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Data Literacy for Employees

OSU gathers and uses personally identifiable data in order to provide services to students and employees and to promote student success. Different data types are managed in various ways depending on state and federal law as well as operational needs. Employees can help protect their information and student information by taking simple steps to minimize their risks. 


How the University Uses Your Data

How to Protect Your Privacy and Institutional Data

How You Can Use Data to Support StudentsHow to Improve Data Quality

How Data Should Not Be Used



How the University Uses Your Data

Oklahoma State University (OSU) gathers data on all employees (faculty and staff) as part of our normal operations (for instance, to facilitate payroll and tax deductions, grant access to FERPA-protected information, and manage course-related functions, like Canvas and grade entry). At OSU, we want employees to understand how their data is collected and used. We have identified several categories of data below and have provided information about OSU's data practices.


First, OSU is required to submit periodic and regular reports regarding the faculty and staff of the university. Many of these reports are mandated by federal and state law and are a matter of public record. Other reports are tied to requirements for funding or accreditation. Institutional Research and Analytics (IRA) may also help pull information for grant applications when employee demographic information is required. These reports usually reflect aggregated information of our employees.


OSU also conducts pay and compensation equity studies. Some of these are performed by Human Resources during periodic reviews of similar positions across campus or within departments. These reviews do include public individual data and are shared on a need-to-know basis. IRA also creates multi-institution salary surveys, particularly for faculty and graduate assistants. These help our university and others to determine fair hiring ranges. IRA survey results are aggregated. 


IRA uses employee data in two different ways to support our reporting dashboards (Cowboy Data Round-Up). First, employee access to restricted reports is tied to employee roles and positions, such as the Course Roster + Dashboard for instructors. Second, employee data is reflected in various dashboards to help inform decision-making, such as the Academic Ledger. Public dashboards contain only aggregated information. Restricted dashboards may contain more specific information, based on purpose, and access to those dashboards are controlled.


Finally, employee data is used to conduct university operations and provide functional support. This includes meeting communication needs, such as populating relevant listservs and disseminating requests for research participants. Employee data allows the university to recognize work anniversaries, provide administrative support for the Reappointment, Promotion, and Tenure Process, manage IT licensing agreements, and manage employee benefits.

How to Protect Your Privacy and Institutional Data

At OSU, we proactively work to protect your privacy, with special oversight by the Departments of Information Technology (IT) and Institutional Research and Analytics (IRA), through administrative units to end-users who must complete periodic trainings to be granted access to data.


Cybercriminals or “bad actors” may try to gain access to university systems and personally identifiable information through social engineering, or tricking users into compromising network security by sharing passwords or other information. Students and employees can further protect their own privacy as well as that of other members of the campus community through their individual actions. This section includes several resources to help employees protect themselves, their coworkers, and our students.


First, you may find it helpful to review the student guidance page to familiarize yourself with good practices for all individuals.


Then, review the Required Trainings and ensure that you complete any that are related to your position on the mandated schedule. Please note that there are other required trainings that are not data-specific that must be completed as well, such as Titles VII and IX.


      • IT Security Awareness Training: required for staff to gain access to information technology resources; reviews common cyber threats and methods to safeguard our network
      • OSU FERPA Training: required for staff to gain access to student records; must pass a quiz after reviewing the materials
      • OSU HIPAA Training: required for staff to gain access to health-related records, including those related to the group health plan

How You Can Use Data to Support Students

By sharing our data with one another, we can better understand how different factors influence student outcomes, and we can adjust our practices to better support students. Data from multiple sources at OSU is combined in a single data warehouse that is used to power the reports and analytics performed by IRA. There are common systems in use at the university that automatically report data to IRA, including Slate, CampusLink, and Banner. If you are not sure if your data is part of our data warehouse, please e-mail


Collaboration is the first step. However, we also need to know that the data we are using is accurate and trustworthy.


How to Improve Data Quality

As our data inputs improve in quality and scope, we can rely more on the reports that are derived from that data. This allows our awareness of environmental factors to expand, and we can make better-informed decisions based on a more robust understanding of the needs of students. How we collect and report data becomes important not just for individual programs but for the university as a whole.


Quality Examples Data Type Potential Use
  • Partial or Incomplete
  • Inconsistent Sharing
All Lower reliability makes low-quality data less useful.
  • Residency
  • High School GPA
  • ACT/SAT Test Scores
Fixed Identify students who may need additional support
  • 6-Week Grades
  • Advisor and Instructor Meeting Dates
  • Tutoring and Student Support Meeting Dates
  • Academic and Student Organization Club Meeting Attendance
Variable Track student progress for timely interventions


Some data, such as a student’s residency status or high school GPA, could be helpful in identifying students who may need additional support. However, we want to also make sure that we collect data that reflects programs and practices that are not fixed. We also want to collect periodic data that helps us track student progress so that timely interventions can be made. Examples of variable data include:

      • 6-Week Grades
      • Advisor and Instructor Meetings Dates
      • Tutoring and Student Support Meetings Dates
      • Academic Club Meeting Attendance

With high-quality data, more tools can be used to automate general or recurring tasks, communication, or student portal functions, which can remove some burdens from staff and faculty members. This allows university employees to invest their time, creativity, and critical thinking into serving our students in meaningful ways. Data can also help employees identify students who may benefit from additional outreach.


How Data Should Not Be Used 

When using data to make decisions, there are a few principles that should always be kept in mind.


  Data Use Considerations
Be Cautious Always use caution that you do not apply population-level data to a specific student situation.
Be Mindful Consider that while you have some data present, there will always be data that is missing.
Be Protective Do not share data without permission, and only store data on a secure device.


First, always use caution that you do not apply population-level data to a specific student situation. Population-level data may show a tendency or likelihood based on past situations, but each student circumstance is unique and should be treated accordingly. Population-level data may help you construct questions or identify possible solutions, but it does not reflect a definite outcome. It also reflects the past university supports that were available at the time and the resulting outcomes and not current campus resources, so make sure that you are familiar with the different ways OSU meets the needs of students today. A selection of resources is listed below.


Related to the first concern, we must consider not only the data that is present, but the data that is missing. OSU collects very little data from off-campus. We don’t track if students work or otherwise participate with organizations off-campus. Students may be using resources or building communities of support or engaging in meaningful academic and social activities that do not appear in our data (now and in the past). Therefore, we should be careful not to make assumptions about students that are not measurable or supported based on our dataset.


Finally, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that student data is protected. Data should not be shared without permission and data should only be stored on a secured device. Students should be notified why their data is being collected and only data that is necessary should be retained.


OSU provides several resources to faculty and staff to help employees support students. IRA also provides visual analytics dashboards and reporting to aid in data-informed decision-making.


IRA Dashboards & Services

The IRA dashboards are collected on Cowboy Data Round-Up. Faculty and staff have a section set up just for them, although they have access to most dashboards (depending on an individual’s role). Instructors may be particularly interested in the Course Roster + dashboard, which gives detailed information on individual course sections with five or more students.


IRA provides scheduled and ad hoc reports for the campus community. You can request access to ePrint reports through the Banner Access Request process (the Student Module will include student-related data). Data requests for new reports can be submitted through the IRA Information Request Form.



Slate is the constituent relationship management (CRM) system OSU uses to send communication to prospective and current students, but it has many tools for faculty and staff. Several offices manage student appointments through Slate, including sending reminder emails and texts. Slate is also home to the campus Academic Alert system used by instructors to notify a student’s advisor if there are concerns about a student’s performance in class. Advisors, tutors, and other support staff use Slate to enter notes on student meetings in a secure environment that restricts access to sensitive data based on user roles. Academic programs and student support offices can track event attendance through Slate.


Additionally, IRA derives indicator scores for students to help campus staff identify those who may benefit from additional outreach. These scores are available in some reports in Slate, as well as the student’s record.



Canvas is the web platform used to present course content for both in-person and online classes. OSU’s Institute for Teaching & Learning Excellence has a dedicated web page to teach users about Canvas functions and to provide support. Check out other services offered by ITLE.

If you need assistance locating resources for a student, this page of Student Support Resources is a great place to start! 

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