Colleges use statistics to individualize education

As competition for top candidates heats up between colleges, many universities are beginning to take a more statistical approach to improving the quality of their academic programs, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some schools are turning to hard data in order to improve everything from the college admissions process to teaching and lesson plans. For example, Harvard University in Massachusetts has introduced a statistical approach to matching students of similar ability in its calculus courses to ensure that students are paired with suitable partners during group discussions. Computer software, known as Learning Catalytics, tracks students' answers to problems and suggests partners based on their responses.

According to academic blog Changing Higher Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been actively involved in the development of data mining techniques for use in academia. Earlier this year, the foundation launched a project involving several universities across the U.S. to develop matching algorithms to enable colleges to use large data sets to predict student learning outcomes.

The foundation conducted a study earlier this year in partnership with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education's Cooperative for Educational Technologies to share data from more than 400,000 students, in order to identify factors that contribute to student retention and academic progression. 

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