Excitement Builds Around Student Success Portal

May. 4, 2018

Open Office Hours via WebEx for Starfish Student Success Portal 

“I love Starfish. I use it on a daily basis just to find student IDs; I use it a lot otherwise too.”
— Julie Setele, assistant professor of Anthropology and Sociology

Like Setele, other faculty, professional staff, and even students have been expressing excitement about the Student Success Portal, Starfish.

The comments focus on a number of areas, including the accessibility of information that is needed for day-to-day operations that was previously more cumbersome to find—like Setele’s example of finding student ID numbers—but the excitement extends beyond the accessibility of information to the ease of connecting students to the supports they need to be successful, the ability to access and share notes in one globally-accessible location, and the improvement of business practices.

The progress brought about by the Student Success Portal has been quick, too, noted Jeffrey Carter, professor and chair of the Department of Music: “Within a couple of months of implementation, the new Student Success Portal is already proving to be a boost in early detection of academic issues. Faculty are working even more from a shared-responsibility mindset now, with successful active interventions. We are finding that students respond well to faculty follow-ups on the referrals as well.”

“It’s virtually impossible for a student to fall through the cracks if faculty get familiar with this portal.”
— Julie Smith, visiting professor, Communications and Journalism 

Echoing the importance of faculty engagement, Ralph Olliges, professor and coordinator of the Master’s of Educational Technology program and chairperson of the Multidisciplinary Studies Department, said, “I really like the notes section and that it keeps a record of all activity. To make this successful, faculty need to use it.”

The system can also help with personal organization. Danielle MacCartney, associate professor of Sociology; chair of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; fellow with the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies; and director of Criminology and Criminal Justice, also likes the notes feature.

“I've only just started using Starfish, mostly to track the notes I make during student advising sessions. It's been helpful to have a record of the notes that I normally keep as Post-Its on my desk, which have been known to wander off.”
— Danielle MacCartney, associate professor of Sociology; chair of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

As more faculty get into the system to use it, add and check notes for their students, etc., they are likely to find it very useful in many ways, including sharing, accessing, and storing information. Setele stated, “As an advisor or an instructor, what I most appreciate about the Student Success Portal is the ability to see when problems are arising for a student in multiple courses. Such moments are opportunities to intervene and hopefully guide the student back on track, and the Student Success Portal’s network and tracking features facilitate that.”

There are teaching benefits to the system, too, Setele added: “The ability to easily see what other courses my students are taking allows me to tailor my teaching and mentoring more effectively.”

Progress Surveys

Progress surveys are a great way for faculty, particularly adjunct faculty, to engage with the system. Adjunct Business faculty member Hamideh Zakeri, appreciated the Spring and Spring 1, 2018, Early Term Progress Survey, which ran from January 26 through February 5, for its ability to identify students with issues and to praise students who are doing well: “This is an awesome tool!”

The progress surveys also provide additional value, beyond connecting at-risk students to the necessary supports, Gary Ford, associate professor and chair of the Communications and Journalism Department, said: “Identifying information with the Starfish survey about students not on class rosters the first week of classes and having those issues addressed early in the term can save untold amounts of time for department chairs and associates who historically have had to solve roster problems weeks later. The survey gives faculty a quick and easy view of students who may be missing from their class rosters.”

Other areas where the Student Success Portal has improved processes and communications are in Academic Advising and site transfers. Jordan Wienke, academic advisor, was especially pleased that the notes she entered into the Student Success Portal were accessed by Vienna academic advisor Dorothy Kishbaugh to help with the process of a student’s site transfer from Webster Groves to Vienna.

“AMAZING!! Ok, so I LOVE Starfish!!!  Here is a great example, Dorothy Kishbaugh in Vienna can see all the work we did here at main to get my current student over there.  She can SEE ALL MY NOTES!! This is just fantastic!!!  Makes my life so much easier!”
— Jordan Wienke, academic advisor

Another feature in the Student Success Portal is the opportunity to upload materials to student files. Advisors are using this feature to attach degree planning sheets for future reference, and the Registrar’s Office is uploading submitted electronic Incomplete Grade Forms to the appropriate student’s file. This process helps the student, faculty, advisors, and others throughout the University to move the student through the process of successfully completing the course, rather than earning a ZF. Additionally, the electronic Incomplete Grade Form has been updated to clarify information, such as assignment deadlines and the date the Registrar’s Office will change the student’s grade.

Additional functionality and system requests are coming in regularly, and while these enhancements will be phased in, the number of requests and the visions that faculty and staff members have for use of the system indicate the need for and success of the system.

Another indication of the system’s success is the continually improving completion rate of the progress surveys:

Survey                                                                             Completion Percentage

Spring 2, 2018, Early Term Progress Survey                   38%

Spring 2018 Midterm Progress Survey                            35%

Spring & Spring 1, 2018, Early Term Progress Survey    30%

Fall 2, 2017, Early Term Progress Survey                        20%

Faculty and staff members have been actively engaging with the system outside of the progress surveys, too, to raise flags, kudos, and referrals; make notes, which is seeing phenomenal use internationally, too; and send messages, another popular feature with faculty and faculty advisors. The messaging feature allows individuals to send emails to students either individually or in larger groups (i.e., classes) and then saves the message in the Student Success Portal, improving the ability of the the individual sending the message, the student(s) receiving the message, and others throughout the University to access it later. The Student Success Portal even records when the student reads the message! When a note is sent to the student when it’s raised, the Student Success Portal also tracks when the student reads the note.

Student responses to the system include some questions about the emails they receive and whether the system is “too big brother”—especially if they have not heard much about the system previously. But, the inquiries are positive, and students are reacting to the information put into the system. Most students are excited about the kudos and are responsive to the flags and referrals. Responses to messages sent through the system have been responded to promptly in most cases—faster than students respond to Outlook emails or to phone calls.

Regarding kudos, Smith noted, “I like how you're able to give a student kudos. It's a wonderful way to affirm a student, especially those introverts who might not enjoy being praised in public.”

The fact that students are responding to flags, referrals, and messages is extremely beneficial. Debbie Psihountas, professor of Finance, said, “It gets attention of students in a new and different way that they might take more seriously, since there is now a digital ‘paper’ trail versus you just pulling them aside and telling them ‘I’m concerned.’ And it creates some documentation, which unfortunately one does need to think about in this day and age.”

Next Steps

Use of the system is building. Again, progress survey statistics show the progression of usage. Thank you for your participation!

As progress survey cycles continue, the goal is to achieve a 100 percent completion rate. Another goal is to clear flags that are raised individually and through the progress surveys, and faculty advisors play a key role in clearing flags that are raised for their advisees.

As flags are cleared, it’s especially helpful that the system allows individuals to close the loop, sending a message back to the person who raised the flag. This feature is one of the greatest of the system, MacCartney recognized: “The biggest benefit I see of Starfish was the recent survey about student progress in the courses I'm teaching. For any student that I marked was missing class or missing assignments, I got emails from the folks following up, letting me know they talked to the student. I really appreciate knowing that someone is keeping tabs on the students who are falling behind.”


Visit www.webster.edu/success to access the resources and FAQs available there. Many additions, including flyers for faculty and for students and a podcast, have been posted, and new resources continue to be added as they are developed.

Individuals or departments that would like assistance or training regarding the Student Success Portal should email studentsuccess@webster.edu with their requests.

Submitted by Erica Ellard, director, Academic Resource Center, and Kyle McCool, director, Graduate Advising

tags:  academics, employee news, extended campus, student success portal, academic resource center, home page, strategic plan, advising, faculty, global, webster today,