Researchers are tapping into data on students to nudge students through college, according to a report released Tuesday by Education Sector.
Technology-driven behavioral nudges range from providing students with course recommendations based on the performance of past students to offering study advice via text messaging or counseling over the phone. “By giving students information-driven suggestions that lead to smarter actions, technology nudges are intended to tackle a range of problems surrounding the process by which students begin college and make their way to graduation,” said the report.
Some researchers found that sending reminders about placement tests, orientation and pre-college tasks via text messages to low-income high school graduates increased the likelihood students would be on campus in the fall.
The report, “Nudge Nation: A New Way to Prod Students Into and Through College,” advocated for further research on mining data for students’ benefits.
“Like many other technology initiatives, these ventures are relatively young and much remains to be learned about how they can be made most effective,” the report said.
This from Education Sector:“Already, however, nudge designers are having a good deal of success marrying knowledge of human behavior with the capacity of technology to reach students at larger scale, and lower cost, than would be possible in person.”
When Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein took his teenage daughter to the Lollapalooza music festival during a Chicago heat wave some years ago, the huge electronic displays that typically show performance schedules also flashed periodic admonitions: DRINK MORE WATER. YOU SWEAT IN THE HEAT: YOU LOSE WATER. “The sign was a nudge,” wrote Sunstein and his coauthor Richard Thaler, one of many described in their bestselling 2008 book, Nudge.Without coercing concertgoers to behave in a certain way, it provided information designed to prompt them to make wiser decisions—increasing their water intake to prevent dehydration.Thanks in part to Thaler and Sunstein’s work, the power of nudges has become well-established—including on many college campuses, where students around the country are beginning the fall semester...
New approaches are certainly needed. Just 58 percent of full-time, first-time college students at four-year institutions complete a degree within six years. Among Hispanics, blacks, and students at two-year colleges, the figures are much worse. In all, more than 400,000 students drop out every year. At a time when postsecondary credentials are more important than ever, around 37 million Americans report their highest level of education as “some college, no degree.”
There are many reasons for low rates of persistence and graduation, including financial problems, the difficulty of juggling non-academic responsibilities such as work and family, and, for some first-generation students, culture shock. But academic engagement and success are major contributors. That’s why colleges are using behavioral nudges, drawing on data analytics and behavioral psychology, to focus on problems that occur along the academic pipeline:
• Poor student organization around the logistics of going to college• Unwise course selections that increase the risk of failure and extend time to degree• Inadequate information about academic progress and the need for academic help• Unfocused support systems that identify struggling students but don’t directly engage with them• Difficulty tapping into counseling servicesThese new ventures, whether originating within colleges or created by outside entrepreneurs, are doing things with data that just couldn’t be done in the past—creating giant databases of student course records, for example, to find patterns of success and failure that result when certain kinds of students take certain kinds of courses. Like many other technology initiatives, these ventures are relatively young and much remains to be learned about how they can be made most effective...
Education researcher Benjamin Castleman...[conducted] a 2012 summer experiment with his collaborator Lindsay Page, a researcher at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research. In randomized experiments involving thousands of low-income students in the Dallas Independent School District and districts in Boston, Lawrence, and Springfield, Mass., researchers sent personalized texts to recent high school graduates in the treatment groups to remind them about tasks such as registering for freshman orientation and placement tests. The texts offered help with deciphering financial aid letters and more. The project was coordinated with the colleges that most district graduates attend, so the reminders and accompanying web links took students to the right places to complete tasks and were tailored to specific deadlines and requirements of each student’s intended school. Interestingly, although each text offered the option to connect students to live counselors for personalized assistance, relatively few students (just six percent in Dallas) sought this help. Results were striking. Just 10 to 12 text messages sent to low-income students over the summer raised college enrollment by more than 4 percentage points among low-income students in Dallas and by more than 7 percentage points in Lawrence and Springfield, Mass. Castleman notes that the texting intervention had no impact in Boston, where students can access a wide range of college-planning support services, both during the school year and during the summer after graduation. The total cost of this technology nudge: $7 per student, including the cost of counselors’ time.
Why was the intervention so effective? “The summer is a uniquely nudge-free time in students’ educational trajectory,” says Castleman. Given that so many college-intending adolescents receive few reminders about completing key tasks—and that so many are prone to procrastination—well-designed prompts can fill a void...
“Every campus is sitting on terabytes of historical grade data. It’s just a matter of ... can you take that data, analyze it in the right kind of way, and communicate it?”
That’s just what [Tristan Denley, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee] did, creating the Degree Compass system, which combines data mining and behavior nudges to match students with “best-fit” courses. It draws on data from hundreds of thousands of past students, scrutinizing their classes, grades, and majors. Then it gives current students—and their advisers—course recommendations based on how well similar undergraduates with similar course-taking histories have performed in the past. In certain respects, it’s similar to the you-might-also-like choices on Netflix, Amazon, and Pandora. But Degree Compass is less concerned with students’ likes and dislikes than with predictive analytics—calculating which course selections will best help undergraduates move through their programs of study most successfully—and most expeditiously.