Vol State using tech tools to help students choose courses, majors

Submitted on February 14, 2012 at 9:00 AM

College students use tech tools for everything from ordering pizza to playing games. Soon, the same technology software will be used to help Volunteer State Community College students decide which courses will help them graduate faster, which courses will result in better grades, and even what subject to choose for a major.

"It helps students by customizing and individualizing their selection of courses. We want our students be successful and picking the right class is a first step," said Vol State Interim President, Bruce Scism.

The technology, originally developed by Austin Peay State University's provost Tristan Denley, uses data to first identify the course requirements for the student's major, then find the classes in which the student is most likely to perform well. The tool scans the student academic records to compare the success of similar students taking similar classes - much like online shopping programs recommend products purchased by other customers. The program, called DegreeCompass (formerly known as the Adaptive Advising Tool), was quickly adopted for use at Austin Peay, where Denley says it accurately predicted a student's performance within half a letter grade. It uses predictive analytics through a complex algorithm that pulls data and statistics from the student academic database.

"It helps them make better, more informed choices by using something they're already familiar with - a smart phone or mobile device app," said Denley. While it doesn't replace traditional faculty advising, it makes the advising process easier and faster for both students and faculty.

"This new system will assist our advisors in picking the best courses for students, and that's especially important in that critical first semester," Scism said. "Showing students which courses they might be most successful in gives them a tremendous sense of confidence."

Effective at Austin Peay, the same technology will soon be in use at Vol State and at two other Tennessee Board of Regents campuses across the state -Nashville State Community College and the University of Memphis - thanks to a grant from Complete College America, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

A portion of the $1 million grant has allowed the software to be adapted for use at Vol State and the other colleges and tested for possible expansion and use state-wide.

"We know that the more time it takes a student to earn a degree, the less likely they are to successfully complete," said TBR Chancellor John Morgan. "With all the challenges facing students on a regular basis, knowing which courses to take when shouldn't be a barrier. This tool will make it easier and help improve student advising."

Denley and his colleagues are now working to expand the program with a feature to help students choose a major - or find one that better fits their past performance and one that has proven a positive choice by others with similar grades and characteristics.

The new software, which will also be used at Vol State, will be closely tracked to evaluate the impact it has on student performance. The goal, according to Morgan, is to radically improve student advising and ultimately, college completion rates.


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