Scholarship News

College Software Suggests Courses Based on Student Data


October 14, 2010
by Suada Kolovic
What do Amazon, Netflix and Google all have in common? Well, they are constantly learning about you – the user – storing and analyzing data to find relationships and patterns about what you’re viewing. A new project, unveiled at the Educause conference, plans to provide college students with a similar experience on academic websites. The software, called Sherpa, was developed by the South Orange County Community College District and intends to mine data about students to guide them to courses, information and services.

What do Amazon, Netflix and Google all have in common? Well, they are constantly learning about you – the user – storing and analyzing data to find relationships and patterns about what you’re viewing. A new project, unveiled at the Educause conference, plans to provide college students with a similar experience on academic websites. The software, called Sherpa, was developed by the South Orange County Community College District and intends to mine data about students to guide them to courses, information and services.

That’s a shift from what students experience today with the Blackboard course-management system, said Robert S. Bramucci, South Orange’s vice chancellor for technology and learning services. “It’s as if Blackboard is somebody with hippocampal damage, that has severe amnesia,” he said. “It’s never seen you before, other than knowing that you have an account in the system. The systems outside learn about you. But the systems typically in academia do not.”

The goal of Sherpa is to offer students an array of options pertinent to them. For instance, a student with a high grade-point average might get a link to the honors program, while a student with low grades might be directed to tutoring services. And with more information about students, the suggestions could get even more specific. Jim Gaston, South Orange’s associate director for IT, academic systems, and special projects, gave this example of a tip he hopes to send to a student who hasn’t yet registered for class:

“Your classes are filling fast. We looked at your academic plan and saw that you plan on transferring to UC Berkeley as a biology major. We searched the class schedule. We found a set of courses you said you were interested in. Based on the pattern of classes you’ve taken in the past, here are the four classes we think you’re going to be most interested in. We’ve already screened them for pre-recs. They don’t have a time conflict with when you said you were going to work. And one of them is your favorite instructor.”

If that’s doesn’t scream convenience, you may want to have your ears checked.

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