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Partnership aims to help eVersity students

By Jaime Adame

This article was published August 2, 2014 at 3:20 a.m.

A new partnership between a data modeling company and the University of Arkansas System's online university can help identify student academic struggles before they start, said Michael Moore, the UA System's vice president for academic affairs.

UA System's eVersity aims to enroll its first students in October 2015, but work has already begun under an agreement with Austin, Texas-based Civitas Learning, Moore said.

"It's what's called predictive analytics, as opposed to waiting to see somebody's already in trouble, or as opposed to me making an assumption that a student that has struggled in high school mathematics is automatically going to struggle in college mathematics," Moore said.

The company plans to examine information collected on students enrolled "from a recent time period" at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Moore said. The work won't involve "live data" from a current semester.

The information will help future eVersity students, Moore said, explaining they will share similarities with UALR students who, as a group, take many online courses and are often older than typical college students.

The eVersity will offer affordable education to students who may be working and have children, UA System leaders have said.

Data gathered will include details from student applications and academic performance information from UALR, Moore said. Nathan Nolen, UALR's associate vice chancellor and chief information officer of information technology services, said in a statement that the university "anticipates using the last three years of student data."

Working with Civitas Learning allows for the study of large amounts of data to create "multiple models" identifying when students need help and then ways to strategically intervene, Moore said.

"It's all about using the data that we know about students, just like the private sector is doing on consumers," Moore said.

For example, he said performance in college math courses can be compared to students' high school math grades and scores on college entrance exams such as the ACT.

The data could alter eVersity intervention strategies, Moore explained. If students with high ACT scores but poor high school grades still do well in college mathematics courses, then scarce tutoring and mentoring resources might be shifted to another group of students.

The UA System is paying $50,000 for its initial year of working with Civitas Learning, Moore said. But once students enroll in the eVersity, the types of data analysis could expand given the nature of online learning, he noted.

"Everything you do online is, in theory, capable of being observed. We can tell when you logged onto the system. We can tell what things you clicked," said Moore, describing information about time spent working on online practice sets or watching course videos as an indicator of student engagement.

The idea is "to really leverage the information we have about our students and allow our faculty and academic advisers to help students reach higher goals," Moore said.

The UA System's contract with Civitas Learning was inked in the spring, Moore said. Other UA System schools can join in the contract if they choose, he said.

At UALR, Nolen said in a statement that the university is "at the very beginning of the project."

"There is still a good deal of planning to be done. It is too early at this point to know how we will use it," Nolen said in the statement, referring to the data being collected.

Mark Milliron, chief learning officer and co-founder of Civitas Learning, said the company has had "good conversations" about possibly working with other UA System campuses.

The company was founded about three years ago and is working with several colleges and universities, including the University of Texas System, Milliron said.

NW News on 08/02/2014

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