| 03.18.2018

The future of Vandalstar — VandalStar will consolidate students’ academic data


Starfish, a system able to unite Blackboard Learn, VandalWeb and Outlook, will be rolled out in a campus-wide pilot for the spring 2018 semester.

The University of Idaho purchased the program to help retain students, said Dean Kahler, vice provost for strategic enrollment management. UI’s implementation of Starfish will be called VandalStar, but Kahler said none of Starfish’s features that UI might take advantage of are confirmed for use in the spring pilot. The pilot will include all UI students and faculty.

The contract with Starfish will cost the university $180,000 for the first year as the system is implemented and approximately $142,000 in the following years, Kahler said.

“Right now, at the University of Idaho, we have a first-year retention rate that is 81.6 percent,” Kahler said. “That’s just not the level that we want.”

UI Provost and Executive Vice President John Wiencek said the program has the potential to bring students’ information, such as low grades or an advisor’s note about a personal tragedy, to those who could intervene, such as professors, advisors or resident assistants.

With the details not yet ironed out, some instructors at UI have voiced privacy concerns. Currently, advising notes and Blackboard grades are between an instructor and a student, but Starfish has the potential to grant access to others.

“Mass-sweeping the data out of blackboard is not consistent with my goals as a teacher,” said law professor Liz Brandt. “I’m the teacher, I want to make the decision.”

Brandt said though she doesn’t teach undergraduate students, she still has concerns about what of her students’ data could be distributed to other people. She said she regularly gives quizzes with a small grade value meant to be a resource for the student.

“If those grades are going to be used to mark them as somebody who needs help, I don’t want that,” Brandt said. “The provost suggested we might be able to select something to exempt them. If that option doesn’t exist, I’ll come up with something else. I’ll email them.”

Jesse Watson, faculty senate representative for the Associated Students of the University of Idaho, said the program will help students in many ways. But, if student privacy concerns are not addressed, he said ASUI will fight for them.

Watson said the program will give students information including resources available on campus and who their adviser is.

“There are a lot of students at the University of Idaho who do not know who their advisor is,” Watson said. “Freshman on this campus should feel ready to tackle this big life goal that they have.”

He said if a student is not coming to class, the program will raise a flag and a faculty member can quickly schedule an appointment with the student.

“It helps faculty members catch students who are falling through the cracks,” Watson said.

More information on the university’s implementation of VandalStar is available at uidaho.edu/sem/vandalstar.

Nishant Mohan can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @NishantRMohan

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