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The Brave New World of Data-Based Instruction

If you're looking for some professional development reading for over the break, there's a fascinating article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how colleges are increasingly exploring the use of student "data"—including everything from grades to instructional-prompt responses to online "click" patterns—to customize instruction and learning opportunities. A Harvard math instructor, for example, uses computer-tabulated response data to pair students for in-class conceptual discussions. An Arizona community college tracks and crunches student clicks in online courses to alert instructors to students' relative progress and risk of failure. And on a broader scale, a state university in Tennessee recently introduced software that runs comparative analyses of student records and interests to recommend course selections.

Proponents of such programs, according to the article, say the related technology is now sophisticated enough to help colleges better individualize learning programs and ultimately boost sagging graduation rates. Others, however, worry about creating a "factory-line approach to education" and introducing methodologies comparable to standardized testing in K-12 education.

In any case, it's a trend worth learning more about—perhaps, from what we're hearing and seeing, the most important trend in classroom instruction today.

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