College Degrees, Designed by the Numbers

Marc Parry, Tidsskriftet for Universiteternes Efter- og Videreuddannelse, Jul 20, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

You will want to read this article beginning to end, because there's a lot of good information in there, but you'll have to get past the Chronicle's typical anti-technology bias. The article looks specifically at the way Artizona State uses data analysis to help students monitor progress and sign up for new courses. The data - CETIS calls it paradata and I've referred to it in the past as 2nd party metadata - accumulates the information a student leaves in his or her wake navigating through online learning - tests taken, grades received, late night sessions working on problems, the works. The Chronicle is worried that this focus on learning will interfere with the real purpose of a university education: socializing. "Campuses are places of intuition and serendipity," writes the author. "A professor senses confusion on a student's face and repeats his point; a student majors in psychology after a roommate takes a course; two freshmen meet on the quad and eventually become husband and wife." At a certain point, though, the public loses its interest in paying for rich kids to experiment and get hitched.

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