Ed-tech group to push for more analytics use in colleges

Analytics technology can help professors spot struggling students.

Analytics programs that use complex data sets to identify struggling students, the best ways to use campus budgets, and improve faculty and staff efficiency are coming to U.S. colleges and universities, courtesy of the educational technology group EDUCAUSE.

EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit organization that will begin its annual conference Oct. 18 in Philadelphia, announced a three-pronged ed-tech initiative aiming to bolster the use of analytics technology in higher education.

The initiative will include a “major benchmarking study of the state of analytics in higher education” that could provide a baseline that shows just how many campuses are using analytics to improve decision making and student analyses.

EDUCAUSE’s analytics program will end with a national summit for college and university leaders in fall 2012, according to the group’s announcement.

“Sophisticated uses of data and benchmarking have revolutionized business and industry,” said Diana Oblinger, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE. “These same techniques can deepen our understanding of learner success, improve our ability to track progress, and help us make the best decisions about campus resources.”

Campus technologists at the forefront of analytics use have discovered the benefits of computer-based models that show precisely how to save money and improve student grades, but Oblinger said analytics is far from mainstream use in higher education.

“Analytics holds transformative promise for education, but the field is still in the developmental stages,” she said.

A group of business schools announced last spring that their IT officials would provide free analytics software, SAS OnDemand for Academics (SODA), for college students to access outside the classroom.

The cloud computing-based service is used by more than 5,000 professors at 240 colleges and universities worldwide, according to SAS, which has been available for professors to use in class since 2008.

Bret Myers, a business professor at Villanova University, said providing free SODA accounts to students will give them nearly unlimited access to analytics software that they need to be familiar with to land sought-after jobs after graduation.

Many colleges and universities use analytics software with limited licenses, meaning a limited number of students can use the technology at one time. And even when students get their turn with the software, their time is capped to make time for their peers to use the program.

A classroom analytics program used at a large state university helps professors and instructors identify which students are likely to fail their class by analyzing classroom participation—including contributions to the class’s online discussion board—as well as quiz grades and the number of times a student views course notes online, according to a report published by EDUCAUSE.

Using the various student data, a professor can see how a student is performing in class by viewing an indicator placed by the student’s name.

A green light shows the student is doing well in class, a yellow light indicates “possible risk” of slipping below a C, and a red light shows “elevated risk” that a student could fail the course after failing to participate in in-person and online class discussions and scoring poorly on quizzes.

Analytics programs can show a professor which students are participating in course discussions the most, and correlate that data to class grades. The professor, while providing targeted help for students in danger of failing the class, can use the analytics data to congratulate her top students, the EDUCAUSE report said.

Using analytics in the classroom and in campus departments is ideal in higher education’s data-rich environment, according to the report.

“Most colleges and universities collect and store vast amounts of data—in the LMS, admissions files, student and library records, and other systems,” the report said. “ Analytics applications can mine at least some of this data, subject it to statistical analysis, and prepare reports or data visualizations to reveal patterns, trends, and exceptions.”

Job market data has driven colleges and universities to focus on analytics curriculum.

Demand for professionals with management analysis skills will increase 24 percent by 2019, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There also will be a 22-percent increase in demand for operation research analysts and a 13-percent jump in demand for statisticians.

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