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Friday, March 30, 2018

Limitations to Predictive Analytics

Colleges and universities are using predictive analytics, such as grades, test scores, and attendance, as a tool to help students succeed. Austin Peay State University, Nashville, TN, was a pioneer in predictive analytics, developing a system called Degree Compass to guide students to courses they should take to satisfy degree requirements.

After initial success, the university discovered limits to what the technology could provide.

“It is simply a tool that’s available for anyone to use,” said Loretta Griffy, math professor and associate provost for student success at Austin Peay, who currently oversees the Degree Compass program. “We have a decentralized faculty advising model, which means we have 385 academic advisors. They each have their own individual styles and how they interact with students and we have a variety of advising tools that they can use. This is just one of them.”

In 2013, Degree Compass was acquired by the software firm Desire2Learn, which stopped allowing students to see grade projections to avoid discouragement. The firm also found that institutions weren’t enamored with the student-directed degree-planning tool and that it was a challenge to integrate Degree Compass with a school’s course catalog and the student information system.

“Sometimes we really hit the mark and nail it early, and get it to the point where something is cultured in our organization by the time the market is ready for it,” said Kenneth Chapman, vice president of market research and strategy at D2L. “I wouldn’t call Degree Compass one of the applications that we saw as hitting the mark.”

Degree Compass is something of a Catch-22, according to Griffy. The algorithms the tool uses need a student’s prior grade history to accurately recommend courses and majors, but students can’t gain much from the information until they have attended classes for a semester or two. By that time, they may have already decided their academic path. Besides, paper degree-planning charts can be just as useful.

“But it’s not fancy,” Griffy said. “You print it and walk around with it. It’s very simple.”

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