advising and early alert system, according to Kelly Graham, the director of Academic and Career Services.

“Our goal is for every student to be successful here at UMW, and this is just one way to reach out and make sure students know of all the resources available to support their academic success,” Graham said.

The program has been on contract at UMW since July 2011, according to Erma Baker, assistant vice president of business services.

The UMW website provides details on how to utilize the various aspects of Starfish, which are geared toward assisting students in their academic advising. Advisors can use Starfish to take notes on meetings with students that exist online, rather than in paper files and records.

“It could work,” said Samantha Amos, a junior psychology major. “Obviously we’re all going toward technology.”

Professors can use Starfish to track students’ progress in a course. Faculty may raise a “flag” on students for missing class or doing poorly on an assignment, but may also raise a “kudos” for students’ good work. Students are alerted to kudos but will not receive notifications for flags most likely until next semester, according to Graham.

“I really love it because I am able to alert other faculty and staff if the student is having difficulty. On the flip side of that, it lets me give students kudos,” said Gwen Hale, director of the Writing Center and Writing Intensive Program.

These flags fulfill the early-awareness aspect of advising for faculty on student issues, according to Graham.

“Starfish is all about focusing on student success,” wrote Provost Jonathan Levin in an email. “We know that if we can reach a student before a problem has become too entrenched to fix, then we can actually help that student.”

Freshman Emma Carolan commented on the newly implemented program.

“It sounds like a good tool that would be utilized, and it would be helpful for students,” Carolan said.

Information on student advisement is only available to academic advisors, and professors only have access to the students in their courses for the early-alert system. All students and their records were added to Starfish in relation to Banner, according to Tim O’Donnell, associate provost for academic English and student success.

A report generated by Starfish showed that within the three months the program has resurfaced at UMW almost 400 faculty are using the system.

“[Starfish] really allows us to fill in blanks and make sure we are taking care of the student,” Hale said.

Starfish was never completely utilized at UMW, though the contract continues through next school year. According to O’Donnell, Starfish, which was created in 2007 by David Raskin, a former Blackboard executive, was first introduced as a way to set up appointments between advisors and students, though this is a minor function of the program.

Starfish was reintroduced this year to focus more on advisor notes and the early-warning system for student advisement. Much of the launching process for this year was discussed over the summer.

“There was conversation…to decide whether Starfish would be a good product to be using at UMW and the thought was, yes, it would be,” Graham said.

Levin agreed, stating, “Last spring, knowing we had two more years on the contract, I decided we’d work with Starfish to ‘relaunch’ the tool at UMW, looking to get more benefits from it.”

Hale participated in a workshop over the summer to learn the attributes of Starfish and how to use the tool to its fullest extent.

According to O’Donnell, a potential function of Starfish to be explored is the possibility of linking it with Canvas so flags may be automatically raised. This role is still being discussed and a pilot project involving interested faculty may soon be possible.

Starfish as an early alert and advising notes system was never fully utilized by UMW faculty and students though it was present before this most recent push for its usage, according to O’Donnell.

“My sense of it is that we’re two months in and we’re learning and observing how we’ve begun to interact with this tool,” O’Donnell said. “I’ve heard some folks say that they love it and some say they’re not real sure about it, and I think that’s to be expected.”

Levin highlighted the focus of Starfish as a tool to assist students in “navigating the challenges of college.”

“I think Starfish is an amazing tool, but it’s only a tool– the real work is still done by students, faculty and staff advisors. Ideally, Starfish helps to facilitate that work,” Levin wrote.