Student data analytics: Big Brother or campus go-to?

By Reis Thebault, The Columbus Dispatch
August 3rd, 2015

Using analytics can help find solutions to student data challenges; but some say data may go too far.

data-analyticsAs college life becomes increasingly digital, universities are finding more ways to keep tabs on their students online and on campus.

Student ID cards can track students around campus. Computers can analyze students’ academic data and predict their future performance. For some, this starts to feel like “Big Brother” is watching, a college that would be at home in George Orwell’s 1984.

But analytics companies and administrators both say they’re using the data to help students succeed.

“This is the ethical thing to do,” said Bridget Burns. “Students are investing thousands of dollars for an outcome they won’t be able to see if we aren’t giving them the tools.” Burns is the executive director of the University Innovation Alliance, an organization that advises schools on how to use predictive analytics.

Analytics relies on past student data, such as grades, credit hours and class difficulty, to predict how future students may fare. And so, when advisers look at the data, they aren’t spying, they’re helping, Burns said.

“This is not Big Brother in a bad way,” she said. “Advising is a craft. A lot of times academic advisers are not given the information they need to successfully help students.”

In some cases, that information is more than just academic data; it can be information about students’ social lives.

(Next page: How analytics uses past student data to predict how future students may fare)

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