"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Gates Techno-twits and Data Miners Are Ready to Ruin the University, Too

The NYTimes has an extensive piece today on the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), which is now bringing to campus the same kind of algorithm-driven-peering-over-your-shoulder creepiness that now suffuses any visit to Facebook or Netflix.

With money from Gates and his Gang at ED, things are moving quickly.  Since 2009 when things were put in gear by a Gates grant, the philanthrocapitalist machine has become much more efficient, as evidenced here with a piddling grant to Missouri that demands matching funds and that gets into 14 state colleges in one whack.

From NYTimes:

. . . .This is college life, quantified.
Data mining hinges on one reality about life on the Web: what you do there leaves behind a trail of digital breadcrumbs. Companies scoop those up to tailor services, like the matchmaking of eHarmony or the book recommendations of Amazon. Now colleges, eager to get students out the door more efficiently, are awakening to the opportunities of so-called Big Data.
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. That’s a particular problem in introductory-level courses, says Carol A. Twigg, president of theNational Center for Academic Transformation. “The typical class, the professor rattles on in front of the class,” she says. “They give a midterm exam. Half the kids fail. Half the kids drop out. And they have no idea what’s going on with their students.”
As more of this technology comes online, it raises new tensions. What role does a professor play when an algorithm recommends the next lesson? If colleges can predict failure, should they steer students away from challenges? When paths are so tailored, do campuses cease to be places of exploration?
“We don’t want to turn into just eHarmony,” says Michael Zimmer, assistant professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, where he studies ethical dimensions of new technology. “I’m worried that we’re taking both the richness and the serendipitous aspect of courses and professors and majors — and all the things that are supposed to be university life — and instead translating it into 18 variables that spit out, ‘This is your best fit. So go over here.’ ” . . . .

1 comment:

  1. It just seems wrong for schools to even consider predictions or early assessments. Honestly, if the student passes the entrance exams, give him or her a chance. It's not like the school is spending for the tuition or philippine prudential plan of all kids anyway.