The SAAIR has entered into an agreement with the USA based Association of Institutional Research (AIR) that the best paper from the conference would be part sponsored by the AIR to present their paper at the annual conference of the AIR fondly known as the AIR Forum. The AIR Forum is the largest global gathering of higher education professionals working in institutional research, planning, and related higher education fields and takes place every year.
The SAAIR EXCO used evaluations by participants, the blind -comments and points by the reviewers for paper acceptance to select the top five papers. Evaluations/inputs by chairs of sessions (wherever possible on the top five) were also used. The 2022 Best Paper Award went to Sonja Loots, Francois Strydom and Hanle Posthumus from the University of the Free State. Paper “Disrupted relations: how to enhance engagement in blended learning”.
Research Analyst: Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of the Free State
As a result of winning the best paper presentation at the 2022 SAAIR conference, myself and two colleagues from the University of the Free State were privileged to attend the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) 2023 Forum from 30 May to 2 June 2023. The AIR Forum is an event that brings together higher education professionals to discuss the latest trends and insights in institutional research. The conference was held in Cleveland, Ohio in the US and featured a wide range of sessions and networking opportunities.
A key theme of the conference was the increasing importance of predictive analytics in institutional research and its uses to create models to show progression, retention, and attrition. These models are used to identify students who are at risk of dropping out and provide Institutional Research (IR) professionals with new insights into student success and institutional effectiveness.
Another significant trend discussed at the conference was the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the major impact it is expected to have on higher education. Because of its significance, AI will be a big theme at the 2024 AIR Forum. Several sessions focused on the use of chatbots to nudge students, machine learning to improve predictions, text analytics to deal with large qualitative data sets and the implications of large language models in IR work. These sessions highlighted the need for IR professionals to be prepared to use this technology to their advantage and the role that they can play in ensuring that this technology is used effectively.
A further trend was data visualisation and making data more accessible to decision-makers and the broader university community. Sessions on data visualisation explored the use of dashboards in identifying equity gaps and removing barriers to student success, as well as engaging different stakeholders with data. Dashboard dissemination across campuses and support for users were also discussed.
In addition to these trends, the AIR Forum also highlighted equitable analysis and using data to identify and address disparities in student outcomes. A number of sessions focused on proper disaggregation of data, contextualising data to affect change at your institution and making data available for equity-minded decision-making.
The AIR Forum 2023 was a valuable opportunity to learn about these and other highlights in institutional research. It was clear that the delegates are passionate about institutional research and committed to making a difference in the field. It was also encouraging to see that our US colleagues also struggle with many of the issues that we have in South African higher education and to realise that we can learn from each other on how to use data to improve student success in such a setting as the AIR Forum.
Overall, my colleagues and I had a positive experience at the AIR Forum 2023. It was a valuable opportunity to learn and be inspired.