DSC implements Starfish program; students generally unsure of program’s purpose

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Student retention is crucial for a college’s success, and Dixie State College administration has implemented an additional resource to keep retention numbers up. 

Starfish is an online program designed to alert students if they begin to perform poorly in courses. The program is designed so instructors can continually update student performance online, and if enough poor marks are generated, then the student is contacted with the information and with solutions.

The program has been in place since the fall semester of 2012, so it hasn’t yet become a staple for DSC students like Canvas and Dmail. 

David Roos, DSC executive director of enrollment services, said Starfish will be a quality tool for student retention, as well as for students who simply need help but don’t know how to go about it. 

“Without having to do much effort, the instructors can click (on boxes like ‘poor performance in class’ or ‘poor performance on test’) and then click ‘submit,’” Roos said about the program’s functionality. “In less than 30 seconds, they have [generated a list of poorly performing students] and have raised a warning about the student.”

Roos said two things will happen once a red flag is raised.

First, an email will be sent to the student with an outline of his or her performance issues. The email will also include suggestions on how to improve, such as linking to the college’s Tutoring Center or Writing Center.

Roos said after a few days, the student will get a personal follow-up phone call from a peer adviser. The peer advisers are upperclassmen who have volunteered to help struggling students. 

“[The struggling student] can have a conversation that might be more useful than from someone who is just paid to call them,” Roos said.

While the program is a good idea in theory, there can only be success if Starfish is being used by instructors. 

Dixie Sun News sent a request via email to the entire DSC faculty and asked who is using the Starfish program and how effective it is so far. Only one faculty member responded.

McGarren Flack, DSC art lecturer and adviser, said Starfish has helped his students especially around midterm and finals. 

“It’s kind of a nice little reminder for students,” he said. “It’s just if you’re less than what you could be, it’s just a reminder to pick up your game.”

Flack said he thinks the additional reminders from a source outside the classroom can help boost students’ drive to succeed, and through that drive the school retains students who might otherwise lose interest in a class.

However, Flack said there are a couple of issues with the program.

“The only downside is taking the time to fill it out and submit it,” he said. 

He also said he hopes students would be taking the initiative to keep up on their work, and he thinks the Starfish program has the potential to enable students to be lackadaisical until they get that third party alert. 

Students can access their Starfish account by logging into student services through www.dixie.edu. The Starfish account can be found under the “Student” link, and then under the “Student Records” link.

Starfish can also be used to compliment students who are performing well.

Roos said that class sizes and tight schedules can sometimes prevent instructors from giving all the positive feedback they’d like to students; sometimes it’s necessary for the sake of time to focus on the things that need to be fixed and not on everything that was done correctly. He said those instructors can utilize Starfish and highlight all the good work that isn’t always addressed.

The Starfish program is designed to help students who want to succeed but are struggling to figure out how.

Abby Smith, a sophomore communication major from Taylorsville, said she didn’t know this system was in place, but she would utilize Starfish when it comes to certain courses. 

“I think it would help the students out a lot,” she said. “I feel like math is a hard class, and I always need help with that. I think it’s a good idea to help students.”

Briana Medina, a freshman health science major from Ogden, also wasn’t aware Starfish was already being utilized. She said the intentions behind it are good, but adding more things to do and check, on top of Canvas and Dmail, wouldn’t necessarily work for her. However, she said it might work for others.

“It sounds like a bit much (for me),” she said. 

Since the school began using the Starfish program, students who have been contacted have been asked to take a survey that rated their overall satisfaction with the program. 

The survey was drafted through DSC’s enrollment services and hosted by SurveyMonkey.com. As of Jan. 29, 94 students have taken the survey.

Of those polled, 35.5 percent said they appreciated that their instructors expressed concern for them through the Starfish system, and 26.6 percent said the instructors’ concerns were helpful. However, 44.7 percent said they never received a follow-up phone call from a peer adviser with further assistance, and 28.6 percent said they weren’t even sure why they received a message in the first place.

“I know there are people that need an extra shove,” Medina said. “But if I just don’t want to do it, then I’m not going to do it.”