Food for Thought - Entering the Era of Big Data

Higher education has been slow to take advantage of the promises of big data compared to other sectors. However, recent work funded by the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation is starting to shed light on the realm of possibilities for applying data mining and analytical techniques to teaching and learning.  How does your institution leverage data to understand what works and doesn't work with students?

Big Data's Arrival
Source: Inside Higher Ed
Date: 2/1/12

New students are more likely to drop out of online colleges if they take full courseloads than if they enroll part time, according to findings from a research project that is challenging conventional wisdom about student success. But perhaps more important than that potentially game-changing nugget, researchers said, is how the project has chipped away at skepticism in higher education about the power of “big data.” Researchers have created a database that measures 33 variables for the online coursework of 640,000 students – a whopping 3 million course-level records. While the work is far from complete, the variables help track student performance and retention across a broad range of demographic factors. The data can show what works at a specific type of institution, and what doesn’t. That sort of predictive analytics has long been embraced by corporations, but not so much by the academy. The ongoing data-mining effort, which was kicked off last year with a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is being led by WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

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