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KU part of initiative to harness data analytics to improve teaching, student learning

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas is part of a coalition of five universities in the United States and Canada that will harness their strengths in research to improve teaching and student learning.

The Bay View Alliance, a cooperative of nine universities dedicated to improving student learning, has begun a multi-year project to use data analytics to explore questions about such things as class structure, teaching techniques, enrollment patterns and success in subsequent courses, all with the goal of improving teaching and learning in effective, meaningful ways.

Indiana University Bloomington, which began a Student Learning Analytics Fellows Program in 2015, will lead the project. The University of Kansas, University of British Columbia, Queens University of Canada and the University of Saskatchewan will join. Other Bay View Alliance institutions may join as the project progresses.

Doug Ward, associate professor of journalism and associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at KU, said the program will tap into vast stores of data universities have about students to answer questions about what influences student success as well as inspire new lines of inquiry about teaching and learning that have not yet been undertaken. The initiative will compare efforts at different institutions and apply research expertise from scholars in varying fields.

“There is so much data that we haven’t tapped into yet. We want to find out why students are not advancing, what barriers to advancement are and why we are losing so many students after the first year,” Ward said. “We need to build communities and ask, ‘Have you tried this yet, and what were the results?’ We also need to bring in people who will be able to determine what we can learn from the data we have available.”

Among the data the Alliance hopes to study are courses students take in the first year, clusters of courses they take, if certain groupings of classes are associated with future success, course succession, type of instruction used in courses and its correlation with advancement, and environmental factors, including if the type of classroom affects success.

“We’ve had an initial success in building a community of faculty members at Indiana who have an interest in using learning analytical data to explore such things as the effectiveness of course structure, peer networks, online course modules and students’ continued success in their majors as they progress through the curriculum,” said George Rehrey, director of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Program at Indiana University. “With the help of the BVA, we will expand that effort across universities.”

Institutions taking part in the data analytics project will share findings and ultimately produce reports and materials they will make available to universities throughout North America.

While work is underway, Bay View Alliance members will seek grant funds to further support the effort. The group recently received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support TRESTLE, an initiative to hire teaching specialists in STEM fields at six member universities and to create a community of partners across campuses. That effort is led by Andrea Greenhoot, professor of psychology and director of KU’s Center for Teaching Excellence.

The Bay View Alliance, composed of the aforementioned universities as well as the University of Colorado, University of California Davis, University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Texas Austin, will also work to show how improved teaching methods identified by this initiative and others can be adopted at universities. The work comes at a crucial time as universities are increasingly being asked to demonstrate the value of higher education.

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but we can’t let down,” said Lorne Whitehead, program director of the Bay View Alliance. “Families from across the world put their trust in us to help their students succeed. We owe it to them to provide the best teaching we can provide so they can continue to learn and help us build the future.”

Photo: Associate Professor Doug Ward teaches a journalism class at KU. Ward is also associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at KU, which is part of a cooperative of nine universities dedicated to improving student learning. Credit: KU Marketing Communications


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