New software added to help improve retention rate

By Ariela Rosa

During the 2013–2014 school year, Lawrence University received a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the Department of Education. Among other initiatives, the grant was designed to support Lawrence by funding new staff positions in the Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL) as well as software to help improve Lawrence’s retention rate.

At the end of Fall Term 2014, the CTL and the Office of Student Academic Services used part of this grant to implement three computer programs aimed at helping students in several areas.

The CTL programs, Kurzweil 1000 and Kurzweil 3000, primarily convert text to speech. According to Khrystal Condon, the CTL learning specialist, although the software is traditionally used to help blind or visually impaired students, it actually “has uses for all learning abilities.”

She explained that Kurzweil 1000 allows students to quickly access virtual content like books, dictionaries and encyclopedias, converting the text into speech that students can listen to via headphones.

Kurzweil 3000 shares the Kurzweil 1000’s features, but also includes the ability to save and copy audio files and has useful study aids.

According to Condon, both programs “can be extremely helpful for students who struggle with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia and students who have been on IEPs (Individualized Education Program) in the past.” She added that auditory learners may find the programs particularly useful.

Student Academic Services also launched their student retention software, Sunstone, last fall. According to Student Success Coordinator Kathryn Frost, Sunstone helps make communication between departments more efficient, making it easier to help students quickly.

“The Sunstone software is really meant to enhance the data that’s already here,” said Frost. She further stated, “Let’s say that a student has some sort of an emergency back home…maybe their RHD would know that, but then nobody else would know, because that person had to leave campus right away.”

With Sunstone, students would be able to talk to one person, who could communicate information quickly to others rather than having to contact several faculty and staff members individually. Sunstone could also be used to help staff connect students to campus resources.

Frost explained that Sunstone would be particularly useful because of Lawrence’s ten-week terms. “When you’re in a nosedive, being able to pull up in time to get up and over in 10 weeks can be a real challenge,” explained Frost.

She continued, “So the faster we can get help to people, the better off they’ll be. And this is what helps them stay and be successful; that’s what retention is.”

Frost also addressed students’ concerns about Sunstone, stating that faculty would not be able to communicate with each other about students and that any information stored in the system would be confidential, only viewable to those who need access to the information.

“It’s not like there’s going to be this big database of stuff that everyone’s going to have access to,” stated Frost. “We all are very sensitive to the idea of privacy and following FERPA.”

Ultimately, the CTL and the Office of Student Academic Services hope that these programs will help students succeed and enable staff and faculty to more efficiently help students overcome challenges.