Day two of Educause started with a presentation on using social networking as a retention tool. A study had concluded that students that are engaged with their institution, in terms of both their learning and campus life, are more likely to complete their course. A number of universities have set up virtual communities within their portal to attempt to improve student retention.
The portal provides single sign on and access to a range of applications including directory services, Blackboard and business applications. Each university has set up several targeted communities including freshmen, parents, alumni, sports teams and subject based communities. The student records systems hold the data which defines which community a given individual will belong to. A daily message is sent to each community in order to keep the site fresh and ever changing; some of these messages will be time critical and will be set to expire once the message becomes irrelevant.
It is still early days for the projects. The universities are using Google analytics to track which sections of the portal are being used and are tracking usage and following up with any individuals that are not making use of the portal to try to establish why. But it is too early to establish whether the project is meeting its aim of improving retention.