Published on 2012/07/20

Data-Enhanced Higher Education

As the cries for increased accountability in higher education get louder and louder, technology and data mining are emerging as an answer.

There are benefits for both students and educators in technology-enhanced learning situations. As Carol Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation, told Marc Parry of the Chronicle of Higher Education, it provides information and knowledge that institutions simply do not have access to otherwise.

“The typical class, the professor rattles on in front of the class,” she said. “They give a midterm exam. Half the kids fail. Half the kids drop out. And they have no idea what’s going on with their students.”

On top of providing educators live information about their students’ performance and engagement, it provides students with a better sense of how to move through their educational process to earn a degree. This is a major issue for institutions when the average four-year graduation rate at public universities is only 31 percent, and 56 percent over six years.

There are warnings to let students know they are “Off-track” on their graduation path, compelling those students to seek out academic advising. Additionally, programs can provide greater structure to an institution’s degree programs; forcing students of particular majors to take classes that will contribute to their degree completion and giving students a sense of whether they are in the right degree program earlier.

After switching to an online academic advising tracker, Arizona State University’s retention rate rose to 84 percent from 77 percent in recent years, a change that the provost credits largely to the system change.

The switch to a more data-driven system also enables the possibility of suggesting courses and programs which may appeal to students, based in their performance in other classes.

“We’re steering students toward the classes where they are predicted to make better grades,” Tristan Denley, provost at Austin Peay State University, told Parray. “When students do indeed take the courses that are recommended to them, they actually do substantially better.”

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