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Use of Analytics in K-12 and College Embraced, But Barriers Remain

Austin, Texas

More K-12 and college systems are turning to technology and analytics to better engage and track students.

At the SXSWedu conference, administrators shared how expanded access to data was helping them improve career planning for high school students, deepen learning experiences on college campuses, and retain students who might otherwise fall off track.  

Yet, concerns over privacy, along with limited time and budgets, keep many systems from fully realizing their visions for leveraging data and innovation.

Doyle Vogler, an assistant superintendent of schools in Lubbock, Texas, explained on a panel Thursday how high school students in his district create online personal graduation plans that they update yearly with the input of counselors and parents. With the program, students track their own progress, and link to universities with degrees in their area of interest and job-market projects for those fields. 

Click to see more SXSWedu coverage.

It allows students to become "consumers of their own education," said Vogler, of the approach being used in the 30,000-student district where 70 percent of students are low-income. By looking at past performance, students are given projections of their likely success in future courses—although not "tracked," added Vogler. The analysis helps students create career pathways, which might not include college but can help them see potential matches in fields from manufacturing to information technology. 

The University of Louisiana System uses an array of technology to help manage its 89,000 students, but severe budget cuts (and likely more down the road) have made it challenging to increase degree completion as much as the state would like, said Sandra Woodley, the system's president.

With state money drying up, the system has turned to support from industry partners. Still, higher education has found it difficult to connect large data systems from K-12 and the workforce to truly identify job gaps and create a data hub that Woodley says is "still a pipe dream."

The system has partnered with various tech companies to develop easy-to-use dashboards and tools for students and educators to use.  However, once information is available about in-demand fields, such as computer science or engineering, there are few counselors to help identify students with potential and nudge them into those career paths, she said.

Data can be crucial in bridging the transition from K-12 to college and career, Woodley said, but renewed concerns over privacy are hurting efforts.

Also, many administrators at public institutions don't feel they have the time to tackle a new initiative or are worried about what will be done with the data that's captured. "Metrics don't give you answers," said Woodley. "They just help you ask more intelligent questions."  Gathering the data is worth the risk, she added, although it's a struggle to change the culture of mistrust.

At a later SXSWedu session focused on technology in higher education, audience members commented on the cultural resistance to change on campuses where the credit hour and traditional lectures still largely frame the way education is delivered.

Diana Oblinger, the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit association EDUCAUSE, noted that the demographic changes in higher education and the need to improve completion rates are pushing campuses to use technology in new ways.

For instance, students can engage in deeper learning with 3-D desk tops that turn an anatomy class into a multidimensional experience. To keep first-generation college students from dropping out, new GPS systems can help track their progress, identify problems that call for intervention, and create guided pathways to success. Also, competency-based learning is expanding on many campuses and allowing more students to showcase their abilities through project-based learning and move through to a degree more quickly.

Rather than a traditional, four-year residential college experience, many experts, including Woodley from Louisiana, spoke of a variety of paths and how technology can help students pursue educational credentials that are needed at all levels. "Most people don't stay in the field that they started," she said. "The swirling is not a bad thing to me."


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