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Last updated: 11.09.13

US to go for Datapalooza in Education

It is with great interest that I read a Fact Sheet published by the White House discussing the potential to improve learner performance, while simultaneously reducing learner’s costs, that technology can offer in education.

There is a growing view internationally that countries must contain the ever-growing costs of education to students, their families and their exchequer. The context of the White House Fact Sheet is to offer middle class Americans a better financial deal on education and a big part of the answer lies in edtech and Datapalooza!

So what is Datapalooza? In this case, it is “big data” given to edtech vendors to build tools, services and apps to support this student evaluation process. This is a hugely exciting idea, and has the potential to impact upon Higher Education and Further Education very significantly. At Virtual College we have collected data from over a million learners about their learning experience with us, and we use this data to inform our plans, but access to really big data is a whole new opportunity.

The Fact Sheet clearly points out the disparity in the growth of family incomes and the increased cost of education: “The average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent, according to College Board and Census data.

I am delighted to see that the US presidential view is to turn principally, but not exclusively, to technology to bring costs in the US education system under control.

It is not just technology that will provide the solution, but greater competition amongst education providers and an ever growing level of innovation into developing new education models. By using technology to share and compare the data collected from these many providers, we have a basis for our “Education Datapalooza”.

Technology led innovations highlighted include MOOCs, (which we have discussed in prior blogs), flipped classrooms (a design of setting videos and lectures to be watched at home, while ‘homework’ is completed in the classroom, allowing teachers and lecturers to spend more 1:1 time with their students) and Hybrid classrooms (making use of online tools to engage students and track learning in the classroom); all of which are designed to deliver accelerated degree programmes, designed to save time and money, and there is real evidence of these savings:

To quote “The National Center for Academic Transformation has shown the effectiveness of the thoughtful use of technology across a wide range of academic disciplines, improving learning outcomes for students while reducing costs by nearly 40 percent on average.

Over the years, results from our learner surveys certainly support this argument; we know we save our clients significant amounts of time and money. We certainly tailor our development process and customer service offer closely to this data we collect from our learners.

The White House also anticipates “smart learner support”, ”e-advising services” and ”online learning communities”, and proffers a very interesting project to allow students to select the most time effective qualification:

“To help students choose the courses that will allow them to earn a degree as quickly as possible, Austin Peay State University has developed the “Degree Compass” system that draws on the past performance of students in thousands of classes to guide a student through a course, in a similar manner to the way Netflix or Pandora draw on users’ past experience to guide movie or music choices.”

My background in engineering meant I saw first-hand just how important training was, but at the same time how difficult it was to juggle time away from the factory floor to implement it, while making sure orders were shipped on time. This made the cost of time in learning one of our early motivations in setting up Virtual College, allowing learners to use their time effectively, to support employers to train their workforces effectively, and we are now using our proven time saving technology to work with the UK’s colleges to deliver time and cost effective learning.

The ethos of competition amongst the education providers is also very strong in this proposal. The student ratings of colleges and courses will be used to enhance competition and deliver innovation into the US College market and here is how:

“The Department of Education will enlist entrepreneurs and technology leaders with a “Datapalooza” to catalyze new private-sector tools, services, and apps to help students evaluate and select colleges.”

Datapalooza means Colleges and Universities will find their performances no longer just published in newspapers and on websites, but analysed by students, and these students will, quite possibly, choose services from more than one provider at a time to create compendium courses and qualifications.

We will see learners selecting from courses that are timely or most aligned to their learning needs or learning styles or offering the best value for money – but all in real time, and I am sure our developers could come up with a raft of ideas to analyse education provision given access to such data sets.

Datapalooza, until now, has really focused on healthcare, but what is exciting is the move to education. In the UK the debate in open data for education is just beginning as we can see from the Universities UK Blog.

I welcomed the UK Governments recently published Industrial Strategy for Education, highlighting the role the Education sector plays in UK PLC. I was pleased in particular to read of the importance of educational technology and Big Data in the sector. However, the USA, perhaps our biggest competitor in the global education market has just taken another step forward with Datapalooza for education.

By Rod Knox,
Virtual College CEO.