STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

STEP Brown Bag Webinar: Challenges and Strategies for Engaging with your Institutional Research Office

The Brown Bag Webinar: Challenges and Strategies for Engaging with your Institutional Research Office, held July 13th, 2014, focused on interfacing with the project’s campus Institutional Research (IR) or applicable office that keeps student data.  The webinar was facilitated by Dr. Rahman Tashakkori, Appalachian State University; Dr. Karen Olmstead, Salisbury University; and Dr. Jorja Kimball, Texas A&M University.

The focus of the discussion was on interfacing with the Institutional Research Office. We addressed people's concerns related to interfacing with the IR office, then disscused some possible strategies or solutions.  Bullets of concerns and solutions are listed below. We hope these will be useful as STEP and STEM project grantees work to evaluate the success of their projects.

Webinar Attendees:
Ellen Berg, Evaluator, California State University - Sacramento
Lynn Tashiro, Principal Investigator, California State University - Sacramento
Karen Krapcho, Project Coordinator, University of Utah
Adrienne Steele, Project Coordinator, Louisiana State University

Primary concerns expressed:

1) Understanding the format and sources of data. There are problems with IR re-coding the data so problematic to run-time series analysis.
2) Different people put data in differently.  This results in a different output each time you run a query.
3) Problems with communications. Some IR feel they need to be paid for their work cleaning and prepping the data.
4) IR doesn't always understand the context of the data, whereas the external evaluator has a better sense.
5) It is a challenge to get all the data in the same place.
6) Political situation at University makes navigation team building difficult.
7) IR office have their own rules regarding coding data, that may not be capturing data that you need.
8) IR office must generate reports that adhere to their own requirements.
9) IR office does not always want to share the raw data. They want to produce the reports for you. You need raw data so they can look for trends.
10) Huge data set have lot of mistakes.
11) It is not always negative experiences!  In many cases the IR office is really helpful. Reason for positive interaction is by not making a lot of demands. 
12) IR offices collect a ton of data, but through their own rules. We have to figure out their language, and plug into the data that they are collecting to the extent that they can.

Possible Solutions:

1) You don't know what you don't know! Engage IR in the proposal writing to establish workable data requirements.
2) Work around the IR by pulling the files and analyzing them separately.
3) Find other partners (admission/management) to put some pressure on the IR office. Having other people asking for the same data can help move the IR office. 
4) Solve through structure of leadership of the project. Make someone at IR a co-PI on the project. VP of enrollment management as a Co-PI helps to get a response. “Agent J”
5) Run your own queries in retention using the student tracking system (people soft).  You can look at the class rosters. This involves basic searching and sorting with excel.
6) Sit down with IR person and understand the meta data, and their language, and try to utilize their data structure as much as possible. It is important to understand their language
7) 3rd year visit helped to reinforce data needs for getting another NSF grant.
8) Go back to the same data source every time your run the analysis. To be consistent, go to the same data-source used in year prior.
9) Having a good relationship with IR is critical.  Have a number of them on your advisory group, they should be on your team.  Any proposal that has anything to do with data must involve the IR right away. 
10) Build the relationship in the proposal writing phase.   
11) Engage IR staff in team building.  Cultivate a good relationship, engage with teambuilding, and have very good communication with your contact at IR. Develop a champion in the IR office. Treat them like a professional. These are people who may not feel appreciated. Send them an appreciative email and cc their boss. Send thank you notes! And send a bag of chocolate.
12) Contact at the IR needs to be walked through everything you are interested in. Help them understand your parameters. Sit down and walk that person through your data needs will make it easier to get the data you need in the future.
13) If you can show the assessment office how your data can help them, they will be more cooperative.
14) Use “certified” data: statistical reports and totals on fact sheets – these are things you can already use.
15) Have students work with data. They can look up student data one at a time to fill out their own spreadsheets. 
16) Be specific when you ask for data.  Create a spreadsheet with the headings that they want. Ask them to fill out the spreadsheet.
17) Try not to make too many demands on them.
18) Develop and maintain your own database of your students
19) Buy part of a IR person time.
20) Have a smaller excel sheet to maintain our own budget internally for both scholarships and procurements.
21) Make the NSF on-line data submission requirements/questions earlier, so we know exactly what we needed to ask IR earlier on. Then the database would have been more effective. Had a person who understands what kind of data they need, and the data terms.
22) Try to identify just one person dedicated to collecting data for this project. Having a STEM person would be fantastic.
23) Have someone from IR on the internal advisory board.
24) Ensure thanks are sent to IR person that does help the project and copy their supervisor so they know of your satisfaction.  Even a box of chocolate helps the next time you need something.


What is a STEP "Brown Bag" Webinar?
A "Brown Bag Webinar" is a new initiative from STEP Central.  The goal is to provide a more informal, engaging, and fun way to connect on-line with your colleagues around a certain topic. Our hope is to create a personal feeling similar to face-to-face meetings. Registration is limited to 10 participants, first come first serve. The agenda is purposefully very open, with the goal of stimulating discussion and ideas/questions sharing from all the participants.  We hope this model will help the STEP Community learn from eachother. Please let us know if there is a topic you would like to see at the next STEP Central “Brown Bag” Webinar.