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Colleges Mine Data to Tailor Students' Experience

Source: chronicle.com Author: Marc Parry READ FULL ARTICLE AT chronicle.com

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Educators have long held that the interactions between students and professors defy simple reduction. Yet in several areas of campus life, colleges are converting the student experience into numbers to crunch in the name of improving education.
Think of it as higher education meets Moneyball. In the movie, Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane reinvents his struggling baseball team by analyzing statistics in new ways to predict player success. In education, college managers are doing something similar to forecast student success—in admissions, advising, teaching, and more.
In one Harvard calculus class, even who you pair up with for group discussion is determined by a computer, one that tracks how well students are doing on the material.
Enlarge ImageKelvin Ma for The Chronicle

Cesar Monarrez and Alexis Smith work on a calculus problem at Harvard. New software uses their answers to questions in class to pair struggling students with stronger ones.

Enlarge ImageKelvin Ma for The Chronicle

Students input answers in Learning Catalytics, software designed by Brian Lukoff, their instructor. The screen shows a map of everyone's answers, telling him who needs help.


The software records Ben Falloon's location in the back row and how he answers each practice problem. Come discussion time, it tries to stir up debate by matching students who gave different responses to the most recent question. For Mr. Falloon, the system, called Learning Catalytics, spits out this prompt: Please discuss your response with Alexis Smith (in front of you) and Emily Kraemer (to your left).
Getting data down to frontline students and instructors like this marks a shift for an industry that often focuses on pushing numbers up to accreditors and trustees, says Mark Milliron, formerly of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which backs college data-mining.
"I know more about my 11-year-old son's sixth-grade basketball team than the average college faculty member knows about their incoming class,...

Full article: Colleges Mine Data to Tailor Students' Experience

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Dec 11 2011 submitted by Susan Copper

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