News and Events

Medicine Hat College research team presents a new view on data

November 9, 2018

A 100-year-old manufacturing concept has a new application in the world of post-secondary education, thanks to the strategic research and analysis (SRA) office at Medicine Hat College (MHC).

Traditionally used for process quality control, this concept looks for and examines trends in data. Adopted and changed slightly to suit the educational context, it now has the power to promote evidence-based decision making for academic institutions and other organizations.

A piece of coding script, developed by the SRA team and referred to as “the package”, produces graphs more efficiently in a way that is easier to interpret. Using the SRA script, graphs are created with the click of a button instead of strenuous programming and manipulation of numbers.

“Data interpretation can be confusing but it’s really about recognizing patterns,” explains Morgan Blair, director of SRA. “Often data is presented out of context, making it misleading or difficult to understand. Our method places the data in context and allows people to see what is normal and when it is no longer normal. The results are very intuitive.”

Regardless of the audience or information, people can look at these graphs and know immediately what is going on, adds Blair. After using the package to illustrate data trends to the MHC community she took her knowledge on the road, presenting at conferences and strategic enrolment management events in Canada and the United States.

The response has been very positive. Following her presentations to packed conference rooms, Blair always has a lineup of people wanting to discuss the application with her.

“I know the institutional research folks and I know when they geek out over something. I knew this would be a thing. It catches people’s attention. It’s so simple but so effective.”

Strategic research and analysis team

The strategic research and analysis team [left to right]: Allison Campbell, manager; Morgan Blair, director; Alex Zanidean, research analyst.

At the 2017 Canadian Institutional Research and Planning Association (CIRPA) Conference, Blair won the award for best presentation and the opportunity to share her team’s work at the American Association for Institutional Research.

Some big names in Canadian education have since adopted the technique in their own strategic research departments and nearly 100 organizations spanning four industries and three continents have requested to use this intellectual property.

Alex Zanidean, research analyst at MHC and author of the package, was successful in getting the script published by the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN) last December. This repository of “publication quality” software for the R language is widely used and trusted by industry professionals. Its strict review process ensured MHC’s package – from documentation to unit tests – met the site’s high standards.

The package is free through open source and has been downloaded over 500 times. Blair’s presentation is also available online as a webinar through the CIRPA website.