By OEE - January 28, 2019

“The best journeys answer questions you didn’t even think to ask,” reads the plaque on Dr. Ken Nelson’s desk in Magan Hall. “This proved to be true both in my life and work,” says Dr. Nelson. Having grown up in a missionary family, he has always understood the value of a good question. “Having a good question (and a solid answer to it) helps one navigate new cultures, enlightens one’s perspective, and provides a better understanding of the obstacles one might encounter.”

This is fitting to Dr. Nelson’s current work as LLU’s Institutional Researcher in the Office of Educational Effectiveness. In joining OEE in 2013 after seven years of teaching at LLU’s extended campus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he brought in a new dimension to asking questions and finding answers from the multitude of data sources available to LLU.

Anyone who has worked with Ken, knows that meetings often start with “What do you want to know?” This simple question leads to scores of other questions and eventually answers. To support data-informed solutions at LLU, Information Services has developed a rich data warehouse fed by several campus portals. University dashboards are now available to administrative faculty and staff in nine general categories; academics, applications, assessment, enrollment, faculty/staff, finance, research, success, and surveys.

Business Intelligence is not new to the business world, but its use in academia is relatively new. With his innate ability to pose quality questions and create visualizations to support decisions, Dr. Nelson has established himself as a nationally recognized expert in Power BI – a Microsoft Office 365 application that allows a user to model and visualize data in highly creative ways. He presents frequently for Microsoft, most recently at EDUCAUSE, where he showcased Power BI in academics. As a graduate of WSCUC’s Assessment Leadership Academy, his culminating project centered on cross-campus collaboration where he worked with the School of Nursing to present a blueprint for the successful use of data in program assessment. This topic drew so much interest that he was invited to present it at WSCUC ARC 2018.

Recently Ken returned from Australia where his presentation on the LLU School of Medicine’s newly developed dashboard supporting competency review won the Best Presenter Award at the Australasian Association for Institutional Research (AAIR) SIG Forum 2018. This year he will jointly present this topic with the School of Medicine at WSCUC ARC 2019. As a weekly participant of the Microsoft PBI Users Group, Ken continues to challenge assessment and IR professionals to better integrate newly available technology to fit the needs of academia. In July of 2018 he was asked to join WSCUC, LLU’s regional accreditor, as a Research Fellow. His responsibilities there include presenting at analytic workshops, developing visualizations for WSCUC initiatives, and collaborative support on the Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators (IEEI). Through Dr. Nelson’s presentations and workshops, LLU is rapidly gaining recognition as a leader in the use of academic intelligence dashboards.

“One thing I want our faculty and staff to remember about data,” says Ken, “is that it can’t make decisions for you – individuals are still the ones who make the decisions, but having data at your fingertips can greatly improve your chances of making an informed decision - if you are patient and willing to keep asking questions.”