One of the important themes at EDUCAUSE 2014 was the growing use of analytics in education. Among the seven panels and 26 sessions that dealt with learning analytics, data-driven decision making, and predictive analytics, one in particular, Analytics That Inform: The University Challenge, articulated the different contexts for analytics in education. One speaker projected that although analytics in education are still at an early stage, they will likely develop along the lines of business intelligence, which is now a $15B market. A major analytics-related need brought up in dozens of sessions is for a student dashboard. This is a requirement for both administration and students, although each could use a slightly different version. This dashboard is needed to improve student outcomes as well as help with student retention. Student analytics can be compared to physician diagnostic tools, and can be just as vital.
The other type of analytics on campus relates to networking and can be tied back to student analytics. Presenters from Fontys Hogescholen described how they use network analytics to track activities across the campus and are able to correlate demographic data with behavior and have even effected change.
Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Adaptive Learning
Analytics and assessment data are vital to the success of competency-based education (CBE), also referred to as competency-based learning. The concept behind CBE is to enable students to master skills at their own pace, via multiple pathways and generally making better use of technology. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had a hand in elevating the topic this year with a $20M investment in next generation courseware related to adaptive learning and CBE. Last year a similar grant gave a major boost to Integrated Planning and Advisory Services (IPAS).
CBE can help meet the needs of students regardless of their learning abilities, and can lead to more efficient student outcomes. Early leaders in the field tend to be large community colleges. With CBE, students earn competency units rather than credit hours.
Adaptive learning, closely related to CBE, is an educational method that uses computers and electronic text books as interactive teaching devices. The presentation of educational material is dynamically adapted according to students’ learning needs, as indicated by their responses to questions and tasks as they progress.
A number of young CBE and adaptive learning technology vendors demonstrated their wares during EDUCAUSE 2014, including Flat World Education, eLumen (demo), Regent Education (presentation), Pathbrite, Public Agenda, CCKF, and Acrobatiq. Many of these vendors emphasize a mobile-first approach. Time was also allotted for institutional responses to the vendor presentations and products. The feedback from schools including Salt Lake Community College and the University System of Georgia highlighted the need for integration with existing products, the need for comprehensive dashboards, and ability to include social interaction. The schools in general are watching the data on adaptive learning to see how well it works.
The Many Roles of Digital Badges
Digital badges were heavily discussed at EDUCAUSE 2014, and have an important connection to competency-based education. Digital badges can be validated indicators of specific competencies. Just before the conference Tracy Petrillo, chief learning officer at EDUCAUSE, Veronica Diaz, and Sondra Smith (EDUCAUSE) published the 7 Things You Should Know About Badging For Professional Development (pdf). EDUCAUSE as an organization now has their own Badging Program. They invite members to be part of the discussion by joining the Microcredentials and Badges Constituent Group.
MOOCs have lost some mystic and moved to a different level
One word that was not heard so much at EDUCAUSE was MOOC, that is Massively Open Online Courses. A Gartner poster of the education hype cycle marked MOOC as “obsolete before plateau”. The Campus Survey session noted that on the question of MOOCs being a viable model for delivery, the answer of yes was down 10-15 points from last year.
Clayton Christensen did not mention “MOOC” during his opening keynote, though the best known MOOCs, EDx and Coursera, have often been considered disruptive to higher education. Christensen believes that the most likely disruption to established higher education providers will come from corporate educators like Perdue University (chickens not boilermakers), General Assembly, GE Crotonville, Intel University, and Minerva Schools. MOOCs lack most of the markers for disruptive innovation, including the targeting of non-consumers and a viable business model. On the other hand, the Christensen Institute does believe that competency-based education may be disruptive.
There was one session on MOOC with less than 40 people in a room that could hold 120. The discussion focused mainly on community aspects of MOOCs and extended to the concept of Small Private Online Courses (SPOCs), which can make use of MOOC platforms. All this is not to say that MOOCs will disappear. They do have role to play in their current form for subjects like advanced placement, remedial classes, professional development, and to serve the community.
CIOs Sound-Off: To Be Or Not To Be “Social”
One especially popular session provided a point-counterpoint discussion of the pros and cons of social media for university CIOs. The session itself was highly social with interactive questions and audience participation via twitter hashtag #EDU14socialcio. The feed also captured on Storify: Tweets from the EDUCAUSE 2014 session CIOs Sound Off: To Be or Not To Be “Social”.
On the pro side of the panel were Michael Berman, California State University – Channel Islands and Raechelle Clemmons, St. Norbert College. On the con side were two less-social CIOs, Jack Seuss, University of Maryland, and Melody Childs University of Alabama Hunstville. Both Berman and Clemmons are listed near the top of the Huffington Post most social CIOs.
In the course of the discussion, Berman introduced the concept of Godwin’s law, which basically says group discussions can degenerate if they drag on too long. He also brought up that during the school’s graduation his social posting and tweeting had been misunderstood. Someone complained that he was using his phone rather than paying attention.
On the negative side of social media, it was thought to take too much time and may detract from meeting people face-to-face or working a room. The counter to this is that social meeting interaction can extend that room across the globe.
Here are the crowd-sourced tips for more effective use of social media as collected during the session.
Follow Bob Nilsson on Twitter