Nov 26 2008
|From the issue dated November 7, 2008|
LINKED IN WITH…
Matthew Leavy, who says that data from eCollege course-management software give professors tools to improve their teaching.
Data Mining as a Teaching Tool in Distance Education
It’s been a little over a year since eCollege merged with Pearson, the publishing conglomerate. Mr. Leavy, eCollege’s chief executive, says the move has enabled his company to increase its staff and expand its expertise, particularly in mining data to improve student-instructor interactions. ECollege has also adapted some of Pearson’s programs into its system.
Q: How are services like eCollege affecting higher education?
A: Online education and the services we provide are expanding access to education, particularly among working adults who need the convenience of online courses. What I’ve been struck by is the incredible richness of the student-instructor interaction, which commonly gets overlooked by people who don’t use the service. I think that’s very exciting.
Q: How many colleges and universities use eCollege?
A: We have about 180 institutions currently working with us, including large public universities and small colleges, nonprofit and for-profit.
Q: How has merging with Pearson affected eCollege?
A: It’s had a great impact on eCollege. It’s brought new resources — we’ve been able to increase our staff by nearly 60 percent since the time of acquisition. It also brings a deep understanding and expertise in our educational assessment. We can go to experts in say, mathematics, and really understand what it takes to support students in mathematics. This capability has led to the introduction of programs like MyMathLab, a Pearson service, to eCollege. And there are many other examples of that.
Q: How have analytics and data mining shaped the services offered by eCollege?
A: That’s a very critical piece of our strategy, and we think it is important for supporting online students and faculty. The holy grail of online education is to be able to provide personalized instruction for every student. Every action is captured in the data. We can learn how students learn and what makes them successful. So you might learn, for example, that if one student spends more than 10 hours in the discussion thread, they’re more likely to fail out of the class. That’s data you can use. “Triggers for intervention” is the jargon in the industry, and eCollege provides the tools to identify these triggers.
Q: Have analytics and data mining caused eCollege to develop new products?
A: We keep evolving the tools that we currently have. We just built something around Cognos, an IBM company that focuses on business intelligence.
Q: Have professors been using analytics and data mining to shape their curricula?
A: I certainly hope so. The great promise of working with a lot of data is that you can then evaluate if students using one curriculum or in one teaching environment do better than students do in another curriculum or teaching environment, and you can use that to constantly improve your approach.
Section: Information Technology
Volume 55, Issue 11, Page A15