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Weekly Trend: Learning Analytics a Hot Topic at SXSWedu

Some of the biggest trends in education were covered at this year’s SXSWedu conference, but perhaps none bigger, or more controversial, than the influx of big data and corresponding analytics into the classroom.

Big data technology collects and analyzes large amounts of information about students and their learning habits online to create personalized learning experiences. Gaining more and more traction in both K-12 and higher education settings, educators are increasingly gravitating towards this personalized style of learning for their students.

“At the SXSWedu conference, administrators shared how expanded access to data was helping them improve career planning for high school students, deepen learning experiences on college campuses, and retain students who might otherwise fall off track,” Education Week reported.

Several ed tech companies have begun to tap into the learning analytics market, including Civitas Learning, which is “partnering with universities, colleges and community colleges to help teachers, counselors and administrators better predict success, target students who need help and aid students who want to track and map progress and their path toward graduation.”

Course Signals, which is being used at Purdue University, is another software program that combines data from a student’s learning habits with information about their background, including things like high school GPA. With that information, the program generates a green, yellow, or red light to indicate whether things are going well, if there is reason for concern, or if the student is at high risk of failing.

“These colors are linked to advice about action that students can take to get back on track,” the Guardian reported. “The tool encourages both reflection and active responsibility for your own learning.”

According to NPR, Course Signals is currently being used by 24,000 students at various schools.

“It has been shown to increase the number of students earning A’s and B’s and lower the number of D’s and F’s, and it significantly raises the chances that students will stick with college for an additional year, from 83 percent to 97 percent,” the article found.

While these startups have found success, leaders at SXSWedu acknowledged that there are still concerns over big data analytics.

“This is a huge opportunity for science, but it also brings very large ethical puzzles,” Dr. Mitchell Stevens, director of digital research and planning at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, said. “We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of the human sciences, in which massive streams of information about human activity are produced continuously through online interaction.”

Concerns over privacy, as well as a “cultural resistance to change on campuses” are two of the greatest obstacles for big data.

“Scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only begun to emerge,” a NMC Horizon Report said. “Learning analytics…is still evolving and gaining traction within higher education.”

Katie Thompson

Katie is the editor of Shared Justice, an online journal for millennials published by the Center for Public Justice. A proud native of New Jersey, she now resides in Washington,…