Online Blogucation


I just got off the phone with a colleague who has lost 35 pounds in 2 months.  How did he do it?  Data.  Well, data mixed with exercise and technology to be more precise.  He tried the Nike / iPod experiment and he’s a believer.

This professor of communications and lover of cheese steaks bought a new pair of running shoes a few months back.  Then, he bought the Nike sensor system – a small sensor you put in your shoe somehow.  This sensor sends information to your iPod during a run.  That data tells you (in real time) how you’re doing, but it also allows you to see any trends in your running after you upload the data to the Nike+ website.  Apparently he’s run about 340 miles and his average speed has increased by 1 mile per hour.  He can tell you how many calories he’s burned and he’s delighted to tell you how many pounds he has lost.  

See, data is changing how we live.  And data aggregation, data mining, and data analysis are making our lives better as technology gives us more and more ways to use it quickly and easily.  For example, my wife was called a few months back about her credit card.  Visa thought she might have lost her card.  Why?  Because she purchased a dress that was 2 sizes too big!  Guess what?  Her card had been stolen.  (No, she had not gained any weight…that would have been awkward!)  The credit card company looks for patterns and found something odd in the behavior of the card.  So they checked.

Data is everywhere we look today.  New cars will tell you how many miles you have driven on a tank of gas and how many more you are likely to get out of that same tank.  There is a website where you can upload a sickness in your family.  Then, you can look around your city, state, or the entire country to see where other people are sick too.  Data might help you avoid the plague!!!

Data is useful and becoming easier and easier to digest.  My phone tells me when my flight is late – a handy little feature when you fly 100,000 miles a year.  My refrigerator tells me when the filter is no longer doing any good.  Heck, even my daughter’s baby monitor tells us when the battery is low.  From weather patterns to traffic patterns, data can make our lives tremendously easier.

So why is it so hard to find data for schools?  This is especially true with online schools.  Shouldn’t you know where your students spend their time in classes?  Don’t you think knowing how often you’re B students post vs your D students post to a discussion would be a good piece of information?  Does the first day a student checks into class help determine their probability of dropping?  If you don’t know the answers to these’s time to.

One of my favorite tools I’ve ever gotten to work with is a business intelligence tool, created by IBM, that we overlay classes with in our system.  This tool allows me and my team to try and predict success, correlate at-risk behaviors to drops, and find benchmarks to hold students accountable to.  Did you know that in most online courses a larger class size (30-35) tends to have a better completion rate than classes with less than 30?  It’s been proven time and time again through data.  (Mind you – data can also beg lots of questions!)

Data mining is becoming easier and easier as technology evolves.  Data analysis is becoming more and more automated.  It’s time for your school’s programs to join the party!  Trends and operational reports are crucial to making accurate predictions and drawing quality conclusions today.  Accreditors are soon going to see this power and demand evidence of data-driven decisions for their schools.  But before the ‘stick’ of accreditation swats at you, shouldn’t you look to the carrot of quality?  Granted, this power can be abused.  (My boss loves to look at my completion rates and give me grief as my public speaking class isn’t the highest completed class on campus…it’s public speaking!)  But the data is there whether you mine it or not.  The information to help you increase retention is sitting there whether or not it’s analyzed.  

We study, analyze, and mine data for everything else today.  It’s time to get education up to speed, don’t you think?  Now if you’ll pardon me…I need to get to a store to buy a sensor.  My pants don’t quite fit like they did last year…


Jeff D Borden, M.A.

Senior Director of Teaching & Learning