Students and staff collaborate in Starfish workshop

December 13, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Matt Heller opens his class, IST 420: Fundamentals of Systems and Enterprise Integration, with a question: “How many of you have logged into Starfish before?” The majority of students raise their hands. The class has been converted into a Starfish Enterprise Success Platform workshop for the day.

One of the lessons the students learned this semester is how to gather and utilize user input about IT services. During the workshop, they were the users, answering questions about their experiences with the University’s suite of academic advising tools.

Heller invited Janet Schulenberg, associate director for curriculum and technology for the Division of Undergraduate Studies and functional lead for Starfish, to ask the questions. She began by gathering a bit more information about this particular group of users (mostly upper classmen, mostly information sciences and technology majors), and asked how they had first heard about Starfish (most heard through the Advising Office).

Then she moved into the meatier questions: What were some positive experiences students had using the service, and what were some of their negative experiences? Through discussion, it quickly became apparent that a UI (user interface) design was causing some students to follow a longer navigation path.

Schulenberg was grateful to learn of the issue. Because of it, the Starfish functional team will investigate configuration decisions on the Penn State side and share information with the parent company of Starfish, Hobsons.

Students can also use Starfish to schedule meetings with tutoring and financial literacy centers, but some students said they weren’t aware of this. Schulenberg took some time to explain these, as well as how other types of users, like faculty and advisers, interact with Starfish.

A significant amount of the workshop was dedicated to Starfish’s Early Progress Reporting (EPR) feature, which can be useful for all users. Many students were aware that professors can send them a notice through Starfish at the three-week point in a semester to let them know if they are on track to pass the class, or if the professor believes they need improvement. Few knew, however, that advisers could see this information, and that it can help signal to advisers if a student is simply struggling in a particular class, or if there might be an underlying issue causing them to struggle in multiple classes.

Schulenberg asked the students how the EPR process could be improved. The students suggested adding more potential “progress” categories, more personalized comments from instructors, and compiling reports into a single communication.

Students also suggested that Starfish be embedded within Canvas. This would make notifications more noticeable, they said, and would help instructors to easily gather academic performance information about each student at the assignment level. Other students suggested that Starfish be presented as an application. Schulenberg noted that the service will be included in the new Penn State Go application that is set to launch this spring.

Throughout the workshop, Heller took notes, capturing the students’ feedback. He and Schulenberg plan to relay that feedback both to Starfish service administrators at Penn State, and to the company’s developers.

Last Updated December 18, 2019