Rhonda and I had an interesting conversation last night with Steve Rheinschmidt and Gretchen Bartelson of The Iowa Community College Consortium. They have begun looking seriously at the student data they have from their LMS (eCollege) and tying the data to retention and student success. Steve indicated the best early predictor of student success seems to be the amount of time a student spends in the LMS the first week of classes -- if the student spends more than 7 hours they will be successful; less than 7 hours they tend to need help.
Iowa has very generous drop add policies the first week of classes, so the student population in the classes is not particularly stable. That of course makes it hard to really begin to dig into the course material the first week, so they are concentrating on developing/promoting community building activities that grab the students and keep them in the class.
Steve also commented that students who use the discussion tool more than average tend to be successful students and that students who use them email tool more than average tend not to be successful. I bet that is about your experience also. :^)
We are planning to start looking at the data we can get from Vista and from Banner soon -- as soon as we have time.