Enrollment Planning for Social Distancing

Network Analytics in the Context of COVID-19

How connected are IUB students through their coursework? Very connected! In a typical in-person fall semester, 7.5 million pairs of IUB students are connected through directly sharing a class, and an average student reaches nearly 80% of other students within three or fewer mutual classmates. This is to be expected as college provides a close-knit community for students to share ideas and learn from one another. However, as any university professional charged with providing a safe and effective education knows, high interconnectivity rates among students also pose significant risks for the rapid spread of a virus during a pandemic.

To that end, Research & Analytics worked with various units on the Bloomington campus to model how instruction mode decisions for Fall 2020 could help reduce the number of pathways the virus might spread through the student body. By applying a network analysis to course enrollment data, Research & Analytics estimated metrics of student-to-student contact under various instruction mode scenarios. The Strategic Space Utilization Committee made proposals to move certain classes (large lectures, computer labs, general education courses, etc.) to hybrid or online formats, and in collaboration with the Indiana University Network Science Institute (IUNI), Research & Analytics modeled how each proposal could reduce student contact points in the schedule of classes. Another important objective of this work was maintaining an in-person experience to the fullest extent possible, especially for undergraduate and incoming beginner students at IUB. Using these principles and models for guidance and context, the campus adopted a hybrid model of instruction for Fall 2020.

Campus data show many highlights of this work:

  • The committee’s recommended criteria for online and hybrid instruction picked up a sizable proportion of the most central classes, or the classes with the highest risk for spread of the virus.
  • The most central classes were the least likely to have an in-person component.
  • The Fall 2020 student network had fewer contact points and was more dispersed compared to the prior fall semester.
    • For Fall 2020, the number of in-person contacts, or edges in the student enrollment network, was significantly reduced (736,095 in Fall 2020 compared to nearly 7.5 million in Fall 2019).
    • The average path length between students was greater in Fall 2020, at 3.97, compared to 2.74 in Fall 2019.
    • The 2-step and 3-step reach statistics, which measure the average percentage of students that can be reached within 2 or fewer or 3 or fewer mutual classmates respectively, were 4% and 31% in Fall 2020 compared to Fall 2019 at 45% and 79%.
  • IUB met its goal of maintaining an in-person experience for undergraduate students on campus.
    • Roughly 65% of all undergraduates and 72% of beginner undergraduates were enrolled in one or more in-person class offerings in Fall 2020.

These data illustrate that Research & Analytics and the committee’s critical direction and advice helped decision-makers move to hybrid or online formats, resulting in potentially fewer transmissions of COVID-19 on campus while also maintaining a portion of in-person instruction. Research & Analytics and the IUB Office of the Registrar won the best practitioner paper award at the 2021 Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference for this work. This work is published in Volume 96 of the College & University Journal, a quarterly educational policy journal by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO).

Research & Analytics will continue to provide critical guidance in this area as the university strives to provide a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff. You can learn more about this work by exploring the links and tiles below.