Voting is Open for #SXSWedu 2016!

Experts from the University Innovation Alliance‘s eleven member universities are among the educational rock stars featured on panels proposed for next year’s SXSWedu. Of the panels proposed for the 2016 event, five are noteworthy as highlighting the innovative work that the UIA’s member institutions have been engaged in over the past year.

1. How Universities are Crowdsourcing Innovation

How do you get eleven major public research universities, known for fiercely competing against one another in sport and in national rankings, to work together? How do you create a space where these institutions are encouraged to share in successes and failures in the name of testing and deploying proven ideas at scale? Arizona State University President Michael Crow, University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, and University of Texas at Austin President Gregory Fenves are listed on a panel alongside Paul Fain from Inside Higher Ed to explain the benefits of cooperation and to share the results that they have seen since joining together in pursuit of a common vision for Higher Education in America.

2. Putting Big Data into Action

For years now, ‘big data’ has been touted as a game changer in higher education. For years, prognosticators have been talking about the wide-spread adoption of learning and academic analytics as something that was just over the horizon. The future is now.

Georgia State University’s GPS advising system generates over 800 different kind of alerts which, in support of an intensive approach to student advising, has quickly seen a dramatic increase in student success including the total elimination of all achievement gaps on the basis of race, ethnicity, and income-level. GSU’s Vice Provost and Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Success is slated to participate on a panel with Candace Thille from Stanford University’s Open Learning Initiative, Mark Milliron from Civitas Learning, and Greg Ratcliff from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Each of these panelists is widely acknowledged as a thought leader in the effective use of educational data, and is in high demand as an engaging and motivational speaker in their own right. The opportunity to see all four of them on a single stage is not one to be passed by.

3. Show Me the Money: Driving Fiscal Sustainability

The near-closure of Sweet Briar College this year in the face of economic challenges has served as a wake up call. With nearly one in five business officers saying that their institutions are likely to shut down in the coming decades, the financial health of universities is something that none of us can ignore. Maria Anguiano, University of California, Riverside’s Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget, is among the speakers identified on a diverse panel proposal that will address controversial issues like activity-based costing, and discuss new models for thinking through financial decision-making in higher education.

4. Time to Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

Collaboration is hard to do. Executive Director the the University Innovation Alliance, Bridget Burns, is the new kid on the block in a conversation about the challenges facing any new collaboration. What are some effective strategies for developing effective national and regional collaboratives? How can higher education and the educational technology sector work together to magnify impact? Going it alone has gotten universities as far as it can. Competition is passe. The time for collaboration is now.

5. From Analytics to Action

Educators now have unparalleled access to student data, which promises to radically improve their success in the classroom. But access to data is not access to information. What kinds of data are available? What tools and techniques are there for processing those data? What kinds of problems can we use data to address? What are the best strategies for intervention? without good answers to these questions, our educational data is useless, or even dangerous.

Phillip Long is the Associate Vice Provost for Learning Sciences and Deputy Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas at Austin. A pioneer in the emerging field of learning analytics, Phil is on a panel alongside entrepreneurs and instructional designers to discuss some specific ways that instructors are leveraging educational data to gain a richer understanding of their students. By carefully reading students’ digital traces, teachers are being empowered to improve student outcomes while rethinking what student success looks like in the twenty-first century.

The aim of SXSWedu is to create a platform to promote creativity and social change. Please take a moment to create an account on the panel picker website ( and cast your vote in support of these proposals, as well as others that you feel will improve the quality of experience for participants, and that are most likely to make a significant and enduring impact.

Georgia State University Vice Provost Testifies at Senate Hearing on Higher Education

Photo Credit: U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
Photo Credit: U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions
On August 5, 2015, Dr. Timothy M. Renick, Georgia State University Vice Provost and Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Success, was invited to give testimony before the U.S. Senate, as part of a series of hearings meant to inform decisions about the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

During his oral testimony, Dr. Renick described how, under the leadership of President Mark Becker, Georgia State University had made a commitment to developing a model that would see students from all backgrounds succeed at high rates. Through programs like Panther Retention Grants — an initiative that distributes one-time micro grants to students who are on track for graduation, but who have small amounts of unmet need that present obstacles to progression — and GPS Advising — a system that uses predictive analytics to identify students at risk and that provides advisors with the intelligence necessary to get those students back on track — Georgia State University has seen a 22 point increase in graduation rates over the last ten years, and a complete elimination of all achievement gaps on the basis on race, ethnicity, and economics.

Continue reading

This Week in Learning Analytics (January 3 – 9, 2015)

I took this picture of the contents of a garbage can that I sat next to at UC Davis last week. A mass grave for marshmallow snowmen.
I took this picture of the contents of a garbage can that I sat next to at UC Davis last week. A mass grave for marshmallow snowmen.


Student Success

New Study Reveals that PhD Holders are not Absorbed into Employment as Easily as Previously Thought
Holly Elisa | Times Higher Education | 3 January 2015

A recent paper published by Heidi Skovgaard Pederson in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management looks to the European Commission’s Careers of Doctorate Holders surveys on PhD labour market outcomes and observes that “Several policies have been implemented to promote the production of PhDs and support their labour market outcomes. However, the latter has received relatively little attention empirically”. She concludes the paper by commenting that “There is a need to increase knowledge within the area to understand mobilisation patterns, to ensure continued attractiveness of doctoral education in the longer run and provide a research strategy to assist policymakers in their decision-making.”

Three Eastern Kansas Universities Seek to Identify Struggling Students More Quickly and HelpThem to Graduate
Associated Press | The Republic | 5 January 2015

The University of Kansas, Ottawa University, and Haskell Indian Nations University are each using systems to mine student data to increase student success, as part of a national push to improve retention and graduation rates. The University of Kansas in particular makes use of a Starfish330 integration with Blackboard Learn to flag at-risk students and facilitate interventions.


The University of Kansas is also one of 11 universities in the University Innovation Alliance, which aims to share knowledge about predictive analytics and intensive advising strategies to improve educational outcomes for all students, regardless of background.

AVID Students Stick with College and Outpace Peers
Maureen Magee | U-T San Diego | 6 January 2015

The National Student Clearninghouse has found that high school graduates from 2010 and 2011 who participated in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) persisted through their freshman and sophomore years of college at a higher rate than their counterparts who were not in the program. the AVID program promotes academic success in middle and high school cultivates success through intensive tutoring and by fostering independent study and organizational skills. Now in its 35th year, AVID began in San-Diego, and is currently used by more than 5,000 schools in 44 states and 16 countries.


Auditors Find that the Georgia Department of Education Needs Better Analysis of Student Data
Walter C. Jones | Athens Banner-Herald | 4 January 2015

A report by the Department of Audits and Accounts observes that the Georgia Department of Education lacks a comprehensive assessment of data collected. Such a comprehensive, systematic analysis would allow the department “to identify significant trends or anomalies that could indicate weaknesses in local school systems’ data collection and reporting processes, particularly as it relates to the Full-Time Equivalent data collection.” The Department of Education apparently does a fine job of ensuring the cleanliness of its data, but does little in the way of analysis that would contribute to actionable insights.

Irish Minister of Education considers retaining student data until students turn 30 | 7 January 2015

Irish Minister of Education, Jan O’Sullivan, has said that she would consider a plan to adopt a Primary Online Database (POD) that would function as a central repository for student information, with a data retention policy that wold allow data to be retained until students reach the age of 30. Critics are concerned about government overreach.


Smart Classroom Market Growth Driven by Learning Analytics and its Globally Increasing Adoption
PR Newswire | 5 January 2015 has added an 83 page research report on education and smart classroom industry to the IT & Telecommunication intelligence section of its online business research and data library. “Global Smart Classroom Market 2015-2019” discusses the impact of learning analytics on online teaching practices and its usefulness in gaining insights into how students understand smart courseware courseware. The report observes that market drivers like increased broadband adoption, increased interest in flexible learning models, and increased investment in smart education systems are likely to see increased investment in learning analytics over the next 3-4 years.

InfoSnap Signs Student Privacy Pledge
InfoSnap | 6 January 2015

InfoSnap, a leading provider of cloud-based registration management solutions, has signed the K-12 School Service Provider Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy sponsored by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and The Future of Privacy Forum. In signing the pledge, InfoSnap joins the likes of Knewton, Microsoft, Renaissance Learning, Shutterfly, and others in their commitment:

  • Not sell student information
  • Not behaviorally target advertising
  • Use data for authorized education purposes only
  • Not change privacy policies without notice and choice
  • Enforce strict limits on data retention
  • Support parental access to, and correction of errors in, their children’s information
  • Provide comprehensive security standards, and
  • Be transparent about collection and use of data

Language-Learning App Duolingo Introduces Program for Classrooms
Kif Leswing | GIGAOM | 8 January 2015

The language learning softwre company, Duolingo, has just launched Duolingo for Schools. The program, which is already used by many teachers, will give teachers more centralized control over the program, as well as data on how students are doing and where remediation might be required


University Of Phoenix Finds Payoff In Private Cloud
Charles Babcock | GIGAOM | 9 January 2015

The Apollo Education Group (parent organization of the University of Phoenix) has modernized its IT infrastructire to better support the collection and analysis of student data. After exploring public cloud options like Amazon’s EC2 cloud, Apollo found that, economically, a private cloud solution (based on VMware’s vCloud Suite and Vblocks from the VMware-Cisco-EMC consortium, VCE) was the best approach.


Tools for Evidence-Based Action (TEA) Workshop
Timothy D. Harfield | | 6-7 January 2015

Hosted by the UC Davis iAMSTEM Hub and generously funded by the Helmsley Trust, Tools for Evidence-Based Action (TEA) aims to disseminate new tools and methodologies for classroom observations and visualizing student pathways. Its inaugural workshop brought together delegates from all over the United States for two days of intense sharing and discussion of data visualization tools. I had the geat pleasure of being invited to the event, which I documented in the blog posts below:


MUST READ When Small Words Foretell Academic Success: The Case of College Admissions Essays
James W. Pennebaker, Cindy K. Chung, Joey Frazee, Gary M. Lavergne, David I. Beaver | PLoS ONE | 9(12)

The smallest and most commonly used words in English are pronouns, articles, and other function words. Almost invisible to the reader or writer, function words can reveal ways people think and approach topics. A computerized text analysis of over 50,000 college admissions essays from more than 25,000 entering students found a coherent dimension of language use based on eight standard function word categories. The dimension, which reflected the degree students used categorical versus dynamic language, was analyzed to track college grades over students’ four years of college. Higher grades were associated with greater article and preposition use, indicating categorical language (i.e., references to complexly organized objects and concepts). Lower grades were associated with greater use of auxiliary verbs, pronouns, adverbs, conjunctions, and negations, indicating more dynamic language (i.e., personal narratives). The links between the categorical-dynamic index (CDI) and academic performance hint at the cognitive styles rewarded by higher education institutions.

NOTE: A summary of this research was recently published by Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed here: New Study Links Certain Application Essays and College Success



Student Needs Should Trump Interests of Adults
Wes Smith | U-T San Diego | 2 January 2015

Smith (Executive Director of the Association of California School Administrators) observes that defining and measuring educational quality is complex, but that this complexity is no excuse to stall efforts to advocate for high-quality education and equitable access to effective educators. He observes that data collected about student performance and teacher effectiveness are rarely tied to student learning. In response, the Association of California School Administrators is working on an educator effectiveness bill which emphasizes learning over performance, and sees responsibility of high-quality education extend beyond the teacher.

A Big Data-Powered ‘GPS’ Helps Colleges Boost Graduation Rates: Predictive Analytics Help Schools Identify and Aid Struggling Students
D. Frank Smith | EdTech Magazine | 7 January 2015

A very nice summary of the successful work being done at Georgia State University, under the direction of Timothy Renick, to develop a predictive analytics system that functions in support of an intensive advising program. Georgia State praised by President Obama at a recent White House summit on strategies to increase higher education graduation rates.

MUST READ Learners, Teachers, and Technology: Personalization in 2015 and Beyond
Kristen DiCerbo | Wired Magazine | 7 January 2015

DiCerbo helpfully addresses a common source of equivocation by clearly distinguishes three ways in which the term ‘Personalized Learning.’ In her view, the use of analytics for the sake of personalization can put one of three agents in the position of decision-maker: (1) The Student, (2) Technology, and/or (3) The Teacher. She insists that personalization needs to involve a sophisticated blending of learner, teacher and technology, Decisions about WHEN to privilege a particular perspective over others are difficult but important. Reflection on these roles, responsibilities, and the conditions under which they are adopted are crucial to the use of personalization to improve student outcomes, and will richly inform the future of technology in the space.


Education Predictions for 2015
NPR Ed Team | National Public Radio (NPR) | 3 January 2015

Elana Zeide (Privacy Research Fellow, Information Law Institute, New York University) predicts that, in response to increasing public concern over student data becoming permanent records, 2015 will see increased regulation by government as well as public commitments to student data privacy on the part of private industry. Jose Vilson (author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education) expects to see more nuanced kind of data in schools. In particular, he expects to see a return to anecdotal evidence, and increased concern for issues of diversity in teacher evaluation.

What Schools Could Use Instead of Standardized Tests
Anya Kamenetz | National Public Radio (NPR) | 6 January 2015

Kamenetz observes that, in spite of strong criticism of standardized testing, there is nonetheless little in the way of discussion of what might replace it. She suggests four (non-mutually exclusive) possibilities

  1. Sampling
  2. Stealth Assessment
  3. Multiple Measures
    • Social and Emotional Skills Surveys
    • Game-Based Assessments
    • Performance or Portfolio-Based Assessments
  4. Inspections