Let's go Peay

I've commented earlier on Austin Peay State University's slick academic planning software.  They are pushing the envelope in many ways, and APSU is highlighted in Marc Parry's recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Think of it," Parry explains, "as higher eduction meets Moneyball."  Speaking of Austin Peay, we recently discovered that they had copied our Winter Session pretty much lock, stock, and barrel.  Stealing good ideas is SOP in continuing higher education, and naturally I've been as guilty of this activity as anyone.  But I would at least change the wording on my website...

Colleges Mine Data to Tailor Students' Experience
Think of the problem in terms of a supermarket cereal aisle, says Tristan Denley, provost of Austin Peay State University, in Clarksville, Tenn. You find every choice known to man. But unless you've opened the box, you have very little information to judge what's inside. How do you pick one?

Part of the answer, he says, is technology that can look at people like you who have made such decisions in the past, and see whether those decisions worked out. In April, Austin Peay debuted software that recommends courses based on a student's major, academic record, and how similar students fared in that class.

Some professors fretted about students misinterpreting the Netflix-like tips as commands, but the Gates Foundation quickly ponied up $1-million to refine the software so other colleges can adopt it.

Now Austin Peay plans to expand on its work with a new tool that offers tips for making a more important decision: picking a major.

The feature, to be rolled out this spring, focuses on two problems: students who don't know which major to pick, and students who thought they knew, but ended up with a bad fit. A human adviser might be at a loss to suggest an alternate path, Mr. Denley says. But data could offer concrete possibilities.

For example, students often start climbing the ladder to become a nurse or a doctor, perhaps because they have relatives in those professions. Yet early on it's clear their grades won't carry them up to those goals. The data robot might suggest another health field. It might also suggest something totally different, like graphic design, because a student displays a pattern of grades similar to others who flourished in that direction, Mr. Denley says.


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