The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times have begun collaborating on articles of mutual interest. "Big data on campus", published last month, examined how some colleges and universities (particularly Arizona State) are using information to shape course selection and curriculum development.
Written by Marc Parry, technology reporter at the Chronicle, the article noted:
"The new breed of software can predict how well students will do before they even set foot in the classroom. It recommends courses, Netflix-style, based on students’ academic records. Data diggers hope to improve an education system in which professors often fly blind."
Parry describes a range of perspectives and reactions to the use of data. Students, professors and adminstrators recognize that targeted attention in a 72,000-student university can help improve outcomes, but they also expressed concern that the data gathering not become overly intrusive or lead to "cookie cutter" educational experiences.
The article describes several ways in which the programs test students and recommend personalized educational interventions when required skills are lacking. This data-driven approach potentially transforms some aspects of higher-education publishing, particularly as curricula are broken down more finely than subject or course alone.
Although "big data on campus" is not a widespread phenomenom, its use seems likely to grow. If so, a trend toward outcome-based education will continue to push publishers toward a more flexible and accountable approach to delivery of educational materials.