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Robot Counselors Helping Students Perform


Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rapid expansion of new education technologies, from MOOCs to test-grading robots to traveling screens with cameras attached that allow sick or disabled students to participate in classroom life from home. All of these innovations are important, but sometimes even very simple programs can make a big difference in people’s lives.

For one example, the Economist looks at how schools like the University of Arizona are making use of a system known as as eAdvisor, which recommends courses to students based on their major, to close the college education gap between white and minority students. The results have been a tremendous success, boosting the number of students who move on to the next grade by 7 percent and largely closing the gap at many southern schools:

New findings from four Tennessee colleges support the idea that eAdvisors work. Software called the Degree Compass (developed by Tristan Denley, a mathematician) makes course suggestions for students in much the same way that Netflix recommends films to watch and Amazon offers goods to buy. The program ranks courses by their usefulness to a student for the degree he is taking, and also predicts those in which he is likely to get the best grade.

Large-scale trials of the Degree Compass have been held at Austin Peay State University and three other institutions. Students who follow its course recommendations increase their number of credit hours and gain better grades. (Credit hours are the basic units that count towards a degree in America.) The usual probability of getting an A or a B at these institutions is around 62%. But if a student takes a course in which Degree Compass has predicted at least a B for him, there is a 90% chance he will get it.

A way to improve the college experience for students while limiting administrative bloat? Sounds like a step in the right direction.

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