Board learns how big data can reap big dividends in higher ed

Specialist discusses ways of getting personal with students through technology

Imagine a world where prospective students could automatically see classes and programs in their areas of interest simply by calling up the school’s website, where attendance is taken by recording the time the student came into – and then left – the classroom via smartphone tracking, or where an algorithm takes massive amounts of faculty reviews and determines gaps that hinder retention.

During its April 5-6 meeting at the University of  Colorado Colorado Springs, the Board of Regents heard from Bijal Shah, senior vice president of analytics and data products at Ibotta. Shah discussed how big data can benefit learners and higher education in general. In its inaugural Emerging Issues session, the regents saw how text mining and artificial intelligence can be administered to recruit and retain students, and how using technology can help them have a more personal interaction with learners.

In the not-too-distant future, a dynamic website could automatically show a prospective student what the university has to offer for their specific area of study – similar to how the Amazon website functions, Shah said. Through data mining, the university could develop profiles of people who could be successful but aren’t coming to college by looking at the individual’s motivations. It could also create a profile of successful students and match them to all household data sets.

And although tracking students’ actions such as attendance through geodata is admittedly impersonal, understanding their behavior can enable more personal and strategic interactions, she said. For instance, tracking could find that a student had missed four consecutive classes – the student could then be provided support to get them back on track.

Interactions could be automated to walk individuals through processes or trouble-shoot incidents. And while automated coaching has no empathy, it can inform the individuals – such as advisers and faculty – on areas of concern, Shah said. Text mining also could allow educators to keep a pulse on their students’ “pain points,” whether about courses or campus life, and allow them to make adjustments.

The one-hour Emerging Issues section of the regents meeting was approved at the board’s February meeting as time set aside to discuss topics that could become relevant to the university. The allotted time allows for longer-term discussions on issues that should be on the board’s radar screen. 

In other business at last week’s meeting:

  • Kathy Nesbitt, vice president of employee and information services, and Patrick O’Rourke, vice president of University Counsel and secretary to the board, presented to the board the latest draft of the University of Colorado president job description. O’Rourke asked that the board consider the needs and character specific to the University of Colorado as well as to keep various aspects generalized to reach a larger pool of candidates. Nesbitt noted certain sections were intentionally vague, saying those specifics would be determined by the regents and the search committee to emphasize aspects of the candidates’ background, such as particular strengths in academics or business. The regents will review the position description and report back to Nesbitt and O’Rourke before the next Governance Committee meeting so the document may be finalized by the regents’ July 11-13 retreat.
  • Three University of Colorado students addressed the board about alleged discrimination they had encountered because of their conservative viewpoints. Regent Sue Sharkey, chair, asked each if they were aware of the regents’ nondiscrimination policy, which specifically states political philosophy and affiliation as protected status. The students were aware of the policy but none had not filed a report. Because the students reported the alleged discrimination at the public meeting, CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano noted he is obligated to report the incidents to the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance.
Tagged with: