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November 21, 2013

Starfish lets advisors and teachers communicate more efficiently

By Hannah Corcoran

Cleveland State implemented Starfish, a new advising software in the spring 2013 semester.  Starfish features a system of early alerts and increased communication between instructors and advisors.

Aside from a tool to schedule advising appointments online, Starfish allows advisors access to instructor’s feedback of students.

Advisors can see the instructor’s feedback of a student to help get a better picture of the student, according to Heike Heinrich, director of undergraduate admissions.

It’s different from Blackboard because it is not as course specific, Heinrich said.

“Starfish is the advising side of it,” according to Heinrich.

Instructors receive emails from the system and have the option to fill out progress surveys for students.  These surveys are sent out in weeks 4 and 9 of the semester.  The student then receives a “flag” from the system via email.   This lets the student know that there is some type of concern about their performance.  Students can also receive “kudos” when they are doing well. 

The program is aimed especially towards freshman students.

“It was definitely something we had in mind for freshman instructors to use very heavily,” Heinrich said. 

Starfish is available to all instructors, but it is not a mandate. The program had a 13.5 percent participation rate in the spring.  Now, the participation rate is at 31.5 percent, according to Heinrich.

”It’s becoming more and more common and instructors are asking more questions about it,” said Heinrich.  ”It’s coming along.”

Communication professor, Jeff Bolt used the program this semester and noticed it caused his students to react.

“They [Starfish] send an email out and I think maybe the students think it’s more from the registrars or the provost or a higher up power…when they get that email, even though its no new information, they react,” Bolt said.

Bolt posts his student’s grades on Blackboard and says his students are aware of their performance in class.

 “The same information was available but for some reason because of how starfish presents it to them, I have noticed, qualitatively through a small sample that students do react to it,” he said.  “It’s very official looking...it’s just packaged in a way that students see it and do tend to react.”

Justine Mroczka, a junior marketing major, finds Starfish helpful in scheduling appointments with her advisor.

“I found it a lot easier than trying to coordinate schedules,” she said.

However, she does not like the fact that her advisor can see her instructor’s comments.

“My advisor does not need to look at my personal information,” she said.

Advisors have the largest access to what they can see because, according to Heinrich, “they need to see as much as they can when advising you.”

Instructors have less access to what they can see about you from Starfish.

“Theres an authentication system that we built in so you cant possibly just go from the web,” said Heinrich.

The program uses CampusNet as an authentication portal, according to Heinrich.

“We have very specific security standards here at the university so whenever we bring third party software on, there is this huge document of security papers that have to be signed,” Heinrich said.

A tool to schedule tutoring appointments for classes is in the works and will be introduced next spring, according to Heinrich.

The initial planning of Starfish began two years ago under the leadership of Dr. Rosemary Sutton, former Vice-Provost for undergraduate studies.  The program was chosen out of a few different education software programs by a committee and was phased in. 

After its introduction to Cleveland State in spring 2013 it was, “still being kept quiet to work out some of the bugs,” said Heinrich.  “It really went full steam in the fall.”