By Dr. Tristan Denley | Published: Thursday, November 28, 2013
Choice is hard. Although we enjoy the concept of having lots of choice, and in fact feel that having choice frees us, when it actually comes to making that choice we quickly become overwhelmed. The influence of this phenomenon is more and more evident in Higher Education today.
For students who are new to higher education, the task of navigating their way through a degree program is a daunting maze of choices. Confronted with an almost paralyzing array of course options, any of which could satisfy their degree requirements, they often struggle to find the way that leads to their success. In what order should the courses be taken? What will the course entail? Is it a course in which I can succeed? These challenges are especially felt by first generation and low-income students. Such students often do not have the luxury of having others in their life with the experience that can help guide them through these crucial college decisions.
To address this challenge, while I was at Austin Peay I developed Degree Compass™, a course recommendation system. Inspired by recommendation systems implemented by companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and Pandora, Degree Compass matches current students with the courses that best fit their talents and program of study for upcoming semesters. While there have been various attempts to create clear degree pathways for students by restricting or determining their choices, this work attempted to create a choice architecture that would empower and individualize students' choices.
The system uses predictive analytics and data mining techniques to combine hundreds of thousands of past students' grades with each particular current student's academic transcript grades to make individualized recommendations. The courses that are the best curricular fit and in which the student is predicted to perfprm the best academically are then presented in an easy to use interface. The interface organizes the courses according to a star rating that indicates how strongly each course is recommended. The intent of this system was to help students and their advisors make more informed choices about their coursework, and to help pair students with courses in which they would be more likely to find academic success.
The burning question then is - "Does it make a difference?"
Thankfully, the answer is a clear "Yes". Analysis of the data from the pioneer institutions shows that more than 90% of students who took a 4-star or better class received an A or B, compared with 62% of A and B grades awarded in general. Furthermore, over a two-year period, Degree Compass helped substantially greater proportions of students receive passing grades. This was especially true across the populations we hoped would be benefit the most from better advice - African-American students (2.1% ^) and Pell Grant recipients (3.9% ^).
Encouraged by this success, I looked deeper into the predictive tool and its course recommendation algorithm to discover other connections that could impact student retention, persistence, and degree completion challenges. I began to ponder the correlation between the highly-recommended courses determined by the Degree Compass algorithm and a student's earned credit hours. Once again, the data from the thousands of students at our pioneer schools confirmed that the average earned credit hours for a student was very highly correlated with the selection of Degree Compass-recommended courses!
In fact, the greater the number of Degree Compass-recommended courses the student selected as part of their schedule, the higher the average earned credit hours were realized by the student. The most exciting observation was when this data was disaggregated by race and Pell Grant eligibility. There is a national achievement gap in these figures typically, but amongst students whose schedules were entirely recommended by Degree Compass, these gaps were almost entirely removed.
The power of predictive analytics, data mining, and behavioral economics are hot topics throughout society today—no less so in Higher Education. Here at least is one application of these techniques that shows how significantly their use can be a force for student success and learning.
Posted in: Academic Analytics
By John Baker | Published: Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Student retention, persistence, and degree completion are some of the most complex challenges facing higher education institutions today. Solutions to address some of these problems have not existed in education — until now.
I've written many times in this blog about the gaps in the basic one-size-fits-all functionality of the traditional LMS. Technology lacks innovation if it lacks the substance to improve the learning experience. I believe the real definition of innovation lies in the ability of technology to transform teaching and learning and directly impact student success. This is where our vision for the Integrated Learning Platform comes in and, in particular, the need for the technology to provide a perceptive learning experience — capable of helping predict and guide a student to the best possible outcome.
This year, our organization has focused a lot of our energies on creating the applications and services to offer real innovation to our clients. One such development has received a lot of positive attention - check out this recent article in the Economist:
|Minding the gap: Education technology helps minorities do better at university|
President Obama has even made mention of Desire2Learn and Degree Compass in a recent White House release and we were also mentioned in a US Senate hearing on Innovations to Improve Student Success.
All this attention reinforces some important findings: what educators need today are solutions for student success, particularly for student populations with historically lower attainment results such as minorities, first generation students, adult learners, and financial aid recipients. This is the kind of innovation that we want to build on to ensure that we can have a real and positive impact on student lives.
One of the things that we say when we talk about the Integrated Learning Platform and its important components — such as Degree Compass — is that learning needs to be inclusive. A core principle of breaking down some of these long standing barriers to learning, and an important guiding principle, is to help all learners achieve their full potential. I'm proud to see that innovations such as these are getting such strong and positive feedback. And prouder still, at the amazing results they are driving for the institutions and students who are using them!
By Craig Dunk | Published: Wednesday, November 06, 2013
I'm a sucker for two-part titles. But that's only part of the explanation behind "Edge Challenge: Build Something That Matters."
The Desire2Learn Edge Challenge began as a software development contest focused on creating applications to shape the future of education and learning. I've had the opportunity to help with the Edge Challenge since its inception. This will be the event's second year, and it’s expanded from being primarily a contest to add specific learning activities built around entrepreneurship.
The core idea in the Edge Challenge tagline – Build Something That Matters - reminds me why it is such an important event and why I'm personally pleased to be involved. The phrase focuses on the creative and constructive concept of "building." Many of us who began as developers in the technology sector were drawn in by a fascination with the idea of creating interesting technology and products. From an entrepreneurial perspective, the idea translates in a more general way: not strictly working with products or technology, but building the organizations and initiatives for the future.
"Building" is a particularly appropriate term for entrepreneurs and technology developers because it represents a process that’s very active and hands-on. Now, there is certainly tremendous value in the time we spend speculating, thinking, considering, planning, hypothesizing, and discussing. Ultimately, however, the accomplishments of technology and entrepreneurship are characterized by doing.
Often times, building – the process itself – is both more challenging and rewarding than coming up with the very idea that triggered it. How does that famous Thomas Edison quote go? "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."
What makes Edge Challenge more than a great development contest or an entrepreneurship boot camp is its focus on learning and education. It’s hard to overstate these concepts' importance to both individuals and our broader society. My involvement with Desire2Learn is based in no small part on the opportunity to contribute in this space, and I'm thrilled that the Edge Challenge extends that opportunity to others – enabling today's students to really make a difference.
If you're a student who wants to "Build Something that Matters," check out the 2013 Desire2Learn Edge Challenge. If you would like your Edge Challenge submission to connect to your Desire2Learn Learning Environment implementation, check out our Valence Development Community. If you're an instructor who wants to expand the opportunities to develop an authentic learning experience for your independent study or project course, you can email the Desire2Learn Edge Challenge team for information about the Edge Challenge 2013 Education Series.
By John Baker | Published: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
This week, the Desire2Learn team will make its annual trip to EDUCAUSE. I'll be joining our staff later today, after spending time at another great event – the World Social Science Forum in Montreal.
EDUCAUSE is one of the key events we attend every year. For us, it's an opportunity to engage with our client community, meet with partners, exchange ideas with prospects, and learn about the new and emerging trends and challenges on the minds of everyone gathered at the conference. This week, everyone is buzzing about MOOCs, connected learning, the cloud, and some of Sir Ken Robinson's insights as he discusses the need to encourage creativity in learning. These are broad issues and trends – some of them about harnessing technology to help address challenges, and some of them about core issues in teaching and learning.
These are topics that I get to hear a lot about and discussions that I am pleased to be given an opportunity to participate in. Only a few weeks ago, here in Waterloo, Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo hosted an event that I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in called the Equinox Summit: Learning 2030. The venue, speakers, and attendees were very different than what I expect to see at EDUCAUSE this week – but many of the underlying themes were similar.
The education environment continues to experience complex and dramatic changes. There are many predictions about what this might mean today, tomorrow, and even in 2030. No matter where I travel or who I am having conversations with, it seems like everyone’s talking about how we can work to reshape learning and education for the future.
For my part, I believe strongly in the idea that technology can help achieve these goals. Delivery models are shifting from a traditional, face-to-face approach to virtual, blended experiences. Learning is becoming pervasive and students are shifting from consumers to producers. Content can no longer be confined to a rigid, inflexible textbook but needs to move into digital and adaptive.
Learning is becoming insights-driven, engaging and personal. It's accessible. And it offers learners a variety of pathways – all of which lead to a greater achievement of one's own unique potential. All these ideas culminate in our vision of the Integrated Learning Platform and our belief that it helps to address the real challenges facing education.
I believe that it is the sharing of ideas with educators, governments, and IT leaders around the world that really starts the work that lies ahead in making this transformation. No teacher can figure this out alone in a classroom. No IT leader can select the right technology without the dialogue to understand what needs to be re-imagined. And no entrepreneur can develop a vision for the technology to support these needs without this discussion. It's about building a powerful learning network so that we can work together to understand all the pieces of this complex and shifting environment.
I’m happy to be able to play a part in the conversation this week at EDUCAUSE. I hope you'll join in as well.
By John Baker | Published: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
One of the things that I think sets Desire2Learn apart is our focus on putting learners, instructors, and our overall client community first. It's a value that comes through in a number of different of ways, from our approach to prioritizing the hundreds of enhancements in the latest release of our product to our commitment to service and execution.
I'm really thrilled with the teamwork that has culminated in our latest product release today. This release directly reflects the feedback from our user community.
We continuously travel the world to gather feedback from our clients through Ignite regional user groups, our annual global user conference, our digital community, advisory groups, and idea exchanges. There is no question that we have a committed, thriving community of individuals who help us ensure that we're addressing gaps and delivering innovation in everything we do. I feel the best way we can say thank you is continually releasing amazing technology that responds to this feedback, excites learners, and continues to keep our clients far ahead of their competition.
It's this feedback that has pushed our focus away from fragmented solutions to a vision for an Integrated Learning Platform that can deliver one platform to engage, connect, and inspire. In other systems, learners and instructors have to log in to many different fragmented systems, causing frustration and confusion as you jump from one learning experience to the next. Desire2Learn offers a next generation solution that reflects the shared vision between ourselves and our forward-thinking clients.[Read today's press release for a full review of all the new updates in the current version].
On the service and execution side of things, we've made some huge improvements over the last year. Due to rapid growth, we've experienced some setbacks, but we've emerged with an even stronger commitment to our clients by keeping our promises.
Keeping our promises today, means delivering a high quality release on the date we set out for this product release when we presented this to everyone at Fusion earlier this year. It also meant delivering a Semester Start Up Program this Fall that provided >99.9% uptime.
While other vendors are still struggling with significant outages during peak periods, we've been able to implement a toolkit that helps ensure clients have the key resources and best practices needed to be successful even with things that can feel outside of our direct control. This program was a big investment in time and resources for our teams to make sure we kept this promise to our clients. With a focus on learners and instructors first, we knew that delivering an uninterrupted semester start and ongoing SLA was one of our biggest priorities this year – and it will continue going forward.
As I look back at all we've accomplished in the last few months, I'm excited by the building momentum as we execute on this vision of an Integrated Learning Platform. I can't wait to share more of this vision with all of you over the next few months. I'm looking forward to seeing many of you at EDUCAUSE next week, and many more at a Desire2Learn Ignite regional user event in area near you.
In the meantime, keep sharing your ideas and pushing us as we build this vision together.